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I TALK TO Jack Davenport

I caught up with Jack Davenport on the set of ITV's newest drama Breathless to find out more about the series.

As ITV prepares to unleash its latest period drama Breathless, set in and around a Gynaecology unit of a London Hospital in 1961, I went down to visit the set during filming to find out a little bit more.


Despite not filming on the day that I went down to set, Jack Davenport, who plays Otto Powell, popped along anyway to ensure he was available for interviews - a really nice gesture I thought. Davenport, who more recently can be found across the pond the Pirates Of The Carribean films and the NBC smash, err... Smash.


What drew you to this role?


Two things. One, it's a fascinating character - that's the self interesting part out of the way - but also the fact that when I started reading it when I was first sent it, the first three pages I was like - "Oh no. Forget it." - I just thought it was a medical procedural, that was in the sixties. There are some great procedurals out there don't get me wrong, and clearly there's a big appetite for them, but it's not something that interests me that's all.


I don't watch them, and I think a rule of thumb, in terms of things one chooses to do, is that you should probably not do something if you think that you wouldn't want to watch it yourself. I would just be sat here talking utter rubbish to you if I didn't think it was any good. 


What was interesting about reading that first script was that suddenly on like page four I was like - "Oh shit! Right. This isn't what I thought it was at all." - and that change of attitude towards immediately became more profoundly clear. I think, of course it is set in a hospital and there is a medical component to it - but first of all, the choice of period and area of medicine allows you to actually make a broader sociological point about women and women's change of place in society and attitudes in general about legalities in terms of medicine.


There's all sorts of things that I think the show is able to explore that is far beyond - Hysterectomy of the week. That's not really what we're doing. Plus, most of the characters, mine and Natasha's in particular, have such complicated back stories that start to play out in the present, that actually this show becomes this sort of mad thriller... eventually.


I've just had the last few episodes through in the past day or two actually and after reading them I thought - "Wow. I did not see that coming."


How would you best describe your character Otto Powell?


I would describe him as, superficially, a very successful, respectable member of his community and his profession. He has enormous status in his little world, and understand the full limits of his power and he uses them in ways that are often unconventional.


Again, one of the things that drew me to him was that you were like - "Who the fuck is this guy?" and then eventually it becomes very clear, like a lot of interestingly written characters, is that what you initially see is absolutely not what you get.


Breathless is set in 1961, what's it like to play a character from that era?


People think of the sixties and they think hippies and Jimi Hendrix. 1961 is barely the sixties. The Beatles haven't even turned up! They don't turn up until 1962 and even then they were all wearing suits. It's actually much more of a post-war world. That social revolution has not happened yet at all. Things are just starting to come in, but not much.


So actually it's a much more formal world than you might think. People talk slightly differently. There's a grace of formality in the way they communicate, and their respect for social structures is much more in place.


That's called being an actor really. Knowing that, absorbing that, and embodying it. The pill only just came into being in '61, abortion was still illegal, actually you were quite limited in what you could do legally. But in his personal life, you come to realise that Otto's family life, a perfect middle life picture, isn't quite what you see.


Each of the characters' houses are very distinct and well thought through. How would you describe Otto's house?


It's very much an early sixties idea of upper middle class, acquired success and status. He's got this off his own bat but it's a big ass house on a private road in Surrey. Personally, I'd rather live in a tent... well maybe not a tent! But it's not a stately home, but neither is it a terraced house in London.


Breathless is very much an ensemble piece. How do you think Otto and Elizabeth fit into the bigger picture? Are they slightly at the top?


Well, we're at the top in that we have the most social status. I am the boss in terms of work, I'm the senior consultant, I mean that's all. And as often happens in those kind of worlds, is that the wives tend to socialise together and obviously as the consultant's wife, Elizabeth is the de facto Queen Bee. In terms of storytelling, it's absolutely an ensemble show but there has to be, just to reflect the hierarchy of those social structures, characters that people look to I guess. 


My taste has always kind of run to the ensemble shows, because I think people have an appetite for story and you want to give them as much story as possible, so you need a rich stew of characters. 


So for example, we're going to shoot a scene this afternoon where a rare moment - two very parallel story lines suddenly just touch each other briefly and that's kind of fun. 

For the audience it's a moment of - "Whoa. Those people shouldn't be in a room together!" - and then they're not and that's kinda cool. It's good fun!


Breathless begins Thursday 10th October at 9pm on ITV

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