Tompkinson in real naked nightmare ; He's best known for playing a priest, a policeman and a vet but now Stephen Tompkinson is taking on a very different persona in new Nottingham-based BBC drama Truckers, as SOPHIE HERDMAN finds out
STEPHEN Tompkinson's salt and pepper hair has turned jet black, there's a suggestion of an orange-tinted fake tan and he's looking a tad podgy. The 47-year-old actor isn't going through a midlife crisis, far from it. He's transformed his looks for new BBC One drama Truckers, in which he plays - you guessed it - a trucker, Malachi, who is going through a wobbly patch after a divorce. I'm getting to have my midlife crisis through his eyes, says Tompkinson. If I ever have one, it wouldn't be as dramatic as that. But I've never come to that crossroads - I've always been blissfully happy and nauseatingly fortunate.
The frightening thing is I look like my brother who's four years older than me. He dyes his hair and goes under these sun-lamp things.
The actor has put on a stone and a half, achieved by eating myself senseless on an all-inclusive cruise, and consuming lots of sweet treats. He confesses: I have a very sweet tooth, so anything with caramel.
To top it all, Tompkinson had to show off his new body in Nottingham city centre as Malachi ends up stripping down to a turquoise thong on top of a 44-tonne truck.
It was a Sunday, so it was packed, he says. I was actually living that nightmare of finding yourself naked in front of hundreds of strangers.
Indeed, Malachi's life is the stuff of nightmares. He still shares a house with the wife he's been divorced from as neither can afford to move out, even though she's about to get engaged again.
He has Botox injections that go horribly wrong and abandons a session with a prostitute, organised by his son, when he discovers that she was once in his ex-wife's Girl Guides group.
Despite all this, Tompkinson loved playing the trucker. It's the most amazing part I've had since Brassed Off, he says, referring to the 1996 movie about a brass band.
The script is written by Notts born William Ivory, or Billy, as Tompkinson knows him. The pair met back on the remake of TV series Minder when Ivory appeared in one episode and wrote a few others, but they have not had the chance to work together since.
I was in my last week of Spamalot [the Monty Python musical] and I didn't know what I was doing after that, says Tompkinson.
I was asked if I'd like a role in a new Billy Ivory show - I didn't even need to see the script.
It's strange for Tompkinson to have an empty slot in his schedule because the actor has been in almost constant demand since he left drama school.
He had a number of roles in TV shows and films after he graduated, but his breakthrough year was 1990 when he played unorthodox reporter Damien Day in comedy Drop The Dead Donkey. Since then, the actor has clocked up starring roles as Robson Green's brother in Grafters, a vet living in South Africa in Wild At Heart and, most recently, Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks in DCI Banks, a role he still inhabits.
Early on in his career he played Roman Catholic priest Father Peter Clifford in Ballykissangel, in which he co-starred with Dervla Kirwan. They became engaged but later split up.
Tompkinson was already divorced from BBC radio producer Celia Anastasia, and when Ballykissangel finished he married Nicci Taylor, with whom he has a daughter, Daisy Ellen. They parted company in 2006 and he is now with Glaswegian Elaine Young, with whom he credits helping to calm him down. The actor has also given up drinking, unlike his Truckers character Malachi. Tompkinson has enjoyed a few perks in this role, such as getting to watch this summer's Test cricket match between England and Australia at Trent Bridge, after making friends with the chairman of Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club - Peter Wright.
It was love at first sight - he owns a Test match ground, so that's where he had me, the actor says, grinning.
Soon afterwards, Tompkinson received a call asking if he would chair a lunch at the ground during the game.
I said it was absolutely no problem, so he said 'Right, you'll be sitting next to John Howard, who's the former Prime Minister of Australia, and his wife.' The actor was slightly shocked but he explains: Fortunately, the tension of the game was so amazing that we never got stuck for stuff to talk about. He's also a DCI Banks fan, which helped.
While he was at the ground, Tompkinson met some Wild At Heart fans and decided to give his co-star, South African actor Deon Stewardson, a call, handing over the phone so they could speak to him.
They were all crying, I was crying, Deon was crying, he says. I miss him a lot, I miss everyone actually. Wild At Heart was such a big part of my life for eight years.
For now, he will just have to make do with spending time in Yorkshire to film DCI Banks. They're such a lovely crew, he says.
And it will be a big leap going from crumbling Malachi to straight-laced and emotionally-detached Banks, but Tompkinson isn't worried.
Gorgeously and completely different - that's what I've always thrived on. Whether you're mixing stage with TV or radio, as long as you're doing something different from the last one. That's when you're at the top of your game. ? Truckers begins on BBC1 on Thursday.
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