From 'Once' to 'Broadchurch': Arthur Darvill On Life After 'Doctor Who' [Interview]

Arthur Darvill Broadchurch (2)

Arthur Darvill has died, traveled through time, fallen in love, found god and got caught up in a small-town murder mystery in the past year alone. And he had to work on his lousy Irish accent.

About this time in 2012, fans of the classic science fiction series “Doctor Who” were gearing up for his and Karen Gillan’s final season of adventures through time and space with Matt Smith’s Time Lord. But even before audiences learned the fate of Darvill’s Rory Williams and Gillan’s Amy Pond, the actor had already moved out of the TARDIS and on to BBC’s “Broadchurch,” Belgium and, shortly thereafter, to Broadway.

Now, a year later, American audiences can see the result of Darvill’s work outside the Whoniverse. In fact, when news of Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi broke last Saturday, Darvill wasn’t in a blue police call box but in a dressing room, preparing for the matinee show of “Once,” the musical production where he plays the lead.

Having taken over for Steve Kazee and Ben Hope, Darvill plays a heartbroken Irish musician in the stage adaptation of the 2006 film. His “Guy” meets and connects with “Girl” (played by Joanna Christie), who becomes his muse. A dream job to act on Broadway and live in New York City, Darvill’s run on the show will wrap towards the end of the year but has afforded him the chance to perform on this year’s Tony Awards, as well as waking up really early to appear on yesterday’s “Good Day New York.”

Meanwhile, last night marked the premiere of “Broadchurch,” the small-town crime series airing on BBC America at 10 p.m. In the show, a beachside village is devastated when a young boy is found murdered on the surf, and Darvill is Rev. Paul Coates, a man of the cloth who has to attend to his grieving congregation. But since this is a noirish murder mystery, it is a good bet that Coates will receive scrutiny by the local detective – played by fellow “Doctor Who” alum David Tennant.

Darvill will also appear in two episodes of the Belgium-fimed historical drama “The White Queen” about the women operating behind-the-scenes of England’s own game of thrones, the War of the Roses. In the show, which premieres on Starz this Saturday at 8 p.m., he plays Lord Buckingham, the guy assumed to have killed the little princes in “Richard III.”

With much to talk about, Arthur Darvill joined me at the Manhattan offices of theatrical publicity firm Boneau/Bryan-Brown. In addition to sporting the scruffy beard for his “Once” character, he came in wearing a Bon Iver tee. Along with a woven bracelet, he had a wristband that looked to be from some club but was actually from the New Jersey water park he’d visited the previous day (and which specified he was over 48” tall). What follows is the result of a conversation about “Doctor Who” and his place within that world, along with conversations on the crimes of “Broadchurch” and his life on Broadway.

MTV Geek: You’ve been a busy guy since wrapping “Doctor Who.”

Arthur Darvill: Yeah, I haven’t stopped! As soon as I finished "Doctor Who" [in Spring 2012] I went straight on to do this thing called “The Paradise,” which is a BBC One episode, then I came back and did loads of bits and pieces and started rehearsing for a play I did in London at the same time whilst filming “Broadchurch” in Bristol, and that finished at Christmas and I went to Belgium to film this thing called “The White Queen,” which is coming out on Starz – which I’m in two episodes with hilarious hair. Then this, and this came up. I got cast a few weeks before we started [in April] and I got cast in March … I flew out to New York and auditioned here and found out just before I got on the plane back to London that I’d gotten the job.

Geek: Are you going to stick around New York after “Once”?

Darvill: No, I’m going back to London. I’m going back home. I really do love it here; it’s a great city to work in and it’s definitely very near the top of my list of things to achieve in life. I always imagined it would be a straight play on Broadway, but to be the lead in a musical on Broadway is a ridiculous aspiration to have. It kind of freaked me out when I got it. And not in a pressure way, but it didn’t quite seem real … but I get itchy feet quite easily so once this is finished I’ll be ready to move on to the next thing.

Geek: This satisfies the big dream?

Darvill: Completely. I’ve been obsessed with New York for ages. From watching “Ghostbusters” on repeat to Woody Allen films. A lot of the stuff I was reading and watching growing up was … everything was just pointing to this city.

