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I TALK TO Oliver Chris

I'm sure that if you watched last week's series opener you're already hooked on Breathless, the new six-part period drama from ITV.

It had it all, great settings, complex characters with a back story everyone's eager to discover and of course a great cast.


Led by Otto Powell, the series also stars Catherine Steadman, Zoe Boyle, Shaun Dingwall, Joanna Page and Oliver Chris.


Oliver Chris plays gynaecologist Richard Truscott, who you would have seen go up the aisle with Zoe Boyle's character Jean Meecher, after she discovers she's carrying his child. That said, not all is what it seems, and earlier on this year when I visited the set of Breathless, I grabbed 10 minutes with Oliver to find out a bit more about his character.


Tell us a bit about your character...


My character is Richard Truscott. He's a pretty good Doctor - he's a fairly senior gynaecologist and he's also Otto's protégé if you like, right hand man. He's just not ready for responsibility. Responsibility in his job, he's not ready for the responsibility of his relationship.


He's forced into this marriage, this shot-gun marriage with this girl he's got pregnant and they're like the prom king and queen. She's the prettiest nurse in the hospital and nurses marry doctors, it is what happens. 


But in this case she's got pregnant and they're suddenly forced down the aisle. It's not that he doesn't love her, it's just that he's not had time to let that love grow naturally. And as part of his reaction, he starts to doubt himself and his way of showing hat is going off and fancying girls, trying to pick up girls.


With his students at work as well, he makes that mistake of being everyone's best friend, and trying to make jokes all of the time and trying to have fun. Given the early sixties chauvinist sensibilities the jokes are fairly tasteless. He says lots of awful things and basically comes across as a bit of a bastard - but doesn't really mean to! He thinks he's being completely charming. 


What does Richard make of Otto, and what's their relationship like?


They have this kind of, weird, pupil and teacher relationship. Otto is the best of the best and Richard knows he's there thanks to Otto - because Otto wants him there. But at the same time he's kind of jealous of Otto and his ability and his calmness and his assuredness and so he's constantly fighting against Otto but at the same time totally sticking him on a pedestal. 


That's the whole thing about this show in many ways. It's about both sides of a simple relationship. It's not like Otto is the teacher and Richard is the student and Richard admires Otto and Otto is Richard's benefactor - it doesn't work like that. It's that mix of emotions that we all have about our families. We all love our mums and dads, but at the same time we resent them for some stuff - that Phillip Larking poem - "They fuck you up your mum and dad." - it's all those relationships. 


We all love our boyfriends and girlfriends but at the same time they annoy us, or we resent them for something. We're on that borderline all the time - fighting our own demons, trying to be better people, but often failing and not being as best as we can be and I think that's what this show is all about.  


The same with Jean you know. Jean is this amazing beauty and Richard's really proud to have her on his arm but when he's suddenly forced down the aisle, he's like - "Do I really want to be here?" What's the right thing to do? The right thing would be to man up... but he doesn't!


What kind of character is Richard?


Well he definitely grows throughout the course of the series - through making mistakes more than through big triumphs.


He grows into his sense of responsibility and his love for his wife. He does a really amazing thing at the hospital and becomes a bit of a hero although there's still shades of the old Richard there I noticed! (Laughs)


I thought he was going to be this amazing guy now then he makes this horrific remark about this poor woman who's been in a car accident - who will probably never get a boyfriend again. 

She's lying there like - "Bleurgh!" - and he's like - "Oh dear. It's a good job we delivereed that baby 'cos she's never going to get another chance!"


Has Richard been a fun character to play?


Yes. It's amazing. It's absolutely amazing. Normally if you're an actor you go - "People don't understand about my evil character is that he's really sweet and that he's just misunderstood." I think there's an element of that with Richard, but at the same time, you just have to relish being in a different time - being allowed to say different stuff that you would NEVER be allowed to say now and it's awesome fun. It's awesome awesome fun. I mean I've been talking about prolapses and hysterectomy's now in kind of like glip terms for the last two months and it's been hilarious! 


The character just has these incredible lines that are so unsympathetic. You could never say them today. So yeah, having a free reign to say them is brilliant.


What's the most unsympathetic thing Richard has done then?


There's a storyline where I drug this woman tranquillisers, when she really shouldn't have had them - 'cos her husband's kind of pressurising me - and then she turns up and I kind of just wash my hands away and she collapses and I just walk off and leave this poor woman in piece in the hospital hallway.


I felt awful. In fact when I did it, the whole crew went - "Ooooooooh!" - it was really harsh, it was really harsh.


What's it been like working with Zoe Boyle?


The truth is that she's amazing. I've known Zoe for a long time - we're sort of old friends and I find myself in scenes, particularly early one when we were just getting into the rhythm of it - I did that thing I've never really done before where I was watching her going - "You're really upset. Like... Oh! Right! It's my line! You're acting..." - I was just watching her.


I was like a spectator in the scene. She was just so brilliant and I've said it to her loads when we've been shooting stuff, but watching her work is amazing. I'm in scenes with her and I'm just watching like an audience member. It's brilliant... although hopefully you won't see that on camera! (Laughs).


Did you know any of the other cast before?


I'd met Jack once or twice and a couple of the characters that come in for a few episodes I'd met those guys. I've been in this business for a while now and it's really nice because you get to see old friends and make new ones.


What about Sarah Parish, who plays Margaret. What's it been like to work with her?


Sarah was in for a couple of days and they were really fun days. I know Sarah a little bit and we had one day of just snogging! Every scene we were like semi-naked and snogging.  It was all very film-noir - lots of negligees and bare chests and whispering sweet nothings into each others ears.


With anyone else it might have been awkward but with Sarah Parish it was just so much fun. She's a friend and she's pretty down to earth so we just laugh about it really.


Finally then, what drew you to this role?


Everything about it. I've done a lot of comedy, and I really like the fact that this is a drama. And I think that what I was saying earlier about everything being on a borderline, being on a knife-edge, I think there's a lot of humour in this. And the humour's very black humour often and it's really on that knife-edge of what's tragic can also be quite funny


I really love trying to use some of the stuff I've learnt doing comedy and try and enfuse it in drama - to trya nd warp that wobbly tightrope. I really love that and I think the character's just amazing. I remember when I read this and I auditioned for it and I went home and I was like - "Listen. This is the most amazing part I've ever read for, and if I get it I'm probably going to be the most hated man in England." 


Breathless continues Thursday nights at 9pm on ITV

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