The Thirteenth Tale

A haunting psychological mystery on BBC Two

Interview with Robert Pugh

It’s an intelligent script and beautifully acted by the main characters. I think it’s got it all for mass appeal; it’s a good story well told and there are wonderful spooky elements in it."Robert Pugh
Category: BBC Two; Drama

Who do you play and what’s his involvement in the story?

I play John the Dig, the gardener of the family who looks after the house and the surrounding environs and also the children. He and ‘The Missus’ (Janet Amsden) aren’t married, they’re cohorts really, servants of the house for some time, very faithful servants.

John seems to have a close relationship with children. How does that work?

He’s a straightforward bloke of a certain age, so when he comes to this job and gets involved with the children, it’s a very natural process for him. Basically he’s a good person; he’s an ordinary chap who gets to love the kids. A natural protectiveness in him comes out and entwines him with the children. He knows the reason behind their behaviour and the context of them growing up - it’s a worm’s eye view for him and the Missus. His instincts are quite fundamental and compassionate; he’s a decent human being.

What appealed to you about the project?

It’s not a run-of-the-mill ghost story at all. It has a few zig-zags along the way and that’s what I like about it. It’s a bit more intellectual and has more depth to it because the stories of the main characters are so powerful, rounded and strong and the cast playing them are so brilliant. They bring another dimension to it, to the ghost story, it’s great. It’s an intelligent script and beautifully acted by the main characters. I think it’s got it all for mass appeal; it’s a good story well told and there are wonderful spooky elements in it.

Your scenes are very involved with the younger members of cast…

The kids have been brilliant; they’re just wonderful and very professional.  I’m learning from these damn talented kids! They’ve got complicated things to do and thought processes from the director and they sail through it. They’re great fun and great talent.

How is it working with James Kent?

I’ve worked with him before and he’s calm and collected and knows exactly how to get what he wants from you. James has got all the shots in his head and he’s just a nice bloke, never tries to hurry you, and gets on with it. He gives wonderful little last-minute touches to your performance, which is great and very helpful which, I think, gives a well-roundedness to the performance; he’s very perceptive.

Is it a case of different period, different mind-set?

That is always an area to look at very closely for an actor. How far can you bring yourself at the minute into the past and make it real? I can remember the Fifties and the people around me, the gardeners of his age, so I’m using that to understand behaviour and try and get under the skin of him.  The clothes are fantastic, just like those that my uncles and grandfather wore and they help me make that physical connection, as far as possible, to get into the psyche. There’s a subtle difference, it’s the way you feel; it’s like I’ve gone back in time not as a child but as my uncle or grandfather. That’s how I’ve personally experienced this - it’s very interesting and makes me very nostalgic.