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Hello and welcome to How to Fail with Elizabeth Day, the podcast that celebrates the things that haven't gone right.
This is a podcast about learning from our mistakes and understanding that why we fail ultimately makes us stronger, because learning how to fail in life actually means learning how to succeed better. I'm your host, author and journalist, Elizabeth Day, and every week I'll be asking a new interviewee what they've learned from failure.
Superintendent Hastings, the battle bent coppers, I've seen enough bent coppers, you know, if I see a bank robber, I'll go after him bent coppers and cover for the 21st century coppers.
And I'm doing mine.
And it's called Nick and Bank Robbers. We weren't born yesterday, fella. You shot that fellow in cold blood to save a fellow. This fella.
Don't you kid yourselves, fellas.
You lose in Iraq there, fellow. She's an asshole. 20 years on the force, fella. If she can't take it. God help us all. We know that fella. That's why I'm asking the organ grinder. Not a monkey. If you like me, have watched every single season of Line of Duty from the edge of your sofa, then you will know Agent Dunbar as the actor who plays Superintendent Ted Hastings, the chief of anti-corruption unit AC 12, who specializes in ferreting out bent coppers and who is the purveyor of some of television's finest catchphrases as Season six of Line of Duty approaches its heady climax.
It is such a delight to have him on the podcast today.
At the age of 62, Dunbar is one of our most seasoned and respected actors, a man who has appeared in everything from films such as The Crying Game and My Left Foot to TV series like Cracka and Ashes to Ashes.
But his first job was working at an abattoir for 80 pounds a week in his hometown of Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. He grew up in the province at a time when violence was still raging at the peak of the troubles it was acting, which took him away. Dunbar gained a place at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and went on to notch up stage credits with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Line of Duty came along in 2012 and promptly gripped the nation with its riveting storylines and unexpected plot twists.
In an interview with the Sunday Times a year later, and perhaps not fully grasping the huge success that was to come, Dunbar said he enjoyed the variety of his work life, adding, It would drive me mad to have something steady, like a long term TV series.
Adrian Dumba, how's that going for you?
Yes, very good. That's very good. I enjoyed that. Yeah, no, I mean, no. Of course I realize what a privilege it is to be in a long term tele series that's doing so well. I mean, I was just talking about it today with Fergie and Martin and just saying how fabulous it is. I mean, the downside, of course, is that you get very attached to your character and to the other characters and you kind of do want to stop.
And with Jan Mecurio, you don't know whether you're going to end up being killed or you might be a buddy. So, you know, there is a downside to it. But no, absolutely. But I have to say in defense of that kind of rather interesting comment, when we were at drama school, all of us, myself and Neil Morrissey and everybody I remember one of our tutors saying to us that it's great to get success as an actor, but sometimes when the success comes is very significant.
And I think the success coming at this stage in my career has been really good for me. I mean, of course, it doesn't matter what time it comes, it's always good. But at this stage, it's been really, really good because I feel as if I'm ready for it and ready to deal with it, because line of duty now has become so big, you need to know how to handle it, the amount of attention and so forth.
Do you feel you know yourself better than you would have done had you got success at the age of 25? Oh, most definitely, most definitely, because as you mentioned in your intro, I was working in an abattoir for a couple of years before I then joined a band and then eventually went to drama school. And so my expectations of what I was going to do were quite low. So therefore, everything seemed to me to be a bit of a fluke.
And when you think things are a bit of a fluke, you don't tend to take them that seriously. And to a certain extent, at some point you have to take success seriously. Otherwise, people don't quite understand. And I don't think I was able to take success that seriously when I was young because I realized how difficult it was to earn 20 quid a week already a week. And I just thought acting was like a bit of a scream.
You know, it was just great fun. And at some point it was going to end and that I was just surfing a wave. So to that extent, I was more interested in the fun and frolics running alongside it most of the time than I was about ever building a career of our actually having a sense of what building a career is about or whether I could even be in control of that myself. So I absolutely know at this point that I'm in a much better place to accept success and to get the best out of it, really.
I love that idea of taking success seriously because so many of us suffer from that notion of imposter syndrome that we don't believe we deserve the space. And we feel slightly embarrassed almost by the attention. And I just think that that's a really beautiful point you just made. You mention your co-stars, Vicky McKeel and Martin Compston. And you also mentioned there Jed Mercurio, who is the creator of Line of Duty and the scriptwriter. I hope you'll forgive me, but I am a line of duty geek.
