TCA 19: Endeavour star Shaun Evans on directing an episode & Morse’s growth over the years

Season 6 of the Inspector Morse prequel Endeavour is due to hit ITV in the UK starting this Sunday, 10th February, and Masterpiece Mystery on PBS in the US on 16th June. To celebrate that fact, PBS brought Endeavour Morse himself, Shaun Evans, back to the TCA stage to give us a look at the series ahead.

The biggest change this year, and one that is right there in your face (and Evans’ face, literally) when you see promotional material for season 6, is the mustache our hero will be sporting as Endeavour moves into 1969. So what does Evans think of his new addition (which was shaved by the time he hit the TCA stage)? “I’m easy.  I don’t mind it, I don’t mind it. I like it. I think it’s cool. What I think is terrific opportunity wise, if you’re telling a longform story, that you can change a little bit, and the audience will go with that. I also like it as an idea as a sort of metaphor for not being able to look in the mirror or try to change yourself in a way. Yeah, I like it. I didn’t really think too deeply about it, to be totally honest with you.”

It was born out of a conversation with myself and the writer and the exec, Damien, just on an idea,” elaborates Evans, on the genesis of Morse’s Mustache (TM?). “Because at the end of the last series, Fancy, a character called George Fancy dies, whom I was a mentor to. And the last time we see each other, we have cross words. Then in the scene afterwards, I say to Thursday, ‘You know, I could have been kinder.’ And he says, ‘Well, who couldn’t?’ When we pick up in the beginning of this series, the time in between, it’s weighed quite heavy, the guilt of that.  And so it’s an opportunity to be a bit more down on it, if that makes any sense.”

Along with the death of Fancy, last season saw the breakup of the department as their police station was shut down, and the characters were scattered to the wind, all while vowing to work together to see that Fancy’s death is investigated. That means the partnership that has been a cornerstone of Endeavour since its first episode, that of Morse and his mentor Fred Thursday (Roger Allam), is broken up, and in the clips shown, it was clear there is a strain there. “In this one I think it was important for the rug to be pulled from everyone and to take the characters, all of them, into a place which is humiliating, both professionally and personally as well. At the end of last season, the station closes. Everyone is scattered to the four winds, and the death of Fancy hangs over everybody. So the arc of this series is everyone coming back together to sort out who killed Fancy. You get to see everyone in different guises and different scenarios. You have to keep pushing things, I think. You have to keep pushing things in order to keep it interesting. Change is the only constant, right? So they have to keep changing.  We can’t keep playing the same thing. We can’t keep playing the same relationship. So I think it was born out of that, you know, just to kind of keep it interesting.”

As for the relationship many want to see blossom, that of Morse and Joan Thursday, Evans may not be the ship champion fans would hope for. “I think, well, it’s tricky, isn’t it,” says Evans. “Because it wouldn’t be interesting if they were happy. I think it would be good to have a moment or an opportunity for him and Joan to get together, this is what I’m fighting for, but I just don’t think it’s getting any purchase. If they had a moment or a night of passion and then, the next day, woke up and was, like, ‘Oh, is that it?’ and it’s just not what he thought it would be, I think that speaks more to someone who is just destined to be alone rather than a will they/won’t they kind of vibe. They’re complicated. I guess they’re complicated characters, right? So it would be difficult to hold down a relationship. And also, I think, if they were mediocre at their jobs, then they wouldn’t get anything done, so you wouldn’t tune in every week. So they need a sort of devotional element to how they consider their work, I think. And that means a singularity of mind, a singularity of purpose, which doesn’t leave much room, I don’t think, for relationships.”

You’d think with 5 seasons (albeit, British seasons, so they’re a bit on the short side) under his belt, there might be a dearth of challenges for Evans, but this season sees the star take his first crack at the directing side of things on the Endeavour set with an episode entitled “Apollo.”

“It was an extraordinary experience from start to finish,” says Evans of the opportunity.  “I’d been directing for a few years prior to that, but it was the first time I’ve done anything that I was in. And it was extraordinary because you realize what you can achieve if you’re prepared and if you’ve got a good team around you.  The challenging thing was because we shot it first. We shot my episode, the one that I directed, first. And then I did my edit in the post production over the weekend while we were shooting the next three episodes.  So that was challenging, only in terms of trying to keep a couple of stories in your head at all times and to give every moment its full weight and attention. But it’s, like, an extraordinary opportunity, and I just wanted to make the most of it. And it was an amazing experience.”

As the series continues, and the Morse we see in Endeavour comes closer to the Morse fans knew from Inspector Morse (played by the late great John Thaw), it’s inevitable that fans look for similarities growing in the characters. But if they are happening, it’s not due to anything deliberate on Evans’ part. “I still haven’t seen him, to be totally honest with you. And that’s purposeful, and that’s with a huge amount of respect because I know they will be brilliant when I do get around to watching them. I think, if there is any similarities in terms of the character, then that needs to be born out of the writing. And I don’t think it’s, like I think you would be shortchanging the audience if you were to come in and do an impression and to start morphing into something else. But with, obviously, an enormous amount of respect to all of the things that have gone prior to it because my first port of call was the books and the imagination and I still want all of that now, you know, as we draw to a close.”

On the changes we’ve come to see in Morse’s character over 5 seasons of Endeavour, Evans has this to say, “I think he’s way less idealistic and probably slightly more realistic now about it. I would like to think he is less than a loner and knows that he’s got people who have got his back at work, that you can open yourself to rely upon people. Maybe that’s true for me as well. Perhaps that’s true for me too. But maybe that’s just a thing of growing old, you know, getting older. You realize that it’s not all about you. It’s about a team, and it’s about working together to sort something out and to have a bit of humility, I guess, in it all. I would say it’s probably the same for the both of us.”

Endeavour airs its four-episode sixth season on ITV in the UK starting 10th February, and PBS will air the season from 16th June.

Did you pick up on the little mention of Endeavour coming to a close that Evans mentioned? So did I, and you can find my brief interview with him in the next day or two. In the meantime, tide yourself over with this trailer for season 6: