Morrissey bares all
Actor Neil Morrissey, best known for the madcap Men Behaving Badly, is about to put his life under the microscope, inviting audiences to ask him anything they like. He tells Steven Russell why he’s doing it, why he tired of Waterloo Road and how he came to be a vicar on Neighbours
WE coincide with a six o’clock delivery of pizza to Neil Morrissey’s home in north London. Seeing as he’s been locked in interviews all day – to publicise his “Celebrities Stripped Bare” tour – we give him 20 minutes to refuel. “First thing I’ve had to eat all day. It was great!” he enthuses, sounding just like puppyish man-child Tony, the character in Men Behaving Badly that pushed him into the public consciousness in the 1990s. He’s been dancing to the media’s tune since 10am. “You’ve no idea how exhausting it can be, just talking all day,” he laughs.
Go on; what did he have? “It had chillis on it, special Italian salami, basil oil, Parmesan shavings and like a Parma ham-type thing. There’s this little chain around London named Lupa that are very good.”
The actor’s been ensconced in Crouch End for 20-odd years and it’s clearly home from home. Seven years ago he moved from a two-bed flat to a house down the road. He jokes that some locals call it Croosh En’, in a posh, pastiche, French accent.
Homelife wasn’t always so stable. Neil grew up in Staffordshire, one of four sons of Irish Catholic parents. There were reports of youthful misbehaviour and offending, and Neil and one of his brothers were taken into care at the ages of 10 and 12. They ended up in children’s homes.
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Later, he sought foster parents living in the right area so he could go to the sixth-form college on which he’d set his heart; and he won a scholarship to Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.
His career has made him a familiar face. Following his break as the dim, leather-trousered biker Rocky in Boon, he starred in Men Behaving Badly with Martin Clunes, Caroline Quentin and Leslie Ash.
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Stage shows also feature prominently on the Morrissey CV – Speed The Plow, Victoria Wood’s Acorn Antiques, Guys And Dolls and Rain Man, for example – and he provided the voice of Bob the Builder, and the narration for another children’s TV series: Maisy Mouse.
In recent times beer has been on the agenda!
Neil and chef friend Richard Fox yearned to brew their own. A fairly ramshackle home-brew kit set up in a kitchen at the start of 2008 produced a decent ale – the Blonde – and later that year the Channel 4 series Neil Morrissey’s Risky Business chronicled their dream of opening a pub and micro-brewery.
Morrissey Fox brands are now sold by outlets such as Tesco, Mitchells & Butlers, and many UK pubs.
“The brewing thing is every man’s wish, I suppose – to have a bottle of beer with his face on it!” True. Not a bad lark. “Oh, mate, it’s a dream! How can life get better?!”
The success of Men Behaving Badly, in particular, saw Neil being featured regularly in the media. He had a relationship with actress Rachel Weisz and interest went into overdrive more than a decade ago when he was pictured with actress Amanda Holden, wife of comedian Les Dennis.
A few years ago there was talk in the papers and magazines that he was giving up TV because it had become a kind of creative factory-farming.
“Rubbish! That’s what we call ‘psychic journalism’ at its worst – a load of old tosh. I suppose it was because I was making beer. It was an assumption. I had so many phone calls – ‘Oh my god; you’re giving up! Why?’ Er, I’m not.
“What I think they may have got confused with was that at the time I was in Waterloo Road [the BBC’s school-based drama] and didn’t want to be in a soap opera. I don’t want to be in something where I can’t control the character or the storylines. That’s not my type of television.”
What was wrong? The actor takes a deep breath.
“If it’s a hard-hitting reality drama, then why was the headmistress an ex-prostitute who changed her name? The next series, her sister turns up. I end up copping off with her, because the first head teacher doesn’t want to cop off with me. So I cop off with the sister, who turns out to be a double-bigamist!
“At the same time, the police chief – who is on the board of the school – changes the result of his own daughter’s drugs test for (that of) a black boy and then rams a JCB through the front of the school.
