'The Clinic' star Dominic Mafham talks to Linda McGee about playing nasty Dr Dan Woodhouse and how the character has developed over the years.
Linda McGee: Can we bring you right back to the start, Dominic? What was it about the character of Dan Woodhouse that first attracted you to the role?
Dominic Mafham: Oh well, it was a long time ago. He's changed quite a lot actually. He was always a very dark character and he was always very Machiavellian and scheming, and he was also battling with a raging cocaine addiction and he was on the run. So he arrived in 'The Clinic'. The first scene he had, he was in bed with Lorraine Pilkington (who played Susie Cassidy). So he had a raging cocaine habit, he had dark secrets in the past and he was running away. He was a highly skilled doctor and on the surface charming and so really it was a no-brainer. He's was a brilliant character, brilliantly set-up. What's been surprising and what's been fantastic is that, instead of him becoming a two-dimensional stirrer, just going in stirring things up and being the bad man, actually what's happened, I think, I hope, over the course of the six series, he's actually developed into a very rich and complicated character, who is more than just the pantomime villain or the bad guy.
LM: He's the kind of character you love to hate in a way…
DM: Yeah, I mean he's not a psychopath. He does want good things. He wants good things for himself and he wants good things for other people but sometimes in order to get those good things he feels he has to do bad things.
LM: Was it a real challenge for you striking a balance between nasty Dan and softer Dan?
DM: Well, I think that what happened last series was that he was almost saved. And I think that, in a way, the danger was that that could be a bit dull, to have been completely saved and live happily-ever-after so something was going to happen and then Cathy's death happened. And so there was no way on earth that he was going to react to that like a new, born-again good person. He's also playful as well, there's a knowingness about him. He's sort of pulling these strings. He's aware of what he's doing. So I think there's that kind of consciousness about him. It's brilliant to play.
LM: Yeah, it must be fun playing the darker side of Dan, getting play out all kinds of things that you could never get away with in real-life?
DM: I love it because in real-life you can't be like that... well, I can't anyway.
LM: This week, we're about to see the episode where Dan comes face-to-face with Niall Boylan after the hearing about Cathy's death.
DM: That's the last one for the time being. We're doing another one but what happens in that I've no idea. In that one there's the hearing and really it's the only outlet for any justice is this hearing, which will decide whether he's guilty of a criminal offence or whether it was just an accident. So Boylan's basically let off scott-free. He paints this image and tries to convince everybody that he's been suffering too. And it absolutely lights a massive touch-paper for Dan and so he comes outside of the courtroom and basically says to him: "If you ever cross my path again, I'll kill you." At that point I think Dan has let him go, he's gone. He's not going to pursue him anymore. In a way, it's over. Even though it was awful, it's over.
And that what happens is that the little girl arrives in Dan's office and calls him to a church where Aideen is and she's absolutely battered black and blue. And Dan, at that point, he just makes sure she's alright. He gets her to a plane and all of the stuff that he set up previously in London for her is still there and so he gets her off safely to the airport and then he goes to Boylan's house to track him down. And then he finds Boylan and he's injured. He's at the bottom of the stairs, lying with a broken leg and there's a fantastically written scene, just a brilliantly written scene I think, between him and Boylan. It goes on quite a long time and I won't tell you what the outcome of the scene is but it's a fantastic confrontation, and at the end of it you're not really sure what Dan has done because Boylan is lying there completely vulnerable – he can't move... and I think I can't give that bit away! But they do come together and it's great. You know he's a horrible, pathetic little man and he's just lying there. He's a fantastic actor (Darragh Kelly) by the way, he really is. That's a really hard part to pull off and I think he's done brilliantly, Darragh. So yeah, it's a really, really well-written scene. And then, of course, the other big thing is that Dan discovers Lorcan's HIV and it's really, really bad. I mean even I thought: "My God, he's stooping low". So there's that scene as well and then, just when he does that, then the heavens really do open on him and, at the very end, he really is in a real, real pickle. Also, the other thing as well is the business thing with Sineád Kelly from the past. So it's all kind of stacked up against him really in the end. I've got to say I really think that, and it's not blowing my trumpet, I think that the last episode of this series is the best one ever. I think it's fantastic, I really do.
