Martin Clunes

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‘My face is too big for Hollywood taste’

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CHRISTMAS has come early for Martin Clunes. The TV star has a bona fide box office smash on his hands with Nativity 3: Dude Where’s My Donkey.The family film opened with a huge $1.8 million last weekend as children flocked to the third installment of the improvised, panto-style festive frolic.

It’s the largest opening yet for a Nativity! picture and happy validation for Clunes after leaving the comfort zone of TV and potentially…well, making an ass of himself.“It could have been really, really embarrassing” admits the Doc Martin star cheerfully. “I had to run around being chased by elves, get into a fight with Santa and sing and dance.”

He plays teacher Mr Shepherd who is drafted in to try and instill order to the unruly tykes of St. Bernadette’s primary school in Coventry.

Alas, after being kicked in the head by a donkey he loses his memory and joins forces with imbecile teaching assistant Mr Poppy (Marc Wooton) to try and recover it, plus save his upcoming marriage.

“I’d seen nothing of the film until we went to the premiere and I loved it. I was terribly proud of it” he says. “I noticed the women in front of me at the cinema were bawling their eyes out.”This was not – as anyone who read the viscous reviews might assume – tears of despair. The film has a “big heart” says Clunes. He admits he even “wetted up a bit myself. ”

Stuff the critics then. The only critic Clunes cares about is his daughter Emily, 15. Yet she’s not an easy one to please when it comes to Clunes’ work. ”She’s so over it” says Clunes who married his producer wife Philippa Braithwaite in 1997 (after his first marriage to actress Lucy Aston).

He and Braithwaite work together frequently – she produces Doc Martin – and the combination of having two parents in the business means that Emily is none too impressed by it all.

“She won’t even watch what we do” reveals Clunes. “Because Philippa and I work together a lot I suppose she might resent it. It’s not just one of us off doing it, it’s the two of us. So it’s something that we have and Emily doesn’t.”

She’s “done bits” in Doc Martin and “got thoroughly bored’ says Clunes of the hit TV show in which he plays a grouchy GP by the Cornish seaside (next year he’ll shoot the seventh series).

Still, Clunes managed to drag her to the premier of Nativity! in London where she was “really embarrassed” at his singing but showed signs of approval come the end.

“Dare I say it I think she might have been a tiny bit proud” smiles Clunes. “I could be flattering myself but I thought she was enjoying it and going with the flow.” Phew!

Not much chance then of Emily following in dad’s footsteps as he did himself. Clunes’ father Alec, who died of cancer when he was eight, was an actor and his father’s parents were music hall entertainers.

Was he consciously following the family tradition? Born in Wimbledon, Clunes started acting at boarding school and attended Arts Educational Schools, otherwise known as ArtsEd, in London’s Chiswick.

“When people asked me ‘what are you going to do?’ I’d say ‘I’m going to be an actor’ without really thinking about it’” he explains. “And I started acting without really thinking about it. I only thought about it properly a bit later.”

He acknowledges the undoubted influence of his father but suggests Clunes Snr. might have had a few reservations about his son’s choices, including the laddish TV show which made his name, Men Behaving Badly.

His mother Daphne, whose brother was Sherlock Holmes star Jeremy Brett, was “very stage struck” he says. “She never encouraged or discouraged me but it pleased her that I did acting.”

Now one of the most sought after TV stars, Clunes briefly tried his hand at directing with the 1994 comedy film Staggered, in which he also starred (and which was produced by Braithwaite).

He knocked on doors in Los Angeles but soon grew disillusioned. “After Staggered, Philippa and I were in Los Angeles quite a lot trying to put films together. But they’re such a neck-ache. You lose control of your destiny. You’re dealing with people who were estate agents the week before. Philippa stuck at it and produced Sliding Doors but nobody beat a path to my door.”

Movie stardom was never on the cards. “My face is too big” he chuckles. “They like a nice regular-featured fella in Hollywood.”

In any case he had no intention of living in America. A country boy at heart, Clunes lives on a farm in Dorset where he relishes the outdoors and mucks in with the lambing.

“I love the land. I love the space I’m exposed to when I walk around” he says. “And it’s always interesting learning new skills like pulling sheep out of other sheep’s bottoms.”



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