What Inspires Peter Capaldi: Vermeer, ‘Demon Copperhead,’ ‘The Wire’

Sometimes it pays to stick close to home.

The more Peter Capaldi heard as his wife, the producer Elaine Collins, and the writer Paul Rutman hashed out the story line for the new Apple TV+ thriller “Criminal Record,” the more he hinted that he was their man.

They cast him as Daniel Hegarty, a veteran detective on the police force, who has a murky past. As Rutman wrote the script, Capaldi’s voice and face were front and center.

“That’s the first time that has really happened to me,” said Capaldi, whose adversary, June Lenker — a younger detective contending with misogyny and racism within the force — is played by Cush Jumbo. “I know that that’s who they’re visualizing, so I was able to respond to the material from quite an early date.”

Capaldi also had to veil his emotions, a rather tall order for an actor who starred as the 12th Doctor in “Doctor Who.”

“I had to hide what was really going on, but at the same time, you still have to have something going on,” he said in a video interview from London, before chatting about the Scottish artist John Byrne and walking in the footsteps of the Romans. “You can’t just sit there.”

These are edited excerpts from the conversation.


Without wishing to sound pretentious about it, it was the first picture that I developed a relationship with. I was in New York doing a show and perhaps going through some melancholic times and carousing too much and enjoying Broadway, but not really that happy myself. So I would often go to the Met and sit and look at that picture if I was feeling anxious. There was a spirit of wisdom and calmness that reached out.


It doesn’t appear to be a sunny day, and there’s no people in it. And it seems a little haunting, but not in a sentimental way. It’s this tunnel here. It emphasizes the sense that there’s always something unexpected coming.


I went to the Prado, and you step into the chamber where it is, and it’s like a hundred feet away, and it grabs you and pulls you toward it. I thought it was so vibrant, so full of mystery and strangeness. It’s someone firing on all cylinders at the absolute top of their game, and your jaw drops.


The first time I saw her, a sort of churchy lady appeared on this wet and abandoned Manchester train station, straps on a Gibson SG and starts playing rock ‘n’ roll. And she’s got slides and she’s got bends and she’s got moves and she’s got distortion. She’s doing things that Jimi Hendrix would’ve been very happy with.


When I grew up, the Beatles were the main thing, but my parents listened to Frank Sinatra. I felt that he and his lifestyle were something that my parents and their friends aspired to, even though they had a.) no idea really what that lifestyle was; or b.) absolutely no chance of that happening because they lived in Glasgow.


He’s Scotland’s greatest artist. [Byrne died on Nov. 30.] He painted and drew the way he did, but he also wrote plays that were funny, and was successful. I’d never seen somebody who was so Scottish but was also so incredibly universal. His gifts were extraordinary. There was magic pouring out of his fingers.


A lot of people don’t know it was Mel Brooks who made “The Elephant Man.” He kept a low profile, if Mel Brooks can do that. And that was an interesting thing — an artist we think of in a very particular way but who has all of these other interests.


Season 4, which is about education, is one of the most moving crime shows I’ve ever seen. Ed Burns, one of the co-writers, had been a detective and then became a teacher. They are fabulously responsible jobs, when done properly.


She relocated the elements of “David Copperfield” to the Southern states of America, which obviously have a certain kind of reputation. And the characters made it clear that a lot of this reputation was unwarranted. That there were a lot of — and this is true of Dickens also, in Victorian London — incredibly good people just trying to survive in times that are very challenging.


The wall that the Romans built to enclose the City of London still survives in fragments and in streets that follow its route. In “London: The Biography,” Peter Ackroyd’s theory is that things retain the essence of historical events. I walked the wall with the book. The biggest Roman fort is now the Barbican, which half looks like a fort. I also found a little plaque for the Curtain Theater, where Shakespeare’s plays were first done. It was right behind a power jet carwash.

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