The Chemistry Lesson

Part of a series of BBC TV films under the collective titleGhosts, The Chemistry Lesson was written and directed by Terry Johnson.

I play a Chemistry teacher named Phillip Goodall who is in love with his co-worker Mandy, played by Samantha Bond. But when his love for her is not requited, he devises a very unusual way to change her mind.

The film also starred British film legend Sylivia Sims, Jack Klaff (who had co-written the play It's Not The End of The World which I toured Scotland with in 1987), Louise Rea and Julia Ford (whom I had worked with in Knickers at Bristol Old Vic in 1989). I later appeared alongside Samantha Bond in the James Bond movie Goldeneye, a year later.

I had admired Terry Johnson's work in his playsInsignificance and Hysteria, so I was really delighted to get to work with him. The film was originally more about sexual obsession, so Sam and I became pretty intimate shooting some of the sex scenes - a lot of which ended up on the cutting room floor, due to the BBC censors. There's nothing worse than having a sex scene cut! You feel you went through all that stress for nothing! But even so, it was a really interesting idea, and it was great to be in something so radically different coming right out of shooting The High Life!

The High Life

The BBC commissioned me and Forbes Masson to write a half-hour comedy pilot which became The High Life, and we shot it at the beginning of 1993, and was broadcast with a number of other pilots as part of Comic Asides in 1994.

Then a  full six-part series was commissioned, and we wrote that in various cottages and houses in Perthshire, Crewe and the Midi Pyrenees to name but a few in 1993/94 , shot in the autumn of 1994 and they were broadcast in early 1995.

The series followed the antics of Sebastian Flight (named after the character in Brideshead Revisited, but spelled differently of course), played by me and Steve McCraken, played by Forbes. The chief purser, Shona Spurtle ('Hitler in tights, Mussolini in micromesh, Pol Pot in pantyhose'), was played by the amazing Siobhan Redmond, and their pilot, Captain Duff was played by Patrick Ryecart. They all worked for a tatty Scottish airline called Air Scotia, and were all a bit mad. The series location sequences were shot at Prestwick Airport, and in and around Glasgow, Scotland. Production then moved back to London and studio sequences were shot in front of a live audience.

This was really fun to shoot because we were getting away with so many dirty things. It was quite wicked because a lot of the Scottish-ness in the script hid the fact that we were saying things that people hadn’t said on national TV before. The writing was really difficult because we were trying to do something different, something almost surreal and the people at the BBC were a little frightened, a little nervous. They kept trying to hem us in, but we knew the success of the show would be its wildness and abandon. And I think we were right.

The High Life was the swan song for Forbes and I working together, and whenever I go back to Britain I am always amazed and happy that it has a place in so many people's hearts and I think it is a great thing that we created something together that has had such a lasting effect.

Someone has very kindly put the entire series up on youtube, but here is my favorite bit out of all the episodes. I think  Ann Scott Jones who play Gretchen Betjamin is brilliant. I sort of still can't believe we got away with being so bonkers.

And also the opening titles dance, which is something of a classic, even if I do say so myself.


Butter, is a short film that I wrote and directed. It was my directorial debut and I was really lucky to have a great friend, Dixie Linder, to produce it and a bunch of really great actor friends to be in it and help me bring it to fruition.

Originally I wrote Butter as a short one woman piece that was performed as part of a trio of plays calledListen, I'm Talking at the RSC Fringe Festival in Newcastle in 1990.

I am really fascinated by food issues, I have had them myself, and I think there is a huge problem in the way people can seek their own happiness, desirability and self-worth through or via food.  I had listened to many people's stories and anecdotes and finally I put pen to paper andButter was the result. Also, like Jane in the film,  I equate comfort with mashed potatoes, so that's why they play such an important part!

Jane (who was played by my ex-wife Hilary Lyon) has an eating problem. She has bought and prepared a feast for an unseen date who calls in sick and sends her spiraling round London, visiting friends and revisiting old habits. The film also stars Jane Horrocks, Helena Bonham Carter, Richard E. Grant, Richard Wilson, Susan Wooldridge, Andy de la Tour, and me myself in a cameo as Jane's secretary. The film premiered at the Edinburgh Festival in 1994 and played at many other film festivals before being shown on Channel 4 TV.

Black Beauty

During the filming of Circle of Friends, I returned to London and recorded the voice of Black Beauty in the film of the same name. Yes, I am beauty.

The great thing about doing this movie was meeting the writer/director Caroline Thompson, who has become a really great friend of mine and many of my friends. In fact it turns out she is one of my best friend's cousins!!

It was quite an odd thing to do, to narrate a whole film as a horse, but I just thought of it in the same way as I do about every part: pretend to be someone else (or some species else) and mean it.

 I went on to work with Caroline in  1996 in her film, Buddy, and I hope to continue to work with her till we are both old and grey. Oh wait, we already are.

It was Black Beauty that first took me to America, actually. I was flown over just before the film was released to do some last minute changes. I must be one of the only people who can say they came to America on the back of a horse.

Circle of Friends

Pat O'Connor directed this film version of Maeve Binchy's novel, Circle of Friends, set in rural Ireland in the 1950s.

I played Sean Walsh, the slimy suitor of Minnie Driver's Benny, who worked in her father's clothing shop. The film also starred Chris O'Donnell, Colin Firth, Saffron Burrows and Geraldine O'Rawe. It was shot in Kilkenny and Dublin.

I really enjoyed this film. Pat is great, and it was a really lovely cast. I was going through a rough time personally so it was great for me to be away in the countryside, working hard and having fun with new friends on location. And Sean Walsh was just so slimy and awful - I loved playing him. People still come up to me in the street and start talking about the double entry system!!

I made my first foray into Hollywod with this film. I went to LA for the press junkets and the premiere, and shortly after that I started being offered work in the US.