Rob Lowe on new drama Wild Bill: ‘I’ve never been busier… or colder!’

Rob Lowe talks swapping Hollywood for Lincolnshire for new crime drama Wild Bill and the highs and lows of being a teen idol...

It’s not every day we get to meet a genuine Hollywood heartthrob. So TV Times can’t really believe we’re heading to a studio in London’s Regent’s Park to chat to none other than Rob Lowe.

With talent, charisma and boyish good looks, Rob achieved global stardom in the Eighties as a member of the ‘Brat Pack’ with roles in such films as The Outsiders and St Elmo’s Fire. TV success followed in the late Nineties thanks to his role as Sam Seaborn in political TV drama The West Wing and, more recently, Chris Traeger in Parks & Recreation.

And now Rob’s in the UK to promote his new ITV crime drama, Wild Bill. The six-part series follows high-flying US cop Bill Hixon, who arrives in Boston, Lincolnshire, with his 14-year-old daughter Kelsey (Aloreia Spencer) in tow, to start a new life as Chief Constable of East Lincolnshire Police Force.

Rob Lowe is in fine spirit when TV Times greets him and, at 55, he’s barely aged one bit since his Eighties’ heyday. And, as Rob tells us, he’s having the time of his life…

Rob, welcome to London!

“Thank you. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been busier in my life. Or colder!”

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Tell us, just how Wild is Bill?

“My character, Bill Hixon, is SO American. He’s abrasive, direct and ambitious, he doesn’t suffer fools and he always speaks his mind. He’s also prone to losing his temper, as we discover, yet, in his personal life, he’s a widower, who’s vulnerable and unsure of how to handle his teenage daughter, Kelsey. It’s just the two of them navigating this brave new world in Lincolnshire. As the dad of two boys, I can relate to the ‘father raising teenagers’ stuff!”

Why is it significant that Wild Bill is set in Lincolnshire? Did you find it odd?

“Listen, as an American, I find a LOT odd! In terms of what’s going on in England right now, around Brexit, the people of Lincolnshire voted 85 per cent to leave. When you meet the people who are actually living there, and find out what their priorities are and what’s important to them, these things are very specific to Lincolnshire and could not be more different to what people are dealing with in London. The people of Lincolnshire were warm, genuine and so excited we were filming there.”

Rob Lowe Anjli Mohindra Angela Griffin

Bill wants to get to know the locals of Lincolnshire… but what will they make of him?

We understand the idea for Wild Bill derived from real-life events…

“Well, a number of years ago, London almost hired an American named Bill Bratton – aka Wild Bill – to come and run the police force but there was huge uproar, so it didn’t happen. So we thought: ‘What would it look like if an American DID come here and run a police force?’”

What’s Bill’s relationship like with his new colleagues?

“They know Bill’s been brought in with a clear mandate: to make certain cuts in a certain amount of time and his bosses don’t care how he does it. He’s wary of colleagues like Lydia (Bodyguard’s Anjli Mohindra) stabbing him in the back but he has one or two strong allies in the force and Muriel (Harlots’ Bronwyn James) in particular becomes almost like an older daughter to him. As he becomes inextricably connected to these people, it becomes harder and harder for him to pull the plug. But he’s being set up to fail, for sure.”

You’re also executive producer on Wild Bill. How is it different to other police procedural dramas?

“I’d say this is more of a character study dressed up as a procedural in that the cases only exist to further Bill’s journey. Every case relates to something Bill needs to learn or fight through in his own life. This is a serious show but it’s also quite weird – and not afraid of being funny in amongst the weirdness.”

Have you always enjoyed working in the UK?

“I LOVE it. I worked here for the first time when I was about 19 on the movie Oxford Blues. And I did A Few Good Men with [West Wing writer] Aaron Sorkin at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2005. When I was at the height of my ‘teen idol-dom’, I couldn’t go anywhere in the world without people going crazy, but it wouldn’t be like that in the UK. Then someone said to me: ‘The British take a very long time to accept someone. But, when they do, it’s for life!’ And I’ve certainly found that to be true.”

St Elmo's Fire Rob Judd Emilio and Andrew

Rob Lowe with his St Elmo’s Fire co-stars Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez and Andrew McCarthy back in 1985

Do you look back on your ‘teen idol-dom’ with fond memories?

“I do. There’s a lot of stuff that was really complicated and parts of it I wouldn’t wish on anybody. I look at my son now, turning 18, and think: ‘OK, now give him money and worldwide fame and see how he handles it’. He can just about handle living life as it is! But when you go through an adventure where lots of it’s good and lots of it’s not so good, with perspective and time, you can look back and go: ‘You know what, not a lot of people get to do that’. It’s a journey that only two or three people a decade get to go on.”

Is there any advice you would have given to your 18-year-old self?

“A lot. And I’ve given all of that advice to my kids. But, the thing is, I can’t argue with the results. I really think that everything has led me to where I am. I’ve never been happier, never had more opportunity, never had my fingers in more pies and I’ve never been more optimistic, more fulfilled or healthy. So, honestly, I don’t think I’d change anything.”

Wild Bill starts on Wednesday June 12 at 9pm on ITV.