Geek: Did you grow up as a “Doctor Who” fan?

Darvill: No, not at all. It wasn’t really on when I was younger.

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Geek: So does working on Broadway leave more of an impact on you than having worked in the “Doctor Who” world.

Darvill: Yeah, I suppose in a way. I am really proud of the work we did on “Doctor Who” and really pleased I was there at a time that the writing was at its peak. And work with Matt and Steve was good stuff but it was a world that I didn’t really … I wasn’t a massive fan before and I was pleased about that. There are shows that, if you’re a huge fan of them, to then be cast on them makes your job really hard because of the pressure of that. If you know something so well you can only ever think about what you’re doing in it … If I was cast in [“Breaking Bad”] I’d flip out and wouldn’t be able to do it. It would be more than fulfilling a dream; I’d be the guy just smiling into the camera the whole time. It was good I wasn’t a “Who” fan, and once I was on it I grew to really love it and went back and watched old episodes.

Geek: Was it a natural to adapt to the Irish music of “Once” and have you always loved Irish music?

Darvill: There’s a real culture of singer/songwriter stuff in Ireland and the U.K. In Birmingham, where I grew up, there’s a big Irish population. My best mate is Irish. One of my best mates is kin, Barry, who is a brilliant actor, and he was in the play “Our Boys” I did. We grew up together, and his sisters are in an Irish band. We used to listen to traditional Irish stuff. It was always there, always a flavor with the gigs I’d go to see. And those were the best pubs to go to because there was always an old fella with an accordion playing guitar.

Geek: How is your friend’s reception of your Irish accent in “Once”?

Darvill: I’ll tell you what; I phoned him when I got the job from the cab. He just went, “How the f--- did you get the job? Your Dublin accent is awful.” Help Me! But he didn’t help me at all. Bastard. But yeah, he found it quite funny. Since then, I’ve had some dialect lessons and I think it’s all right now.

Geek: Do you have any experience with small towns like the one in “Broadchurch”?

Darvill: I grew up in a city so it wasn’t really close to me in terms of coming from a small town. I’ve been to lots of them.

Geek: When you drive through, do you fear the locals and their dark secrets?

Darvill: In the UK there’s a program called “Midsomer Murders” about a small town where someone dies every week, and that’s kind of how I imagine small towns in the UK. But those towns are really tight communities and I think Chris Chibnall who wrote it based it on where he’s from. I think it’s so well done. I suppose it has to be publicized as a genre thing – a murder mystery, a cop drama -- for people to lock on to it but it’s not any of that. It is about a small town. It is about “this” thing that happens in it and how the people react to it. Chris and the people in it have created a whole bunch of very, very real and very, very complex people who secrets have to come out in order to find out who killed this child. It is really subtle writing and very clever. I was really honored to be asked to be involved.

Geek: Does your preparation for the role involve getting involved in religion or do you just pick up the script and read it your way?

Darvill: I said I’d do it before I’d read anything. Me and Chris spoke about it and part of my concern was that I was so young playing a vicar. He said, they do exist in age 30-31. I’m not particularly religious; I was in the school choir and been to lots of churches but I don’t really … so I found all this stuff about openly talking about religion didn’t sit well in my mouth, so I met a vicar and spent a couple days with him in a small town. I learnt loads and how much responsibility there is. And there’s an element of theatre to it because you get up and speak … so much is just helping people deal with death.

Geek: With such a dark tone, was it a hard set to chill out from?

Darvill: What was so nice is they cast really nice people. That was part of their casting policy; they didn’t want anyone they didn’t like as people. They said that. You have those scenes where it is difficult, emotional. But actually we had some of the most fun I’ve had on a set.


Geek: Did you and David Tennant trade war stories from “Doctor Who”

Darvill: You know, we actually didn’t! It was the first time we’d really met properly. We had so much stuff to talk about we didn’t really … there was nothing really to say.

Geek: Will you be returning for a second season of “Broadchurch”?

Darvill: I don’t know what I’m allowed to say. I don’t think I am allowed to say. I don’t think anything has been confirmed yet.