So I'm going to ask you a few questions about line of duty and then we'll get on to failure.
But I wanted to know which is more difficult learning jet mercurio's lines with all of those acronyms or working in an abattoir.
Well, technically, of course, learning all of Chad's lines, but emotionally working in an abattoir is certainly more difficult because there is something about killing animals that eventually gets to you. You think you can handle that stuff. And believe me, it hasn't put me off a bacon sandwich. Let's get that straight. But at the same time, there is no doubt that it eats into you, gets into your subconscious what you're doing. I mean, I didn't literally kill the animals.
You know, I was further down the chain, if you like. That was difficult. But learning jazz lines are also very difficult. And the older you get, the more difficult it gets. And, you know, acting's like that. It really doesn't get any easier. I think all artists probably suffer under the same thing, you know, were things that came quite easy to start now, require more work. And certainly the lines do. But I like a lot of the people I was in the abattoir with who were my age, we couldn't really wait to get out because the working conditions were pretty bad, especially in the winter when you went in in the dark and you came out in the dark.
That was a real killer.
You film line of duty in your homeland in Northern Ireland. And I know that you have a great friendship with Ricky Martin. So do you hang out together and test lines and run lines together or do they help you through? Yes, absolutely.
I mean, we're a real bubble, the three of us. We've had to be during lockdown. So we have flats in the same block of flats. And we kind of were in another one of those rooms and we helped one another and we let one another. What's happening next? And, you know, will remind one another that we've got to do this and that. So we're very much a team, the three of us. And I think Jed has said many times that was when he saw the chemistry between the three of us around Episode two, that he realised the direction that line of duty was going to go in.
I mean, the three of us are very close. We've become very close, obviously. And, you know, I can't imagine them not being in my life anymore.
We discovered last season. And I have to be careful what I say here, because I'm aware that we're recording this interview before season six has started airing. So everything might go completely differently from how I imagined.
But last season, we discovered that Hastings', your character, was not, in fact the criminal linchpin H, which was a huge relief for Hastings fans like myself. Was it a relief for you? Because I know that you don't find out until you get the scripts yourselves, do you?
Yes, absolutely. It was a relief for me because, you know, I had spent all this time playing this character as I saw him as having a kind of sense of duty and a moral core and so forth. And then to find out that I was somehow an arch villain would have been a complete volte face and I would have been in real difficulty accepting that. Also, Jed was aware that our audience and I think audiences in general like to think that those people who are in charge do have a sense of moral fortitude and that there are people up there who will do the right thing and prevail in difficult circumstances.
So I think all that was riding on the idea that Ted, you know, could be Abadie. So, you know, I'm glad that he came out of it with flying colors.
Are you recognised by police men and women? Yes. I mean, you know, at the moment, of course, we're all in lockdown and we're wearing masks and hats and so forth. But when it's kind of normal life, if you like. Yeah, the police do recognise me and surreptitiously might give me a thumbs up or a bit of a wink and a nod. And it's quite good fun that I think they do appreciate the fact that line of duty does try and show that there's a lot of slog in police work.
You know, there's a lot of just sitting in front of computers are hours and hours and and trying to find that one clue that might turn a whole case. And we do a bit of that in line of duty. We're not the usual police procedural in that respect. We actually do a show that takes a long time for the police to get to the answer sometimes. And criminals and certainly policemen themselves can be very duplicitous and clever. So some funny things have happened.
I remember one day a police car coming down Highgate Hill and screeching to a halt at the bottom and everybody turning around and the window coming down and this cop saying, you know, all right, Ted, to me and Kirk as I was standing on the street. So that was very funny. I know people like Cressida Dick have said that we bear no resemblance to what really happens. But I think we're somewhere in between those two points of view.
And finally, just on the line of duty, Zekry, Jed Mecurio is famed for the precision of his scripts. But I know that you bring in your own catchphrases. What inspires them and can you give us some of your favorites? I love the one about not floating down the like in a bubble.
Yeah, absolutely. You know, that's a nice abstract of. So it's kind of quite opposite, I think the Australian version is don't come the raw prawn with me, mate.
