Jason Durr was television's pin-up rural cop. He talks to Julia Molony about life on stage, infertility and why he and his wife welcomed their egg donor into their family.
Jason Durr is already waiting when I arrive at a private members' club in central London. He is full of good cheer and polished actorly bonhomie. He is still best known for his former role as motorcycling TV heart-throb cop PC Mike Bradley from Heartbeat. But he has mellowed and grizzled a touch over the years (he's now a 40-something father of three), while remaining instantly recognisable from his days astride a Triumph motorbike, enforcing the law in rural England.
These days, he is slightly less high-profile, but is enjoying a consistently successful career as a stage actor. Last decade, after six years on prime-time telly, he struck out for Hollywood, where he dabbled in movies, but returned several years later; and now he balances jobs on London's West End, touring shows and television roles with an idyllic family life in the English countryside with his wife, the model and TV presenter Kate Charman, and their three children, Blossom, Felix and Velvet.
As our interview is drawing to a close, he says very politely that he would quite like the resulting article to be “uplifting”. This, it turns out, along with “positive” is something of a watchword for Durr — not just a tone but an entire credo. And his determination to see the bright side comes through in every subject we touch upon, from his marriage, to his work, to the struggles he and his wife overcame in order to have their picture-perfect, but unconventional family. His approach to any challenge, it seems, professional or personal, is to pitch himself at it with enthusiasm and the underlying conviction that everything will turn out all right.
It's this unwavering self-belief which carries him through his current task of taking on the role of Hercule Poirot on stage, in a production of Agatha Christie's Black Coffee that is playing at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre in Dublin from this Monday to Saturday. While many, more easily daunted actors might be apprehensive about stepping into shoes so firmly inhabited by David Suchet in recent memory, Durr is sanguine.
“I think you need to treat the audience with a degree of respect,” he says. “And understand that they have pre-conceived ideas of what these characters are about and who they are, whether it's Bond, whether it's Doctor Who, whether it's Poirot ... they're ripe for reinvention. You have to reinvent them. You have to bring them to a new audience. Otherwise all these things become stale and worn. And it can quite easily fall into the trap of the mundane and perfunctory. Whereas what it needs to be is engaging and exciting and thrilling and relevant.”
Durr sees himself, he explains, as “a character actor in a leading man's body.” By which I guess he means that he doesn't want to be limited creatively by his blue-eyed-boy physicality. And indeed, he lists off recent roles which include a gay punk, “in a film called Young Soul Rebels, “a psychopath” and a “knight in shining armour.” He has a natural aptitude for accents, he tells me.
“I've always found accents one of the things I've enjoyed the most and very easy to do. I know some actors who are great at them, but they work, you know? It's just one of those things that I find very easy to do.”
Durr was born in Singapore. His father worked in telecommunications and the family moved around a lot. “I grew up in Hong Kong and I spent my time travelling.” It was good preparation, he says for life on the
road as an actor. But it's not restlessness that drives him. “I'm a very calm individual. I love being at home with my wife and my kids and enjoying that special time with them. And then occasionally Daddy's got to up sticks and go and do a play.”
Jason's own father died when he was 15, and his previously adventurous and untroubled life was briefly upended. He has said in the past that he just “floated around” for a while, eventually finding his way to drama school, and with it, a renewed sense of purpose.
He had one short-lived marriage in his 20s before meeting his now wife, and mother of his children, Kate, in his early 30s. A few years later, the couple were delighted to welcome daughter Blossom into their lives.
Their plan had always been to have more than one child, but when it came to expanding their family, things were not so simple the second time around. They had conceived easily and naturally the first time, so were surprised when it didn't happen again. Fertility investigations suggested that a mumps infection that Jason had contracted in the intervening years had damaged his sperm count, and the couple were advised to try IVF. They wasted no time in getting started, but quickly ran into further problems, this time on Kate's side. Time had marched on and her egg quality was no longer sufficient to support IVF.
At this point, plenty of people would have given up. But Kate and Jason were determined to pursue every available avenue. “We were always pretty upbeat,” says Jason. “It's not that we were in some pit of despondency. We weren't. We wanted more children and we talked about it and we felt we knew the path that we needed to take and we took it. We didn't agonise about it.” Which is how they ended up, several years later, with twins whose genetic material was provided by an American egg donor.
