Philip Glenister made his name as a very un-PC copper in Life On Mars. He talks to Steve Pratt about his new TV role in Demons, his fear of big noses and of being admired by Harvey Keitel.

THERE was one moment during the making of ITV1’s new Saturday adventure series, Demons, when Philip Glenister, alias Gene Hunt from Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes, wondered what on earth he was doing.

At the time the actor, who gained iconic status as tough-talking, un-PC detective Gene Hunt, was running down a London street at midnight being chased by an imaginary monster.

How very different to time-travelling cop show Life On Mars and its sequel Ashes To Ashes that have turned the always-amiable Glenister from an everyday actor into a TV star.

Unlike others who’ve followed that same path, he’s remained level-headed and approachable.

Serious about his work, but regarding the trappings of fame with a sense of humour that’s needed if you’re not to be overwhelmed by them.

He hasn’t changed since I first met him when he was working as a film publicist before going to drama school in his mid-20s. He once recalled I’d met him even earlier when I went to the Glenister home to interview his older actor brother, Robert, whose current TV roles include Hustle and Spooks.

At the press launch of Demons, he takes time to come over, shake my hand and ask how I am.

He doesn’t need to, but he’s not one to retreat behind a safety net of publicists and minders.

He’d taken time off from filming the second series of Ashes To Ashes for BBC1 to talk about his role as American Rupert Galvin, vampire hunter and pursuer of ghosts and ghoulies in Demons.

The role was written as a Texan “and I thought, ‘b*****s to that, I’m not playing Texan for 11 weeks in Bermondsey’,” Glenister recalls.

“They said I could play English if I wanted to but part of the challenge was to play American.

They sent some of the rushes over to Sony in New York and this email came back about the accent which they found acceptable, but more from Cincinatti.”

Galvin is apt to despatch a monster with a phrase along the lines of “I shall smite thee” – the sort of dialogue you have to say tongue-incheek to make it work, he notes He did some of his own stunts, although left most of the action stuff to co-star Christian Cooke, whom he calls “younger and more nimble than me”. One scene involved Glenister flying back over the bonnet of a car, wearing a harness and with a crash pad mat to land on.

“That was okay. I quite like doing stunts as long as it doesn’t involve horses,” he says.

Why not horses? “Cos they are stupid,”

comes the reply, following by memories of mounting up for Ridley Scott’s medieval epic, Kingdom Of Heaven.

“We had to shoot out of the enclosure on the horses and Ridley said to all of us that anyone who didn’t want to do it should put up their hand. I was the first. I wasn’t too keen on doing it. Then all the main guys put up their hands, so they had to double all of us.”

Spending a day in a water tank for another scene in Demons was less pleasant. “It’s not a barrel of laughs being submerged in water all day,” he says.

“We did it at Ealing Studios. The water wasn’t too bad but the hardest thing was the final bit where we’re up to our necks and had to swim under a cage. Because you can’t see, you panic for a moment.”

The good thing was that a hot tub was provided for cast members to use after the scene had been shot. “Once we got in there, we wouldn’t come out,” he adds.

Demons is very much in the style of ITV’s other early Saturday evening hit, Primeval.

Glenister may try it out on his eldest daughter Millie, who’s six. “It’s quite scary in places.

Some of the CGI monsters are pretty heavy but they’re going for the family slot in the schedules,”

he says.

“My eldest daughter is much more resilient than me. At that age I saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and was terrified by the Childcatcher. I have this thing about noses, ever since I saw Snow White and the witch with the big nose.

Then Robert Helpman turned up with a big nose in Chitty. I think it’s a big nose thing I have.”

The popularity of his character Gene Hunt in Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes has raised his profile but, in one way, made it more difficult for him as many of the roles offered are just variations on that character.

“I turn down anything I think is too similar to the Gene Hunt type role – if it’s a copper set in the 70s and whose initials are GH.”

The series was shown on BBC America and has now been remade, changing the setting to the US and with movie tough guy Harvey Keitel in the Hunt role.

‘ISPOKE to him. Me and Harvey, my new best friend,” says Glenister cheekily. He didn’t realise Keitel was playing the role and was on holiday this summer when he got a telephone call from Stephen Garrett, who runs Kudos, the company that makes the show.

“He was in LA for the readthrough of the US show and said Harvey wanted a word. I’m in Alderney in the Channel Islands, and get this call from Harvey, who is lovely and says, ‘you bastard, how am I going to follow you, you played the part so well’.

“He asked if I had any notes for him on the part. I said something very naff and theatrical like, ‘it’s a wonderful part and just enjoy’. He said he was going to wear white slip-on shoes as an homage to me.

“And he does. I’ve seen the first episode and it’s strange because it’s very similar to ours, shot for shot, but set in an American context.”

Gene Hunt means he gets recognised in the street, although it’s not something he actively notices. “I don’t wander the streets looking to see if people notice. If people come up and say they enjoy the show, that’s fine. As long as they’re not coming up and saying you’re rubbish, I hate what you do.”

He reckons they see Hunt as a mouthpiece acting on their behalf by saying things they want to say. “Maybe that’s why they say hello in the street. They want to meet Gene Hunt, not me,” says Glenister.

■ Demons begins on ITV1 on Saturday, Jan 3 at 7.20pm.