Steve Coogan put aside 'personal revulsion' of paedophile Jimmy Savile to portray disgraced entertainer

Steve Coogan put aside 'personal revulsion' of paedophile Jimmy Savile to portray disgraced entertainer

ACTOR Steve Coogan has said he had to put aside his 'personal revulsion' of Jimmy Savile to portray the paedophile in new BBC drama The Reckoning.

But despite his feelings towards the disgraced entertainer and the distressing nature of the material, Coogan felt it was 'better to make this drama than not to make it'.

The four-part series, which reunites the second-generation Irish actor with Philomena writer Jeff Pope, began on Britain's BBC One on Monday.

Once-respected presenter and charity fundraiser Savile died in 2011 before his abuses were exposed, with two investigations during his lifetime dropped due to lack of evidence.

Following his death, hundreds of allegations against him surfaced, involving victims ranging from age five to 75.

The deluge of accusations led to the setting up of Operation Yewtree to investigate his and others' alleged offences.

A subsequent report by the police and the NSPCC reported 214 alleged offences by Savile stretching back half a century, which were subsequently recorded as crimes.

'Grounded and believable'

Coogan said he had to put aside his revulsion of Savile if he was to immerse himself in the role to make his portrayal convincing.

"I've played a number of real people and in some ways I didn't treat him any differently," he told the BBC.

"I feel an overwhelming sense of revulsion about Jimmy Savile and the way he operated, but I put my personal revulsion to one side to play him convincingly because the risk with not doing that is him coming across as a sort of pantomime villain, which would lack credibility and therefore not do this justice.

"It had to be grounded and believable. In terms of performance, I like to take physical things — the way someone dresses, the way they talk, and the way they move — and assimilate all that to try and find who they are and use that as a way to get inside their skin."

Steve Coogan's portrayal of Savile has earned praise (Image: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Despite that, he says his performance is not just an impersonation as he attempted to play someone who was himself often putting on an act.

"An inherent problem of impersonating someone accurately is that it can strangely make people laugh — and of course you don't want to do that here, because it would trivialise this," he said.

"There's always that danger if you're trying to be accurate. To avoid that, I committed to playing the person underneath.

"The front Savile adopted was incredibly theatrical — he often put on 'an antic disposition' — which lends itself unhelpfully to comedy.

"I had to be really mindful of that and think about it in different ways to inhabit it credibly and not undermine the fact of what a terrible person he was."

'Wasn't without risk'

Coogan and the show's crew knew they would have to be sensitive with the material considering many of Savile's victims are still alive.

There was also the risk that they could be accused of sensationalising the matter or trivialising the suffering of Savile's victims.

Similarly, was there even a need to dramatise the events, given so much has been exposed about his crimes?

Coogan addressed the concerns by saying that a well-made, 'nuanced' drama could be more effective than a documentary.

"On balance, I think it is better to make this drama than not to make it," he said.

A joint report on Savile by the Met Police and the NSPCC, entitled Giving Victims a Voice, was published in January 2013 (Image: CARL COURT/AFP via Getty Images)

"Drama can capture things in a more nuanced, detailed way that is more illuminating than a straight forward documentary, of which there have been many.

"We've seen the power that a well-made, factual drama can have.

"I knew this wasn't without risk. Nothing that's interesting to watch is ever without some kind of risk and this had more risks than anything else I've done, but knowing that I had the best people with me I thought it was worth it.

"I feel this series is a really strong piece of work and that all the people involved in it — survivors, cast and crew — should be proud with the job that's been done."

Performance praised

While the series itself has had a mixed reception from critics, Coogan has been praised for his portrayal of the notorious sexual predator.

The Guardian called his performance 'chillingly brilliant', while the Telegraph dubbed it a 'tour de force'.

The Financial Times, meanwhile, said Coogan was 'nothing short of remarkable'.

"Transcending impersonation, he reveals the depths of grotesque depravity while his ability to switch effortlessly from charismatic joker to menacing manipulator to dead-eyed brute is as impressive as it is unnerving," it added.

Episodes three of The Reckoning airs on BBC One next Monday, October 16 at 9pm, with the final episode following 24 hours later.

All four episodes are currently available on BBC iPlayer.