BBC One’s Hustle starts its final run in the New Year.
The final series sees the return of Adrian Lester, Robert Vaughn, Robert Glenister, Matt Di Angelo, Kelly Adams and a special appearance by Jaime Murray as Stacie Monroe.
In this interview Lester looks back at the show’s eight seasons and discusses his personal highlights and what the future holds for him:
What have been your favourite moments over the last eight series?
The Trafalgar Square moment was one of those moments you get to do something totally weird and outrageous. As Marc Warren said, how many people can say I’ve run through Trafalgar Square naked! And I did it eight times! It’s right up there with playing Hamlet.
It could only work in a show like this because it was tongue in cheek, entertaining and silly but also poignant. It’s one of my favourite episodes because it had the perfect balance of character, disappointment, desire, jeopardy, fun, skill and clever plotting. All the cons we did on the streets were done in one shot for each angle. It had to flow. I had to pick a pocket for real, in one go, like I was doing the actual con.
Another of my favourite sequences is where I had to do the magician’s trick of hiding the pound coin, in Episode 1 series 5. I reached to the floor with nothing in my hands and then made it appear in my palm.
Then the pick-pocketing … knocking over the wine, going in for the wallet and removing the credit card with one hand, close and replace the wallet, pocket the credit card and then saying goodbye with the man’s car keys under my hat. Those sequences have been among my favourites.
Who is your favourite character that Mickey has played in a con?
I had the most fun with fashion designer, Hilary. The flamboyance of the character was really fun to play. I’d said many things in improvising that we just couldn’t keep! I also couldn’t believe that ‘hugs’ became a phrase people started using on Twitter! (@adrianlester) It’s so catchy, I had a lot of fun with it.
Who have been your favourite guest stars this year and over the last eight series?
One of the amazing things about the show is the quality of the guest artists that we get to act with. I think Robert Pugh was brilliant. He was in the second episode of the first series. He had to play a violent hotel owner, a gangster with a passion for musicals. His character shot Danny, had some guy beaten to a pulp, beat up Albert and did a tap routine all in the same episode.
Hustle was off the wall then, reinventing television with each episode. So many shows have tried to copy its form. In this series, Sheila Hancock’s great and Martin Kemp was fantastic in my episode.
What was it like directing your debut TV episode for Hustle?
It was nerve-wracking! I wasn’t worried about directing the acting, that’s my field.
I know how actors feel and how they go through the process. My learning curve was on the technical side of things. Scheduling, post-production – how am I supposed to deliver a scene with the various shots and angles I had planned within such a strict time-frame. But, having been in the show for so long and having watched so many directors manage their ideas to get the Hustle feel, helped.
Me and the other main cast of actors are part of what makes the show work. It means I had a bit of authority when it came to telling the team how the scene was going to be played. At script stage, because I knew the acting, I could make different choices. Ultimately it was quite a confidence boost as I’d spent a long time wondering if I could do it and now I know I can.
How was it directing your co-stars?
They were brilliant and so eager to help. They did what I asked almost before I’d asked it. Directors are under a lot of pressure on Hustle, as it’s not an easy show to get right. The cast would only ask a couple of questions – I mean, I wouldn’t even have finished giving them direction and they’d just do it. Mr Vaughn was brilliant. What a gent.
Which side of the camera do you prefer being on?
Ultimately, I prefer being in front of the camera. I didn’t train to be a director and my eye on it is purely a narrative exercise. I deal with the emotions of the characters involved because I’m an actor.
What was it like having to direct and film at the same time?
That was very difficult and tricky with the time constraints. On one day I had 15 actors, a 10-man punch up, 5 vehicles, 3 cameras, a bit of CGI and it did my head in! It took so long that by the time we were nearing the end, I just improvised to tie it up properly. We did it with two covers, shot the scene twice and were out. We took care of two pages in that one moment because it was necessary.
How was it working with Jaime Murray again?
It was lovely. Jaime’s slightly different now because she’s been doing the TV thing for so long. When she did Hustle, she hadn’t done that much television and it was a learning process for all of us. But she’s gone away and, as we’ve done so many Hustle series and found our groove, she’s found hers doing Dexter and Spartacus among other things. Then when she came back to Hustle, she had more chops and really knew her stuff!
What can you tell us about the final episode?
There were many ideas thrown at it. We had to have a Hustle con, a bad guy and a plan B. But the opening 30 seconds of the last episode … it’s ace. You won’t forget it!
If you could have written the ending, what would you have done?
I don’t know. It’s not really a task I envy. An ending that left the audience wondering what really happened. They would want to rewind it and look at it again and again. It should be, and I think is, one of those endings you talk about with your mates for ages afterwards.
How would you sum up the Hustle experience?
I find it quite hard to sum up a show that’s been as much fun as Hustle. The upsetting thing is the thought that I may not have this kind of experience again; working with that group of people and doing something where your energies and efforts result in a show that’s truly popular.
That’s the drug about doing a successful show. Because the audience don’t see it when you make it, you’re gambling that it will work. So when it goes out and people think it was amazing, the sense that you judged correctly and it paid off time and time again is something I don’t know I’ll find again.
If I – like Mr Vaughn – reach 78 or so and still have this kind of success in my work, then I’ll be happy. That’s all you can ask for.
What are your plans for the future?
There’s a chance of me doing Othello at the National Theatre in 2013 which I’m greatly looking forward to and hope nothing disturbs it. There is also the short film that I directed, Of Mary. We’ve had one nomination so far and have 20 other festival responses to come in. It’s going to be screened as part of the London Short Film Festival in 2012.
Apart from that, I think it’s time for me to get back to some film work.