Why I won't be giving wife-swapping a try!
Most actors happily talk about the amount of research they do before they take on each new role. But Robson Green is carefully distancing himself from any thoughts that he might have tried wife-swapping before appearing in the controversial new drama series Take Me.
"If you're playing a murderer, you don't have to kill someone to imagine what it feels like," he reasons. "So if you're making a drama about wife-swapping, you don't have to try it first. I can't say I did any research into the subject. In fact, I thought wife-swapping had died out in the '70s, but apparently it's still very popular and goes on today. People not only have swung, they carry on swinging today. But I never have myself. They reckon, though, that it's the most honest way to have an affair because everyone knows the rules."
Robson, 37, turned Take Me into a pet project and it's taken him four and a half years to get it on to our screens. "When I read the script, what intrigued me was the idea that you're in what looks like a totally normal situation and, suddenly, you're propelled into a world of chaos. It's something that can happen to anyone," he explains. "I wanted to explore what happens if you marry the wrong person and then temptation comes your way. Wife-swapping is an interesting idea but I think, if you did it, you'd only find yourself perpetuating all the worst things in relationships - jealousy, fear, revenge. It's definitely sinister, very negative and the one thing I've learned is that negativity is always bad for relationships."
Robson's own brushes with extramarital sex not only brought to an end his first marriage, but went a long way to tarnishing his wholesome image. First came reports of an affair with Jenni White, an extra on his Soldier Soldier series. Then public relations executive Pam Sharrock went public with tales of her four-year fling with the actor. With his eight-year marriage to his former childhood sweetheart Alison Ogilvie in tatters, Robson ended up in counselling. "I saw this incredible therapist who allowed me to talk things through," he says. "l came away with genuine peace of mind."
He's subsequently remarried to former glamour model Vanya Seagar, who's eight years his senior, and the couple have a baby son called Taylor. Robson's so delighted with fatherhood that he's just taken a six-month break to spend time with Taylor. "l didn't want him to have to keep coming to location sets for him to ever meet me," he says. "l feel very privileged in being in a position where I could take six months off. Too many parents only ever get to scrape the surface with their children and so they miss things. So I decided to take the time to develop the sort of relationship with Taylor where, no matter what age he gets to, he still wants to kiss and hug his parents.
"But, so far, all I've learned from taking time off is that working is easier than bringing up a child. No one told me the levels of sleep deprivation I'd be in for. Taylor just doesn't sleep. I'd congratulate anyone who copes with bringing up a child. It's far tougher than I ever realised. It's certainly made me much more appreciative of my own parents. How my mother and father brought up four children on the sort of wage he had coming in, I'll never know. I have a decent wage and can afford to pay for help and I'm still tired out, because at 4am Taylor just wants to play. He's also eating everything in the house. he's eaten the furniture and he's started on the carpets.
"When Taylor was first born, l was still working, so Vanya was the principal carer. I'd come home from a film set and she'd hand me Taylor, then she'd pass out, and I'd wonder what all the fuss was about. I just hadn't realised the amount of energy that bringing up a child takes out of you - until my time off."
And the break, he says, has done him good. "I've chilled now and I feel more settled than ever. I feel like I've got my act together and it's great. Making sure I'm there to watch Taylor grow up is now the most important thing in my life. I'm planning my career so that I'll always be able to take breaks to spend time with him.
"It'll be another couple of years before I can take as much as six months off. But, like recently, I've been working six or seven weeks, so I'll take six weeks off. Being with your child is better than any therapy you could ever have."
Paula Kerr/ Radio Times (UK)/ 30 July 2001
Stretched out on the brown leather sofa, Robson Green can't stop smiling. The reason is his 14-month-old son, Taylor. The mere mention of the tot makes the first-time father beam with pride as he admits, "I need to calm down and not keep telling people how brilliant Taylor is, how great his smile is, or how good it is when he causes bedlam in the bathroom or tries to eat the furniture." He adds that Taylor knows who his dad is, who the boss is. "This morning he bit me on the shoulder and I said, 'Hey, no'," he says, putting his best stern expression. "But his face crumpled and I said, 'Oh, it's OK, bite me again, I'll bleed this time,'" he laughs. "I love holding him, the smell of him. Having him means everything"
Just to prove it, he's taken four months off work to relish his first-born and spend time with new wife, Vanya Seager, 45. "It's an important time for Taylor, Vanya and me," he asserts. "The sleepless nights have been a big surprise. Vanya gets up when I'm working, but at the moment, it's my turn." However, he's back on screen next month in ITV's six-part thriller, Take Me. In it he plays venture capitalist Jack Chambers, whose life takes a sinister twist when he becomes an accomplice to a murder.
"Jack is a normal middle-class guy who becomes vulnerable when he sees his wife kissing a work colleague and starts to question everything in his life. It's about his dysfunctional marriage and it's not for the fainthearted," the star warns. One scene, filmed on the roof of the defunct Swan Hunter shipyard on Tyneside, where Robson, 36, once worked as an apprentice draughtsman, was particularly poignant for the Geordie actor. "As Jack, I found myself talking about shutting it down. It was weird," he says. "In my eyes, anyone who closes down a place and strips it of its assets is a b****** who has no value to humanity."