These are bits of color that people in authority. I think that's the other thing. The police, they look at and go, yeah, we know there is someone who I've come across who was exactly like that in respect. So these were bits of color that I thought would be really interesting to add for its head and his kind of mine management skills. I said, man in management because he's not very good with women, but he brings in these little twists and turns of colour that kind of make him a bit different to everybody else, the mother of God stuff.
And all that stuff is definitely down to my dad, who used that all the time. You similar mother God for everything. Sometimes he's their mother and we knew what he meant. The other stuff are really specific. Belfast saying some of those I've come up with, some of them Jed has heard. And then sometimes when we have a Q&A afterwards, we lost the audience and say, you know, is there anything I'd quite like to hear Ted saying?
That's when we have the Q and A's in Belfast and they might write something down that we might squeeze into the next series. So there might be a couple coming up in the series to come. That will be of interest, I think.
I can't wait. Will you just call me Phala just for once? Just call me. Yeah.
All right, fella. Yeah. Yeah.
No, I mean, there are these drinking games, of course, and there's these bingo games and drinking games that people do. So I mean, all that's sort of caught on, it's all a bit bizarre, but it's fun now.
I was about to call it out there. I'm so sorry. That must happen all the time. Adrian, your failures. They made me laugh out loud. They are the best and most of the point Fania's I have ever been sent and I don't normally read them at night at the beginning, but I really want this is how I got them in the email exam's parenting life brackets exclamation mark.
Yeah, I was pretty comprehensive, but I can't wait to delve into the media. Did you find it hard coming up with ideas?
Yeah, I did find it particularly hard coming up with specific failures because of course there have been loads of specific failures, I'm sure, but thinking of them was difficult. And then when I did start thinking about failure, I started to realise the interconnectedness between all failure and that all failure does come from usually a single source. Failure is about some kind of blockage or other something that's stopping you from achieving something. And so I started to try and examine what that might be about.
I started thinking about expectations, about environment, about what's expected of you, what you expect of yourself, what you think is out there for you, and whether you're worthy to achieve it. So all those things started coming together. And I think environment and what you're born into, where you're born and what the expectations are hugely important in terms of achievement. I remember listening, for example, to Orson Welles many years ago talking about the fact that he was brought up on the East Coast, I think of America in a big, big Victorian house from a rich family.
And he had sort of two or three made who lived with his mum and dad as well in this rambling house. And he said at the age of three and four, when he'd walk into the drawing room screeching horribly on a child sized violin, they would all stand up and go, oh, my God, that's amazing. The boy's a genius. You know that that child, you know, he said he was fed positivity from day one. So when it came to the point where he was in Ireland, travelling the West Coast, trying to be an artist in his late teens or whatever it was, he just showed up in Dublin and saw that there was auditions going on for a play and he went and auditioned.
He never acted before. He just had this absolute certainty in himself that whatever he wanted to do, he could do it. And that came completely from conditioning. And I'm not saying that I came from the opposite of that, but certainly from the background I came from. You know, I came from the nationalist community, Catholic community in the west of Northern Ireland, where there was very low employment rate in the kind of fifties and sixties. And my father was a carpenter.
My two brothers are carpenters. And to that extent, it was expected that I would probably follow my father into I mean, my father comes from five generations of carpenters, so probably follow him into, you know, a trade like a lot of working class boys follow him into a trade. I do remember a moment were when I was small, maybe in seven or eight, something like this. We were right in the backyard. My brother John had a hammer.
And so and all kinds of stuff, and he was literally building himself a chest of drawers, knowing John, he was so good at carpentry and I was there making, you know, an absolute Horlicks of everything. And my mother said to my auntie, he said, what am I going to do with that child? He's got no hands. And I can do stuff, but I'm not skilled with my hands. Let my brothers were my father was there was this kind of expectation from where I came from that, you know, there were only certain things that were open to us and that was trades the idea of going on.
No one had gone to further education. And, you know, my grandmother's idea was, well, you know, if it's in them, it'll come out of them. You don't push our class to be anything other than they are. And I think there's no doubt even a very young ages and I've noticed this with studying lots of very interesting people like Wild and Beckert and so forth. There's no doubt that one to seven, as the Jesuits took one to seven, gave me the boy and I will give you the man.
