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Adrian Dunbar: I'm fascinated by Oscar Wilde, he went to school in Enniskillen too, so he was affected by the same atmosphere, the same sights

Published 01/05/2015

Theatre of dreams: Adrian Dunbar has based his latest TV detective partly on former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson
Theatre of dreams: Adrian Dunbar has based his latest TV detective partly on former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson
Famous wit: author, playwright and poet Oscar Wilde attended Portora Royal School
Duty calls: Adrian Dunbar in Line of Duty

Adrian Dunbar is back home to film a new series of Line of Duty and take part in the Oscar Wilde Weekend. He talks to Simon Fallaha about who inspires him.

Coming from Northern Ireland, actor Adrian Dunbar has no shortage of inspirational figures to draw from when it comes to portraying a deeply religious, traditional man.

So it's something of a surprise that the star of BBC2 cop drama Line of Duty has turned to two well-known Scots to help him play the strict, scrupulous detective DI Ted Hastings - the late actor Fulton Mackay, best known for playing a tough prison officer in popular sitcom Porridge and former Manchester United boss, Sir Alex Ferguson.

Dunbar is currently in Belfast filming series three of Jed Mercurio's hugely successful, Bafta-nominated police drama. It's the second successive series to be shot on location in the city and the Fermanagh man is clearly relishing the prospect of once more stepping into the shoes of the incorruptible on-screen detective.

"He's an excellent character," Dunbar says. "He's a very tough and headstrong individual. When playing him, I approach the role as a sort of composite of Fulton Mackay and Sir Alex Ferguson - a model disciplinarian who's hard and administrative, but also fair and compassionate.

"He doesn't like wrongdoers, either in the police force or out of it. And, although he's from Northern Ireland, he's got a bit of a Govan background."

Six Alex, of course, grew up in the working-class district of Glasgow and the great football manager would undoubtedly approve of Dunbar's multiple skills and versatility. This weekend, the actor, writer and director faces a rather more cultured line of duties - reading and directing at the inaugural Oscar Wilde Weekend by Lough Ernest in Enniskillen. The literary legend is to be theatrically, conversationally, musically and visually honoured over a four-day period, with input from Dunbar, fellow Fermanagh man Ciaran McMenamin, Dublin actor Stanley Townsend, former Lyric director David Grant, Paula McFertridge from Kabosh Theatre Company and festival associate sculptor Alan Milligan.

Dunbar, as both festival associate and one of many Northern Ireland stars taking an interactive part in the festival, is very much a Wilde Thing - and proud to be, too.

"I've always been fascinated by Oscar Wilde," Dunbar says. "Like me, he went to school in Enniskillen. He was affected by the same moods, the same atmosphere and the same sights as I was. When I began to learn more about him, I discovered his interest in Greek literature, and then I saw The Importance Of Being Earnest. I thought it was genius.

"He's such a significant figure, both around the world and in Fermanagh, that it's fitting that Enniskillen should celebrate him."

A major focal point of the event will be the stories Wilde wrote for his own children - it is believed that his most popular short story, The Happy Prince, was inspired by Enniskillen and the surrounding lakes - and also Wilde's sense of fashion and style. "His dedication to aesthetics and fashion was the mark of a true artist," says Dunbar. "He consistently sought to make things attractive. For him, beauty was the word."

Among the 56-year-old actor's most notable projects during the weekend is De Profundis. Narrated by Stanley Townsend of Spooks, Hustle and Sherlock fame, the work, which will be read across three evenings, is a humble confessional piece about dealing with grief and using it as a springboard to the next part of your life. Fittingly, it translates from Latin as "from the depths". Dunbar will also be reading The Socialism Of Man's Soul, a response to Wilde's final essay penned by Will Self.

But most significant of all, perhaps, is The Decay Of Lying, a "humorous, cutting, clever and highly entertaining" dialogue, directed by Dunbar and staged in the Morning Room at Castle Coole Library. Dunbar sees it as a sign of Wilde going totally against the tenor of the times, savagely attacking some of literature's sacred cows and the visual arts while, at the same time, suggesting that it is art that influences life, rather than the other way around.

"The Decay Of Lying is a very interesting treatise," he says. "It was actually penned as a dialogue between two characters, Cyril and Vyvyan, both of who were named after Wilde's sons. Wilde goes on to extrapolate art as a science and as a social pleasure, to its most logical and illogical extremes, and it ends up being very funny, indeed.

"It's a critique of the arts, he's trying to take us away from the scientific approach to art, and encourage our imaginations to run a little more freely."

