What’s the idea of Not Safe for Work?
It’s a comedy drama set predominantly in Northampton, all about the Civil Service – well, about the people who work within it. They all work for the Immigration Pathway. It was the brainchild of Kathy (played by Zawe Ashton) and was designed to actually do some good, but it’s turned out to be one of those places where they send everyone who is crap at their job or damaged in one way or another. So the characters are all lost, in their own way. I play Anthony, who is an old flame of Katherine’s – actually more of a quick shag, and kind of the reason for her divorce. It’s quite uncomfortable for both of them that they end up working together again.
Anthony seems a bit more on top of things than the others. How did he end up there?
Yeah, Anthony’s actually quite capable. The reason he ended up there was because an opportunity opened up and he pounced on it. He wanted to leave London. He wanted to get away, because of Katherine and the things that had gone on there. He was running away, though, so in that sense he sort of belongs with the other lost folks.
What attracted you to the part?
I loved the way it’s written – everyone seems so tragic in it. Jeffries, who’s played by Anastasia Hille, is amazing. The script is so brilliant at jumping from a moment of real cringeworthy laughter to something really quite moving. It straddles the line of comedy-drama very well. It does that in a very real way, it doesn’t feel like it’s full of caricatures. It’s brilliantly written. I love the moments where you see real tragedy, as with Jeffries. You’re just seeing someone who’s literally on the verge of a breakdown the entire time. She does it so amazingly well.
The show itself is set in an office which doesn’t look like much fun to work in. Have you ever had an office job?
I did, yeah. Only a part-time one. I actually worked for a company that specialised in getting people over to New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. It was horrible, I hated every minute of it. I’m not designed at all to be in an office. It made me realise that I probably have a little bit of ADHD, and I just can’t be inside for too long. I definitely don’t think working in an office is a bad thing to do, and I imagine that there’s really great offices to work in, companies that really excel in making sure that everybody’s happy. But this place was definitely not like that. You could smell the asbestos. It was awful.
Most of your scenes are with Zawe Ashton. What was that like?
It was brilliant. Zawe and I clicked pretty much instantly, as soon as we met. We’re very good friends now. It’s really great when you meet someone who just really wants to work hard. And she’s so good, and so committed to making the scenes and the work as good as possible. But at the same time, she does it in a very fun way, she’s a lot of fun to work with. She leads the show brilliantly well. It was a dream to do things with Zawe. We just tried to make each other laugh all the time.
She is a very funny actor, and it’s a very funny script. Did you have any problems with corpsing?
Not as much as I thought we would. But as we got a bit more comfortable and started to improvise a little bit, then it got a bit hard. She’s very, very quick, and very, very funny. It got harder the more comfortable we all got with each other.
Where was the show filmed?
Up in Glasgow. That was a brilliant experience. I’d never been before, and Glasgow is a really great place. We were there during the Commonwealth Games as well, so there was loads happening. And the World Cup had just finished, and Wimbledon had started, it was just a brilliant summer of sport. And the food there was incredible. It was equal parts work and play.
Have you ever actually been to Northampton?
No! One of my closest friends is from Northampton, but I’ve never been, I’ve just passed through on the train. I don’t think it’s that bad – my friend who’s from there hasn’t said it’s the best place on Earth, but I don’t think anyone says that about where they’re from. I think there are a lot of places like Northampton around the UK.