Michael Brandon

Michael Brandon is sitting in an office above the King’s Head theatre in north London, where’s he’s currently playing in Paul Minx’s The Long Road South. The drama, set in the midst of the Civil Rights movement in mid-sixties Indiana, sees some strong wit among the tension in a household where the Black home helps Andre (Cornelius Macarthy) and Grace (Krissi Bhon) are trying to leave for the south to join their brothers and sisters in the cause. Michael plays the tightly-wound Jake, head of the house, trying to balance his drunk wife Carol Ann (Imogen Stubbs), his troublesome daughter Ivy (Lydea Perkins) and his own secrets. Michael is no stranger to the fringe scene and is contemplating its merits.

“I take each job as it comes. If it’s the National doing Jerry Springer or if it’s Chichester doing Singing in the Rain, each one is an absolutely unique experience. Fringe is probably the toughest, it has the least accoutrement, it’s the bare bones of theatre. It’s about the writing…you are displaying the writing for industry. In fact I did one the best plays and the best parts I’ve every played right here at the King’s Head, Wet Weather Cover, written by Oliver Cotton, it got fantastic reviews. It went from here to the West End, but we ran into problems with the theatre management…that play should have been on longer, I’d like to bring it back, and it’s one that would work in the US too. ” Is the fringe scene in his native US less robust than here in the UK? “I think you could have said that maybe ten years ago but not now. I’ve seen fantastic stuff off,off-Broadway.”

(l-r) Michael Brandon as Jake Price

Michael Brandon as Jake Price in The Long Road South
photo by Truan Munro


 ”There was a time when I was just that bit older than the lead role, but I wasn’t old enough to be the older guy. I was in limbo for years.”









He was introduced to British audiences in the 80s as the tough NY cop in Dempsey and Makepeace, but in the years since, alongside the many films and plays, he’s also carved out a niche popping up in comedy series, including sketches with Catherine Tate. His face lights up at the mention of the forthcoming fifth series of Episodes, the sitcom that lampoons the television industry.
“Elliot Salad returns! He’s still in charge, though there’s nothing much I’m allowed to say about it, but it’s really good writing. What makes it incredibly funny is that Matt (Le Blanc) takes the piss out of himself, playing it like that. When we sit and do the table read through with a hundred people, the entire crew, it’s hysterical, that in itself should be filmed.
“I’ve also just done the Tracey Ullman show, which I loved. I always liked drama in my early years,drama feels like acting, but comedy is more difficult in a sense. Life changes and you realise there’s enough drama in life that it’s nice to make light of it.
“I’m writing myself, I’m working on a book, I’ve done two film scripts.I did a lot of writing on my first wife’s show (Lindsay Wagner in The Bionic Woman), there wasn’t a lot of humour in it so I used to put in the funny lines for her. I always do the best I can with a script, if you have something to offer and they’re open to receiving it. People want contributions in certain jobs, but you can’t do it in everything, for example Oliver (Cotton) wanted everything exactly as it was in the script. In this piece you might have noticed, there’s no cursing, but I play it as though everything is a curse..all that frustration and anger.”

The conversation turns to diversity in the industry, how some Black and Asian actors have left the UK for the US,but he’s keen to stress lack of parts is not just about race.
“If I was a 55-year-old actress, that would be the same story. And the same for older white guys.There was a time when I was just that bit older than the lead role, but I wasn’t old enough to be the older guy. I was in limbo for years. You could be the dad of the lead or his lawyer, doctor or shrink or whatever, but there had to be a difference, you couldn’t be his contemporary. And if you’re a leading man, that’s a hard transition.
“The actors who have gone from here to the US, including the white actors, they’re having a good life over there! I’m the odd story – I’m the guy who came this way. Thirty years ago I came here – I’m now British – but I came here when everyone else was going there with “I’m gonna make it America”. I guess I’m the salmon swimming the wrong way! But it’s been very good for me. I get the opportunity here to play a lot more varied roles than I would in America, because over there we cast by type. I go up to play parts like Lyndon B Johnson, or a heavy, buzz-cut, commanding officer, opportunities that I would not get over there.”

And we can’t let the conversation pass without talking about *that* series, though it’s been thirty years since he played tough guy American cop Dempsey to (now wife) Glynis Barber’s upper-class English play-by-the-rules officer. The will-they-won’t-they kept fans entertained both on and off-screen. They have performed together since Dempsey and Makepeace, in both television and theatre, but would they look now at stuff written for both of them, or would it feel like too much of a novelty?
“No, there’s always a conversation about it. One came up only a week ago by a big writer/producer, asking us about that and the rights to the series. We once made a little short to demonstrate where we are now – not being Dempsey & Makepeace, but being ourselves. We had a producer option it, but it didn’t go forward at the time, that was a while ago. But now, I’ve shown it to someone who said she wants to produce it.
“Dempsey and Makepeace was great to do, we had 20 million viewers. It showed in 75 countries, translated into Japanese and German…It was even more popular in France than it was in the UK and because of that I got to do four movies back to back in France.”

His fondness for his days of catching the bad guys by rolling out of moving cars and shouting ‘freeze’ is obvious. And almost as if nothing has changed in thirty years, he has to go – he’s got a fight scene to rework.

The Long Road South is at the King’s Head Theatre until Jan 30th
The Tracy Ullman show is currently on BBC 1 and Episodes returns in the spring.