Bleak House - this autumn on BBC ONE
Denis Lawson plays John Jarndyce
John Jarndyce is a troubled man. Beneath the exterior of the kind-hearted and benevolent man who took in Richard and Ada, the wards of court – not forgetting young orphan Esther Summerson – lies a deeply unsettled past, according to Denis Lawson, who plays the amiable Jarndyce in Andrew Davies' adaptation of Bleak House.
"When I met Andrew, we chatted about the background to the character and I asked why he was on his own and why he was the way he is. The explanations he gave me didn't satisfy me so I did something quite unusual: I asked the producers to write a back story.
"I wanted the history of the character. And they were great; they put something together which was fantastically useful to me, about why he was alone and why he was a depressive and melancholic man."
Jarndyce's life is turned around when he takes in the three youngsters and it's not long before he falls in love with Esther, who is some 30 years his junior.
"He has a great friend in Boythorn (Warren Clarke). He's a great pal and confidante and he's the one who Jarndyce confesses his love for Esther to, and says that he's thinking of asking her to marry him but is unsure whether it's the right thing to do.
"Boythorn says, 'Of course it is, don't be ridiculous, get on with it!'
"There is an odd area in Jarndyce, though, and he does confess it towards the end. He had convinced himself that this was okay but it wasn't. Ultimately, he lets Esther go, in a sense, because he realises it's not right."
Denis is full of praise for Anna Maxwell Martin, who plays Esther in her first major TV role, and says that she helped him through the complexities of the drama.
"I worked a lot with Anna and she's fantastic. I would quite often turn to her and say, 'Where are we? Have we done this yet?' She always knew where we were.
"In fact, I want to say that Anna, Carey Mulligan, who plays Ada, and Patrick Kennedy, who plays Richard, are absolutely wonderful and we had a great time together."
Denis wasn't at all familiar with the Bleak House story until he read the scripts, but he has since read the Dickens book.
"I loved it, it's fantastic. Looking at the book, the scripts are a real achievement. Dickens has these phenomenal descriptive powers, but the great thing that Andrew did, with Nigel Stafford Clark, was the narrative. The great strength of half hours is that it's packed with the story rocketing forward, which is wonderful.
"Bleak House is like the best soap you could ever hope to watch. It has the same structure as EastEnders, in half hours, and the characters are so rich. The narrative twists and turns are just fantastic. It's such a power of sheer storytelling.
"Because of the way it's been written and structured it moves so fast. It's also been shot in a very contemporary style, so it's going to feel like a really modern bit of television - but look period."
Denis, well-known among sci-fi fans as one of the few X-wing pilots to survive various onslaughts in the early Star Wars films, had never been in a TV period drama before, although he has done period theatre.
"I'd never been in a horse and carriage. The clothes Jarndyce wears are just incredible, fantastic. I adored them. The period detail, the art direction was the best I have seen, it's just phenomenal.
"I felt very comfortable in that period. I've always maintained that there's no such thing as period acting, I think that's a class thing. I don't believe that people moved and spoke much differently than we do now.
"There were certain manners and etiquette that were around, but the people weren't different – it's only 150 years ago.
"They were the same animals we are today and I always think that it's really important that you play people like that as though they're living now, because how is an audience going to connect with you? It's terribly important. You just wear the clothes, you don't let the clothes wear you."
Denis admits that he's full of admiration for Dickens and has read many of his works in the past: "Dombey And Son, Oliver Twist and others – quite a lot. I hadn't read Dickens for a while and doing Bleak House was great.
"It's incredible to do. He is phenomenal. He was a superstar – he toured America and packed it out doing a one-man show. He was huge."
Further cast interviews will be released over the following weeks.