Neil Morrissey saunters up in a clashing outfit of patterned Hawaiian shirt and baggy plaid shorts, two days’ worth of stubble and a bunch of beaded bracelets around his wrists. It’s a summer casual look with a strong hint of scruffy beach bum.
Luckily, that’s the idea. Neil is playing something of a good-time guy in his latest TV role, in ITV’s The Good Karma Hospital. It’s a six-part drama about a cash-strapped local cottage hospital in Kerala, India (Sri Lanka is standing in), run by a British ex-pat, Dr Lydia Fonseca (New Tricks’ Amanda Redman). Neil plays her boyfriend, Greg McConnell, a laid-back ex-pat who runs the local beach bar where the doctors hang out when they’re not saving lives.
We met Neil out in Sri Lanka under swaying palms to discuss his latest role in a career that’s spanned more than three decades. He’s a household name thanks to roles in Boon and Men Behaving Badly, and more recently he’s had roles in Waterloo Road, The Night Manager and Line of Duty.
Boundless sat down for a chat with 54-year-old Neil, who told us about working in a tropical paradise, his other job as a publican, and a possible Men Behaving Badly reunion…
Boundless: Tell us about your character in Good Karma Hospital, Greg McConnell.
Neil Morrissey: Greg’s been out in Kerala about 20 years and he absolutely loves it. He owns a beach bar – talk about life mimicking art [Neil owns a pub near Stoke-on-Trent] – and all the doctors and nurses hang out there. Greg is the central fun element – people come to his bar after a day of seeing terrible things in the hospital and his place is this little bit of joy. Greg is just a likeable rogue and a good guy. They built me a beautiful [fake] bar on the beach for filming and people kept walking up and saying, ‘Can I get a drink, please?’
How excited were you to be offered this role that’s being filmed in Sri Lanka?
I pretty much told them that there was no-one else that could do this part! I don’t mind the heat and I’ve been to Sri Lanka before and loved it, and I get to work with Amanda Redman, so ‘tick, tick, tick’ all the way. It’s one of the dream jobs.
Any drawbacks to the role?
Of course, I miss my missus [girlfriend Emma Killick] terribly and my dog and my home comforts, so if there’s a second series, I’ll definitely make time for people to come over. You can get terribly lonely, because you’re living in a hotel surrounded by tourists and young couples who are either honeymooning or on holiday, but you’re not on holiday. But every Wednesday night the cast and crew and everyone congregates in a bar and we go off and have fun.
Your career seems to be in a very good place. After being considered a comedy star, lately you’ve landed roles in prestige dramas like Line of Duty and The Night Manager.
At last! At last! It’s nice to spice things up and do things of a different ilk and hopefully it will continue. It was a long time shaking off whatever comedic shackles were tied upon me, but I’ve got nothing to complain about. I’ve had a great career and it’s still going – after 35 years or so I’m not going to start moaning now! But it’s great that it seems to have taken a little turn and I’m really happy. But I never worry about my next job.
How do you manage not to worry? Surely at the very least you have expenses to cover?
Life’s too short. Also, I have a pub and I manufacture beer [Neil’s company supplies Crystal Palace FC], so I’ve got other things, and if I’m skint I can always do panto. I did Bear Grylls’ Mission Survive last year, but I won’t be doing any of that reality stuff again, because it’s all utterly and wholly contrived and not much fun.
Could there ever be a Men Behaving Badly [cast pictured, in 1996] reunion? Cold Feet came back…
I have no influence there whatsoever, but if a script came in and it was wonderful and Martin [Clunes], Caroline [Quentin], Leslie [Ash] and I loved it, then we’d do it. But first and foremost it’s a question for the people who wrote it and produced it – I was merely a player in it.
What’s next for you?
I’ve just played an English barrister in an Irish drama called Striking Out, which was cool because both my parents are Irish and my first accent was Irish. I’m writing a script with an old writing partner – we started it about 15 years ago, but it fell apart and now we’re pretty much at the age of the characters we were writing back then, so it might work.
Why do you like being a businessman alongside acting?
It keeps life interesting, but it’s typical – when I started this business two and a half years ago, I was doing a bit of film, a bit of radio, a bit of TV, but all of a sudden I’m the busiest I’ve been for a decade in terms of acting.
Is there a dream role you’ve yet to play?
I never think that way, but saying that, I think they’re going to make another series of Peaky Blinders and I’d love to be in that. I’m one of the only Midlanders they haven’t used. And I’d do anything in Game of Thrones – I’d play a scraggy priest who gets his head chopped off in the first three minutes!