A quick chat with Brendan Coyle

Downton Abbey’s Brendan Coyle tells us about his role in the new Sky1 comedy drama Starlings (Sunday, May 13)…

What can you tell us about your character, Terry?

“He is an electrician and he and his wife Jan, played by Lesley Sharp, are very much at the heart of their family; it’s a warm, loving relationship. It is not an all-out sitcom or comedy in that it depends very much on empathy, warmth and humour and it is moving, too, because Terry has a heart condition. It seems traditional, but it is out there and a bit different.”

Why is it called Starlings?

“The name came about because the writers, Matt King and Steve Edge, were working on it in Brighton and suddenly these starlings flocked around and it was a real ‘Ah, yes’ moment. It’s a nice analogy because the family operates in seemingly random patterns doing their own thing, but actually they are moving in unison together.”

What challenges do they face?

“Their challenges are the kids and keeping body and soul together. The family relationships are great though because there is no screaming and fighting, people get frustrated being in close proximity, but it is not fractious or tense or confrontational.”

What was it like to play a grandfather?

“It is a newborn so Terry is a very, very inappropriately young grandfather! When babies come on set everyone just melts and he was really well behaved and new to the world and treated better than anyone else.”

Have you got much comedy in your background?

“I haven’t, and it is difficult to do. I get a lot of heavy stuff and offers to play moody men so it was a relief and a breath of fresh air when this came along. This is some of the funniest stuff I have ever seen.”

Had you worked with Lesley Sharp before?

“No, but I always knew I would one day, but I thought it would be in some tearing our hair out, teeth-gnashing drama so doing this has been lovely. A lot of family comedies fall down because it is difficult to convey that characters have been together all their lives, but we had an ease and simpatico from the outset.”

Do you get stopped in the street much by people recognising you from Downton?

“Well, other people have had it worse, but there are times when I get followed around supermarkets, no marriage proposals though. Mr Bates is the strong silent type, but he is of a different time and that different way of behaving has struck a chord. Some people criticise him for being too noble and for not expressing himself, but I love him… Sometimes it is more interesting what people don’t say than what they do.”