We know that clergy are allowed to get married, and part of sustaining a marriage is maintaining a sexual relationship. But it’s still shocking to see your character in bed with his wife, discussing their sex life, especially when she tells him to take off his collar because when he’s wearing it, “It’s like you don’t have a cock.”
That was almost a direct quote from a vicar’s wife. That’s a good example. She said she couldn’t tolerate his piety in the bedroom and she found it a complete turnoff. That’s James’s comic version of that. Nobody wants to think of vicars having sex just like nobody wants to think of their parents having sex.
We’ve been repeatedly praised, or at least credited -- completely accidentally and without intention, but nevertheless -- by people in the clergy for making them appear to be normal, and not like weirdos. It’s like a classic sitcom, set in a middle-class environment, and then this person happens to put on a funny white strip and a black shirt and go off and do good and talk a certain amount of metaphysical stuff when he goes to work. That’s his job.
In “Ever Been to Nando’s?” Adam embarrasses himself by flirting with the headmistress of the local Church of England school, letting her use the church for a fundraising party and then trying to lure her onto the dance floor. It’s a hilarious and deeply uncomfortable moment, but it’s also telling, because while he’s awkward and out of his depth, he’s not an entirely terrible dancer. You get the sense he’s done it before. And we know he likes Rihanna.
There are all sorts of priests who had lives before they were priests, long enough for them to go to a disco. We think him and Alex met probably at university, him doing theology, her doing law. They both shared a common interest in making the world a better place. They’re both socially concerned. We know that. She decided to go into the world, in a practical way, and he goes in a lofty, philosophical way.
The first season of Rev. was highly praised by critics as well as those in the church. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury is a fan. How did it effect going back to shoot another season knowing you were getting that kind of attention and praise?
You can imagine that the community of vicars and priests are generally benighted by a press that variously depicts it as pederasts or peculiar or always corrupt, always weird, always doing what it shouldn’t be doing. On our show, the vicar is the hero, for better or worse. He does the right thing. In that episode, he behaves rather badly all the way through it, but he is redeemed at the end because he does the right thing. He’s humiliated constantly, but he’s not corrupted.
You played a key role in "In the Loop" as the tongue-tied politician whose gaffe sets off an international incident, and then turned up at the end of the third series of "The Thick of It" -- which is also now airing on Hulu -- in a different role. What was it like coming into such a finely-honed improvisational ensemble as an outsider?
That was daunting. Fortunately, it suited my character, so that was useful. The film is called "In the Loop" and the character I played was always out of the loop, so the fact that I was just about clinging onto their coattails helped. Peter Capaldi and I had worked together a decade earlier in a play on Broadway -- in fact, when we flew to New York to shoot "In the Loop," we went up the same escalator in Newark that we’d been up 10 years ago, almost to the day. That relationship was there, so even though it was Peter that was torturing me all the time, he was actually the sweetest person on the set.
What was it like being on the receiving end of one of the profanity-laced tirades Peter Capaldi’s character, Malcolm Tucker, is famous for unleashing. Do you emerge with your eyebrows signed?
Funnily enough, it was never Peter, because I knew Peter and he was so funny. I did sometimes feel a bit low at the end of the day. When I see the film it’s terribly, terribly funny. But I did feel sometimes a bit sad, just because you’re being bullied all the time.
"Hanna" was kind of the other end of the spectrum, a stylized, almost Gothic thriller in which you’re a cold-blooded assassin.
Playing a homosexual pedophile with peroxided hair. That was informed very much by "Rev.," because we had just done the first season. I hadn’t been able to use any of that as a vicar -- unusually, you would’ve thought I’d be able to. So it felt like going on holiday. It’s quite a crazy, crazy film, with Saorsie Ronan being brilliant in the middle of it.
"Rev." is a passion project. It’s become a great success for everyone. I suppose it’s more than that -- it’s now become an event. "Hanna" was going to work conventionally as an actor, learning my lines and putting the costume on and doing what I was told. "Rev." was very hard work, fulfilling but also exhausting. "Hanna" was just a fun machine.