Evening Standard 11th December 2009
Julian Rhind-Tutt - the Wing man
Marianne Macdonald, ES Magazine. Portrait by Derrick Santini. Styled by Matilda Goad
George Clooney, Patrick Dempsey, Max Beesley, Jeremy Sheffi eld - the list of sexy TV doctors is long and near its top is Julian Rhind-Tutt, Dr 'Mac' Macartney from Green Wing. The comedy series took hospital drama to a surreal plane turning Dr Mac, with his shabby red-blond curls and on-off affair with Tamsin Greig's character Dr Caroline Todd, into an unlikely sex symbol.
Looking at him now, with his leather biker jacket and blue steel gaze, he is certainly attractive. He exudes a gentle energy, although this could be because he's been up since 5am filming an episode of Poirot.
It's been three years since Green Wing ended and Julian has popped his head over the parapet since as Noakes in BBC Four's supernatural miniseries Crooked House, as the villainous Monks in the BBC's 2007 adaptation of Oliver Twist, Alistair in Philip Pullman's The Shadow in the North, and a conductor in the CBBC children's comedy series Uncle Max.
Meanwhile he has been building a property business and the rest of his time is taken up practising magic tricks for his new play, Darker Shores, at the Hampstead Theatre. Written by an old university friend, Michael Punter, and co-starring Tom Goodman-Hill from the recent sell-out production of Enron, it is a ghost story in which Julian plays an American spiritualist.
'He's drawn very closely from Mike's research on the spiritualists of the time, who were precursors to modern magicians and realised that if they could impress the right people, they could make a lot of money,' Julian explains, as he is tucked into a booth in the King William IV pub in Hampstead. 'So this guy has come over from America, having fought in the Civil War, and is trying to infiltrate London society.'
Has he had many ghostly encounters himself? 'No, I'm a bit low on supernatural experiences.' He takes a sip of his lime and soda. 'But I have seen Andy Nyman, who works a lot with Derren Brown, and he used to do a brilliant séance in the [Clerkenwell] House of Detention and that was one of the most exciting and scary things I've seen.'
It is 12 years since Julian, now 41, gave up a career in theatre 'to be paid more money and have somebody hold an umbrella over your head while you mumble a few lines into a camera'. In Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) he was 'annihilated on a frigate before the theme tune came in'. In Notting Hill (1999) he was a Time Out hack who stood next to Hugh Grant: 'I was in it for a matter of seconds but it was such a successful film that to this day people still remember me from it.'
A lead role that same year in the Channel 4 sitcom Hippies with Simon Pegg and Sally Phillips, by the creators of Father Ted, followed. Finally, in 2001, he found himself watching Angelina Jolie rehearse Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (in which he had a small role) 'and being in the privileged position for a few hours of watching her do quite a lot of subtle, interesting, intelligent acting and see that being edited into shots of her mouth and her tits and her arse'.
Then in 2004 came Green Wing. Women really responded to Dr Mac. 'I suppose so,' he concedes. 'But Tamsin's a very popular actress and there was a very well-written triangle, so I was in good company. I could see Stephen Mangan being incredibly funny and brilliantly horrible, and Tamsin was so lovely, so I just had to slide into the third part of that triangle and not mess it up.'
But people just loved Green Wing, didn't they? He nods. 'It's one of those shows where it actually finished more than three years ago but people still come up and ask when the next one is and if it's carrying on. It did stick in people's minds. It was a different vibe and strange at the beginning, but we always knew that the things we were doing were making us laugh and so we thought there was likely to be a positive outcome.'
He is modest about his achievements, though. 'I'm happy and I live in a flat in Maida Vale.' With...? 'With no one.' Does he want to get married? 'Possibly, yes.' And have children? 'Yes.' So is there a reason he's not married? 'Yes. I forgot. It's a funny thing: I've spoken to other people who have had the same experience in acting, which is that sometimes you go through phases where you do a particular job and it takes you away for a few months and then you do another one and another one and suddenly the years whizz by. And I suppose that world can also attract troubled people, and any environment where your workplace is full of intensity and strange working hours can have an effect on your personal life. But it's not a big problem.'
The fifth of five children, Julian was born ten years after his brothers and sisters. He grew up near Heathrow airport and, a bookish child, spent a lot of time on his own. 'I would disappear off and practise my recorder. And then later I used to go down to the local café and meet the girls from the girls' school every night, which was more fun than playing the recorder. I was quite quiet, a late starter, and I was always looking forward to growing up. I had all these brothers and sisters doing exciting things. It was like having six parents, but in a nice way.'
His father Philip had a building business with his brothers and his mother Joan went back to work as a secretary to pay his school fees. He was in his first play at school aged 11, but it was playing Hamlet at 16 that gave him the bug. 'It was a really life-changing experience. We took it to the Edinburgh Festival and it was amazing, getting a note from the headmaster saying I'd given a mature performance.'
He went on to Warwick University to read English and theatre studies, where he drank and partied between plays until he realised that he was doing it more than anyone else. 'I went to the bar every night and drank beer or vodka. And then I realised that all these really great cool people I used to see in the bar every night weren't in the bar every night - they were sometimes doing their work.'
I can't help thinking that being a reformed heavy drinker may be a key to him today - he has evidently calmed down a lot. 'I do some other business ventures, a bit in property. I have a bunch of guys who work with me, doing a bit of buying. We refurbished my flat,' he says. I ask about Keen Eddie, Sienna Miller's first big TV series in the States in which he had a part. 'Sienna introduced me to my girlfriend,' he remarks casually.
It was the British actress Tara Summers, it turns out, who was at school with Sienna at Heathfield in Ascot. She had small roles in Sienna's films Alfie and Factory Girl, but made more of an impression in Boston Legal, a comedy drama in a similar vein to Ally McBeal. Tara and Julian acted together in Rabbit Fever, a mockumentary about women addicted to using a vibrator.
I want to ask more, but he has picked up his helmet, so I get out my car keys. 'I'd have given you a lift home on the bike,' he says. Polite and charming, he kisses me goodbye and trudges down the dark high street to learn his lines for tomorrow.
Darker Shores is at the Hampstead Theatre until 16 January 2010 (hampsteadtheatre.com)
Grooming by Louise Dartford at Naked Artists using Purity Organic Skincare