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Ian Richardson - Canon Black in Strange

About Black
  Tell us about Canon Black

Canon Black is in charge of administration in a cathedral somewhere in England, it's never actually stated where. As to his religious obligations, he's rather far away from them most of the time in this series, and that's all I'm prepared to say about him.

You might want to know whether he's a goodie or a baddie. Well I would tell you straight away, but I don't even know the answer myself to that question, and when I asked the author of the series, Andrew Marshall, he didn't know either. So we just have to wait and watch developments.

Black motives
  How hard do you find it playing a character when you don't know his own motives?

Well it is a little bit bewildering but he's such a sardonic personality anyway, which is in the nature of the kind of parts I get to play these days. I just play it straight down the middle. I play each scene for what it's worth.

What do you most like about the character?

I think possibly his sense of humour. A rather nice thing is that the burden of the work is on the shoulders of the younger people. Richard Coyle and Samantha Janus really have to carry the whole series through on their shoulders. I just pop in every now and again with some very funny lines and a lot of sardonic wit to go with it - and go quietly home again. That for me at my age is a great joy.

Black's finest hour
  What's been your favourite moment?

I think my favourite moment was when I looking for one of my vergers who was in the stroke ward of the hospital where Samantha Janus is a sister.

And I'm walking down looking at these very sick people and I come to this old boy and I move to the end of his bed. I've got this cloak and hood up, which frames my face, and he wakes up and he screams and he says 'You look like death!' to which I reply 'Well we're none of us getting any younger'. That was a great joy to say.

One of my favourite scenes from the pilot is when Jude opens up the morgue and you're just standing there.

That was a real morgue where we shot that scene, where she opens the door and sees me standing at the other side. I was in the reception room and Sam's character was on the other side in the dissecting room so when she opened her door I was already there. It was a real mortuary, and I had to ask the wardrobe when we'd finished the pilot and started the series to give me some new gloves, because these reeked of formaldehyde.

Black the antihero
  What's the most enjoyable thing about getting to play an antihero?

Oh I've played so many antiheroes really in the last few years that I've become rather matter-of-fact about it. It would be nice to play a nice person, except Dr Dell was a nice person in the Murder Room series.

Well, heroes are nearly always exceptionally boring. One thinks of Romeo and Juliet. Romeo, despite the fact that he has a lot of poetry, is not nearly such a fun part to play as Mercutio and similarly I always felt that Robin Hood was a bit of a crump, but Sir Guy of Gisbon, specially as played by Basil Rathbone, was far and away the best part in the film.

No, I think baddies are much more interesting because they're much more psychologically complex. It's a challenge to put over someone who's just fundamentally evil and to make them acceptable.

Extracurricula activities
  Does Black have a full social life, outside all the scheming?

I haven't encountered much of his outside social life at all. He seems to be slightly cocooned within the cathedral cloister and in his own quarters, his own domain, his own study, his own little library.

He even eats alone and poor Doddington, who's his assistant, really has a dog's life of it with this old crotchety old Cannon. He doesn't really go in for much social life. I think the only person that he socialised with in any shape or form is the librarian of the cathedral library. And that doesn't happen very often.

  Doddington's never around. Do you have any idea what he's doing?

Yes, he's either practising his skipping or he's reading Pollyanna or he's going to the evangelical club to drink Ovaltine. And all sorts of rather exciting pursuits like that.

It's a sweet little part beautifully played by Samuel Barnett, who's quite a newcomer to the business.

When you're playing fantasy do you find that there's a slightly different approach that needs to be taken?

No, the more fanciful it is the more necessary it becomes to play it straight. Any tendency to shift it into another acting dimension would be a fatal mistake.

Special guest star
  Who have you enjoyed working with?

Tom Baker was great fun. He's about the only one who was my contemporary and we had only one scene together which was specially written for us both because initially there was not a scene between Father Bernard and the Cannon.

I haven't been privileged always to play with the visiting leading players because I'm on the periphery and I'm John Strange's nemesis and so consequently I seem to be constantly preoccupied with what he's up to, he and the girl played by Samantha.

So to work even one scene with Tom was a bonus for which I'm very grateful. We laughed a great deal the day we shot it.

Filming conditions
  Have you found the wintery conditions quite hard?

Not at all. This cloak weighs a ton and since I wear it nearly all the time I've found it very, very useful. And because I wear this down to the ground cassock I can wear all sorts of secret thermal things underneath and be as warm as toast.

It wasn't so funny when we started in late summer and we had a bit of an Indian summer. I was constantly having to have my brow mopped. But I'm laughing on the other side of my face now.

Feel the fear
  What's your greatest fear?

I think probably what I fear is something ghastly happening to my very closely-knit family, my sons, their wives, and my grandchildren.

I fear the world is not a safe place for youngsters to grow up in and I fear that the kind of world I knew when I was a child is possibly never going to be seen again.

My greatest fear is that they won't have as happy a life as I hitherto have enjoyed. And that makes me very frightened.