An actor’s life: Murray McArthur
PUBLISHED: 07:00 07 October 2017 | UPDATED: 16:12 09 October 2017
Murray McArthur is an actor who hails from East Devon and has appeared in Doctor Who and Game of Thrones among many other shows. Steve Jennings talked to him about his career.
It is the last day of August and Murray McArthur is back in East Devon to start a week’s holiday with family. It is raining of course.
Not that that dampens the spirits of the hard working actor, able to boast a very impressive CV, who was raised on a mushroom farm in Alfington, near Ottery St Mary.
Born in Honiton in May 1966 of Scottish ancestry, Murray went to Awliscombe Primary School then attended the King’s School in Ottery St Mary and it was during his grammar school days that he was at the centre of a controversy surrounding free transport. Or not, as was his case. “We lived just inside the three miles boundary (from school) so I didn’t qualify for free transport”, he explains. “But my next door neighbour a few yards away did so the bus pulled up outside every day and I couldn’t get on. Ironically the walk to the bus stop took it over three miles.
“So I had to cycle to school every day and have happy memories of my French horn being strapped to the bike rack whilst I was being harangued from the double-decker buses, bringing and taking the kids from Honiton”.
He recalls his formative years with fondness with a happy family life and sport playing a large part in his happiness as he explains: “I played a lot of rugby at school and went to Sidmouth a lot as I enjoyed sailing too”.
And the introduction to acting also came about at school: “It was the drama teacher Crosby Chacksfield who encouraged me”, he says. “I was too sporty and boyish to see the appeal. I joined the Devon County Youth Theatre and did two shows with them – one at the Barnfield in Exeter and the other in Berlin - and my motivation was that there were more girls than boys there, so a primary driver was I was more likely to meet girls acting than playing rugby”.
Murray was soon heading off to Loughborough University to study drama and English, as he initially highlighted a career for himself as an English teacher, but he became drawn to performing and subsequently studied at the Drama Studio London, based in Ealing, whose alumni include Emily Watson and Forest Whitaker. “I never met either of them as Emily was a year or two after me,” he says. “I did a one-year post graduate course – which was very intensive but good fun - and you tended to only get to know the people in your year”, he adds. “I did make friends with Shobu Kapoor, who is as mad as a box of frogs, and she has done well for herself in EastEnders, Citizen Khan and Bend It Like Beckham. And Sarah Cracknell was in my year too, from the band St Etienne”.
After graduating, the paid work started coming in for Murray, and he was off to Hull to appear on stage in a touring play delicately named On The Piste. And some sad news became good fortune for Murray when the lead role became inadvertently available. “I was doing the under piece role when the lead actor’s mum unfortunately died towards the end of the tour, so I took the lead, starting at the Mayflower in Southampton”.
TV work followed, and a reunion with his friend Shobu, when he made his small screen debut in EastEnders in 1994 as a policeman. But he was back on stage in 1995 and 1996 with work much nearer to his Devon roots as he appeared in Great Expectations, Abigail’s Party and The Grapes of Wrath all at Exeter’s Northcott Theatre.
Murray got to work on some iconic shows in the late ’90s, primarily as policemen, including Heartbeat, Burnside and Taggart, the latter an experience which Murray enjoyed. “I got to do a Scottish accent in that”, he says. “Although I am from Devon I can do the (Scottish) accent quite well and this role opened up a few doors for me”.
Progress was gradual but Murray remained focused and, in and around 2006, he appeared in Casualty, Foyle’s War, Murphy’s Law, The Bill and Doctors. He has appeared in six films, the most high profile being The Last Legion in 2007 for the Dino De Laurentiis Company and in A Congregation of Ghosts for Whitechapel Films in 2009.
In 2015, Murray’s fortunes took a dramatic upturn when he was cast opposite Peter Capaldi as Hasten, the Viking who breaks Doctor Who’s sonic sunglasses, in the episode The Girl Who Died. It was fortunate timing for him: “I had grown my hair and beard for a Viking part that I didn’t get so auditioned for this part and was suited for it”, he admits. “Peter Capaldi was very nice and supportive. In my opening line I had to make reference to him being old. But he was complimentary about my work”.
Soon after, he portrayed a Wildling chieftain in the fifth season episode Hardhome of the incredibly successful series Game of Thrones. He returned in the sixth season for The Broken Man with the character name Dim Dalba. “My agent looks after three of the Game of Thrones cast,” he says. “It was the normal audition process for me. My character was never killed off so the door is potentially open for a return sometime”.
This was certainly a career game changer for the actor. “This makes all the difference, just having this on the CV. This gets auditions that I wouldn’t have got before”.
He has shared the screen with some famous performers including a famous sir. “I have met and worked with some amazing people”, he says with much enthusiasm. “I was in a play called An Enemy of the People at the National Theatre and had a small role but Sir Ian McKellen was the lead in it, although he wasn’t a sir then.
“After London, we did five months in LA – and for a young man to be in LA was amazing – and we had some parties too and, being LA, there were always hot tubs. One of my claims to fame is I shared a hot tub with Gandalf, as Sir Ian got that part straight after”.
Other big names who Murray has worked with include Colin Firth, Ben Kingsley and Edward Woodward in his last film role.
Murray was recently seen in Barbarians Rising, a film made for the History channel and provided the voice of a farmer in Watership Down, and he was able to showcase his Devon accent. But his local tongue doesn’t always stand him in good stead. “I auditioned for Poldark but didn’t get the part. Afterwards I was told my accent was too authentic and no-one could understand me. I was the only local person there!”
He has just completed a film with Terence Stamp called Viking Destiny, shot in Northern Ireland. And he has two more films in the pipeline too.
Proud of his achievements Murray remains ambitious. “I would like to be a regular in a high profile TV series”, he admits. “But in many ways I have already achieved my main ambition which was to make a career from acting. “It has taken me a long time and I have done adverts, small parts in touring plays, bit parts in The Bill and all that to keep going.
“It isn’t easy; you can go months and months without work. And when I get down I think of where I have come from; a small sleepy village in Devon and feel proud of what I have achieved”.
Things are looking good for Murray. These days he lives in south east London with wife Geraldine and daughters Orla and Freya. A jobbing actor he believes those bike rides to school in East Devon have stood him in good stead all these years later. “I used to wear this hideous florescent jacket my mum made which made me fair game for abuse”, he says with a smile. “The kids would shout ‘get off and milk it’ among other things. But this experience probably gave me the thick skin you need to be an actor? And you need a thick skin to be an actor!”
Murray McArthur is represented by Dalzell and Beresford. To download his showreel go to: www.dalzellandberesford.com/client/murray_mcarthur