And so conditioning in those years is particularly important as to what you feel is open to you and actually achievable to you as a person going forward. And I think that failure consequently is borne out of this conditioning, because these particular hurdles, when you come to them like exams and to a certain extent modern parenting and to a certain extent modern life are born out of what you think the expectations are of you and what is achievable by your conditioning. So I suddenly realized that this failure was a really interesting question because everything seemed to be connected.
So when it came to exams, I was very smart. People would shake their hands and go, oh gosh, I have no idea why he didn't get the 11. Plus we have no idea why he didn't get that or we have no idea really, you know, bright and all that. And I remember a lot of the time feeling that I didn't understand the questions, the questions I was saying to me a bit Byzantine in their nature. Wasn't there another way of saying that question so I could understand it?
And I'm not sure whether that was a blockage that I put in the way in myself. I sometimes felt that I sabotaged myself. I don't know whether you come across that particular condition thinking that, well, that's probably not for me where all this is going. So instead of that, I'll sabotage it in some way. And it's a very interesting dynamic. I find in my life that when you get scared of something, you might sabotage it because you don't believe it's a kind of a circular thing, isn't it?
Because you don't believe that actually that's the space that you can occupy. Yeah.
You don't believe you're worthy. You don't believe you were. They are they do not believe you got the facility. You don't have the tools to be able to cope with it when you do arrive. Of course, time and time again, you prove to yourself that that's not the case, that when you do arrive in certain spaces and certain places, you are comfortable within them. But the journey to that place is always the same, fraught with the difficulty of self sabotage.
So when I started to think about failure, all these things started to come to mind.
I could honestly just do a whole series of this podcast interviewing you because what you've said there is so profound and so beautifully expressed. And I completely agree with every word that idea that the blockage is so quite young.
And I wonder, you mention Orson Welles there and you mentioned Wilde and Beckett, who I know went to school in Enniskillen. And I also, although you can't hear it in my accent, grew up in the north of Ireland later than you did.
My dad is a surgeon. We moved over in 1982, now going to school against the backdrop of the troubles. I find that word quite sort of trivializing, but that's what it's called was a specific experience. And I wonder if you feel that that experience, that political backdrop also made you feel a bit uncertain, a bit under confident.
I grew up in a Skillern, which is a beautiful market town in the west of Northern Ireland. And for the first ten years, you know, we had this kind of halcyon existence as far as I was concerned. I used to walk to school and grade school friends. There was a really fabulous sense of community and there is even a sense of a united community. In the early sixties, there were things and places that we could go, whether you were Catholic abroad.
Well, we mix together and we are the housing estates that the working class has lived in or mixed estates by and large, it was only when the state had an absolutely draconian response to a civil rights movement, which was asking for equality, that things started to fall apart. And, you know, Northern Ireland became a very split society and people started moving from one state to another. And and then in that time, my father, who was from a place called the Tunnel in Portadown and County Armagh, there was a bit more work going on there because they were building what turned out to be a white elephant place called Craigavon.
And there was work going on there. So we moved back to Portadown, which in retrospect was not a good move because we moved back into what was a sort of Catholic ghetto in the north west of the town ghetto that very quickly became under siege as the loyalist community find themselves more and more threatened. That was very, very difficult coming from a scenario where you felt safe and secure and you spent your summers on the lakes fishing. I mean, I was like Huckleberry Finn.
And then suddenly you find yourself imported on or your life was completely closed in and you were worried about going up the main street in case your school uniform would give you away and you might get beaten up.
That happened. And at the moment in Northern Ireland, you have hundreds of thousands of people, as you probably know, who are still living with prescribed drugs. It's hard to imagine any parent living in Northern Ireland not needing some kind of drug to deal with the fact that at any point, as they send their children to school, they may not come back. That's really wearing on a mother. And the working classes have been devastated by that. In Northern Ireland.
We tend to forget that there are all these people out there who are absolutely suffering from what happened. I mean, over 3000 people died. Yes. But the amount of people connected to those people, I mean, there are whole towns and villages who are still suffering from the troubles. And so therefore, we have to, especially at this particular time, be very careful not to say anything inflammatory or anything that might upset those people in particular. So we're in a very difficult period at the minute.
And I think to answer your question, yes, it was difficult going to school during that period, especially when we were in Portadown. We moved back to in a Skillern and the security of Enniskillen, you know, not a sectarian place as such at all. And some five years later from Portadown. And that was a great relief. And life returned to some kind of normality within the situation. But it was very difficult. And, you know, for those children growing up in east or West Belfast in particular, it must have been very, very scary.
And the legacy of that is still with them. And of course, until everything sorted out, we won't know what the old workings of that is going to be.
Do you think you live with trauma from that period of your life? I don't think I do, I mean, when you went to Northern Ireland, I was leaving to come to the great city of London.
I know I was very offended that you left just as I arrived. I mean, very rude of you. Sorry. Carry on.
And so I came to London, which has been my home for 40 years, city I absolutely love. And, you know, I came to London, I knew loads about it. I'd studied it, read about it. And here I was, not just in London, but in the old city of London. I mean, it was absolutely thrilled. As a fan of history and geography, I absolutely loved it. I did notice when I first arrived that things that I was aware of, other people wouldn't be where, you know, someone came in through their bag in the corner, went to the toilet, things like that.
You'd think, right? What that bag, that guy, he just threw his bag in there. Right. OK, I have to wait till he comes to be aware of waiting for him to come back out of the toilet and sit back down beside his bag rather than just kind of walk out the door. And sometimes he'll be wary of silly things like seeing a car parked on its own, looking abandoned outside a public building. You just think, why is that car doing there completely?
You know, it's two o'clock in the morning. It's on a double yellow line.
You know, things like that would just kind of fleetingly and you wouldn't be kind of thinking about it. But fleetingly, these things would register with you. I remember once I was in Jerusalem with the family and we parked at the Nablus gate and we went into the Old City and we were talking and I heard a bomb go off and I looked up into the sky and I just knew it was our car. I said to Anna, who's with the kids, said, wait here.
I'm just going to go look at something. You know, why? What was that? I said, don't worry, but I'll be back. And I went and I knew just more the direction was and the fact that we were driving a budget American budget car and the intifada was kind of still on that they had identified the car as an American car. And when I went on, it was a mangled heap. Thankfully, we didn't have anything serious in it at the time, like our passports or anything that was to happen later.
But I just dealt with it like now got somebody blown up by a car. And it was like when I played in the bands, especially in Northern Ireland, when you played in bands and you were travelling late at night, it was very dangerous. And I was in three or four accidents, car accidents, mostly because people were tired of the wheel and stuff like that. But other things did happen. You did see scary things that kind of happened that really unnerved you.
And sometimes you were very close or you just missed things. And of course, when you're young and you're a teenager, late teens, I was sixteen, seventeen. This kind of air of excitement about all that, there's no doubt when I hear older people here talk about the war years and the kind of excitement there is an excitement about living through a time when you have to grasp life as much as you can because it may be taken from you.
I can understand that there was that frisson in those early 1970s going through the 70s in Northern Ireland. And I've talked to some people who are involved with the emergency services, of course. And, you know, they said it was just the most incredible time, the things that they were asked to do, living life with such a heightened level. You know, you felt so much alive in that scenario. So all these things we're living with. But I don't think I have anything like PTSD or anything like that, for example, that would come after being directly involved with a horrific incident or a death.
One of the things that I remember being so shocked by when I moved back to London was how openly people talks about religion. It was so shocking to me because I was so used to very important things being left unsaid and just sort of being sussed out rather than spoken openly about.
Thank you so much for sharing that, Adrian. How on earth did you become an actor then?
I thought I was going to do something and music.
To tell you the truth, my mother, Pauline, was a fantastic soprano. And to this day on Saturday mornings, I'll put on something that reminds me of her singing She's got Alzheimer's at the moment. So she's with us, but she's kind of not with us. I mean, it's been three years since I've had a conversation with her as such. I mean, I've sat down and spoken to her and we've been together in one another's company, but she can't speak to us anymore.
But she was a great soprano and she was the person who instilled in me a love in particular of musicals. Fred Astaire I used to love and watched all the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies when I was a kid. And Danny Kaye, I absolutely loved to bits and her singing around the house on. A love of singing and her love of being on the stage used to do all the kind of not that I saw them show before she got married.
You do all the sort of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and all that stuff. And then she subsequently did a lot of the other musicals that were staged in the town. And I thought I was going to do something in music. I thought I was going to be in a band. And indeed I had a small three piece country band. And then I played for a while with a guy called Frank Chisum, who was an Elvis Presley impersonator. And we went round Ireland and over into Wales and went to New York in 1978, 79.