LM: The writing on the show is superb. Are you always impressed when you read the twists in the scripts and how it has developed through the years?
DM: It's always difficult because it is a medical drama series, it has its own restrictions, if you like, and conventions – they all do. And I think that 'The Clinic' really does do its own thing, with characters its got, and the way that it's been nurtured through and developed and changed. And this year it's changed stylistically. There are more scenes in each episode. The scenes are shorter and it's a much faster pace and also in the past they used to concentrate more on one character per episode and they do that slightly less this year and they're allowing for more stories to run concurrently.
LM: Do you feel a little bit distanced from the show now because you're living in the UK? You must miss getting the immediate feedback after the series goes out, do you?
DM: Yeah, it is really odd. It's a really odd thing because it is something that I'm genuinely proud of and if it were on here it would be a totally different experience for me.
LM: Maybe because you wouldn't be able to walk down the street without somebody clobbering you with a handbag…
DM: Yeah, exactly! But maybe that's a good thing. I mean obviously I'm in touch with people and I'm aware of how it's doing and I've seen them now, finally. We got the DVDs the other day so I have actually seen them, which is good. But yeah, it's strange. I do miss that feeling.
LM: You lived over in Ireland while you were filming for 'The Clinic', didn't you? How did you find living here?
DM: Ireland is my second home really. I really love it. I'm actually really comfortable in Dublin and Ireland in general. My mum was Irish anyway. I've worked in Ireland quite a lot and as a kid I used to come over a lot. And it's just always felt very natural being there. So that's no real hardship. It's basically four months a year.
LM: So you relocate completely for those four months, do you?
DM: Yeah, absolutely… dog and all! The dog's great.
LM: Are you working on any other projects at the minute?
DM: At the moment, not a lot. I'm writing quite a lot, but I know everybody says that so it’s a bit boring. I'm writing a script at the moment and then there's a possibility that I'm seeing an American agent. I might be going over there at some point.
LM: Is working in the US something that you'd really like to do?
DM: No, not really. Honestly, I just like working, as long as it’s good. If 'The Clinic' wasn't it would be a real grind. I think one of the things that's so fantastic about it is that the cast have been brilliant, the writing has been just great and there has been the same crew for six years. The same guy Cedric has been behind the camera shot pretty much for every single scene.
LM: I imagine that makes for a real sense of familiarity on set…
DM: Yeah, absolutely. There's no cynicism in it. Even though they're there at seven in the morning and they wrap at seven in the evening, and they shot every single scene, they're still, at the end of it all, every single year, excited to be doing it again. They're really into it. They really care about the characters. And I've never had that actually, not quite like that, because I've been in ongoing things before. It's easy when you're in a single thing and you know that there's a beginning, middle, end and that's it. But when something's ongoing, to keep that enthusiasm and that energy going is really good. So it's been a very, very good experience, the whole thing.
LM: You must have missed Aisling O'Sullivan, who played Cathy, around the set this year, did you?
DM: Yeah, I have actually. I really like her, very, very much. She's an amazing person and a brilliant actress. When you're acting with someone who's that good it kind of makes your job really easy and so it doesn't really feel like acting. And there's sort of a depth and richness and intelligence about her. But, having said that, it's still been a great show.
LM: And out of Cathy's death so many great storylines have developed, like the Boylan issue and Daisy's struggle to step up to the mark…
DM: I love that story actually, the whole Daisy thing – that going from, in a fast-forwarded kind of way, going from being a girl with very little responsibility to suddenly being, you know, a woman with an enormous amount of responsibility on her shoulders and struggling with very, very complicated politics and very powerful personalities and I think that's been a really interesting story.
LM: So is Dan going to make a play for Daisy?
DM: He might actually. I genuinely don't know. Daisy is no push-over. She's no fool.
LM: But she is one of those characters that has a certain level of vulnerability that makes you want to look after her…
DM: Oh but I think Dan wants to look after her as well. Dan wouldn't treat Daisy badly.
LM: So it might be more than that… does he have an eye for Daisy?
DM: I think he might actually... in the nicest possible way, of course!