Tom Burke on his late godfather Alan Rickman and latest role as J.K. Rowling’s star detective

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  • He stole the show last year as bad boy Dolokhov in War and Peace, now Tom Burke is back in a major new role as J.K. Rowling’s star detective

    Clear your bank holiday: the first adaption of J.K. Rowling‘s Strike series, The Cuckoo’s Calling, hits the BBC later this month.

    The show will see War and Peace star Tom Burke play private detective and army veteran Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott (played by Holliday Grainger) as they attempt to solve the mysterious death of London supermodel Lula Landry. The series is based on a trilogy of novels written by J.K Rowling under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith.

    Ahead of the show’s launch, we talked to its star Tom Burke about playing the gruff star detective, his thespian upbringing in Stratford and what he learned from his late godfather Alan Rickman.

    What attracted you to the role of Cormoran?

    ‘I just loved the variety within him. There is this gruff, monosyllabic side, but also a huge amount of warmth and wit; and the relationship with Robin [played by Holliday Grainger] and their friendship at times feeling more ambiguous was all laid out so perfectly in the books…’

    Did J.K. Rowling have any specifics on how to play him?

    ‘She said he’s never self-pitying, which probably came up in conversation every time we did a scene, because he’s quite often suffering in some way.’

    Strike is a war veteran, who lost part of his leg in Afghanistan. Did you talk to any men who had gone through the same experience?

    ‘Yes, I spoke to two guys. One of them was a chap called Barney who was in the army and lost a similar proportion of his leg [to Cormoran]. Going into a military hospital, it seemed like an incredibly supportive place, because you’re surrounded by people you have that connection with. They said it even gets quite competitive with recovery – but in a positive way.’

    Did your late godfather Alan Rickman ever give you any advice?

    ‘Oh god, every time I spoke to him. I’m still unravelling it. He had as much of an impact on how I try to approach it all as my mum and dad [the actors David Burke and Anna Calder-Marshall], and maybe even more so, because I think he felt that a godparent is there to guide you, even if it’s not a religious thing. Although, you know, he talked about theatre as a religion. He would say, “Choose your religion carefully.”’

    Were you surrounded by actors while you were growing up?

    ‘When my parents were at the RSC in Stratford, there was a lot of hanging around with the company, with adults like my mum and dad who just had a different way of relating to children. There was a playfulness that I remember really basking in. My mum and dad were never networking types, but both my godparents were actors and we’d have various people come to visit us and I’d listen to their stories. We’d also go to the theatre a lot. It was intoxicating. I suppose I had no chance, really!’

    You’ve played a lot of dark characters. Is that something you look for?

    ‘I never know what I’m looking for, but it either grabs my interest or it doesn’t. If I’m reading something and it doesn’t, it might be the best script, but it’s like wading through treacle. And when it does, I just can’t wait to get through it and read it again.’

    Are there any actors you have worked with who weren’t what you were expecting?

    ‘Sir Ian McKellen is such a wonderful clown, a mountain of a classical actor, but he’s also got this silly side. He’s not giving out gags, it’s more physical – he just knows how to get a laugh, and it’s delightful to be around.’

    You’re not on Twitter or Instagram. Is that a conscious decision?

    ‘I don’t really like to give myself any sort of mouthpiece. I’m fine with the idea of fans, but followers mean something else to me. It’s a strange word, so I’ve always avoided that.’

    The Cuckoo’s Calling begins this month on BBC One

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