“I mean . . . how much more ‘real life’ can you be? There are less seriously-wild plotlines in the Bond movies!”
Hmm. Not a school likely to pass its Ofsted inspection . . .
“Precisely. And if you underplay scenes and then swamp it with pop music, of course it’s ‘drama’.”
His latest project kicks off on March 1; a 33-date tour that comes to Felixstowe and Colchester before finishing in Lowestoft on May 8.
Neil will be joined on stage and be interviewed by actor colleague Richard Huw as he shares his life story. He’ll also invite the audience to throw questions at him – and he doesn’t anticipate ducking any.
The actor has a reputation as an affable, open guy, but why on earth would he bare his soul and let us pick over his life?
Well, he says, information tends to come out in interviews in a kind of scattergun fashion. “So rather than have the scant imagery that’s out there, why not go and confound some of the stories and refute some of the others?” he asks. “It will give people the opportunity, in an intimate setting with me on stage, to ask the questions they want to ask.”
He says he has nothing to hide. “I’ve led a fairly honest life and what was put out about me back in the days when I got a little bit hammered . . . it wasn’t that bad anyway. They must have been short of news those few weeks!
“There’s been a lot of stuff said that I haven’t had a right of reply to, either. So there’ll be ‘clearance’, really. I think it will be a lot of fun.”
He knows what people will ask about, though, doesn’t he? Ms Holden.
(I don’t make my question clear here, because Neil thinks I’m suggesting people might be after intimate details, whereas I’m thinking about what it’s like at the eye of a tabloid feeding frenzy. My fault.)
“Well, I expect so. ‘One: leave the poor girl alone’,” he sighs. “It was a long time ago. ‘Number two: If you’re asking out of a lascivious nature, what is your agenda? What do you come to me for when you can go and buy an adult magazine! You don’t need me to fill your fantasy book, do you?’”
People can ask, “but I’m not going to tolerate any lasciviousness”.
Doubtless there will be questions about his childhood.
The actor’s mum, May, is still alive. Does he ever talk to her about what happened and why?
“I’ve just completed a documentary, which took about a year to shoot, which is going to be part of the Kids in Care series the BBC are doing. I actually went and got my old records. I’ve got everything to do with the case: my court records, crime sheets or whatever you call them, and social workers’ reports on why a care order was placed on me and I was in children’s homes.”
It’s difficult to gauge how ideal or otherwise the family home environment might have been, he says. Most likely it wasn’t perfect, but it might not have been so awful, either.
“It was a tough time in 1974 for two Irish parents, with all the stuff that was going on . . . Two struggling psychiatric nurses trying to make a living and bring up four lively boys.”
“Stuff” was the fallout from The Troubles and terrorism in Ireland and the English mainland, which in some instances fuelled racism and discrimination.
Neil has one son, from his two- or three-year marriage to actress Amanda Noar. Sam is 21. Does the actor think he’s been a good dad?
“Well, I think you’d have to ask him that; but I think it’s been fine. I love him, he loves me, and things have worked out well. He’s lived with his mum, stays with me when he needs to and wants to, and our relationship is absolutely brilliant.
“He’s a good boy; final year at university, doing creative writing. He’s always been a storyteller, and was a great verbal contributor in schools and things. I’m sure he’ll be a very successful writer.”
It would be fun if dad acted in something his son had written . . .
“Wouldn’t that be a coup! It would be a lovely thing to happen, but we’ll see how things go. I don’t want to speculate too far for him in his future!”
There might also be questions on the tour about his ventures in the leisure industry. The actor was a partner in several pubs and hotels in the Welsh village of Laugharne – a number of them former haunts of writer Dylan Thomas. Unfortunately, the dream crumbled . . . expensively.
Neil outlines what happened, explaining it led to “an IVA situation” – an individual voluntary agreement by which he undertook to pay off debt.
