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David Morrissey: 'I worry that poor pay is stopping working class people taking up careers in the arts'

David Morrissey plays a driven expectant father in taut new thriller The Ones Below. He talks to Keeley Bolger about fair wages in the arts, football fans, and male biological clocks.

There are no simple solutions when it comes to opening up the arts to people from all backgrounds, but for David Morrissey, offering a fair wage would be a good start.

"There are quite a lot of people on work experience or they're not really being paid well enough for the job they're doing," explains the 51-year-old, known for his roles in Red Riding, The Walking Dead and State Of Play.

"If you're working on anything that is a professional job, you should be being paid, and there are far too many well-budgeted jobs, where people aren't being paid. They're doing it as a favour or seeing it as a work experience, and that's not right.

"I think people should be paid for the job they're doing."

He admits he's concerned that the lack of decent salaries offered to people starting out in the creative arts means that those without families who can support them miss out.

"I'm very worried we're losing the whole generation of young people in the arts and in journalism who can't afford to get through those tough couple of years at the beginning of their career," says the Liverpool-born father-of-three.

"These professions don't pay very well for a long time and involve many months of unemployment, so those working class faces are being lost."

For the young Morrissey - who trained at the Everyman Youth Theatre, later studying at Rada and spending two years with the Royal Shakespeare Company - drama seemed quite "an alien choice", and he recalls being advised against it "because of the insecurity" attached to the industry.

As for the state of TV, theatre and film in the UK, he thinks "there is a lot of good stuff being made", but is concerned that cuts to the BBC could change that.

"I worry about the government's targeting of the BBC," says the actor, who is married to novelist Esther Freud.

"I'm a great fan of the BBC. It makes great work, but I do feel that it's in a very precarious position and being hit by the government. We get a great, brilliant service and my worry would be the dismantling of that.

"It has problems and it needs to be looked at, and its administration needs to be better, but on the whole, I think it's a great place."

Equally, Morrissey's career is in a good place.

He has a weekly radio slot on Soho Radio, a role in the West End production of Hangmen, and his new movie, domestic thriller The Ones Below, is about to be released. In the film, written and directed by The Night Manager screenwriter David Farr, Morrissey plays an ambitious expectant father who, along with his wife Theresa, moves into a ground floor flat below an affluent, 30-something couple, who are also expecting their first child.

The two women become friends, but it isn't long before all four residents find their lives turned upside down by a tragedy.

"It was a very tight story, only four actors, very simple but very psychologically troubling. I liked the idea of these four people inhabiting very much the same space and the hold they have over each other."

It was interesting, too, for him to play a broody male character.

"There's something about my character, you feel it's his last chance to have a child," says Morrissey. "You usually feel that that biological clock is on women, but you feel that it's on him in a way, that he's very much desperate to have children."

The movie's suspense and paranoia-fuelled atmosphere has drawn comparisons with the works of Roman Polanski, and ever the meticulous researcher, Morrissey confesses he soaked up the Polish film-maker's back catalogue to capture the right mood for The Ones Below.

While studying film comes with the territory, going to the cinema is still one of his great passions.

"I always get a tingle down my spine when I get in the cinema," he says.

"I have an 11-year-old, so we're rediscovering films. I watched Rocky with him recently, which was great. He loved it. And we've been going to see the old Bond films and of course Star Wars, which I thought was brilliant. It was my first time watching it and his third time."

As well as his passion for drama, Morrissey, who lives in London, is a lifelong Liverpool FC supporter and was heartened by the fan walkout last month in protest at the ticket prices.

"The management heard those people's voices very loudly and they acted on it, which is great," he says.

"I think fans now, not just in Liverpool but across the board, need to have their voices heard because the game is being taken away from people.

"People love the game. They want to be involved, but if you're spending £200 to take you and your child to the game on the weekend, that's a lot of money."

The socially engaged actor is also an ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and last summer travelled to Lesvos in Greece to help highlight the plight of the refugees, finding the experience "harrowing".

"We hear that we're being inundated by people who have a choice, when actually the vast majority of these people, particularly from Syria, don't have a choice," he says. "They're escaping the very people we're trying to squash ourselves.

"I would take my kids on the road if I had to," Morrissey adds. "I know how lucky I am.

"I'm very grateful for the life I'm able to lead. I think you need to help out people who are less fortunate than yourself."

  • The Ones Below is released in cinemas today

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