And we played in the Bronx, which when I go to New York, people can't believe that I was in the Bronx in 79. And then at the same time, my cousin Imelda Plesser, who's not with us anymore, she was in a local amateur dramatics and Michael's amateur dramatics society. She said they needed help with the lights.
So I went and helped with the lights. And one of the things that struck me immediately about people who were interested in drama was that they came from all over the place. They're all different ages and they came from different backgrounds and so forth. But they're all pretty united and having a lot of fun coalescing around this idea of being somebody else and getting on the stage and performing. And I remember years ago reading something by Kurt Vonnegut, he said, look, we're all born into one family.
Yes. But then we spend the rest of our lives looking for the other family that we belong to. And I think that's true of a lot of people. I think that's true of us all, possibly to some extent that we we have a look around. We has things done. And eventually one day we go, oh, this feels like home. I don't know why entirely, but it does feel like home. And so therefore, when they asked me to play a part in the next production, they were doing small part.
I said, yeah, sure, I'll have a go at it. So I was in the band and I was playing part in the production and people said, you know, you are quite good at this. Maybe you should do an audition for a drama school. And so I did. I got a form for the Guild Hall and we sent it off and I got my audition. I said to the guys, I'm going to London to do an audition for a drama school.
And they said, well, look, we've got loads of gigs. So your job may not be here when you get back. In fact, your job won't be here. And I said, well, I'm going to give it a go. So I went to London and quite frankly, if I hadn't got in, I really didn't know what I was going to do after that. And I didn't realise that the audition would be in two stages.
So I got through the first bit. I think it was the year when the movie fame had just come out and like everybody wanted to go. Everybody wanted to go to drama school. There were thousands of people that year trying to go to drama school. And luckily I got through the first thing and said, right, OK, if you get through this, then in three weeks time we are going to ask you to come back. So I realized this is typical of me, I thought any further than getting through the first bit.
So I had I got the Evening Standard and I found there was a job being sort of advertised in a hotel in Russell Square. I went on, I got that job and for three weeks I kind of worked there. And that was a real eye opener. It was very interesting. And then eventually it came to the weekend, bit of the audition. And, you know, the most intense actually, I can probably say it's the most intense weekend I've ever spent in my whole life.
I think people lost weight over those three days. It was so nerve racking as they kind of whittled sixty of us down to 20 and then eventually 20 of us, someone in jail, Cadel Lesser Simon and Selena Cadel's mum came into the room and said, congratulations, you're all in. And we all just absolutely lost the plot.
Sounds like an X-Factor boot camp. Oh, it was absolutely. You couldn't imagine how crazy it was. We were all so desperate to get in. And so I got in with friends of mine who are still friends of mine. One in particular, Neil Morrissey, who is a great friend and is still a great friend. We got in on the same day and he was on line of duty as well before, wasn't he?
He was on the earlier seasons. He was on line of duty. That must have been fun. Yes.
And I'm trying to start a campaign to actually get Neil back because he's a fabulous entertainments officer. We do miss him. Then I went back to Enniskillen and I immediately got myself a job at a local leisure centre, cutting the grass and doing odd jobs, which was fantastic. So I knew I was going to London in September and I had a little job. It was just like, you know, the world had suddenly sorted itself out. I was at the centre of the mandala, as they would say.
I felt I was in exactly the right spot. And then off I went in September to start this amazing course and the excitement of being in London, the excitement with being people who were from all over the world, it really was just one of the. Happiest years of my life. That first year also not being in Northern Ireland, not having to deal with what was then going to turn a really dark corner, because I was there in 1980 and then we had the hunger strikes, which were absolutely devastating for everybody involved, obviously.
And that was a very, very dark period in Northern Ireland. And then in the midst of all that, my father died in my second year. And that was a huge moment because there were seven children in the family. My father was a carpenter. He didn't really have a lot of time for me. I mean, the older I get, of course, you know, the more I grew to understand and to like him. And in fact, my mother of gods and everything in line of duty or a kind of my way of saying thanks to him, you know, in certain ways.
