Actor Simon Callow tells TV Times magazine about playing an ageing astronaut alongside Richard Wilson in a new one-off Playhouse Presents, Space Age (Sky Arts, Thursday, June 5), written by Nick Moran and The Royle Family star Ralf Little…

What did you like about the idea of this Playhouse Presents?

“It’s this rather touching idea that there’s a spaceship going to an uncolonised planet to found a new civilisation. Old people like me and Richard Wilson who have nothing to do with the rest of our lives, volunteer to go on the mission and see out our days on an adventure rather than a nursing home.”

Tell us a bit about your character, Dudley…

“My character Dudley is very brash and lively, he’s an ex-teacher who is very out there with a rather salacious imagination. Richard’s character John is a much more proper kind of person who has been in the army and likes things to be done very properly. They fall into conflict over their relationship with the computer’s AI (Artificial Intelligence) system, Iris, and they have very different views on how it should be treated. And it all leads to calamity…”

This drama raises some profound questions about the purpose of life. Do you find yourself thinking more about that as the years pass?

“Life is finite and you become increasingly aware of it. But professionally, as in certain other aspects of life, it only gets better for men. There’s always a demand for older actors and they’re hard to find as there’s a natural fall-off rate in the profession.”

How would you describe the sort of work you’re doing now?

“I’ve immatured through my career! I started playing very much older people because I was very versatile in that way – I could very convincingly be middle-aged. And then the parts started catching up with me and now here I am. This is the first time I’ve been cast in something because of my age – it’s actually a feature of it. It’s about old people, so that was a bit strange for me!”

Had you worked with Richard before?

“No. But we instantly formed The Royal Richard Wilson and Simon Callow company. We laughed a lot and it was an unbelievably lovely experience. But it was also a very cold one!”

Why was that?

“We were filming in Krakow where it was -3deg – we shot it there because there is this extraordinary film studio that is built like a spaceship. It was one of the most agreeable professional experiences I’ve had, so I’m afraid I can’t dish the dirt on anyone!”

Do you have any career ambitions left to fulfil?

“I’d love to play a detective on television – someone you could really get to know. And while I’ve done lots of films, I’ve never played a leading role, which I’d also love to do. When I look back, I’m very proud of the books I’ve written, Being an Actor and Love is Where it Falls and I’ve written a lot of biographies, including my latest one on Orson Welles. I’m also pleased to have been the first actor to voluntarily come out as being gay at a time when no one did. Of all the things I’ve done, that feels like quite an achievement.”