Geek: We know there will be a second season…

Darvill: Yeah, there will be a second season. I haven’t sworn any secrecy. I mean, yeah, I’m in it. I don’t even know if I’m allowed to say it or not. But yeah, as far as I’m concerned, yeah, I’m doing it. I’m so used to having to keep things secret with “Doctor Who”! If you get asked a question … but yeah.

Geek: What are some lessons from “Doctor Who” you’ve taken forward to other jobs?

Darvill: I learned a lot. I went to drama school and learned a lot about theater and technique and how to speak verse and do eight shows a week. I read a lot. It was very much theater training and came out and had no idea what I was doing on screen at all. “Doctor Who” gave me the confidence. And playing a character that long who goes through such a big journey, I learned so much about to relax in front of a camera.

Geek: As we approach the 50th Anniversary of “Doctor Who,” are there moments you reflect back on, like special memories you flash back to?

Darvill: There’s a few of them actually. There were days on set that were amazing, and so much is you don’t realize it. Me and Matt -- we knew each other before when we were mates for a while – had a few moments of turning to each other and saying, “This is our job” and feeling really lucky. By the time we came to New York to have a screening of, I think the first episode of Season Six, it was myself, Matt, Karen, Alex Kingston, Steven Moffat. We turned up in this car together and all our names was on the cinema thing and that was one of the first times when I went, “Oh my god, this is really ridiculous.” And all the stuff at the end of Season Five with all the Roman stuff, and myself and Karen up a hill in the rain, filming night after night, trying to get those emotional scenes. That’s one of the times it felt most satisfying because it was hard and we had to really try to make each other laugh to get through it. So much of it was us just helping each other out, and making each other laugh to get through the days. It was that relationship between the three of us, and Alex when she was there, that I will take away.


Geek: Have you guys hung out since you wrapped?

Darvill: Oh yeah. When Matt was filming that Ryan Gosling thing he was in Detroit, and he came down and we hung out for a bit. Karen was here for a day and then off to shoot in London. We just catch up. Matt and Jenna came to see the show, and we don’t really look back.

Geek: Your former “Doctor Who” cohorts are also moving on to other projects. I saw Karen at Comic-Con with a shaved pate…

Darvill: She looks like a crash-test dummy now, but she can pull off the shaved head.

Geek: Do you see yourself wanting to move into the super hero or action movie world?

Darvill: Absolutely. Anything. I’m so open to new things. I think it’d be great to do stuff like that. I’m interested in working and finding other jobs, but I’ve also grown up watching Superman on repeat, so there’s a little part of me … but I’d have to play the guy in the lab who is clever and works on the computer. Like Alan Cumming’s character in “Goldeneye.”

Geek: Although he ended up being Nightcrawler…

Darvill: Yeah! I can work my way through. I just have to beef up. I went to a water park yesterday. It was great. It was myself and [Joanna Christie] and Ari from our cast. And there’s a show called “First Date” with Zach Levi, so Zach went and [Krysta Rodriguez] from that and a few other people. So it was two casts went to this water park. I jumped in the water and the first thing I did was pull my back out! I just carried on going because I was having too much fun, but that’s how action/adventure I get.

Geek: If Steven Moffat, or a future showrunner, had an idea to bring Rory and Amy back, would you go or is that chapter closed?

Darvill: That’s a really hard question. I don’t know. It’s not something I’ve even considered. I really don’t know how to answer. When me and Karen left, as far as I’m concerned, that’s it. It feels very much like a closed book and that chapter’s over. It would have to be something really mental and something special. I wouldn’t want to go back and … No. No. I think that’s it. No. It really feels like a neat story, and I’ve done everything I want to with that character and I’ve moved on so much since then it would be odd.

Geek: And where were you when you learned that Peter Capaldi would be the next Doctor?

Darvill: I was at work, in the dressing room. I think it’s such a brilliant decision. There’s something about giving people what they want and I think that’s giving people what they want. Anyone to follow Matt, who has been so brilliant, has got the hardest job in the world, so to choose one of the best actors in the country who is also a massive fan? It’s a really good idea.