Guardian 18th March 2006
One of his favourite things about it is that none of the cast (which includes Sarah Alexander, Tamsin Greig and Michelle Gomez) is all that driven. "What we all share," he says, "is being at a certain point in our lives, whether that be having had children, having a jaded cynicism about the industry we're in ... we're all at a point where we share a certain easy-going distance from the ... feverishness ... that can be associated with a job like that." Rhind-Tutt is not, I get the impression, terribly ambitious. Before he became Green Wing's love interest, Rhind-Tutt was in the film Notting Hill (he played a hack, standing next to Hugh Grant, in that shamelessly tear-jerking end sequence with the declaration of love); he was a nobleman in The Madness Of King George (the stage version, and then the screen one). He was in The Rotters' Club, as the smarmy art teacher Nigel Plumb who gets off with one of the boys' mothers - in the novel I remember him as the least interesting character, but in the TV adaptation he speedily became the most. He was in an episode of Black Books, and Smack The Pony, and he is the kind of actor who, if you want to find out about him, you ring your friends who are really interested in the theatre and have perfect recall for productions involving Fiona Shaw. (I did call both these friends. One of them said, "Yes, he was in Fiona Shaw's Richard II." Rhind-Tutt was the Duke of Aumerle, a cousin of the king's. "I was practically Woman One," he says. "I was wearing a gold mini-dress. I think I drew on my Woman One experience.")
Between Woman One and Aumerle, Rhind-Tutt went to Warwick University. "You know when you drive through life as a passenger, the steering wheel's over there, you're not really thinking what you're doing? I went through life doing that. When we finished university, it wasn't really, 'I want to be an actor!' It was more, 'How can we carry on doing that fun thing? And get paid? And not have to stop?' Er. Don't know. What do you do? Can you just get parts? Be like a bellboy who eventually becomes the manager of the hotel? No! I don't think even bellboys are like that. No! You have to go to one of these colleges where you do drama." Almost everything Rhind-Tutt describes is in these terms: he was just standing around, minding his own business, somebody - generally speaking somebody much more talented and worth talking about than he will ever be - decided to go in a given direction and he ended up going with them. Or, as he puts it, "I just chuntered along, then forgot to do anything else."
He graduated from drama school and won the Carleton Hobbs award for his performance in their end-of-year play. "The prize is to get a contract on the radio, and because you're so special and talented they pay you less than everyone else." It's quite a big deal, this prize - mainly because there are terribly few prizes for people just coming out of drama school; you don't win one by being "very, very lucky", which is the way Rhind-Tutt describes it. When he'd finished the contract, he got a part at the National, so now "two very, very lucky things had happened". Maybe it wasn't luck: maybe he was just good at it? "Either you can act or you can't. Half the time you go into these things and if you don't get the job, it's not because you're empirically shit, it's because they're looking for someone taller, shorter, blonder, less ginger, they're looking for someone who fits in with the rest of the family, they're looking for their mate who they wanted to give the part to six months ago. Or maybe my career has just been this long parade of people laughing at me behind their hands, and I'm living in this cloud-cuckoo-land where I think rejection is just one of those unfortunate things."
In the context of another actor's career - Harrison Ford's, say - this post-radio, pre-Green Wing period would sound like a limbo, a point where you're just pootling about having theories about Hugh Grant's acting style, and waiting for your big break. (Regarding the theorising, incidentally: "People may choose to criticise Hugh Grant, and say he's the same in every film, he just flutters around and does his thing. That's rubbish. Nobody does what he does better than he can. I've watched him. He has such extraordinary and pinpoint control over everything he does. He's a stealth bomber of poshness! He is a brilliant, brilliant actor. Because we can all have a pop. I could come on and faff around and be a bit posh and slightly hesitant, and so could countless other actors I could think of, and none of us could do it like he could. The same could be said of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, and countless other people. Nobody does what they do better than them. You have to find your own truth.")
Anyway, I get no impression Rhind-Tutt thought he was in a limbo, waiting for the big time. All that actor stuff you tend not to believe - not being in it for the money, not minding about success, genuinely loving the job - might be true of him. "Without sounding facetious," he says, "I don't know anyone who hasn't fantasised about being famous, whether or not they're an actor. Rescuing imaginary dogs from rivers - the idea of me dreaming about that isn't any different from you dreaming about it. We've got about the same chance of achieving it - it's like a tombola. What you realise fairly quickly is that the trappings that come with that, some of them anyway, would be extraordinary and fantastic ..." He could go out with Liz Hurley. "I could go out with Liz Hurley, and the honour would be all mine - but as far as your profession is concerned, then the idea of being well-known is a complete mirage. There's no real difference between my job and anyone else's job, except that it happens to be in the public eye." He goes on to illustrate this with an imaginary conversation between himself and a baker who has made a particularly fine split loaf, then apologises because he's used that analogy in another interview. Not to worry, I say, and he says, "You don't understand. I've only been interviewed twice."