Now, not only have they fulfilled their dream of providing their eldest daughter with siblings, but the couple is also blazing a trail in maturely negotiating 21st century, post-assisted conception family values, and the more complex web of heritage that recruiting a donor entails. Rather than try to brush the relationship with their donor, Brooke, who lives in Los Angeles, under the carpet, they openly acknowledge her and have welcomed her into their lives. Their children have met her, are in touch with her and the twins know her as their “egg mummy.”
“With the kids, there's no go-to book,” explains Jason of how he and Kate came to their decision about how to handle relationships in a genetically complicated family. “And you've got to be responsible in anything you do . . . we were in a situation whereby we had an egg donor, who is a wonderful lady. And we got to know her, and we chose to go down that route and inform ourselves. We wanted to do it as maturely and responsibly as one can.” It was Kate who led the decision about the importance of welcoming the donor into their lives, he admits. “My wife is a phenomenal woman who is highly intelligent. And reads copious amounts and always informs herself. So I sort of touch the garment of her brilliance.”
“People find it amazing that you are that open about these sort of issues. But it's a responsibility you have. We made certain decisions to say we wanted to be inclusive with, as our twins call her, the egg mummy. We did a lot of research ... there were a lot of studies done whereby kids weren't told, and so then of course it comes as an enormous shock. You know suddenly all this stuff comes out and they weren't told about it, and why? And then at the age of 13 or 14 they find out and then it becomes a real issue. My twins have known since day one. They have no issue about it. The egg donor has been over here a couple of times. They see each other and we remain in contact — we will do forever.”
Sometime later, the couple were given the chance to repay the favour forward, karmically speaking, when they offered their remaining embryos from the treatment to a couple in New York who were struggling with fertility issues. “I had six embryos left in deep storage in LA,” Jason explains. “And a friend of mine called me up and said, ‘we've got these friends in New York and they've been trying IVF and have not got anywhere’.” So, quite matter of fact, he happily “gave them three of these embryos.”
He and Kate seem to have found easy accord on each one of these issues — all potentially fraught with complex emotion. They must, I suggest, have a remarkable marriage. But he shrugs off the notion. “It's like any other marriage,” he insists. “We play to our strengths. We're practical, no nonsense. I'm very fortunate, she's an amazing cook. She never lets me cook.”
Now, Jason and Kate's family life has extended across the Atlantic. Once they'd nailed down the legal details with the couple in New York, the procedure went ahead, but “sadly didn't work. And then obviously the couple concerned were hugely disappointed. And I was hugely disappointed — I felt it was my fault. I felt terrible. And then I said, ‘well, if you are up for it and you feel you have the energy, there are three more. Kate and I have talked and we'd love you to have them.' Nine months later I got a phone call saying we have these two beautiful little twins who are alive and well, living in New York ... As the egg donor gave to us the joy of being able to have more children, I though it absolutely our responsibility (and Kate did as well) to be able to give to somebody else. I've met them and they're beautiful. So my twins have a brother and sister living merrily in a very caring, wonderful happy home in New York.”
It would be a lot to take on for anyone less flexible and inclusive than Jason, his wife and their egg donor. But they have embraced a new frontier of family life, and are comfortable with change. “The Buddhists say there is consistency in change,” he says. “If change is happening all the time, that in itself is consistent. Having said that; there is of course your anchor and your rock. And that is absolutely what (Kate) is.”
Actor Jason Durr replaced former EastEnder Nick Berry on Heartbeat but he wasn’t the only copper who was appreciated for more than his devotion to protect and to serve.
Policing got really exciting and sexy when actors John Thaw and Dennis Waterman arrived on our TV screens as the tough-talking detectives in The Sweeney.
As Jack Regan (Thaw) and George Carter (Waterman), they were two members of the Metropolitan Police Service’s Flying Squad who specialised in dealing with armed robbery and violent crime.
Probably one of the most suave policemen after John Thaw in Morse was John Nettles as Bergerac, the Jersey-based crime drama series which ran from 1981-1991.
Who can forget that other detecting dynamic duo from the 1970s show, Starsky and Hutch, played by Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul?
Only their souped-up red Ford Gran Torino could give them a run for their money in the good looks stakes.
And the caustic detective inspector Gene Hunt, played by Philip Glenister in the BBC’s drama series Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, got the pulses racing of many a viewer — despite his 1970s attitude to women and relationships.
More recently, Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated British actor Idris Elba — who played Nelson Mandela in the movie Long Walk to Freedom — smouldered as the intense detective Luther on the BBC.