What’s it like to be local? The “Press Gang” and “Hotel Babylon” actor spills the beans to Melissa Crowther over a coffee at the Bon Appetit café on St John Street
How long have you lived around here?
My wife Dalia and I moved to Clerkenwell in 2008. We were living in Ladbroke Grove at the time, so it was quite a change.
We had friends in the Grove, and a flat that we loved. But then Dalia [a Lithuanian opera director] went to New York to work and ended up staying in a really big loft apartment there. I’d go over and spend time with her, and we just loved that way of living. We got it into our heads that we wanted to live like that in London, too. So we went to the estate agent Urban Spaces in Clerkenwell Road and our place came up.
It was in a bit of a state decoratively when we bought it. But we haven’t done much else to it than do it up. The building was built in 1938, and our flat is big, with exposed bricks and the original windows, which roll open when you wind the handles. There’s a lovely old fire door, too. It’s all open plan, so some people don’t like coming round and going to the loo, as it’s a fairly public affair…
You’re originally from London… Did you have ties to EC1?
I’m from Edmonton, north-east London. But I’ve always known Clerkenwell because I went to Anna Scher’s drama school, up in Islington, and my nan and my aunt both live in Hoxton. I’ve got quite a few friends round here and my brother Graham [the actor Graham Fletcher-Cook] lives in Old Street. I actually met my wife on St John Street, in the Old Red Lion pub — we worked on a play there together about 15 or 16 years ago.
What do you like about living here?
I like it at weekends, when it feels like a bit of a ghost town. It’s peaceful but you can still go off and do whatever you want to do; we’re only 10 to 15 minutes from the centre of town, and now you can jump on a Boris bike. I don’t bother with a car. I also just love walking around — Smithfield and that — and going to the Barbican. It’s so close and you can see such great stuff there.
What are your favourite haunts?
I go to the gym at the Saddlers Sports Centre on Goswell Road. I hang out at Sadler’s Wells, too, of course. I like Moro, which is one of the best London restaurants and was pretty much solely responsible for making Exmouth Market the cool place it is today. And St John, which is always good for an Eccles cake.
Any top tips?
There’s a good, authentic Thai massage place near City Road. That’s a recent discovery for me. And everyone should visit Mo in Embassy Electrical Supplies [on Compton Street], who’s become a bit of a mate of mine. Anything I need, I head there. It’s an extraordinary place.
Do you know much about the theatrical history around here?
I know that all of Shakespeare’s manuscripts would have been in the area at some point. [St John’s Gate was used as the offices of the Master of the Revels in the 16th century, where plays were licensed.] There was also, apparently, a very good puppet theatre on St John Street in Shakespeare’s day, which burnt down. It’s just a rich area, isn’t it? I love the little pockets, like Jerusalem Passage, that give Clerkenwell its own identity, and the evocative street names. Hat & Mitre Court, White Bear Yard…
Have you ever worked in Clerkenwell?
I used to work at the Barbican when I was 16. I’d just left school and was with the RSC for its first season there. I was there for a year, running about, and I had a pass that allowed me to go anywhere, so I got to know it fairly well. Back then, 29 years ago, it was considered a “modern monstrosity”; now, of course, it’s this romantic notion of architecture. I definitely have an affection for the place, and would love to be able to screen the film I’ve just directed, Wild Bill, there.
Was any of it shot in EC1?
No, but it was made not far away, in east London, in Stratford. It’s a nice, warm film about London, with Western influences and a lovely big heart. Bill [the main character] comes out of prison and wants to do right by his kids, but he’s completely ill-equipped to do so and everything he tries to do goes wrong. It’s funny to see someone try and fail like that. But he makes huge sacrifices in the end. I’ve really enjoyed directing it and it’s got a lot of great people in it, like my friends Jason Flemyng, Andy Serkis and Olivia Williams. Charlie Creed-Miles, who plays Bill, I knew from drama school and Press Gang.
Do you get celebspotted here much?
Occasionally, I do, but I don’t think people are that bothered, to be honest. They probably think, “Oh, it’s that bloke with the long hair who’s on the telly sometimes!”
Are you planning to stick around?
Yes, I don’t see why not. I love it here, and there’s still a lot of stuff for me to discover about the place.