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'The idea of The Missing really upset me... I have kids myself'

David Morrissey returns as brutal General Aulus Plautius in series two of 1st century AD fantasy drama Britannia. Georgia Humphreys reports

David Morrissey rides back for the new series of the Sky show
David Morrissey rides back for the new series of the Sky show

By Georgia Humphreys

The older David Morrissey gets the harder he finds it to switch off after filming. In fact, the Liverpudlian actor was "on the floor" after BBC One drama The Missing, which first aired in 2014.

"I was really upset," the 55-year-old reflects. "Physically and emotionally, it took it out of me."

He had a similar experience while on set for Sky Atlantic's Britannia, which is returning for a second series.

"There is something of what we tap into with Britannia that is reflective of our current climate; it takes its toll," he adds. "You think about the instability of a land that is asking itself 'Who are we? And where do we belong'?"

Historical fantasy drama Britannia, written by Jez Butterworth, is set in the 1st century AD and follows what happened after Roman forces arrived in the land, where there are feuding local tribes (the Regni and the Cantii), Druids, demons and prophecies to face.

Morrissey plays General Aulus Plautius, whose conquest and occupation of Britannia continues efficiently in the new episodes.

But, two years on from his invasion of Britannia, Emperor Claudius visits Britannia and questions Aulus's progress and pursuit of the Druids.

Claudius leaves a spy to keep an eye on him and we see that Romanisation and expansion isn't his true agenda.

Discussing why he loves Butterworth's writing so much, Morrissey suggests: "It can be really, really funny and then he hits you with something so dark. You think, 'Where did that come from'?

"It's that instability of tone that I love. He writes that really well, particularly for me, in the sense that I can have great fun with the character, although it is brutal."

Why does Morrissey, who's known for playing dark, brooding characters, think he has become more emotionally affected by roles as his career has gone on?

"Children. I have an awareness of my legacy with children and passing the world on to my kids. I think the idea of The Missing upset me because it was about a young girl going missing and her parents needing to deal with that.

"The way I am as an actor is you look for that in yourself, so I had to inhabit a place which was really horrible for me, just thinking about that happening to me and my wife. That was awful."

"I think I've always been empathetic," adds the father-of-three, who's married to writer Esther Freud. "I have kids myself. When you have your own, there's something that shifts in yourself, because they're your own loved ones.

"And when I go to refugee camps, I go to the kids in Beirut, or in South Africa, you suddenly see kids and you see them as somebody's children, like your children. You don't see them as these alien beings."

Morrissey says he's always tried to do projects that are asking different things of him, because he wants to challenge himself as an actor.

Something in Britannia which really stands out is the supernatural element to it.

As the leading man puts it: "There is a real trippy vibe to it that comes through."

"In the first season, I went to the underworld and emerged a very different man - whether there is something to be gained from going to the underworld, or tapped into something that was already there, we don't know."

He divulges that he is a spiritual person himself.

"I'm not a religious person, but I believe in the spirit of human nature, in humanity, that we are not in a 'them-and-us' situation. We are in an 'us' situation, we are all connected.

"I've done lots of work in very poor and dangerous places.

"You see the worst of human nature in those places and you also see the best of human nature in those places.

"I have had lots of very spiritual, I wouldn't say awakenings, but the embodiment of the human spirit played out in front of me."

Morrissey has been supporting UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, since 2014, and has spent time in refugee camps like the Calais Jungle.

Of the millions of people who are displaced around the world, he says: "It is the biggest crisis we face, as our generation, and generations to come, will judge us on how we handle this.

"The fear generated about it is something we have to be very careful about.

"And you can relate that to Britannia very much, the idea that the Romans, one of the big things that they did, was they generated fear and they led through fear."

All episodes of Britannia are available now on Sky Atlantic

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