And in fact, the Alzheimer's thing is also a killer because it's not allowing me to share this particular success with my mother. Yeah, that's one of the things about Alzheimer's, you know, as well as robbing the person of all their memories. I mean, she doesn't remember my father. She doesn't remember any of the trips that she went on with me and my wife and my sisters to go to America and all that. Those memories are all gone.
They've all been it really is the most cruel disease. But it's also stopped me from sharing this present success with her, you know, so my father died. And you go through those things, don't you? And you don't really grieve.
Forgive me for asking, but was your father's death sudden? Yes. He died of a brain hemorrhage. It was really sad. Gosh, I'm so sorry. That's horrendous.
Yeah, I know. It was one of those things where you just get a call one evening and said your dad's not well. People think you should come home and you go, what do you mean he's not well, is he? Well, they just think he should come home. You know, it's one of those ones. You know, you're on the Piccadilly line heading for Heathrow, thinking what is going on? And then, of course, you go into a place where it's an out of body experience.
What's happening? You can't really believe all the things that are happening around you. And yeah, so that was very difficult.
And you're the eldest of seven, aren't you? So did you feel a responsibility to step into that role, the parental role?
There was a moment when I started to consider what was I going to come home? And then my brother, John Lessem, who was in London working for the post office at the time, said that he was going to come home and help. And, you know, I just thought if I step away in the second year of this course, I don't know whether I'm going to be able to get any of this back again. And I just said to myself, you've got to finish the course.
You absolutely got to do it. You've got to try and see this thing through. You're not going to help by going by you're going to be able to help by going forward. So those two things happen concurrently. And I like to think that I made the right decision in that respect. Yeah, it was tough.
I know that we've only just met, but you absolutely did make the right decision. And if you hadn't done that, you could have ended up resenting a whole pile of stuff. And there is nothing worse than thwarted hope to live with. And I don't think that any of your family would have wanted that. But I'm interested because it sort of leads us into your second self stated failure, which is parenting. Why did you choose parenting?
Well, because I think parenting is very difficult for everybody. It really is what I find myself in a particularly interesting dynamic. As I've just explained, I didn't have a close relationship with my father. My mother and my mother was the youngest of about thirteen children. Her father was a colour sergeant in the regiment. His father was the RSM in the Enniskillen Fusiliers. He had picked up some shrapnel at the Somme and he kind of died early. He died.
My mother was two, I think, and my wife Anna. Her father died when she was two. So therefore, we had this perfect storm of no one really knowing what's the position of the father should entail what it was about. So I find it very difficult to understand what my role was. Now, it might sound strange to people, but it's absolutely Ana who didn't have a father would look to me to solve that. And I who didn't have a relationship with my father and didn't have parenting from my father because the guy was just too busy, wasn't able to patch that up, sorted out, make it work neither.
I'm 62. Of course, I can look back and see ways that I could have done that. And of course, I know everybody struggles with these things. I know everybody initially, you know, I was 27, I was married. I had two kids and a mortgage, you know, the full catastrophe. I know everybody struggles with these things, but I do believe that I was in this kind of particular perfect storm of absent father figure.
And also it's very difficult, I think when you were a stepparent, as you are with your stepson, Tad, that's a very difficult thing to take on at the age of 27. And it would be for anyone.
And I know that you and Anna went on to have a daughter.
Do you think that you got better as a parent or if not better, but knowing more what to do? Or is it just an exercise in constant discovery, I hope?
Yes, I really hope that I have got better in sharing myself with both my children and my daughter. Madeleine got very close to her mother, but it's only since she's been in her late teens that she and I have developed a deeper and now we have a lovely relationship. I love Madeleine very, very much.
And my stepson, Ted, you know, he's done some wonderful things, he's got a program coming out called Proo, which he's directed, and it's produced by his company on the BBC, BBC three, which is about pupil referral units. Ted's really amazing because he's used all the anger and the psycho drama and the tension and the stress and the difficulties of his early life. And he's used it and he's become mature and he's he's using those things to his advantage.
And he's, you know, making programs about young people who he knows need the sort of help that he possibly didn't get. And Madeline herself is really good at dealing with.
She also works with children, especially intellectually and physically disadvantaged children. She's really brilliant at that. So it's really interesting that out of this dynamic often says this to me, that both our children have become really good at dealing with children. So lots of good has come out of it. We've all come out the other side of it, I hope, loving one another a lot more for what we've all been through collectively. And I think that's the best you can hope for in parenting.
