Belfast Telegraph

'I don't often get to play the kind of explosiveness you see with Bill'

West Wing star Rob Lowe is back on our TV screens as maverick US detective Bill Hixon in ITV's Wild Bill

Rob Lowe as Bill Hixon in new ITV show Wild Bill
Rob Lowe as Bill Hixon in new ITV show Wild Bill

By Georgia Humphreys

Imagine a police drama set in Boston, Lincolnshire, and you probably would not picture Hollywood star Rob Lowe in the lead role. But that is exactly what you get in ITV's Wild Bill. The West Wing star plays high-flying US cop Bill Hixon, who takes a job as chief constable of the East Lincolnshire police force in the hope a move to the UK will help him and his teenage daughter, Kelsey, escape their recent, painful past.

Even though 55-year-old Lowe who was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, heads up the cast, it is an unmistakably British show.

"I mean, I literally do not know what is going on a third of the time," quips Lowe who, for any fans of US sitcom Parks and Recreation, says "literally" in the same exaggerated way his character Chris Traeger so famously does. "Which is what you want - that's what my character would be doing, right?"

He continues: "They're going to sell Wild Bill worldwide, they're signed up by Netflix, or Hulu, and they're making no concession to that - it is British. I love that."

What Bill, who is "so American", says Lowe, soon realises is that the people of Boston are just as smart-mouthed and cynical as he is.

As he sets about trying to reduce the county's crime rates, he is reluctantly propelled into frontline policing.

Dealing with an unfamiliar - and unimpressed - community leads him to question things about himself.

There is no denying it has also been an eye-opening filming experience for Lowe, who is an executive producer on the series.

"In this sort of Brexit moment, we know that Lincolnshire voted 85% to leave," he says. "You go there and you see the people who are living there, what their priorities are, what's important to them or very specific to there, and it could not be more different from what people are living with and dealing with in London.

"Any time you get into a unique, honest, authentic world like that, it's really good for television."

Asked how wild Bill really is, Lowe says the widower is "prone to losing his temper physically".

We learn the reason Bill lost his job as the head of the Miami Police Department was because he assaulted a child who was posting photos online of his daughter.

Lowe expands on his character's temperament: "Then there's a big sequence where a cop has the ability to give the info that might save a missing 11-year-old girl and the cop's like: 'What's in it for me?' And Bill just grabs him by the throat.

"That kind of explosiveness is not something I always get to play, but you see it with Bill."

"Enthusiastic" is the perfect word to describe Lowe - he rarely loses his chirpy tone and is bursting at the seams to talk about this project.

With anyone else, it might seem a bit over the top, or put on, but with him it seems charmingly genuine.

Asked why Bill felt right for him to play, Lowe brings up his two grown-up sons, Matthew and John, with wife Sheryl Berkoff.

"I'm a dad of two boys, so the father witnessing teenager stuff - been there," he says. "He has a complicated relationship with his father.

"I think everybody has complicated relationships with their parents, no matter how much they love them.

"I will always respond to any character that's layered, different and original and I also love the tone of the show, because the tone is really unique.

"I don't even really know how to describe it, which is the good news."

Lowe first found fame in the Eighties in films such as St Elmo's Fire, The Outsiders and Oxford Blues.

Back then, at the height of his "teen idoldom", he could come to the UK and it would be "crickets, crickets", he exclaims loudly, sounding more American than ever.

"Somebody told me, here's the thing you need to know about the British: they take a very long time to accept someone, but when they do, it's for life," he says.

"And I have found that to be true.

"Now, I have so much opportunity here, all the time.

"I feel so welcomed."

As his career took off, Lowe also became known for his partying.

He ended up going into rehab and has now been sober for nearly 30 years.

But does he look back on his teen idoldom with fond memories?

Lowe replies: "I do. I mean, there's a lot of stuff that was really complicated.

"There are parts of it that I actually wouldn't wish on anybody, particularly raising young boys, as I have.

"I look at them, just turning 18 and go, 'Okay, now give him money, give him worldwide fame and see how he handles it'.

"So, I definitely have a lot of moments where I look at it and go, 'Where were my parents? What was I really thinking?'

"But when you go through an adventure where a lot of it's good, a lot of it isn't so good, with perspective and time you look back at it and go, 'You know what, not a lot of people get to do that'."

Indeed, while some of Lowe's contemporaries have fallen by the wayside, he is most certainly still in the limelight.

"You have to figure out a way to stay relevant," he says. "And I think the way to do that is by remaining curious, not being fearful of choices, taking chances.

"I've done any number of things that my advisers told me not to do that worked out great, whether it was hosting Saturday Night Live at a time when people thought I shouldn't do it, which led to Wayne's World, Austin Powers, to writing a memoir: 'You can't write a memoir at your age. People will think that your career is over.'

"That led to my one-man show, which people also thought: 'Well, what are you going to do? You're not a stand-up comic.' I sold out the Royal Festival Hall here.

"So those are choices that not everyone is going to make. And then you have to get a little lucky and then you have to take care of yourself, mentally and physically. That's really where you see people fall apart."

Wild Bill, ITV, Wednesday, 9pm

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