Masterpiece: Endeavour's Shaun Evans on Reinterpreting Inspector Morse, Tarot Cards and More

TV Features Masterpiece: Endeavour
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<i>Masterpiece: Endeavour</i>'s Shaun Evans on Reinterpreting Inspector Morse, Tarot Cards and More

Masterpiece: Endeavour left viewers hanging at the end of last season. At the crack of dawn, DC Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans) was the last person to see Joan Thursday (Sara Vickers). Later, he exchanges glances with DI Fred Thursday (Roger Allam), who’d just discovered that Joan, his daughter, has run away. Season Four, which premieres August 20 on PBS, is set two weeks later, during the summer of 1967. Paste had a chance to speak with Evans about the prequel to the long-running Inspector Morse, working with Sheila Hancock—the widow of John Thaw, the original Inspector Morse—and reading tarot and tea leaves. Plus, some good news for fans who’ve longed for more Endeavour: Season Five has already gotten the green light, with six episodes instead of the usual four.

Paste: I’m a new fan of the show because of you. Though it’s a prequel, this feels like a different show. Do you see it as its own show and somewhat separate from the original?

Shaun Evans:That’s a terrific question. I was like you, I hadn’t seen and I still haven’t seen the Morse series, purely because if you’re doing a piece of work, it has to be your piece of work. My intention is to please the existing audience, but also to get a new audience of my generation. For me it is not completely separate, but it is a very separate thing. Of course, there are nods to it.

Paste: Are there qualities in Morse you wish you had, or do you bring your own qualities to him?

Evans: I tell myself that work should be pure imagination, but obviously there are aspects of myself. If I think, “Oh, that could be interesting, if we went down this road,” we make it a concerted effort to make that a part of it. I think when you’re in the middle of a piece of work, there are things that bleed over into your life. You’re spending a large portion of your day pretending to be somebody else, to tell somebody else’s story. I also think your subconscious has a tendency to work overtime, and you see everything in your life through the prism of the story that you’re telling.

Paste: How does Season Four address Joan? We left off with Morse looking at DI Thursday in the morning.

Evans: It’s beautiful and frustrating in equal measure. These two characters are not going sit down and tell you how they feel, which is indicative of the majority of men at that time. Endeavour’s not going to say how he feels about Joan, nor is (DI) Thursday saying how he feels about his daughter. There’s a silence at the beginning. Her presence is always hanging over each of our stories. It’s always the driving force of all of this, the relationship with Joan, with the Thursday family in general, with Joan and Fred.

Paste: DI Thursday’s sandwiches are a character. They play a role regarding his life in terms of Joan’s absence.

Evans: Well spotted. These things have to be delicately done. All is not well in the Thursday household, and how does that manifest? The fact she’s no longer making sandwiches, perhaps he’s making his own, which speaks volumes about the relationship. [DI Thursday and his wife, Win, played by Caroline O’Neill] are having cross words. Win’s not herself, and this gets noticed by Endeavour. And we’re not going to sit down and have a chat about it.

Paste: Do you ever wish that you were that person in that time? Does the escapism hit you?

Evans: It does, but in a different way. Acting is an amazing job, I’m very lucky to do it, and when you’re working with terrific people, telling stories you care about, and know it reaches an audience who care about it, too, there is an escapism in that. You are escaping from your daily life to go and tell that particular story.

Paste: You renew your contract year to year, but you really bring him to life for us. I wonder if you love him as much as we do?

Evans: It’s a unique experience for me because I’ve never done anything which I’ve returned to. While I try and give as much energy, enthusiasm and detail to any work I do, if I keep coming back to it, to the same people year after year, there’s an attachment. But you don’t want anything to become comfortable. It has to be challenging in new ways. I always think about the story. How can we do this in a new way? Are we still telling interesting stories? Are we pleasing the audience, but giving them what they want in a way they don’t think they know they want it?

Paste: My favorite episode last season was “Ride,” because Morse and DI Thursday opened up. Does the relationship unfold more?

Evans: We have to bide our time in terms of those two chaps. It’s nice to see it unfold. Like in any relationship, you can’t keep discovering new things about people all the time [laughs] because it wouldn’t be believable. Something good happens, because I become sergeant. He doesn’t feel he has to prove himself anymore. That’s reflected in the relationship. It’s delicate. You don’t want it to be a father-son—it’s got more potential than that, it has to keep changing. One of the thrusts of all the stories is the changing of the guard, one way of doing things is going to be superseded by another way. That’s reflected in their relationships.

Paste: How do you see Morse’s arc, starting with the Russian chess episode? Every season has a different feel.

Evans: We have an overriding theme for each one. For this, it’s man versus machine, shown in the chess match. There has to be a crime, which has to be solved, but you want to see this person move as well. I pushed for a more honest relationship with Joan, so I was delighted that has come to pass.

Paste: I watch more for the characters and their chemistry.

Evans: That is the story really. The crimes, you can take or leave, it’s the other stuff that’s interesting to play and to act. You want to know what’s going on with the people, you’re not talking about the crime.

Paste: I love Morse’s interactions with DI Thursday.

Evans: That’s where the story is, that’s the heart of the story.

Paste: Do you have a favorite episode? Season Two, my favorite was the one in the department store. My favorite this season is “Lazaretto.”

Evans: Can you say why?

Paste: It’s set in a contained environment, which is why I liked the department store episode.

Evans: You hit the nail right on the head. I feel stories work best when the world we create is very strong and specific, like a hospital, a department store. I really liked the opera killings. When the world is really strongly created, you know where you are and you can enjoy it. Those are my favorite ones.

Paste: Is your favorite “Lazaretto” this season?

Evans: I like the way that looked. We had an Icelandic director and director of photography. It looks Scandinavian, more noir-ish. I really like that. I like the fourth one as well, in the power station. The world wasn’t created as strongly, but I liked the idea of the druids and the tarot deck. I like all of them in a different way.

Paste: The fourth episode revealed what the tarot cards were for. What did you think and was it interesting doing scenes with Sheila Hancock [who plays the local clairvoyant, Dowsable Chattox]?

Evans: I really liked that. I used to have an aunty who read tea leaves, she was incredibly accurate. Going back to the man versus machine, the idea of a power station against this woman who’s in touch with the land and in touch with something more intuitive, that was interesting. I also just finished reading the book M Train by Patti Smith, she’s always turning tarot cards in it. So in my mind I was like, “Oh, wouldn’t that be cool.” It was interesting that it came up. She’s a brilliant actress, I was delighted to have her on board. I really liked the way those scenes turned out.

Paste: You’re an associate producer now, what does that entail? Do you have say in storylines? I think viewers would like more with DI Thursday and newspaper editor Dorothea Frazil [played by John Thaw’s daughter, Abigail).

Evans: I think the writer wants that, too. You’ve got 90 minutes to tell a story, you have to create new world, create a killer, a victim who is killed who we care about, an interesting way to solve the crime. It’s difficult to do all of those things and all the existing cast as well. Those are my favorite scenes to film as well, the ones with [DI] Thursday and Dorothea. I’d love one where I didn’t solve the crime.

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