“Once bitten, twice shy. It’s a learning curve when you lose all of your life savings . . . something in the region of �4 million goes west. You really have to rethink your life.”
And yet he’s still able to smile and sound upbeat . . .
“What’s the alternative? I’ve always been a person who’s been ‘a glass half full’. I’ll always look beyond the present day to a future when things will be better than this. I never try to get bogged down with that kind of stuff. I’d have ended up on the slab a long time ago!
“I’ve always been hard-working and focused on the future. I’ll always get through whatever bad times are at me. Unless it’s death, what’s the problem!”
Being born in 1962 means a 50th birthday looms on the horizon. Not that it keeps him awake at night.
“I’m very happy with the way my life’s gone. I don’t see age as being a problem. I’m doing quite a lot of stuff. I’m still growing and I’m still working. Still a ‘student of the Earth’ and really enjoying my time here.”
Neil Morrissey is at Felixstowe’s Spa Pavilion on March 5 (01394 282126), Colchester’s Mercury Theatre on March 21 (01206 573948) and Lowestoft’s Marina Theatre on May 8 (01502 533200). He’s also in Cromer (March 4) and King’s Lynn (April 7).
A career afloat
WHAT a bow! Your first film and you’re part of a stellar cast that includes Mel Gibson, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson. That movie was The Bounty, the period was the early 1980s and Neil Morrissey was playing seaman Matthew Quintal. Was it daunting or thrilling to be in such esteemed company?
“All of the above. I didn’t do any scenes with Olivier, but I went to watch him work and he was an amazing human being. Anthony Hopkins was an absolute dreamboat – used to come and rehearse with you even if you only had two lines with him.
“Mel Gibson I got on really great with, and we ended up going out on my 21st birthday in Tahiti and having a rip-roaring time at the local Club Med! I had to pinch myself that it actually happened.”
And, yes, they did get to the set on time the following morning!
Another odd experience was his cameo role in Neighbours four years ago – where he played a vicar who remarried the characters Karl and Susan . . . on a boat on the Thames!
“That was a funny day.” He puts on an Australian accent. “‘Do you have your own vicar’s costume?’ Er, no mate. So they had to provide the whole costume for me.” Changing facilities were the onboard loos.
The short-notice wedding, prompted by doctor Karl proposing on the London Eye, grew even more strange when a couple of “tourists” were pressed into service as witnesses. The passers-by just happened to be singer Sinitta and comedian/broadcaster Jono Coleman.
And it got even odder . . .
“Then the character Izzy was giving birth on the deck! So how did Izzy get on the boat without the wedding party spotting her?” He puts on his best Aussie twang again. “‘Aw, this is Neighbours. We don’t ask, mate!’
“She gives birth on the boat, while Karl is getting married, and he’s the father of the child and he doesn’t even know!
“One of the most bizarre days of my life – and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
“I was going to do my best Derek Nimmo” – the actor who played a silly-ass clergyman in the 1960s sitcom All Gas and Gaiters – “but it was s-o-o-o cold on that boat. It looks like Karl and Susan are genuinely crying; they’re not – it’s wind-sore. It was freezing!”
NEIL Morrissey’s a big football fan – a supporter of south London’s Crystal Palace. The Eagles are flirting with the relegation zone, but the actor is confident of survival. Ish.
“Dougie Freedman’s taken over (as manager); we held Watford to a draw away the other day, which is really good.
“I liked George Burley (the former Ipswich legend recently deposed as Palace’s leader) and his style of football, but it wasn’t wining games. We’ve got a slightly more direct approach and it seems to be succeeding.”
The Eagles are at Portman Road on April 9 for what could be a significant clash.
“Oh my god. Every game I’m in trepidation of! We’ve got a very young squad. We’ve got stamina problems. We’ve got size problems. A team like Leicester can pretty much beat us up. We need a bit more power and a bit more confidence.
“When we play well, we look like Brazil; when we play badly, we look like the boys’ school down the road!”