It is surprising to talk to Peter Capaldi and hear him refrain from yelling wildly specific, increasingly horrifying oaths at you.
It is in no way surprising that people who run into the 65-year old Scottish actor want him to do just that.
“People come and ask me to swear at them and tell ’em to fuck off,” Capaldi says via Zoom. Dressed in a black suit jacket and white shirt buttoned to the top, he smiles a smile that does not, in fact, seem full of coiled malice, but instead looks quite genuine: “Which is nice.”
Though his 40-plus year career in film and television has seen him play all sorts of folks —most of them a little odd, spectacularly coiffed and more than a little chatty—Capaldi is best known for two roles.
He played the absolutely demonic Malcolm Tucker, profanity-driven communications director and hilariously merciless political enforcer for the Prime Minister in the BBC series The Thick of It and its terrific 2009 spin-off movie, In the Loop. (Both the series and the film were created by Armando Iannucci, who went on to savage U.S. politicos with Veep; Iannucci’s writing staff included Succession creator Jesse Armstrong.)
And from 2013 to 2017, Capaldi played the twelfth incarnation of the chaotic, immortal Time Lord Doctor Who, making a mark on the British sci-fi franchise which celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2023.
In Criminal Record, an eight-episode series whose third installment premiered this week on AppleTV+, Capaldi plays a completely different kind of fellow from the above: a sullen, angry cop, and a secret-keeping, interior one at that.
Co-produced by Capaldi’s wife Elaine Collins (Vera, Shetland) and written by BAFTA nominee Paul Rutman (The Virgin Queen), Criminal Record stars Capaldi as DCI Daniel Hegarty, a gaunt detective with decades of sketchy law enforcement under his belt and a whole mess of secrets he’d prefer to keep locked away.
When an anonymous domestic violence call comes into a London police station—a panicked woman accusing her partner of a murder long thought solved—it puts Hegarty up against the young and hungry detective June Lenker (Cush Jumbo of The Good Wife and The Good Fight fame), whose view of The Job is radically different from the hostile Hagerty’s. Framed by the 2011 London riots and more recent scandals that have rocked the city’s Metropolitan Police Service, Criminal Record is a blend of noir thriller and canny drama, focusing on race and crime in 21st century Britain.
Capaldi usually plays characters who speak their mind vigorously and often, whose words and actions are a direct link to the audience’s understanding of the story. In some ways, Hegarty lets you know exactly what he’s about: when interviewed by Lenker, he refers to the Black man he jailed as “a poor man’s OJ.”
On the other hand, he is also a mighty unreliable narrator, when he is compelled to share at all. “[Hegarty] hides all the time,” Capaldi says. “He hides how he feels and he hides what’s happening. In screen acting, people say that when you’re in front of the camera, you’ve got to do nothing. But you can’t really do nothing, you have to have something going on. We cannot reveal to the audience Hegarty’s true self. We can’t wink and nudge. I’m not really used to playing that kind of character.”
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