I was lucky enough to attend the official press event ahead of the upcoming ITV adaptation of Maigret starring Rowan Atkinson. The whole first episode was captivating from the moment is started and had everybody enthralled until its dramatic climax and conclusion. Leo Staar plays Lapointe and he shares his thoughts about starring on the show. Maigret can be seen on Monday, March 28th at 9pm on ITV.
What was your first encounter with Maigret?
I knew of the books but I’d never read them. So before my first audition I read the first story they were going to film. I was very excited when I heard about this show. I was coming off the back off about 11 months of being out of work. It had been very quiet and I had been working in a motorcycle shop for about six months, building bikes, and was very anxious to get back to acting work again. I got sent the script and heard Rowan Atkinson was doing it. That was really exciting because he’s an incredibly bright guy and a very good choice to play a character like Maigret. The week after that first audition I was asked back to meet Rowan which was terrifying but absolutely wonderful having had the year I’d had. So I went in and had a lovely chat with Rowan, which was pretty much an hour’s conversation about Formula One and motorcycles. He said, ‘We should probably talk about the script at some point.’ So we did. Then a week later I found out I’d got the part. I was outside the front of my house fixing my motorbike when the phone rang. So that was incredibly good news.
Who is Lapointe?
Lapointe is a police inspector, the same rank as Janvier but the junior of the two. He’s one of the top two detectives in the department who work with Maigret. There is a lovely father and son relationship between Maigret and Lapointe. He looks up to Maigret a great deal. He is a very intelligent young man who has risen quickly through the ranks. Whereas Janvier has been there for some time. Lapointe has his own set of skills that are really valuable to Maigret. Lapointe listens a lot and soaks up everything Maigret has to offer. There are moments where we see Lapointe just watching Maigret do his thing. I hope I mirror that when I’m doing scenes either interviewing suspects or chasing leads. It’s a little tip of the hat to what Maigret has been doing because Lapointe learns everything from him. There’s an amazing online resource about all things Maigret. You can type in a character’s name and then have the chronology of everything that character does and in which book they do it. So I can figure out what Lapointe has done up until where we’re finding him and then what happens afterwards. That was really helpful. Lapointe and Janvier have a huge loyalty to Maigret. Even when we may not be completely following where Maigret is going with something and Lapointe and Maig et get a bit anxious about that - their loyalty to Maigret is unfaltering. Maigret is definitely the brains, gives us the orders and it’s Lapointe and Janvier who do the running around and drive the vehicles.
What does Lapointe look like?
When I first got the script I didn’t have a clear idea of how he would look. It wasn’t until reading it and having a few chats with our amazing costume designer Lucinda Wright that we worked out where we wanted to place him. Lapointe is very very eager to please and learns a lot from Maigret. So he’s in a three-piece suit, not too dissimilar to what we see Maigret wear. It’s all slightly mirroring who he aspires to be.
These stories are set in the 1950s. Do they have something to say to a modern audience?
I think they really do. There are some very interesting qualities. When I first read the scripts I was trying to work out why I hadn’t heard much about Maigret the detective before.
And what made Maigret this interesting detective?
He’s not a Sherlock, he’s not an alcoholic, he doesn’t have these normal hooks those other famous detectives have. But then the more you read you realise Maigret is the quiet in the storm. Which is an amazing thing to watch. Especially in Rowan’s playing of Maigret . He’s incredibly still and quiet when all this chaos is happening around him, yet Maigret can work things out. That’s what’s special about Maigret. It’s the quietness about him.
What is it like working alongside Rowan Atkinson?
A lot of people are going to be watching this expecting certain things from Rowan and I think they’re going to be blown away. It’s fascinating what he’s doing. There’s not a hint of those characters we know Rowan for. So if people are looking out for those, they’re going to be disappointed. What he’s doing is completely different and away from what we’ve seen before. It’s been incredible to watch.
The stakes are high at this time with some facing the death penalty via the guillotine?
Especially in the second film. It’s a very dark story. They are really dark themes we’re dealing with. It’s brutal crime at this particular time. So the stories are very serious. But there are still light touches here and there. The police can send a man or a woman to their death. But they wouldn’t have known any different then. You get on with the job and do it. You wouldn’t be as aware of the risks as today. We’re also at a time that these men would have served in the army during World War Two. They’ve been through some horrible things. They are familiar with death.
What has filming in Budapest been like?
Budapest has been an amazing city in which to film. I’ve loved it and it’s been great for filming. It’s a very special place. Normally if you shoot a period film, you go to set and you come home in the evening. When you finish a day’s filming whilst in Budapest you can look around the city you’ve been inhabiting fictionally. So you don’t really leave it and are constantly being a part of it. Which is really nice. It’s my first visit here and I’ve fallen in love with Budapest. We’ve had whole weekends to look around and explore. You can see why it’s such a good place to film because it lends itself to so many different cities. Some of the buildings are stunning and the apartments we’ve been filming in are beautiful and untouched. I’ve been to Paris a lot and feel I know it quite well. They’ve done an amazing job building 1950s’ Paris in Budapest. In the outdoor scenes you don’t feel like you’re anywhere else but Paris. It really does feel like you’re there. I’d love to come back to Budapest again.
You have filmed lots of night shoots?
We really appreciated the hotel fire alarm going off on a day when we we were working at night and sleeping during the day. It happened to be during a week where we were doing night shoots. Our working hours were 5pm to 7am, so you’d sleep during the day. And, of course, during that week they decided to run many different fire drills with alarms. The one week you could really do without because all of our body clocks were backwards anyway.
One story involves scenes at a horse racing course. How was that to film?
That was filmed at a real racetrack. They’ve now built a brand new one right alongside it. But the stands we filmed in were the original ones. It was ‘dressed’ amazingly with all the ripped betting tickets all over the floor and the supporting artistes in costume. It felt like a really busy place.
How would you describe the police headquarters - the Quai?
I’ve never been on a set like the Quai in my life, in that it didn’t feel like a set at all. There were no false walls or anything like that. They took over this incredible government building and brought it all back to the 1950s. It was such an expansive set, the like of which I’ve never seen before. You would wander around and the camera could follow you anywhere. Every little detail was there. If you open a drawer there will be some police documents written in French. I went around once exploring and every drawer was full. As an actor, half your job is done. You can play the scene and have complete freedom to do what you want.
This was a time, of course, before the internet and mobile phones?
It changes everything in terms of the dramatic potential. It’s old fashioned police work of genuinely following the clues. Everything is done by being able to read people and following where a phone call came from, visiting cafes and doing the groundwork.
Not everyone is pleased to see Lapointe?
A woman gives Lapointe a nasty bite on his hand. Maigret arrives when he’s been bitten, is screaming in pain and saying, ‘She’s just bitten me.’ Then there’s a little chuckle from Janvier in the background who finds that very amusing. Lots of fake blood.