DCI Hunt Philip Glenister - from Ashes to Ashes to Richmond life

PUBLISHED: 01:09 19 July 2011 | UPDATED: 15:47 20 February 2013

Phil Glenister in Demons

Phil Glenister in Demons

Best known as DCI Gene Hunt in Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, Philip Glenister is also the star of ITV1's new hit series, Demons. Here, the 45-year-old actor, who lives with his wife and children near Richmond, talks to ALAN TOVEY about swapping...

Curly Wurlys; they've been troubling actor Philip Glenister recently. You might think a chocolate bar would be of little consequence to the man who brings to life the character of cocksure DCI Gene Hunt in time-travelling TV shows Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. However, you'd be wrong.

Taking a break after a punishing 35 weeks of filming, the actor decided to write a book comparing the 70s and 80s with today, and therein lies the problem.

"I was knackered after shooting and it was just another string to the old bow," says the 45-year-old. "It was about all different things from the past: food, clothes, TV shows... sweets."

And that's where the chocolate treat comes in. Things Ain't What They Used To Be is a joyous trip into nostalgia that discusses vital issues such as: 'Are Curly Wurlys getting smaller or are we just getting bigger?'

So what would Phil like to bring back from that period? "Hanging," he blurts out in a display his screen alter-ego would be proud of.

Manchester's mean streets

It was playing the 70s detective, of course, that saw the nation take Phil to their hearts, as he drove his gold Ford Cortina around Manchester's mean streets in BAFTA-winning Life on Mars.

But Phil's not sure what it is about DCI Hunt, who returns to our screens in a new series of the sequel Ashes to Ashes this spring, that has made him such a hit.

"You're asking the wrong person," he laughs. "Actually, I think he's someone people can identify with. He's a knee-jerk reaction to the nanny-state we see at the moment and the way some people - particularly our politicians - lie their way through life. People see Gene as their kind of voice."

Judging from Phil's plain speaking, there are plenty of similarities between him and Gene. "I'm sure there are," he says, "otherwise I wouldn't be so comfortable playing him. But I can't pinpoint them. I'm not sure what they are and maybe I don't want to know."

He's certainly found favour with many of today's police. Read any blog by a frontline officer and you'll find it littered with references to Life on Mars and wistful longings for the good old days when DCI Hunt was the sheriff in town.

"I've met loads of coppers and they've all been very nice," says Phil. "They always seem to have a story about how they have known a Gene Hunt in the past. My hat's off to them; they do a tough old job."

And should Phil suddenly find himself installed as chief constable of Surrey, we can look forward to some no-nonsense old-fashioned policing.

"First thing I would do is scrap all these targets. Any government official who said I had to meet these targets would be told to shove it. People want the streets sorted out - knife crime, disaffected youth - and going around giving parking tickets to hit targets isn't the way to do it."

A British Buffy

Ironically, his latest role sees him back patrolling the streets once again - though this time he's trying to rid them of vampires rather than criminals...

The star of ITV1's new hit series Demons, a contemporary spin on Bram Stoker's Dracula set in modern-day London, Phil plays American vampire slayer Rupert Galvin who bursts into the life of his teenage godson Luke (Christian Cooke) to tell him that he is the last descendant of Abraham Van Helsing. Furthermore, it's his destiny to finish off the half-life creatures that want to kill him.

"I'm his mentor basically and I'm there to save him and toughen him up - and to take on lots of vampires," says Phil. "People tell me it's a bit like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I never saw that so I wouldn't know. So I'll say it's Buffy-ish. It's basically a good old yarn about good against evil."

Also helping Luke in his quest is his best friend Ruby (Holliday Grainger) and the beautiful but icy cold Mina Harker (Zoe Tapper) - a blind concert pianist who is the foremost authority on the undesirable entities preying on humanity.

"It's a bit of a Scooby gang," jokes Phil. "They are all young, gifted and beautiful and then there's me... the dad character. Maybe Galvin is the sensible one in Scooby Doo, Fred, but much older..."

Though he performs many of his own stunts in the show, one of the biggest challenges he had to face was mastering an American accent.

"I was quite nervous at first," he admits. "I came straight off the back of Ashes to Ashes but thought from the off that Galvin would be a nice removal from playing Gene. I did have a voice coach, who was on set for the first week, but after that I was okay. Now I've swapped 'Huntisms' for Americanisms!"

In demand

While Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes both have a huge cult following, starring in ITV1's Saturday night flagship show has cemented his position as one of Britain's most in-demand actors. Surprisingly, though, he says he originally fell into the profession by accident after a drunken bet in a pub that led to "am-dram and a pantomime".

"They say you need talent, technique and luck, and of those three, luck is the one that will be key," says Phil, whose older brother, Robert Glenister, has just returned to our screens in BBC1's Hustle.

"Once you have fallen into it, you need to work your socks off. It's not just a case of you say 'I'm going to be an actor' and then it all goes wonderfully. It's bloody hard work. It's a tough profession and getting tougher because it's very overcrowded. You've got to be pretty hard to cope with this industry - 'luvvie' doesn't come into it.

"Becoming famous is not something I set out to do; I set out to make a living and do good work. You don't start out thinking, 'I'm going to be famous'. If that's your attitude then you probably won't succeed."

But, like it or not, Phil is famous now, as he can measure by the actors' running joke of how many times he's made the cover of the Radio Times. Then there are the knock-on TV appearances - "Getting an invite to Jools Holland's Hootenanny was really good" - that are another sign.

He's even blasted around the Top Gear track at Dunsfold Aerodrome, near Godalming, although he wasn't impressed by his performance. His 1min 54.3sec lap saw him sandwiched between actress Kristin Scott Thomas and BBC news anchor Kate Silverton. "I was very disappointed - it was very wet and I kept skidding. Even the Stig span off, which he said was a first."

A private person

But as well as the fun, Phil's experienced the downside of fame, too. He's reluctant to reveal much about his home life with his wife Beth Goddard, an actress, and children Millie, six, and Charlotte, three, except that he lives near Richmond in "just a house."

"I just think it's private," he says. "I'm not interested in reading about these people in OK! magazine 'sharing their living room'. I know what it's about - money - but I just think it's an arrogance that we should be interested. My life's rather dull really."

But there's also another reason for his reticence. When Life on Mars first became a prime time hit, Phil found himself and his family being trailed by a photographer.

"You get these magazines following you around because they want to get a picture of you falling off your bike or looking an idiot, which I find rather sinister. This guy followed me around for the weekend so I tried to bore him into submission - took the family to lunch, the kids to the park - and he still kept following me.

So I went up to him in the end and said, 'Why are you following me?'. He said, 'I'm not'. I said, 'You have been since yesterday morning'. He said, 'Well, how do you know?'. And I said, 'Believe it or not, I play a bloody detective'. And that was the last I saw of him."
Delivered in DCI Gene Hunt's menacing growl, you can understand why.

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine February 2009

Best known as DCI Gene Hunt in Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, Philip Glenister is also the star of ITV1's new hit series, Demons. Here, the 45-year-old actor, who lives with his wife and children near Richmond, talks to ALAN TOVEY about swapping criminals for vampires...

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