Arthur McBain is a man of many talents. You may know him thanks to his acting career, his passion for music, or something else entirely. With his finger in so many pies, exactly how he found some time to chat to us still remains a mystery, but that he did! Here, he discusses his role in upcoming ITV drama The Trouble With Maggie Cole, the “reality of the movie business” and more…
Tell us a little bit about The Trouble With Maggie Cole and the character you’ll be playing…
The Trouble With Maggie Cole is about what happens when small town gossip runs rife. The ramifications are sometimes funny, and other times catastrophic. Whilst we were filming it, the working title was Glass Houses, which obviously refers to the saying about not chucking stones about.
It’s got some proper television royalty in it too. Dawn French, Mark Heap, Julie Hesmondhalgh to name a few. I was very excited to get to share a script with these lot; I’ve always watched their work with awe. It was massively surreal to be in the same room as them. Oh and Kerry Howard too, I’m a massive fan of Him and Her.
I play a character called Alex Myer who is a local coastguard and like all brooding men at sea, he has a bit of a dark secret… Things escalate for him throughout the series, and it all gets pretty dramatic. It was lots of fun. I’ve done very well at not actually giving anything away there haven’t I…
What was a typical day like on the set of the show?
Well, playing a coast guard, I got to ride a speedboat. An actual real-life, military standard, speedboat. I can’t tell you how excited I was in the run up to those filming days. But then I found out that we couldn’t go properly fast because of the speed limits in the estuary and I wasn’t even allowed the tiniest go on the steering wheel. Never-the-less, it was loads of fun and I got to pretend to be a floppy-haired, Cornish James Bond.
Speedboat aside, the team were absolutely terrific, it was a real pleasure to go to work every day. Dawn French was an exceptionally kind lead actor; it makes a big difference when the lead sets such a fun and enthusiastic tone.
On top of that, having your ‘office’ be Cornwall and South Devon during the warmer months is quite a privilege. And the on-set catering was incredible - never underestimate the role that catering plays in making television. I wonder if there should be a catering category at the BAFTAs.
You’ve worked in film as well as TV: how do these two worlds compare, or differ?
One of the big films I have worked on was Rupert Goold’s Judy, for which Renée Zellweger has just won an Oscar. It was loads of fun, and was a very inspiring set to spend time on. The main difference with film and TV, I suppose, is the amount of time you’re afforded to shoot each scene. With TV it tends to be much quicker.
Although, here’s some of the reality of the movie business; I spent two weeks on set, filming every day, and my part has been heavily cut. Ultimately I can see why, because the film-making happens in the editing suite and our scenes didn’t tie in to what the film ended up being. There was a strange moment whilst seeing it for the first time thinking, ‘I’m sure I had a scene about here’… But the film is completely fantastic and I’m so proud to have been there when it was being made and to have met all of the legends who are in it, not least Andy Nyman - who is a bit of a hero of mine. He gave me a badge from his movie Ghost Stories. It’s still pinned to my jacket.
What would you say have been some of your favourite experiences as part of the entertainment industry to-date?
I went to Sydney a few years back to shoot a series for ABC TV. It was called Friday On My Mind, and was a show about the 60s band The Easybeats. I played the drummer, Snowy Fleet, who was from Liverpool originally before moving to Australia as a ‘ten pound pom’. I got to speak to him a couple of times and he’d tease me mercilessly about the feat that I was undertaking playing a man such as himself. Anyway, I had to learn the drums for the role. Being paid to learn an instrument is a joy like no other, because you can justify practicing it all the time. Our production base was Fox Studios, and I asked if I could have a room with a drum kit in it to be made available so that I could have somewhere to go and practice… It turns out that apparently every room on the entire lot was being used, and the only space free was sound stage two which was THE ROOM THAT THEY SHOT THE MATRIX IN! So there’s me, dwarfed by a room so big that it didn’t even have an echo, practicing 60s drum beats on the same hallowed ground that Trinity and Neo practiced slow motion flippy stuff for one of the greatest films of all time (in my humble opinion).
Another job that springs to mind was my first professional role. It was in the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre of Scotland production of Dunsinane. We got to tour it around China, Taiwan, Russia and North America. Amazing. In the theatres in China flash photography seemed to be allowed, so we’d go out on stage feeling as though we were Little Mix or something. And then in Moscow, they take flowers to throw onto the stage at the end of the performance which feels slightly archaic. It was so interesting and enjoyable to see how different cultures responded to theatre. Loved it.
