Metro, 3rd April 2007
Dr Mac's Nuclear Remedy
By CLAIRE ALLFREE
Julian Rhind-Tutt is running an hour late and is apologising profusely. With his straw hair on end and his clothes rather awry, he looks like an overgrown schoolboy. 'I've got a cold; it's disgusting,' he says apropos of nothing as he plonks himself down on the sofa. His lack of front is welcome: my tape recorder is playing up and after bashing it about to no avail, Rhind-Tutt suggests we simply make the whole thing up.
Rhind-Tutt is famous mainly for being super-cool Dr 'Mac' Macartney, the unlikely heart-throb and the will-they, won't-they? love interest of Tamsin Greig in Channel 4's now defunct, surreal medical comedy Green Wing. 'I'm not that famous,' he asserts. 'Not really.' He's certainly famous enough for a certain credit card company, which has ingeniously reprised the relationship between Mac and his dastardly love rival Dr Guy Secretan (Stephen Mangan) in a series of TV ads. And his high-profile film credits include Notting Hill and Tomb Raider.
Currently he is doing a bit of theatre - Joe Penhall's new play Landscape With Weapon at the National. 'It's quite hard to find good parts in the theatre if you are me,' he says inexplicably. 'But I'd always wanted to be in Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall, which was directed by Roger Michell at the National in 2000. So when I was given a new play by Penhall directed by Michell at the National Theatre it seemed like a good idea.'
Landscape With Weapon takes on the timely subject of nuclear weapons. Rhind-Tutt plays Dan, a dentist whose brother Ned (Tom Hollander) is developing weaponised unmanned air vehicles, or 'attack drones' as Dan calls them, for the Ministry of Defence. Dan is appalled by Ned's involvement in what he considers to be weapons of mass destruction; later, Ned will have his own crisis of conscience which will force him into closer contact with the MoD than he might have liked. Delving deep into the shady world of arms trading and the ethics of military technology, the play pivots on the wider issue regarding the implications of individual choices. 'A few decades ago, there used to be a tit-for-tat need to develop military technology but there was also a general understanding that you were operating in a kind of virtual world,' says Rhind-Tutt. 'You might be developing a nuclear submarine but you also knew it was very unlikely it was ever going to be used. What makes the play topical is that there's been a discernible sea change with the Iraq war. For anyone working in that field now, all the rules have changed. Your inventions might suddenly be used in a very different context to what you intended. 'But what began as an examination of all that led us to realise the play had a more general message regarding the fundamental hypocrisy that is at the centre of all our lives.'
Rhind-Tutt is very anxious that he doesn't come across as boring. He visibly winces when he suggests that there's something Chekhovian in the way Penhall examines the big issues through the minutiae of everyday lives, for example. He may have made his name in Green Wing but his CV boasts several impressive TV comedy credits (Smack The Pony, Black Books, the libidinous art teacher Nigel Plumb in The Rotters' Club) although he insists comedy was never part of the game plan and that he isn't instinctively funny. In fact, he conveys the impression there was never any game plan at all; he fell into acting at university, decided with a mate that the best way to continue would be to go to drama school and that was that. 'With me, it was a case that, just before you're about to give up on the ladder, you just happen to grab on to the next rung,' he says, in one of several occasions in which he sounds in the nicest possible way exactly like David Brent.
Later he will describe his earlier lack of guile regarding his future career by saying: 'We knew there was a world of professional acting but it was on the other side of the river and we didn't have a boat.' His credentials are impeccable, though his first job out of drama school was Nick Hytner's The Madness Of King George at the National in 1991; he's appeared on stage opposite Fiona Shaw in Richard II; he also rattles off a list of people who influenced him at university. 'All the really political people such as Howard Brenton and Howard Barker andEdward Bond and everyone beginning with a B were really brilliant. 'But I'm from a perspective [he is 38] that after these people came this apparent decline in British theatre. Apart from Penhall of course. He's great.'
He's adamant there will be no more Green Wing. 'It's all over. Also, I set myself a target that I mustn't ever go back to where I began. But I would also like to do other things, perhaps get into directing. For the meantime, this is great.'
Landscape With Weapon, in preview, opens Thu, in rep until Jun 7, Cottesloe, National Theatre, South Bank SE1