I had blonde hair when I was 16. I dyed it with Sun-In; I thought I looked prettier with blonde hair and eyeliner. I looked quite young. My voice broke very late, I think deep down I knew that once it broke my self-esteem would plummet as I’d never be head chorister again. So my balls stayed resolutely tucked up for quite a long time, knowing they’d only bring bad news.
I was pretty miserable at school. I found it difficult to make friends and I was bullied quite a lot, which I’ve never been able to get over actually. There was a social kingpin in my year who decided I was not acceptable to the gang. Perhaps because I’d done a bit of acting on TV and he was jealous. It was psychological torture rather than physical. It left me with a slightly lifelong persecution complex. Which I probably had already but it didn’t help.
At 16 I did make a breakthrough. After a few lonely years I found some friends. These quite sleepy kids who were into heavy rock. Very uncool – we were supposed to be into New Order. So the best times were spent mucking round the South Downs, getting stoned, listening to Pink Floyd. I had a big crush on a friend who was a girl but that was unrequited. She was the first to say, we better not go out together, it’ll spoil our friendship. A standard line but it was true in that case – we’re still friends and I’m godfather to her child.
The best times were spent mucking round the South Downs, getting stoned, listening to Pink Floyd
I was quite a gregarious, confident, fun person, really. I just couldn’t understand why that didn’t work at school. It worked everywhere else. I had lots of female friends more than girlfriends. I was into them but they thought I was the cute small one. I don’t know what the fuck I was really. Some people thought I was marvellous and some thought I was obnoxious. I was Marmite.
As a teenager I was filled with boundless confidence and now when I see that in young people I often find it… Well, perhaps I’m just not in a very positive frame of mind today. I don’t want to sound negative. I’ve had a very fun and interesting, amazing, adventurous life. But if I met my younger self today I’d be worried for him, that his sense of naive confidence at his own marvellousness was going to take some knocks. Then again, I was aware then what my vulnerabilities were and they haven’t changed. I think I knew what I’d be like when I got older but I assumed it would still be alright. I just remember thinking, I must be an actor. It’ll be so difficult but I must do it. I imagined it would be full of big highs and lows – on that I was right.
What piece of my work would I show off to my 16-year-old self? Gosh, I don’t know. There’s a scene in Gosford Park where I eat some jam. That was a good scene. I saw In the Loop the other day and my character just gets horribly humiliated the whole time. I don’t know if I’d want to show him that. There’s a part of In the Loop (pictured below) which is just about Scottish people telling English people what they think of them in fairly strong terms. It’s where most of the best jokes come from. Peter Capaldi goes through the corridors of Westminster like chemotherapy, slashing and burning. There’s something abusive about In the Loop, which people seem to find hilarious but I find quite distressing. Though saying that, as someone who was bullied at school, I could be quite unpleasant myself sometimes. I could give it back. And I did that briefly afterwards on The Thick of It, when I played The Fucker.