On a catering bus on the set of ITV’s Western-style period drama Jericho, New York-born Clarke Peters, 63, is full of anecdotes from his incredible career.
He was the enigmatic detective Lester Freamon in US crime epic The Wire – still seen by many as the best TV show ever made – and can currently be seen as another dogged cop, Oscar Clemons, in Netflix’s Marvel drama Jessica Jones.
This side of the Atlantic, Clarke’s many credits include the hit movie Notting Hill, Partners in Crime, and, most recently, a memorable turn in BBC2’s London Spy. He’s also full of enthusiasm for his latest role in Jericho, as compellingly mysterious railway foreman Ralph Coates…
Ralph already has deaths on his conscience after causing the explosion in the first episode; do you see him as a villain?
“He’s not as sinister as he appears. He didn’t want any death, he just wanted to bring attention to the ineptitude of the person in charge.”
“Ralph may be running from something, but he also may be a man who’s got a vision, although his methods of acquiring things may be unconventional. He’s trying to find his feet, and being in Jericho is the perfect opportunity for him…”
Is it an exciting project to be part of?
“Oh yes! I would have loved being in this period. I’d look at that land and think, ‘Boy oh boy, what we could grow there and what we could build there,’ and I like the way the people work with each other.
“I like the costumes, too, and the horse riding is great. I am comfortable with horses, but I’m not jumping over 6ft fences in this. I’ve only ridden a horse once very fast in my life; it’s terrifying and really exciting as well.”
You worked with your Jericho co-star Jessica Raine on [BBC1’s Agatha Christie drama] Partners in Crime as well, has it been nice to meet up again?
“Yes, she’s a real gas to work with and she’s not as soft and frail as one might think. She’s a well-grounded human being and I really dig her, she works hard. I think she’s the next Judi Dench, I really do.”
“She has also got that classic face which is just right for this. I was looking at her yesterday with the dress and with her hair up and I thought, ‘You could actually be in that period!’”
You first moved to the UK in 1973, do you feel at home in Britain?
“I like the language and the land and I pretty much grew up here so it’s what I know. I love that theatre has always been a part of your culture and it’s not about chasing stardom.
“Here, I can be in a hit West End show and then get a tube home, but if you’re a success in America you’re crowded with people because of your celebrity, but it’s just a job! Those things about the UK were appealing to me from the start and then I fell in love, so the rest is history.”
Do you still get recognised for The Wire?
“Yes, but I wish I got recognised for other things! Sometimes you’re just walking down the street and someone goes ‘Ehhhhh, Lester!’ and I don’t even look around any more I go, ‘Yeah all right, what?!’
“I didn’t watch The Wire completely until maybe three years ago, but it has certainly lifted my profile and opened doors too, and I’m grateful for that.”
You’ve written musicals in the past including Five Guys Named Moe; do you still love to write?
“Yes, there are just so many things I’d like to say, so many issues I’d like to address, I’m trying to figure how to put them all into something that’s going to be important, educational and entertaining at the same time.
“I write a lot of short stories, but I’m yet to put those out there. I’ve got a musical idea, too, that I’d really like to workshop. It’s about a group of artists who decide to get their own back on some really bad producers!”