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Marc Warren: 'I remember thinking, I don't know what I am doing here'

ITV is bringing back hit 1970s series Van Der Valk, with Marc Warren as the Dutch detective. Georgia Humphreys goes behind the scenes

Marc Warren

Marc Warren has been a firm fixture on our telly screens since the Nineties. The Northampton-born actor's big breaks came in the form of ITV cop show The Vice, plus an award-winning turn in the channel's Christmas production of Oliver Twist.

Various big series have followed; BBC One drama Hustle, Sky One's Mad Dogs, Netflix thriller Safe.

But, turning up on set for his latest project - ITV's remake of much-loved detective drama Van Der Valk - Warren (53) really felt the pressure of playing the lead role.

"I have played lead roles before, but it was mainly in my thirties I was doing that kind of thing - not so much in my forties," he confides. "It would be much more ensemble stuff, like Mad Dogs, and you spread the load there. If it goes down in flames, you're all going down together. But when you're the title character, there's a lot more pressure to it.

"The main thing I remember from the first day was turning up and really thinking, 'I have no idea what I'm doing'. I felt like I'd never acted before in my life, I had never seen a camera before.

"But having watched the episode back, you can't tell, and I suppose, with experience, if in doubt, do nothing. Try and keep still, say the lines and try not to mess it up, and it can be quite forgiving in that way."

The three feature-length episodes - which are set and filmed in contemporary Amsterdam - follow engaging, unapologetic and street-smart Dutch detective Piet Van der Valk as he investigates a series of high-profile cases. The original series - loosely based on the novels by Nicolas Freeling - was set in the 1970s and 90s. It starred the late Barry Foster in the title role and had a memorable theme tune (Eye Level by the Simon Park Orchestra).

Of his approach to the revamped character, he notes: "Well, I didn't base anything on what Barry Foster had done in the original. He's a bit of a loner, he's a bit of the silent type, little bit moody, doesn't really look at anybody much.

"But if he thinks you've murdered someone, he never takes his eyes off you. So, that can be a bit disconcerting."

Referring to the Covid-19 pandemic, Warren follows: "I just hope that we've made something that, in these difficult times, will just be a bit of escapism for people. They can go and visit Amsterdam on their TV screens and see what it was like last summer when we were all walking about."

On that note, the chatty star is happy to share how he's looking after his mental health during lockdown.

"I've always been a bit of a meditator and I try and do a bit of exercise and walking and running.

"I've been doing a bit of Wim Hof breathing. Wim Hof is The Iceman. He does this great thing that's supposed to be good for your immune system, and ice cold showers; it's a great way to start the day."

Plans to start filming a second series of Van Der Valk in May are obviously now on hold because of the coronavirus.

But Warren really enjoyed getting to explore Amsterdam when they shot there for just over three months last year. "I got to see some unusual parts of it; we shot in the Rijksmuseum, so we had access to areas without the public being there. They closed it off so that was really cool - standing in front of Rembrandt's The Night Watch, on your own.

"It's a city you just walk around. There's not a lot of cars there, it's mainly bikes. You've got to really be careful about the bikes, because they're whizzing by at 40mph from all directions and if you don't know what you're doing, you could seriously hurt yourself."

Is Van der Valk a part he can see himself playing for a while in the future (once filming is allowed to take place again)?

"Yeah, I hope so," he says. "And to find some new things within it and relax more with it."

He admits the nerves he felt filming this first series never fully went away as the job went on.

"In my younger days, I suppose I felt almost fearless when I was at work. Being at work was a time when you could just escape from the normal fears that we have and you'd have five minutes of fearlessness.

"But I didn't have that on this; I suppose I just felt more vulnerable."

And, actually, he thinks that vulnerability can be a good thing, as "you're not pretending".

"We're all wearing masks, so maybe I took a few masks off. But we just do our best, don't we? We're all great pretenders, hoping that nobody will work out that we haven't got a clue what we're doing."

Van Der Valk, ITV, Sunday, 8pm

Belfast Telegraph