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No Monday morning feeling for screen actor Morrissey

Unlike Carl, the character he plays in the new BBC drama The 7:39, David Morrissey doesn't know much about that Monday morning feeling.

journey OF LOVE: David Morrissey as Carl and Sheridan Smith as Sally in the new BBC drama The 7:39, which airs on January 6 and 7. Picture: Giles Keyte/Carnival Films.
journey OF LOVE: David Morrissey as Carl and Sheridan Smith as Sally in the new BBC drama The 7:39, which airs on January 6 and 7. Picture: Giles Keyte/Carnival Films.

He doesn't know what it's like to start every week knowing that you'll spend it rushing every day to catch an overcrowded train where you'll fight to get a seat.

He doesn't know what it's like to go to a job that you don't much like but are afraid to lose.

Like Carl he's married (to the novelist Esther Freud) with kids, but that's the only point of contact. In short, he doesn't know the soul dread of most people's Monday mornings. Still, in The 7:39, which co-stars Sheridan Smith and was written by David Nicholls (aka the Richard Curtis it's okay to like), he pretty convincingly portrays someone who does. I guess that's what you call acting.

"My dad said to me years ago if you do a job you love you'll never do a day's work in your life and that's proved to be the case with me," Morrissey tells me in his ever so slightly softened Scouse accent. "I'm a very lucky person in the sense that I get to do what I want to do."

Which makes him out of the ordinary, I guess. Yet what makes The 7:39, a two-part romantic drama about two commuters on the school run who fall for each other, is its very ordinariness.

That's what caught Morrissey's eye in the first place. "I get sent a lot of drama which is to do with kidnapped children or serial killers on the loose, some of which is brilliant, but when I read this, it's a very true and grown-up story. There's nothing escapist about the drama, although it's very funny. It's a very modern, real tale of complex individuals going through something that was very relatable to many people. It's not sensationalist. There is something true at the heart of it."

Despite the odd foray into film - including The Other Boleyn Girl and the amusingly awful Basic Instinct 2 - Morrissey has played out most of that luck he mentions on the small screen. From his first appearance on Channel 4 in Willy Russell's underrated Liverpool drama One Summer, via appearances in State of Play, as Gordon Brown in The Deal, and most notably as the bad-to-the bone The Governor in cult American zombiethon The Walking Dead, Morrissey is a big noise on the small screen. And presumably he's in a good position then to gauge the different ecologies of British and American television.

"The main difference is that American television are looking for the long term. They're looking for maybe a seven-year option. It has a longevity to it. In Britain you might do an eight-part drama or a two-part like The 7:39, so it's much more concentrated. But there's not much difference. What they make Downton for is comparable to what they make The Walking Dead for, I'm sure."

He is not a believer in the much mooted notion that British TV is suffering from executive risk aversion, and doesn't have much time for the idea that someone like Dennis Potter wouldn't get commissioned in the current TV climate.

"I think we have to be very careful of that 'golden era grass was greener in the past' sort of thing. I think there are some exceptional dramas on British television. I just saw [Channel 4 drama] Utopia recently, which I thought was just brilliant. That's a piece of work that wouldn't have been done in the past. It's like a mini movie. What people are being given licence to do now is wonderful. The Fall, I thought was wonderful, Broadchurch. My own experience on something like the Red Riding trilogy - three very distinct pieces of drama made by three very different film-makers all written by the same writer. I don't know if that would have been commissioned in the time of Dennis Potter."

We could, at this point, have an argument about aesthetics versus content, but I'm sidetracked by a point he makes about how we consume TV now. We are seeing the emergence of the box set generation. "My kids watch TV the way I used to listen to albums. They watch it and watch it and watch it and that's how I used to listen to an album. Until I knew every lyric.

"With The Walking Dead a lot of people ask me what's going to happen, but I know they don't want the answer. The last thing they want me to do is turn round and tell them what's going to happen because they want the frisson. They want to be able to sit there, watch it and have a social media conversation whilst it's going out."

For those of us, like the actor, who belong to the lyric-learning generation (and Morrissey turns 50 in 2014), another of his recent projects may have an even greater frisson than zombies. This autumn Morrissey, a self-confessed Smiths fan, has voiced the audio reading of the autobiography of the only Morrissey who has perhaps a greater recognisability than the actor.

I'm surprised, I say, a Scouser was allowed to voice Manchester's most familiar miserabilist.

"That was the only question I asked when I got the request. I emailed him back to say 'I cannot read this whole book in your voice. I can't do an impersonation of you for 450 pages. I will have to read it as myself. Is that okay with you?' And he wrote back and said 'absolutely. I want you to read it in your own voice.'

"For me it was such a privilege. I'm such a fan. He writes brilliantly well.

"I'd never done one before so that was hard. It was hard to have that concentration and he doesn't write in chapters. Or paragraphs sometimes. So things like where you take a breath and stuff like that is difficult. But it was a privilege to do.

"He's very funny. He gets this tag, this miserable Mozz thing but reading the book I was in tears of laughter a lot."

In January he's off to Manchester actually, to film a new BBC1 drama, The Driver, written by Danny Brocklehurst, and he's still waiting to hear if a pilot he made in the US with director Jonathan Demme will be commissioned. That Monday morning feeling is not something he's going to experience any time soon.

"I feel great," he says when the prospect of his 50th birthday comes up in our conversation. "If I was 20 and somebody had given me a snapshot of my life at 50 I'd have bitten their hand off for half of it. I would have thought they were mad. I am very happy with where I am professionally and personally. There are wrinkles I wish were not there and hair I wish was there but when I look back it's amazing. I'm full of gratitude for where I am."

The train can continue to leave without him.

The 7:39 is on BBC1 this Monday and Tuesday at 9pm

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