Veteran actor Christopher Eccleston says “The A Word” is a rare treat for him, considering its lighthearted approach to storytelling.
“I’ve always been cast in roles which are very angry, tortured and serious,” Eccleston, 56, tells The Post. “I was grateful to ‘The A Word’ for letting me try out a comedic role.”
The BBC series (airing on Sundance TV in the US) follows the dysfunctional Hughes family, which includes kid Joe (Max Vento), parents Alison and Paul (Morven Christie and Lee Ingleby) and kooky grandfather Maurice (Eccleston). They’re all grappling with the revelation that Joe has autism. Season 3, premiering Nov. 4 at 11 p.m., sees the family further dealing with the fallout from Alison and Paul’s divorce.
“[The show is] life, really. All done with great humanity and love,” says Eccleston. “I feel it’s very important for visibility and inclusiveness. Autism touches many families in the UK. We’re not soapboxing; it’s presented with great humor. [Writer Peter Bowker] has famously said he writes about reality.”
Eccleston says it was Bowker who first approached him about appearing in the series, which premiered in 2016.
“I worked with him before on a project called ‘Flesh and Blood’ which was a very modest drama on BBC 2, but hugely successful on the [film festival] circuits,” says Eccleston.
Maurice can be abrasive (he tells his doctor, “I’m not 60 in the way other men are! I’m not a normal man!”) but, in Season 3, he settles into a relationship with music teacher and single mom Louise Wilson (Pooky Quesnel, “EastEnders”).
“Maurice has found some contentment. And of course, being Maurice, he immediately tries to put a bomb in his own contentment,” says Eccleston. “But we’ve seen his initial courtship with Louise. [This season] we see a divorce through an autistic child’s point of view. For Maurice, he sees the impact of that on Joe and tries to help in his inimitable fashion. I think Maurice is ultimately a force for the good — he’s just a little bit too forceful, most of the time.”
In addition to characters on the autism spectrum, the show features a range of people with special needs such as Louise’s son Ralph (played by Leon Harrop, who has Down Syndrome like his character).
“Myself and Leon have developed a beautiful friendship,” says Eccleston. “Leon is an incredible natural actor. He’s an actor’s dream, because he’s always in the moment. You can become quite cynical as an actor — turn up, phone your performance in, and go home. And you can’t do that with him.”
Eccleston’s prolific career has spanned everything from long-running classic hits (playing the ninth incarnation of the iconic Doctor in “Doctor Who”) to big-screen blockbusters (“Thor: The Dark World,” “28 Days Later”) to critically acclaimed niche shows (“The Leftovers”). He’s also starred in plays such as “Macbeth” and “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
“I think, as a young actor, you get this misapprehension that you’ve got to play Hamlet to be taken seriously, and so I went down that road,” he says. “I wanted to be the serious tortured artist, but also [England] is class-bound. And if you’re a working-class kid as I was, you’re not really taken seriously. So you have to go after the classical heavyweight roles to make them have to [pay attention].
“You have to bloody their nose. And that’s what I decided to do.”
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