Do you have any advice for people trying to break out in this industry?
Have fun. It is advice so seldom given, I think. Especially in a world that is so focused on getting ‘results’ and only pins value onto people that are constantly achieving. Take a moment. Find the fun in every single thing you do. I assure you, it’ll pay off. Sometimes it’s difficult, I can’t always manage it, but people like working with people who have fun. I know I do.
Also, I do at least one thing every day that will help my career, whether it’s email-cum-pestering someone new, or studying in order to get better at the craft itself. Look, I left drama school without an agent or a job or any idea what to do next, for a moment I thought that the cards had been dealt and that was that, I wasn’t going to be an actor. But seven odd years later, I’m still doing that one thing every day and I’m in a much better position.
Oh, and make sure you surround yourself with lovely people. That’s not even entertainment industry specific, it’s just quite nice.
Away from TV and film, you're in rock band Midnight Mouth! How did you find yourself going into music and down that path?
It’s very, very fun. When I was a teenager - like most teenagers - I wanted to be a rock star. It didn’t happen and listening back to our recordings, I can see why… But now I’m back behind a guitar and enjoying it a lot. Plus, it’s really nice to spend time with some of my best mates and satisfy the itch that teenage-me longed so desperately to scratch. There’s also something about the camaraderie of being in a band that I like a lot. If you come and see us play a gig as a direct result of reading this article, come and tell me and I’ll buy you a lime and soda.
You are a published author! Tell us a bit about your book and your writing process.
Having my first children’s book (In The Dead Of The Night) published has been one of the single proudest moments of my life. I remember opening the file of Tom Knight’s brilliant illustrations for the first time and thinking how honoured I felt that such a skilled artist had brought my story to life with immense fun and vividness - is that a word?
Writing is what I spend most of my time doing. I write almost every day. Very occasionally, I think something is good enough to send to Silvia, my literary agent, and even more occasionally she tells me that it’s good enough to try and get published. So to have actually managed it is a dream come true. The great thing about writing kids’ books is that there’s no rules about making quite serious things very silly, and vice versa. I like that.
You also make your own perfume! Can you tell us a little bit about that side of your career?
Well, I don’t strictly make the perfume. A while back I met a perfumer called Sarah McCartney. She runs a really cool perfume brand called 4160 Tuesdays. I told her that I’d always been very interested in fragrances and asked if I could go along to the studio to see how it is made. That was five years ago and she still hasn’t got rid of me. I bottle things mostly, and help send orders out. Although Sarah has let me loose in the materials cupboard a couple of times to make things for myself. And we have collaborated twice, once on a perfume called Freeway which was for a store in LA called Luckyscent, and once on a fragrance called Rehearsal Room which was based on the RSC’s rehearsal studios in Clapham.
Acting is a career that has a lot of ‘down time’, and when I’m not writing, going and helping out at 4160 Tuesdays helps keep things interesting and fulfilling. We’ve all become a bit of a family now, and I love going over to the studio and spending time around things that smell seriously good. Do check out her perfumes, she’s got one called The Sexiest Scent On The Planet Ever. Surely that’s worth a try?
What are some of your biggest passions we may not know about?
I’m lucky enough to be able to make a living from my biggest passions. What an immense privilege is that!
I love houseplants. Is that really lame? They make the best pets. They don’t jump up at you. They don’t need walking. They don’t bring dead birds into the kitchen. They don’t make any noise and they don’t smell… Okay some do smell.
Other notable passions include; swimming, glow in the dark stars, fossils, painting, reading, eating dhal, politics, recycling, drinking coffee from tin mugs and watching interviews with Bill Murray. I love travelling as well; my mother and I went backpacking around Ethiopia last year - that was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Thanks mum.
Is there anything else coming up for you in 2020 that we should know about?
Er, the first thing that springs to mind is that In The Dead Of The Night is being published in Korea!
It’s only out in Australia so far. We don’t have a UK release scheduled yet. Which is sad because all my friends will lose interest quite soon.
But for the book’s second territory to be one that requires a massive translation is really cool… Although of course, I won’t be able to check the translation unless I learn Korean… Perhaps that will be a thing coming up in 2020: learning Korean.
The Trouble With Maggie Cole starts on Wednesday, March 4th at 9pm on ITV.
Tagged in ITV