Stanley Townsend plays Charlie Carrick
Award-winning actor Stanley Townsend is ebullient about his role as millionaire businessman Charlie Carrick in BBC One's thoroughbred new drama series, Rough Diamond.
"I suppose," muses the Dublin-born star, "that it would be a lot shorter list if you asked were there any down sides to it!"
Rough Diamond saddles up to follow the rivalry between struggling young trainer Aidan (Conor Mullen) and his wealthy neighbour Charlie who, with his wife Yolanda (Lorraine Pilkington), runs the neighbouring and successful Firebrand yard.
Says Stanley: "Charlie is a charismatic, funny, passionate, successful businessman – an Irishman in his middle years in a booming economy and loving every minute of it – so it's a fantastic part.
"Those are the qualities, I suppose, that I looked forward to – he's a very likeable man."
He adds: "I think the fact that he's at loggerheads with Aidan maybe would make you not like him so much when you're watching the series, but I think, if you were to meet Charlie, you'd have a great night with him."
To take the reins as Charlie, Stanley researched what he describes as "the world of horses".
"I lived on a stud farm during filming and the folk who ran it were very kind and brought me to horse sales and to the races, so I engaged fairly fully with the world," he explains. "I visited other stud farms and other trainers' yards and just met and drank and ate with the folk of that world."
He quips: "That was not very arduous, I have to say – it was a lot of fun – so I enjoyed it."
Stanley adds: "Charlie is not that hands-on with the animals, so I didn't have to do that much engagement with them. It was more the business end of the world and the social end that I was researching, which I really enjoyed."
Probably the greatest challenge for this hard-working actor was, he reveals: "Just the challenge of doing that size of a part in a series. There was no one thing that I could put my finger on, other than maybe the fact that I was playing a character that's maybe a lot closer to my own than I would usually play, in that he was a Dublin man.
"I don't seem to get to play that many Irish parts, so it was a real pleasure and, at the same time, maybe if there was any specific challenge, that might have been it."
Charlie's spiky relationship with Aidan is exacerbated by the younger man's refusal to sell his yard and allow Charlie to expand his mega-rich empire. And maybe adding fuel to a smouldering fire is the fact that, years ago, Yolanda and Aidan were romantically involved.
So do equine machinations take a nastier turn as the series progresses?
"I don't think nastier – maybe more intense," comments Stanley. "They [Charlie and Aidan] have history together. They have worked and socialised and run together and enjoyed each other – they have a really positive history. And it was only since Aidan went off the rails, prior to, and then after, his father's death, that he became a liability as far as Charlie was concerned.
"Charlie stuck with him," continues Stanley, "but, eventually, he couldn't; he was damaging the business and he had to let him go."
In the first episode, Charlie is confident of acquiring Aidan's yard and bridles at his refusal.
"You know yourself, if you're about to buy a property and, on the day when you're about to complete, if the person pulls out, you'd be pretty upset. So Charlie is not best pleased and that kind of runs on," reveals Stanley.
"If Charlie has an insecurity about Aidan, it's to do with Aidan's gift with horses and Charlie's lack of gift," he continues. "I think Charlie is confident that he has a good relationship with his wife and that occasionally he realises that he's maybe been taking her for granted.
"But he's up for trying to engage with and change that. They have a good, positive, passionate, funny relationship – they enjoy each other's humour as well. So I don't think Charlie's worrying that Aidan is going to entice his wife away from him."
It's plain that the larger-than-life Charlie adores Yolanda, a qualified vet – but is he, albeit unintentionally, stifling her career?
"That's pretty much on the money and that does become an issue later on, and one that is addressed," is Stanley's intriguing answer.
It isn't simply the chance to swell his fortune, originally made in property, that motivates Charlie. In the well-heeled, well-hooved environs of the Firebrand yard, success and prestige are vital components.
"He's a very competitive man; he loves a challenge and loves something new," declares Stanley. "Charlie loves the horses and the colour and the characters in the world of horse-racing and breeding. He's thriving and swimming in it now, but wants to develop and grow – develop a very big and successful business and string of racers. Then, of course, the obvious step would be to put them out to stud and build a dynasty of very successful race horses which would be, I suppose, his ambition."
It would also be a legacy for Sheridan (Muireann Bird), the daughter on whom he dotes.
"She's the apple of his eye," reveals Stanley. "He loves her intelligence and wit, her speed of thought and her competitiveness. She's such a brilliant rider herself and he loves that in her, but I think he would much prefer her to be pursuing an academic career – and that's another issue that will be raised and addressed in the coming episodes..."
Stanley's prolific body of work includes some 14 films, including Wondrous Oblivion, The Libertine, with Johnny Depp, and Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire; more than 20 television roles, in such high-profile series as The Virgin Queen, Spooks, Hustle, Heartbeat, Casualty, Ballykissangel and Jonathan Creek; and in excess of 30 stage appearances.
It was his portrayal of John in Conor McPherson's Shining City at The Gate Theatre and The Royal Court Theatre, Dublin, which won him an Irish Times Best Actor award. He was also nominated for an Evening Standard award for the same role.
He's now filming Saddam's Tribe for Channel 4, which covers the period from 1997 to 2003 and focuses on the in-fighting and bids for power within the family. Stanley stars as the plutocratic patriarch himself and comments, maybe with some understatement: "It's a strange world to enter into."
His original ambition was to be a theatre actor. "Then, as I've gotten older, I realised that film and television is an arena I want to explore, so in the last five to 10 years I've concentrated more on that and maybe turned down some theatre to stay available for film and television work and I've been lucky enough that it's come," he explains.
And he enjoys the diversity of working across all three media.
"It keeps you fresh; it keeps you on your toes," he declares.
Rather as Aidan is keeping Charlie on his toes in Rough Diamond...