The reading also reunites Dunbar with actor Allan Corduner, who played Czech composer Leos Janacek in Dunbar's production of Brian Friel's Performances, staged in Londonderry two years ago. While Dunbar holds fond memories of Performances, he also expresses disappointment that he couldn't take it elsewhere ("I do wish it had more of a life than it did. It really was extraordinary").

Nowadays, though, the former star of Widows' Peak and Ashes to Ashes is happy to reflect on a long, rich and varied career of written, directorial and especially acting work, on stage, screen and radio.

Having attended the Guildhall School Of Music And Drama in London, Dunbar went on to appear in high profile works like My Left Foot, The Crying Game and The General, and earned praise for his performance as the amnesiac Thomas Francis Kelly in the first ever episode of Cracker, more than two decades ago.

He also co-wrote and starred in the Bafta-nominated film about Irish tenor Josef Locke, Hear My Song.

And once upon a time, Dunbar had people hearing his song, again and again, while at the forefront of his very own country and jazz band. "Yes, I did have a band for two or three years," he laughs. "They were called Adie and the Jonahs. We used to come together and play some gigs, and they were all very enjoyable. It's only a shame that I didn't have the time to keep the band going. But who knows?

"Maybe, someday, we'll all get back together and do something again." Dunbar has been married to Anna Nygh, an Australian, since 1986. They have one daughter Madeleine; he is also stepdad to Ted, Anna's son from a previous relationship. Clearly, the apple has not fallen all that far from the Dunbar tree. Madeleine is something of a Wilde and wild girl. Having been immersed in the performing arts since birth, Madeleine was recently cast as Gwendolen in The Importance Of Being Earnest, and has made a reputation for herself in, of all things, rap. "I didn't think Madeleine would immediately follow in my footsteps," says Dunbar. "But, like me, she's done a lot - she acts on screen, she writes, she teaches and she raps. She's worked with some very important rappers in New York City, and they really like her style. "I like to think that I encouraged her to branch out in so many directions, and it's good, even invaluable, that she has done. You really can't pigeon hole yourself into one particular artistic area any more; the days of one vocation in the arts have long gone. It's vital, as an artist, to do a number of things, and to do them well."

Out of the number of things that Dunbar has done - which also include Inspector Morse, Murphy's Law, Richard Loncraine's Richard III, being part of the last ever episode of A Touch Of Frost, and receiving an honorary degree from the University Of Ulster for his services to acting in 2009 - what satisfies him most of all?

"That's a very tough question to answer," says Dunbar. "To me, writing and directing have become so important that, regardless of how many acting commitments I have, I can't imagine giving them up. And I love directing. I love the art of bringing a piece of written work to life in the way in which a writer intended. I take pleasure in ensuring that actors are performing at their best.

"But if I were I pushed to pick a favourite job, I'd say acting. At its best, acting is wonderful, exciting, scary even, because it is so challenging. I have a preference for theatre work ahead of screen roles, too, because theatre is a live gig.

"There is an immediate transference with the audience on stage that you just don't get on film; through your levels of concentration, you have much more influence over what is happening."

On the whole, however, Dunbar is proud of everything in his body of work. "There are no stand out moments," he says. "What really pleases me most of all is consistency, to have constantly worked at such a high level of excellence. I'm also very happy to have been able to support both my friends and people trying to make their way in such a challenging industry."

The inaugural Wilde Weekend at Lough Ernest runs from tomorrow to Monday, May 4 in Enniskillen. For more information, or to book tickets, log on to or, or tel: 028 6632 5440

Our other top screen cops

Adrian Dunbar's DI Ted Hastings is just one in a series of popular fictional detectives Northern Ireland has bequeathed to the world of television. Here are some more...

  • John Lynch (The Fall) - Remembered for his roles in films Cal and Some Mother's Son, Co Armagh-born Lynch has recently made a name for himself as Assistant Chief Constable Jim Burns on the popular BBC NI show
  • Kenneth Branagh (Wallander) - The renowned Shakespearean and Hollywood actor, writer and film-maker from Belfast portrays the "existentialist" title character and inspector in the English-language adaptation of Henning Mankell's novels
  • Richard Dormer (Fortitude) - Having played Alex Higgins and Terri Hooley on screen, the Ifta-nominated Game Of Thrones star now plays Sheriff Dan Anderssen in the Sky Atlantic television series
  • Jimmy Nesbitt (Murphy's Law) - The popular character actor starred as undercover policeman DS Tommy Murphy through all five seasons of Colin Bateman's noughties drama

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