When the call for Green Wing came through, Rhind-Tutt had decided not to do any more telly, which seems a little previous because he hadn't actually done that much. "I'd spoken to my agent a couple of hours earlier, saying, 'I'd like to get off the television, I'd like to get off this stuff of being a normal, regular actor.' I wanted to play a syphilitic violin player in a European art house movie. And they said, 'There's some bunch of people in a church hall on Tottenham Court Road somewhere, trying to get a comedy together. They're all quite nice, it might be quite a laugh, there's no harm in going down, is there?' I said, 'That's the last thing I want to do.' And then I nipped down there. That was two years ago." Except it must have been more. "Yes. It was three years ago."
I was put off Green Wing for ages, because my mother kept asking if I'd seen it, then re-enacting it for me in frame by frame detail. Once I started watching it, I did understand how it could inspire such enthusiasm - though I would stress that it was still very annoying. I described Rhind-Tutt earlier as the love interest, which doesn't quite go with the atmosphere of the piece: it makes it sound like Holby City, when in fact what he does is ask for scalpels in regional accents, and taunt Tamsin Greig into trying to kiss him, then running away.
Rhind-Tutt won't tell me anything at all about the second series. "Could it be shit? It could be. Anything could be. But I doubt it. I never really had any idea. I didn't know they were going to do that weird thing where it all went fast. I don't know anything. This could prove to be one of the most unhelpful journalistic encounters you've ever had. I imagine I know enough to say that if you enjoyed the first series, it's a fairly safe bet you'll enjoy the second series, because it's even better. It takes all the innovative elements of the first series and applies a more cogent structure to it, now that we know what we're doing. The story's evolved in a more structured way." Did he think the first one was a bit haphazard? "That would be a terrible inference on your part."
You'll have guessed by now that Rhind-Tutt has nothing but praise for everyone involved in this venture: for Victoria Pile, the producer (who also produced Smack The Pony); for the writers, who were legion. Everybody involved in this show is phenomenally talented, apart from, you know, Rhind-Tutt, who just happened to be wandering by and who everybody puts up with, because they're all so nice. I wonder if he's like this with the rest of the cast. I wonder if the rest of the cast is like him. They can't all be hurling plaudits at one another from their wells of winsome self-abasement, and fetching each other cappuccino the whole time. There would just be too much cappuccino. "The nearest parallel I can find is what I was waffling on about earlier about drama school. I was in a curious and almost unique mix of people that was without competition or rancour, then, and also now."
I ask whether he's ever been unemployed for any length of time - come on, some disappointment, some humiliation and rage. "Not that I've noticed. But that's because it takes me so long to do the fundamentals of day-to-day life that I could happily retire now and do the other things I want to be getting on with, and that would take me comfortably through to the end of my life."
His personal life, or the very elliptical picture I get of it, might not all have been unmitigated fun and joy. He doesn't have a family in the generationally downward sense of the word, or any pets, though he may or may not have a girlfriend. I did ask, ran through a total cohabitee checklist from "Wife" down to "Budgie", and he just nodded at me, nervously, with an "I wonder if she has a way of forcing me to talk about this" look on his face.
"Do you know what, I've actually just been nodding to you. I'm nodding to the life I wish I had. I've just bought a flat, actually. In north London. I have not always lived in north London. This is turning into a French oral. It's the first time I've bought a flat. Before, I lived with my dad. I'm hanging out for the remake of Sorry. I quite like the idea that maybe I have always lived at home, all my life, until, careering through my 30s, I finally decided to buy a flat. I wish that was true. A man who has never left home - I could open a museum. No, I hang out with my dad sometimes, since the untimely and rather irresponsible death of my mother." I'm sorry. "No, it's fine. She's never done it before." He's not as straightforward as he would have you believe, in other words, but then, I think the only reason he seeks to seem so straightforward is that it would be impolite to be any other way.
This is a polite man - as for the rest of it, the talent leaps off the telly, the wit leaps off everything he says. One day he'll be a national treasure, and I think probably in a Hugh Grant timescale (which is to say, pre-40s), rather than a Pete Postlethwaite one (where you have to wait until you're 60).
The second series of Green Wing starts at 9pm on March 31 on Channel 4. A DVD of the first series will be out on April 3.
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2006