James Nesbitt: You work hard to be lucky in this business
James Nesbitt feels blessed when it comes to his prolific career, but that's not to say it's been an easy ride. Gemma Dunn hears why he will never take his work for granted
James Nesbitt may play a luck-controlling detective in Sky One drama Lucky Man - but that's far from where his good fortune ends. The charmed actor, who has often expressed his concerns about "over-exposure", has enjoyed a three-decade career, from his early days on stage to countless TV hits that followed such as Bloody Sunday, Murphy's Law, Jekyll and Occupation. Not to mention his film success with Five Minutes Of Heaven and The Hobbit trilogy.
"Michael Winterbottom, who I used to do a lot of jobs with, always used to say, 'Your next job is your first job' and that was really just about not getting complacent, not being wearied by it and being grateful for the privilege of luck," begins Nesbitt (53).
"Funnily enough - and I don't think I've ever said this - I really have been a lucky man in terms of my career," he reasons.
"But you work hard to be lucky in this business, and I feel that as long as people are prepared to keep watching me, hopefully people will be prepared to commission things, and I'll be very happy to do them."
If the past three years are anything to go by - Nesbitt has nailed the likes of a tormented father in The Missing, a maverick cop in Murphy's Law, as killer dentist Colin Howell in The Secret and, of course, reprised his role as the lovable rapscallion Adam in cult hit Cold Feet - there's plenty more to come.
Next, the Ballymena-born star is set to please superhero fans with a third instalment of comic book legend Stan Lee's creation Lucky Man.
The British crime drama - Sky's most successful original drama to date - follows the trials and tribulations of Detective Inspector Harry Clayton (Nesbitt), who while struggling with a gambling addiction and debt, discovers an ancient bracelet that grants him the power to control luck.
While the second season bowed out with a dramatic showdown, the third run sees Clayton in Hong Kong where he is looking for answers about his "lucky" charm. It's here he comes up against some nasty underworld characters who have their eyes on more than just his bracelet.
"He comes across the biggest arch-nemesis he's had in any of the three seasons: Samuel Brake, played by Rupert (Penry-Jones)," Nesbitt explains.
"So right from the off, it's much more ambitious," he says. "The scale of it is bigger, the comic book genre is explored further and we have the backdrop of Hong Kong.
"Clearly London has always been a very important character in the series, as it remains so in the third season," he hastens to add. "But to start at a very grand scale, almost feature film for the first episode, really ups everything."
That said, can we expect some epic stunts?
"Well, it's getting harder!" he confesses, having spent the past few hours repeating a key fight scene. "We've got great stunt guys - I try to do as much as possible - but yeah, there's huge drops, huge chases, a lot of running..."
As for the magic bangle, Nesbitt, who once said wearing it took some getting used to, has become quite attached.
"Now I don't know if it's on or it's not!" he says with a smile. "I took one - they gave me one at the end of last season - so I used it when I was playing golf over in Portrush," he admits.
"I wore it one day, (yet) it's going to take more than a lucky bracelet to change that!" he quips of his game. "But it's become a real part of me, and I shall miss it, actually."
That's not the only piece of Stan Lee memorabilia he will cherish, however: "One of my treasured possessions is something he sent me last year, a lovely still of one of the posters, 'To Jimmy from your friend Stan'," he remembers.
"For someone who wasn't reared on Stan Lee, it was never really my genre, I've discovered him through this, which has been lovely," Nesbitt says, referring to his new-found fan base.
"I'm honestly stopped by people in the street talking about Stan Lee more than almost anything else, about Lucky Man," he says. "And bizarre people - Alex Ferguson or somebody - will go, 'Have you got the bracelet on?'
"It really appeals to people, such a simple notion. And of course the idea of luck is something that we all live with. At some point in your life you think, 'If only I could control that'."
He follows: "I think it's unlikely that I'll play another superhero - I'm 53 - but it's been a real voyage of discovery and I'm delighted."
In reality, finding the time to do so would be quite something.
Today Nesbitt has come full circle, for 20 years after landing his breakthrough TV role in the award-winning Cold Feet, he is back filming the show's eighth series, following a successful reboot - and subsequent seventh series.
"It was good that it was a success!" he says of its 2016 revival, after what had been a 13-year hiatus. "I was resistant to doing it for years, then the good scripts came up, and I'm really excited about what we're doing with it.
"We are really going to try very much and get back to what it was at its utter best, about those characters and what happens to people at that stage of their lives."
So what's next on Nesbitt's hit list - will he ever just resign himself to the golf course?
"Well, I say that, but my ex (fellow actor Sonia Forbes-Adam) and my kids all say, 'You won't stop!'" reveals the father-of-two, with a laugh.
"I'm very privileged in that I can take time," he adds. "I've known what I've been doing for the next year or so for a number of years now, and that's an extraordinary privilege."
Lucky Man returns to Sky One on Friday, July 20