Well, when you were talking to me about Ted there, the fact he's used the psycho drama, the tension of formative early experiences and put them into a kind of art reminded me of someone else, Adrian, which is you.
That's I think you do as well. So perhaps even if you feel like you weren't parenting, you probably were by example. Yes.
But I would hope that both Ted and Madeline can see that myself and Anna. You know, Anna's done a huge amount as well as parenting after she decided that she was going to step away from acting a bit, she became a shiatsu practitioner and then she started working with horses in a big way. And she's been through all kinds of things and have helped her journey, has helped all of us enormously. So, yeah, I would hope that both the children seeing us being ambitious and saying, right, let's try this, let's do this, let's have a go at that.
Maybe we can do that. I mean, I'd like to think that that kind of like where I started from in this conversation, that the landscape that's open to them is a lot bigger than the one that I felt was open to me.
Is it weird being known for playing a character called Ted, who is pretty paternal when your son is called Ted?
Does the other TED find that odd?
No, I think the children of actors have a pretty blasé attitude to their parents work. Really? I find they just do. That's just a fact of life. Oh, yeah, that's Dad in a saying or I don't think those things resonate too much with Ted.
Your third failure, Adrian, I suppose this whole conversation has been about this, but you said life with an exclamation mark.
But I guess what you're saying there is that as we started out this conversation, that your early sense of yourself and what you were worth and your in a lack of confidence was a blockage. And so sort of a form of failure has informed your life.
Is that what you meant by it? Well, thank you for that. I mean, I don't think you're failing at life. That's what I'm trying to get.
No, no, no. Yes. No, thank you for that. I think, you know, I would probably agree with that. Yeah, I do agree with that. I think that's a way of contextualizing it for sure.
Definitely. Do you feel successful or maybe you don't think of life in those terms? I suppose a better question is how do you define success now?
You should treat success and failure with equal esteem. You know, that's absolutely true. And that's the kind of outward success of of life, the achievements of things. I think you should just be a bit sanguine about all that. But success, really, I suppose ultimately what you realize is that success for all of us really depends on the quality of the relationships that we've managed to forge over many years, the relationships with your spouse, the relationship with your friends and your children and your extended family.
You know, to have those relationships in a place where you're all happy to see one another, that you're happy to support one another, ultimately, that's where real success lies. And that's what you return to. That's what you fall back on. That's what your safety net is. I mean, you can have all the success you want, but if you don't have any love in your life, then it's a pretty bleak place out there.
Do you think acting equips you to deal with rejection and failure?
Yes, I do. There's no doubt about it. Actors, you knock them down, they come back up again. You dust yourself off, as Fred Astaire would say. You start all over again, and that's about it, but, you know, when I think about my mother suddenly being a widow with five kids at home all under the age of 18 or something, my youngest sister, Moira, was 13 at the time. You know, the idea of how she dusted herself down and just got on with it, I don't know how she did it.
I really don't know how any weirdos do it, especially when they've got a bunch of kids and they don't have, where are the support systems for them? They're not really there. So she had to go out and work. And then when she came home, she had to do everything else and she did all her life. So I think I got it from her as well. That thing of just get on. Do it. Don't think about don't dwell on the past.
Don't allow things to get to you. It won't. You know, and I think it does. I don't think you can go into acting really if you don't have that facility of dealing with the rejection and dealing with the missed opportunities and dealing with, you know, all that stuff that happens. I know that your mother, Pauline, is in a care home. Has she been vaccinated?
She has, yes, thankfully. Yeah. That is great news. Have you been vaccinated? No, not yet. But I had covered before Christmas. So did you.
Okay, well, that's I was about to start a petition to save our national treasure, Adrian Dumba, by vaccinating him.
But I don't need to because you've already got beautiful antibodies raging around your body.
Don't worry about me.
My final question, Adrian, you have been just such a privilege to interview. Actually, you really have. And I thank you for your generosity and your time. I wanted to end by asking we're recording this in March Line of duty.
As soon do we find out this season who.
H.S, we try we try really, really hard to find out who he is this season or who she is this season or who they are this season will be trying really, really hard. Yeah.
OK, I'll just have to do with that. I'd love to keep us guessing. You are completely wonderful. Thank you, Agent Dunbar for coming on. How to fail. Not at all.
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