Come on, you know Stuart Martin. We’re sure you do. Although, admittedly, you probably don’t recognise him without the hat. Or the Metropolitan Police riot helmet. Or the 15th Century Florentine cappuccio. Or the elaborate Westorosian bascinet. Or without the latest hat he’s added to his collection — a bespoke bowler needed to play the co-lead in period drama Miss Scarlet and The Duke.
“I know, I know,” the Scottish actor laughs. “It’s funny, isn’t it? Helmets and hats — actors usually hate them! If you watch period dramas, you’ll always see the background artists in hats, but none of the main actors. But I love hats — my hat for Miss Scarlet and The Duke especially. I sent my measurements off to our brilliant costume designer before we went over to Dublin to shoot, and she got this beautiful, quite expensive hat made by an old school hatmaker in London.”
It’s a fine hat — and a fine drama, too. In the show, Martin embodies gruff, hard-drinking womaniser Detective Inspector William Wellington, who goes by ‘The Duke’. The whole thing is a rip-roarer; a Sherlock-flavoured, bodice-busting blast. Of course, solving dastardly crimes in Victorian London alongside Peaky Blinders’ Kate Phillips, how could it not be fun? And great hats isn’t all the new show’s got going for it — it’s also bagged a rare, covetable 97% Google audience rating.
But such is the nature of this new leading man’s career. The 34-year-old Scotsman has dabbled in several series throughout his career, and most have hit the critical big time. From Jesse Armstrong’s police satire Babylon to the Richard Madden-starring Medici: Masters of Florence, Martin has popped up in productions that have won Golden Globes, Emmys and international acclaim.
And many, Martin adds, have seen him take a step back in time. But, while period dramas may have their perks — you mean you don’t want to go to work wearing a Civil War western hat and act alongside Kevin Costner? — many actors fear that they’ll be typecast in the pages of history. But not Martin. Martin knows exactly why he’s getting these roles.
“The hair!” he says. “It’s definitely the hair. For years, I had a short back and sides and always got cast as coppers and soldiers. Then I grew a long bob and started getting cast as people with swords who rode horses. I think it’s something to do with how the long bob moves better in the wind on horseback…”
“But we’re just in such a lucky time right now,” Martin reasons about roles, “as both actors and viewers. There’s so many brilliant channels making stuff. When I was young, there was BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and the cinema. Now, with all of these online channels and apps, we have so much to choose from. And, no matter where things are made or what channels they’re shown on, I think it’s brought everything up a level. This is the golden age of television — and everyone’s hooked.”
And, as television has increased in quality, Martin adds, so too has the calibre of talent it attracts. In the last few years alone, the Scotsman has worked alongside two of his childhood heroes; Danny Boyle and Dustin Hoffman.
“You’re always worried about meeting your heroes — or maybe about them meeting you, in case you let them down. But working with Danny Boyle on Babylon was just brilliant. He has such a passion for his job and what actors do. Not all directors are like that. He was a hero of mine growing up. I was obsessed with Trainspotting. But he turned out to be just a proper legend and a lovely bloke.”
“And then getting a call to say I was going to be working with Dustin Hoffman? That floored me. He was my folks’ favourite actor, and another hero of mine. A master of his job. And he lived up to all my expectations when we filmed Medici. A really beautiful, funny, playful man. You spend 12 hours a day together on set for a few weeks — and he could not have been more brilliant. Kind, caring, open.
“I remember,” Martin adds, “after one scene, he said to me: ‘Let’s go to the monitor and have a watch’. We went over and watched the scene and he went through it with me, blow-by-blow. I was pinching myself, thinking, ‘I’m sitting here with Dustin-f**king-Hoffman on one of those film set chairs you see on the telly!’ Things like that don’t happen very often, so it’s nice when they do.”
Of course, with his star rising, Martin may have to get used to moments like these. Despite admitting that he’ll never personally feel like he’s ‘made it’ — “it’s just nice to earn a living and save up for a deposit for a house,” he says — the actor is on course for mainstream success. After all, his alma mater, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, has seen some big names pass through its doors over the last couple of decades.
“It’s great going to a school that’s got such brilliant alumni,” Martin says, “who are all doing so amazingly well in the industry. If anything, it gives you the courage to aim high. Richard Madden, James McAvoy, Sam Heughan, Jack Lowden. These guys are all at the top of their game in the Hollywood mix. And it’s exciting to see them doing so well — all these Scottish lads who’ve come out of one school in Glasgow. And they’re all such down-to-earth blokes despite their success.”
Next year, Martin takes his next stride in those illustrious footsteps, starring in his first feature film. Playing a Bosnian mercenary in action thriller Dampyr, the Scotsman has spent much of lockdown anticipating the premiere.
“I’ve been so lucky with things like Medici, Miss Scarlet and the Duke and now Dampyr,” he says. “I loved the scripts, was desperate to do them — and I got to! It often doesn’t play out like that. But it’s a funny time for everyone at the moment, isn’t it? Everyone’s being affected by lockdown in varying ways. I’m currently smashing everything on Netflix, though. The Innocence Files, Ozark, Succession on HBO — which is amazing!”
It’s a lifeline of entertainment that Martin is proud to have contributed to, he says. Even if audiences didn’t see his shows on the original channels, the actor says he finds it heartening when they actively seek them out. “If you make something and it’s good,” he explains, “it will get to its audience. People will find it. And I also think that now, more than ever, television shows have a longer life. They don’t just have an initial showing and the odd repeat. Rather, they can be found on Netflix and streamed elsewhere for years. It’s especially nice when people drop you a message, sometimes years after you’ve done something, saying they’ve just started watching it.”
And, for those of you wondering, there’s a wealth of Stuart Martin-starring content out there. You’ll find Hebburn on Amazon Prime, where he dabbled with comedy. Jamestown, Sky’s big budget 17th-century show, sees the Scotsman deftly take the role of an adopted Native American. And then there’s his sleuthing turn in Alibi’s recent period drama, which sees Martin back to his prim, proper, buttoned-up best. It’s a varied, impressive oeuvre the Scotsman has built up. But what did we tell you? The man wears many hats.
Want more interviews with actors? Why not give our current cover story, with Hollywood legend Willem Dafoe, a try?
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