Actor Simon Callow (Four Weddings and a Funeral, A Room With A View) chats below about his role in new standalone drama The Dead Room, written and directed by Mark Gatiss.
The Dead Room also stars Anjli Mohindra (The Sarah Jane Adventures), as well as Susan Penhaligon and Joshua Oakes-Rogers, and will air on BBC Four on Christmas Eve at 10pm.
The Dead Room is set against the backdrop of a long-running radio horror series. Its veteran presenter and national treasure, Aubrey Judd (Simon Callow) has been telling classic ghost stories forever. But times are changing and the audience’s tastes are shifting. Plus, there’s a new young producer who wants to move away from the current format. Aubrey soon discovers that all is not well in the eerie radio studio as elements of his own past are not as dead and buried as he perhaps hoped.
Introduce your character and tell us about The Dead Room…
I play Aubrey, who is a very famous radio actor – one of the great stars of radio. Famously, in our story, Aubrey introduces ghost stories and our drama starts on one of such occasions – but then it all turns rather ghostly itself.
What attracted you to the project?
The script is excellent. It’s a really clever, witty, dark and quite a political story. Mark [Gatiss] is also a very old and very dear friend – we’ve wanted to work together on something like this for a long time. The reason we know each other is from Doctor Who – he wrote an episode of Doctor Who in which I played Charles Dickens. That was a brilliant piece of writing and a lot of people liked that very much – it helped to humanise Dickens in some people’s minds. Not everybody knows about the man… most people know about the books, whether they have read them or not, but Mark’s episode was a rare example of showing the man in a human and vulnerable, yet crazy Doctor Who way.
Have you worked with any other cast members before?
I’ve met Susan [Penhaligon] many times at parties and things like that. We have friends in common. But I’ve never worked with Susan or Anjli [Mohindra] before.
Do you believe in ghosts?
On television yes – but not from personal experience. Some people are susceptible to these things and I am not. I’ve got no ghost story to tell.
Why do you think ghost stories work so well at Christmas time?
It’s a very old tradition. It’s true – it goes back to Dickens. In The Pickwick Papers, when they are all having their Christmas knees up they sit around and tell ghost stories. I think it’s pre-Christian really, it’s probably quite pagan. Christmas is very connected to the winter solstice, driving away the darkness and bringing the light back again. Ghost stories represent the dark – but most, not all, have a relatively happy ending. I think we like to scare ourselves we like to tell each other scary stories. Unfortunately sometimes some scary stories – like Brexit – turn into a reality.
How was shooting at Maida Vale?
It was great. It’s a wonderful place. It’s miraculous. It hadn’t been in use for some time and Mark had always set his heart on shooting there – it brought a lot of atmosphere. It was a little bit spooky in itself as we were the only people working in a studio there. There were all these empty rooms – very occasionally somebody else would come in but it felt very different to working in a thriving studio.
Have you worked in a radio drama before?
I’ve done a lot of radio. I did my first radio in 1975. I’ve recorded some of the great ghost stories – M. R. James and Dickens and so on. They are very enjoyable to do – because you sense the reader getting more and more spooked as you go on.
It’s very clever of Mark to have used The Dead Room as the title – because of course a ‘dead room’ is the name for a soundproofed room for recording radio. I’ve always thought there was something poetic about that idea – a dead room. The room itself is dead? Or maybe it’s the room of the dead?
What would you like for Christmas this year?
I would like a few ten day weeks. I’d like to extend the year a little bit. If Santa could bring me some time, I’d be very grateful. Money is always nice, but time is better.
The Dead Room airs on BBC Four at 10:00pm on Christmas Eve.
Don’t forget to read BlogtorWho‘s spoiler-free preview of The Dead Room!
Set and fllmed at the legendary BBC Maida Vale Studios, The Dead Room tells the story of a long-running radio horror series and its veteran presenter and national treasure Aubrey Judd. But times are changing. Tastes are shifting. There’s a new young producer. Whatever happened to the classic ghost stories? The good old days? Aubrey soon discovers that all is not quiet in the eerie radio studio and that elements of his own past are not as dead and buried as he perhaps hoped.
The Dead Room, a chilling new ghost story written and directed by Mark Gatiss featuring Simon Callow, Anjli Mohindra, Susan Penhaligon and Joshua Oakes-Rogers.