US television is packed with British actors. They are easy to spot because they’re cheap and classy, and their accents aren’t quite specific enough to convince. But it’s much less common to find American actors on British TV, which makes ITV’s new Lincolnshire-set Rob Lowe vehicle Wild Bill something of a curio.
In Wild Bill, Rob Lowe plays – well, he plays Rob Lowe. That’s sort of the point. He is a hard-bitten Miami cop who becomes chief constable of the fictional East Lincolnshire police to stem a tide of violent crimes. He is a glamorous American fish deliberately playing as far out of water as he can. Just to underline the notion that this is a TV show about an American in Britain, the Wild Bill promotional material contains shots of Lowe wearing a cowboy hat, in the way all Americans are legally mandated to do. It’s jarring, but this isn’t the first instance of a big US star slumming it on British TV. Here are Lowe’s forebears.
Vaughn had a long and distinguished acting career, taking in classics such as Bullitt, The Magnificent Seven and The Man from UNCLE. However, between 2004 and 2012, he managed to fit in 48 episodes of BBC One’s slightly repetitious conman drama Hustle. He was basically filling the Rob Lowe slot here, adding a dose of Hollywood glamour to a series that would otherwise be about a load of people nicking wallets. Fun fact: during his time in Hustle, Vaughn briefly moonlighted on Corrie, playing Roy Cropper’s mum’s boyfriend.
This one only half counts because there’s a slight US connection. Mr Selfridge was co-produced with PBS Masterpiece, so there was always an eye on stateside success. Nevertheless, it was never not startling to see a quaint little Sunday evening ITV period drama about a nice shopkeeper fronted by Piven, a man best known for screaming at women on Entourage.
Again, I’m not sure this one counts. This is partly because Sky Atlantic’s Riviera is set in France, and therefore loaded with actors from France, Sweden and Israel, but mainly because you could grab strangers by the shoulders and ask them if they have ever seen Riviera for several years before finding one who had. Still, Julia Stiles! Good get!
This one definitely counts, and scores extra for its weirdness. By 2012, Andy Samberg was one of the hottest names in comedy. His digital shorts had changed the texture of Saturday Night Live for ever. He had made appearances in 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation. He starred in the bona fide cult film Hot Rod. And then he ran away to the UK to make an obscure little BBC Three sitcom called Cuckoo. Obviously, Cuckoo was great, too, but it’s still an intensely weird career choice. After seven episodes, Samberg returned to the US and became the superstar he was always going to be, and Cuckoo replaced him with Taylor Lautner.
MotherFatherSon suffered slightly from a case of bad timing. Not only did the thematically similar Succession beat it to the punch, it also benefited from not containing as many harrowing sex scenes. Nevertheless, one thing MotherFatherSon did have was Richard Gere making his first television appearance for a quarter of a century, so that’s something.
Michael C Hall
Safe was a slightly dreary, relatively generic British drama set in the north-west of England. Its lead could have been anyone. Robson Green. Martin Clunes. John Simm. Nigel Havers. And yet the star of Safe ended up being Dexter. Hall played Dr Somebody Something, and played him so relentlessly Britishly that watching his performance was like watching someone Cuprinol a fence. You could live to be a million and never work out why he got the job.