Coronation Street's Richard Hillman - actor Brian Capron interview
PUBLISHED: 12:19 01 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:28 20 February 2013
Sussex actor Brian Capron cheerfully accepts he will never shake off his best-known role as psychotic soap villain Richard Hillman in Coronation Street. But that hasn't stopped him trying...
Stepping Out is a departure for Brian, who admits hes never seen himself as a song and dance man. Now in its 25th anniversary year, the show which was made into a film starring Julie Walters and Liza Minnelli (1991) follows a group of misfits who escape from their disappointing lives once a week to brush up on their tap-dancing skills.
Brian plays Geoffrey the only man in the class a shy insurance clerk, who has lost his wife to cancer and is trying to reconnect with people. Hes bumbling and introverted and about as far away from Richard Hillman as you can get, laughs Brian. But Ive mined a wealth of humour out of the character and even have a little romance with another introverted type.
The show, which also stars Anita Harris, features two big dance numbers, including a show-stopping finale in which the cast turns out in top hats and tails. Brian says hes never been in better shape and has lost half a stone since the tour began.
The initial rehearsals were a bit like standing on a railway station watching all the trains depart without you. Most of the girls had previous dancing experience and I just couldnt keep up. But its a bit like learning lines. Once youve assimilated the moves, youre on your way.
I never imagined that Richard Hillman had a lighter side. On Coronation Street, the smooth-talking financial advisor spent most of his time looking menacingly into a camera plotting his next perfect murder. If he wasnt pushing his hapless business partner, Duggie Ferguson, through a banister rail, he was bashing his ex-wife Patricia over the head with a shovel or trying to silence his suspicious mother-in-law, Audrey Roberts, by setting her house on fire.
And lets not forget how he chillingly dispatched Maxine Peacock to an early grave by taking a crowbar to the crimpers head in an episode watched by 19 million viewers.
But Tricky Dicky alias Brighton actor Brian Capron must have been taking a regular course of Prozac since then because hell be dancing the light fantastic this summer in a dazzling new stage production of Stepping Out at Brightons Theatre Royal.
Okay, Im exaggerating, but Brian has become so synonymous with the role that its almost impossible to banish his alter ego. Not that theyre remotely alike. Brian is all charm and affability. Richard Hillman... well, just ask his victims. Oh dear, that wont be possible, will it?
Brian, 63, candidly admits hes gone to considerable lengths to shake off Hillmans shadow, but accepts he will always be associated with the character.
Its seven years since I played Hillman, but hell always be there and Im very proud of him, he says. A lot of people who go into soaps end up playing themselves, but I created the role of Hillman and anyone who meets me for a few minutes would discover that Im very different.
Brian accepts he might never have won the role had it not been for the profile that Coronation Street has afforded him. For decades, he was a successful jobbing actor, but the soap catapulted him to national stardom and pin-up status.
His dramatic murder confession attracted more than 19m viewers the largest soap audience in history and so many kettles were switched on during the commercial break that it prompted a massive surge on the national grid.
But as a southerner, he had deep misgivings about joining an established northern cast and wondered how he would make his character believable. In the early scripts, Hillman was a one-dimensional villain, who simply shouted a lot. Brian decided to take a more subtle approach, playing Hillman cold and dead-eyed. Audiences lapped it up. The thing that got him off the hook was the dark humour and the fact that he was just this side of theatricality and pantomime. His performance won him no fewer than 14 television awards and Coronation Street was awarded its first BAFTA, thanks largely to his storyline. He also became the toast of daytime television and a fixture on the covers of TV listings magazines.
But the pressure of the limelight not to mention the isolation and loneliness brought on by filming many miles from home took their toll. He was unprepared for the media onslaught and reels off a string of dirty tricks inflicted by the media. If youre successful, particularly if you play a character everyone loves to hate, then the press want to do you down, he says.
One newspaper tracked down an ex-girlfriend in Australia and published an old photograph of them kissing in a phone booth. The implication was that I was a lady killer then and a lady killer now, he sighs wearily.
Fans, too, were prepared to go to almost any lengths to meet their idol. One woman offered to move from her home in the north of England so that she could tend his garden. Another sent pictures of her bedroom plastered with his image. It affected every part of my life. I even had people knocking on my door at 3am and had to have panic buttons fitted.
It was all a far cry from his humble beginnings. Brian owes his enviable colouring to his father, a flight sergeant serving in the Free French Airforce, who was killed in an air crash when he was one.
He met my mother, who was a simple country girl, when she was in the WAAF and it was a big love match. After their marriage, they went to live in Algeria, but their relationship foundered and they were about to get divorced when he was killed.
My mother never talked about him. I think she was a little embittered because she fell pregnant with me before returning from Algeria. Shortly before he died, he offered to bring me up, but his death made that impossible.His mother remarried and they moved to Staines in Surrey, but it was the start of an unsettled life for Brian. They had little money and for several years were forced to rent rooms in other peoples houses.
He caught the acting bug at school and landed his first job in rep. His big television break came in Grange Hill in 1980, where he played sexy woodwork teacher Mr Hopwood. I was written into every episode because I was quite popular, he says with dry understatement. But much to the BBCs dismay, my agent advised me to quit after three years to avoid typecasting. It was the BBCs fault they hadnt put me under contract. But they devised the worst punishment imaginable for my character they sent him to Milton Keynes!
Brian has lived in Hove since 1976, where he moved with his first wife and two daughters.
Theres nowhere I like better than Brighton. Weve got the sea, the Downs, terrific architecture and the people are well-informed and intelligent.
I live in the centre of Hove and love the fact that I can walk around the corner to restaurants, bars and shops. Im also near Hove Railway Station, which is terrific for London.
Ive got a beach hut on Hove seafront, where we often meet up with friends for a cup of tea. And I have an allotment near Brighton and Hove Greyhound Stadium, where I grow beans, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and cucumbers. You can see the sea from there and it does wonders for the soul.
Brian met his second wife, Jacqui with whom he has a 13-year-old son Louis when she was performing in a dance-pop trio called Girls Cant Help It. You may know her as the actress who played Karl Howmans wife in a series of Flash television commercials.
They are a devoted couple, but Brian admits they have a fiery relationship.
Weve had terrible rows... well misunderstandings, really. Its very hard for her when Im away touring. And it was particularly hard when I was playing Richard Hillman. Living with someone in the public eye is very difficult. People used to literally push her out of the way.
But appearing in Coronation Street has had its advantages, too. His earnings shot up when he left the soap and he pocketed 8,000 in one morning after opening three supermarkets in Chester.