Amplify’d from www.guardian.co.uk
He spends all his time in Wales, has no social life and he's just broken up with Daisy Lowe. But as Doctor Who returns, Matt Smith tells Euan Ferguson why he's the luckiest man on TV
I don't think Matt Smith has an unenthusiastic bone in his body. True, he has a nastily damaged and very specific one, in his back, which cut short a proper professional football career, but even that one's still probably enthusiastic. He and his bones exude not a hint of a slump of possible ennui, ever, for any aspect of his own life or, winningly, anyone else's.
He really is like Tigger. I suspect had I met him a couple of weeks after this joyous Indian-summer morning, after his reported split with model Daisy Lowe, there might have been a certain underlying… subduedness. Breaking up is, I think they say, always hard to do. But I'm truly not sure; I don't know if those bones do subdued.
He lollops in shedding croissant crumbs and apologies for lateness and resolutely failing to blink at the sight of two grown and outwardly pleasant men, Murdo the photographer and his assistant, steadfastly smashing the bejesus out of a television – as the 11th and youngest incarnation of the Doctor, he's seen much, much stranger. Within five minutes of our meeting he has broken off the interview to ask, honestly intrigued, about what passes for my shorthand and how it all works. At one stage an offshoot of the conversation somehow reaches five full minutes on the Higgs boson, and later, discussing Harris Tweed – when I tell him the crofters used to strengthen it by steeping it in something named, with a stoic Hebridean lack of euphemism, the "piss bucket" – he almost leaps to his feet with excitement.
Perhaps he was the best pupil ever, a decade ago. Or perhaps at 29, that good age for genuine inquiry, having garnered critical appreciation for managing the near-impossible and not being in any way a disappointing follow-on to David Tennant – with a legion of fans, a hot new assistant in Karen Gillan and, back then at least, an extremely pretty semi-famous girlfriend, and talent, and knowledge, and plans – he's simply that lucky thing: a man with the world at his feet and wanting to find out more of it every day. It is all rather refreshing.
In two days he flies to Los Angeles to collect an award – "Best sci-fi actor, who'd have thought that?"; the trip comes less than a week after the faintly different environs of Cardiff, where he's just finished shooting the Doctor Who Christmas Special. "It was a really tough shoot," he says. Enthusiastically. "Out in a forest, at night, and because there were children involved, some shooting schedules had to change radically, we'd often have to shoot through, no breaks – you get lunch at midnight or something. But worth it, certainly: I think it'll be a great show."
I had understood, before, that his love life and the Christmas special were essentially off-limits, so decided to ask him directly about both; he laughs generously and is far from guarded. "Well, the show. OK. It focuses around the Doctor meeting a family, in particular two young children, and their mother, played by Claire Skinner, and of course they enter a world which perhaps they shouldn't have entered, in good faith, and… well, a jolly old time of it. Around the Second World War. I've got huge hopes for it; the director Farren Blackburn, who just did The Fades [BBC3's apocalyptic teen drama], has given it great scale and colours – it's almost Tim Burton-esque. It's quite strange because I go away and do other jobs and then come back to this and, honestly, there's really nothing quite like playing the Doctor."
He's had two years, now, to inhabit one of TV's most famous characters. Does he feel he's changed him at all? "I don't wish to avoid the question, honestly, but it's a kind of hard thing isn't it, commenting on your own work? I think I'll probably have a more definitive – at least a more interesting – answer to that in the future. I don't want to be too conscious about that because I'm still in the middle of that, it's still evolving. From year to year."
And century to century. "Absolutely. As the doctor ages he gets younger and sillier. He's over 1,000 now, I think. And – oh, I just like him. His lack of cynicism. He's like a baby. He wants to sniff, to taste, everything; he'll never dismiss anything. As we get older – perhaps I'm just speaking for myself – we can get too cynical. If he had a… bath, it would be filled with rubber ducks which could talk or something; he'd find a way to reinvent the common bath. And I admire that."
Does Smith, I wonder, worry about being identified too much in the future with this one character, delightful as he is? "I don't, really. Any actor worth his salt has a responsibility to reinvent himself from part to part. Perhaps there'll be a period of carryover, but I'll take myself off to theatre for a year, or write, or direct, or – actually I might be directing something soon, in December – I can't say too much yet, but if all goes to plan, it's with a writer called Simon Stephens, who's great, but it might not come off so I don't want to say too much. But hopefully the work I do after coming off the Doctor will be of a different… tone."
Stephens is artistic associate at the Lyric Hammersmith and an Olivier winner, and I remember being shockingly moved by his Sea Wall in Edinburgh a couple of years ago, and thus I sense Mr Smith does want, soonish, to get… serious. Does that mean his doctor's incarnation is now measurably finite? Three years? Five years?
"It depends on your physical and mental state at the end of every shoot. I just take it year by year, but I'm quite excited by the coming year – it's the 50th anniversary, which'll let us be even bigger and bolder than ever." It's harder to think how much bigger, bolder, stranger. Don't there come limits? "Never. Not in Doctor Who. That's the beauty of it. You're never bound by logic, or time, or genre, or space, or location, which is what makes it such an ingenious televisual conceit."
I hesitate to ask because there are so many, many fans – myself included most of the time – but the last series was criticised for being too complicated. Did Matt ever think the scripts were veering towards being a bit… silly?
Read more at www.guardian.co.uk"Absolutely not, no way. By its very conceit – you've got a 1,000-year-old alien that looks like a human with two hearts who travels round in an impossibly dimensioned box – there's no room for it to become too silly. Why, do you think it's too silly? You don't look like a man who would find Doctor Who silly!" No, I don't really, and surely there are parallels with Douglas Adams – one of the early Who writers – who later, in Hitchhiker's, created a universe to explore not science fiction but the human condition. "Well, quite. The genre is a great way to write yourself out of any corner, certainly, which helps – but it also places human drama, relationships, right at the centre, which is what I think we invest in, and by human I include the doctor."