He, Taylor, Vanya and her daughter Lara, 14, share a home in Surrey, but he admits, "it's not as good as Newcastle", where he owns a second property and where his family still live. "It's my home. Whatever we do in life, what is important is friends and family. If you lose that, you lose direction," he says. Robson's own childhood was dealt a blow by the departure of his miner father, also called Robson, from the family home when he was just 11 years old. The pair fell out but are now reconciled. With hindsight, he is philosophical and says, "The hope had gone in the relationship". The events are mirrored in Take Me. "There's a scene where Jack says to his father, 'When you left us, walked out, did you ever think about us?' His father says, 'Yes, every hour after that and up until today.' I had a much better conversation than that with my father. Much clearer. We used to talk on the surface a lot, but we go underneath now, which is good. It's healthy. We are closer than ever."
Becoming a father himself has also helped Robson gain a greater appreciation of just how difficult a job his mother, Anne, had raising him, his younger brother David and two older sisters, Dawn and Joanna, alone. "The ignorance and selfishness" of the young me would think, 'Oh, it must have been easy bringing up four kids. Now it's, 'How on earth did you do it, Mum?'"
His own upbringing, he says, also taught him valuable lessons about fatherhood. "I now fully accept that parents say what they do because they want the best for their children. My dad didn't want me to circulate with certain groups of kids. Now some of them are in prison and I realise they were nasty pieces of work. He was right. I understand his worry. He wanted perfection from his kids, too, and it's a problem I'm going to have with Taylor. I want him to succeed in everything. I'm already doing it - encouraging him in everything when maybe I shouldn't. It'll be hard watching him make his own mistakes and failing. I'm going to sabotage his egg-and-spoon race at school - he's not going to lose, my child," he half-jokes, mildly alarmed at his own comments.
He'll also teach Taylor to be open about his emotions, as he is: 'I love my parents and I'll always say it. On the phone I'll say, 'I love you' and when I say goodbye. It's important." Raised in Dudley, Tyne and Wear, Robson received school reports which read: "easily distracted and distracts others." Despite this, he left school at 18 with a respectable five O levels and two A levels, and went on to gain a qualification in naval architecture, leading to his spell at Swan Hunter. He still claims, however, that he didn't fully embrace his education: "I wish I was better read."
Mr. Clarke, the school librarian, tried to introduce me to George Orwell, but I got interested in girls. It was a case of 'Animal Farm, great! Oh, lasses - even better!' If I'd read more, I'd be a better storyteller. It's the reason I won't do live television interviews - I stumble around too much."
With no formal acting training, Robson quit the shipyard in 1984 after successfully auditioning for a local theatre company. "To this day I've no idea where the ability to stand in front of an audience or talk into a lens comes from," he says. "Maybe it was a desperate desire to escape. I loved performing as a kid, but that was mainly because I didn't like the environment I was a part of. Mining was nasty and I didn't want to do it."
More stage roles followed until he got his break as hospital porter Jimmy in Casualty. Five years as rogue Dave Tucker in ITV's Soldier Soldier improved his profile. He partnered co-star Jerome Flynn for a brief recording career - "I made \'a32 million in four months" - which led to him meeting former model and record company secretary Vanya. By then, his eight-year first marriage to occupational therapist Alison Ogilvie had foundered. He dismisses newspaper reports of his alleged infidelities, for the most part, as fiction. His recent telly successes include Grafters, which co-starred pal Stephen Tompkinson, Reckless, Touching Evil and Close & True with James Bolam. "It was a joy to work alongside James, to watch, to observe and learn,' says Robson. "He had been a big hero of mine. There we were doing a show together - I was like a kid again."
He has turned down a number of offers to work in Los Angeles, but hasn't ruled out the possibility. "I went over and met Bruce Willis, who is a fan of Touching Evil, and Billy Bob Thornton, he's very charismatic, very cool. They said they liked my work and I said, 'Thank you.' I can see myself doing film. Some of the scripts I saw in America are tremendous. It's likely I might do something in a year or so."
Robson, who has a seven-figure golden handcuffs deal with ITV to produce series created by his production company, Coastal, says that having a family has made him a better actor: "It's easier now, somehow. It's joyous. It has put work in perspective. I'm a lot more confident, a lot more chilled. Acting isn't life or death, where a little while ago it was. Whether the entertainment value is higher, I'm not sure. Asked if he is the highest paid actor in television, he says without hesitation, "I really don't know. I'm very well paid and I've never complained. I have never come back and negotiated on a wage. I go: 'Fine, that'll do very nicely.'
Owning Newcastle-based Coastal, which employs seven full-time staff and up to 60 more on each television show the company makes, has also enabled him to fulfill a long-held dream. "I have had this ambition to bring work and prosperity to an area that needs it," he explains. "We have the writers and the talent in Newcastle. I try not to be boring about it, but it's important to me." But being an employer has also brought awkward dilemmas. "I don't go to castings any more because I know what actors go through - it's an excruciating pain. I want to give a job to the first person who comes through the door with a mortgage and a family, when they're obviously not right for it. Now I don't get involved in any of that. Anyway, I'm not qualified."
He also funds a youth theatre in the North East, of which he is justifiably proud. "Whether the kids become actors or not, they will learn communication and confidence-building skills," he says.
Having a new family has made Robson reassess his future. "I have to do some serious thinking about what my next move is, career-wise. I've been offered prime-time dramas to direct, but I'm not ready yet. But I've surpassed what I ever thought I'd do, which means I can have half a year off and still live a very comfortable life." He spends his spare time watching his beloved Newcastle United FC and has a new hobby in fly-fishing. His blue-green eyes sparkle as he explains: "The river is next to the house. I took Taylor and held him as I fished. He loved it. That's what makes me happy."