A Kinder, Gentler 'Doc Martin' Clunes Americans know actor Martin Clunes best for his role in the British comedy series, Doc Martin, about a London surgeon who develops a fear of blood and takes up a general practice in a Cornish village. Unfortunately, his distaste for people doesn't endear him much to the locals.
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A Kinder, Gentler 'Doc Martin' Clunes

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A Kinder, Gentler 'Doc Martin' Clunes

A Kinder, Gentler 'Doc Martin' Clunes

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NEAL CONAN, host: Like many British movie and TV villages, Portwenn is inhabited by a group of eccentric characters, none more eccentric than the misanthropic Dr. Martin Ellingham, a British - a brilliant London surgeon who developed a fear of blood and retrained to be a general practitioner in a sleepy seaside village in Cornwall.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) I think there's something suspicious going on down here, Doc. This mole just appeared from nowhere.

MARTIN CLUNES: (as Dr. Martin Ellingham) Has it changed shape?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Nope.

CLUNES: (as Dr. Martin Ellingham) It's not inflamed or raised. Does it bleed or itch?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Of course not. But it just feels suspicious.

CLUNES: (as Dr. Martin Ellingham) No.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Are you positive, Doc?

CLUNES: (as Dr. Martin Ellingham) Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Well. Oh, Doc, there just was one other thing that I wanted to discuss with you. I've got this feeling.

CLUNES: (as Dr. Martin Ellingham) A suspicious feeling?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) No, no. It's more like when you're traveling by train.

CLUNES: (as Dr. Martin Ellingham) I see.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Well, you got your newspaper, and you got your tea. But you just can't settle because you're not where you want to be yet.

CLUNES: (as Dr. Martin Ellingham) Do you have any chest pain, dizziness or nausea? Then pull up your trousers and go away.

CONAN: Martin Clunes is Doc Martin, filming a fifth series for Britain's ITV. Seasons one through four ran on PBS, and they're available on DVD from Acorn Media. If you'd like to talk with Martin Clunes about "Doc Martin," give us a call. Hopefully, he won't tell you to shut up and go away. Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email, talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Martin Clunes joins us now from his home in Dorset, in England, and thanks very much for being with us today.

CLUNES: It's my pleasure.

CONAN: And I apologize. We've been mispronouncing your name. I thought it was Clunes. We'll try to get it right from now on.

CLUNES: Well, I think we've been - I mispronounce it. But Clunes is the Scottish pronunciation, and it's a Scottish name, but I'm not Scottish, really.

CONAN: Well, we'll let you pronounce it the way you'd prefer, so.

CLUNES: Oh, thank you.


CONAN: Is it fun to be so mean?

CLUNES: You know, I'm ashamed to say it is. It's really liberating.


CLUNES: All those, you know, we're so crippled by social mores in this country, you know, you can't. There's a precedent for everything in England. Do you know what I mean? A right and a wrong way for everything. And, you know, this guy clearly operates in the wrong way, but it really frees you up to kind of yell at someone. Well, I mean, he frequently is unreasonable. But even that is fine. Why be reasonable? Well, you have to be reasonable in the real world, but this is fiction.

CONAN: This is fiction, and he is - there is a, I guess, a stereotype of surgeons as sort of arrogant and cold. They don't need to have people skills, and this is taken to the extreme in this case.

CLUNES: Yeah. You bet. Yeah.

CONAN: Your character is one of the most unlikely of ladies men, yet he somehow seems to attract considerable attention.

CLUNES: Yes. Yes. We can only assume that his grasp of medicine. I mean, he is a brilliant doctor, and that's his only salvation. And he's very clear on that subject. And, you know, when brook fools lightly. But - so we...


CLUNES: ...can only assume that the extremely beautiful Louisa Glasson falls for that, but he does have weaknesses. You know, there's jinx in his armor. I mean, well, he has a phobia of blood, which is quite crippling for a doctor, makes him throw up.

CONAN: And indeed, his secretary has to do most of the blood work.


CLUNES: Oh, yes, come the end, yes, yes. She becomes the phlebotomist.

CONAN: It's also interesting. Perhaps, the character is cast as attractive to the ladies because the producer would like her husband to look good.


CLUNES: Yeah. It could be that.


CONAN: Your wife is the producer of the program, and you've worked - you two own the company that produces the company - the show?

CLUNES: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, company is a big word. It's basically - when we're not in production it's us and a desk.


CLUNES: We don't carry baggage. We used to, but then when we got out of London, you realize there's a lot you can do on the phone, and here we have an expandable office. It's usually just a phone that gets forwarded down here when we're not in production. But when we are in production, we're about between 60 to 80, hundred people strong.

CONAN: And time seems to have a very different character, passes differently in Portwenn.

Through long breaks between the two series, no time elapses whatsoever.

CLUNES: No. No. Well - no, sometimes no time elapses. And sometimes we left a six-month gap between - in story terms, between the third and fourth. But it's true, we only ever we only ever film it once every two years because it messes up our daughter's summer, to be honest.


CLUNES: All her life, we've been filming in Cornwall. Well, since she was sort of three we've been filming in Cornwall in summer. And she loves Cornwall. Don't get me wrong. It's a great place for children. I always think children and dogs don't lie. And you know, they just light up when they see the Cornish beaches, but we were always distracted. So every other summer we have a real life.

CONAN: A real life. What do you do with it?

CLUNES: We have a farm. We keep - we're big on horses. We have 14 horses and that takes up a lot of time, and just basically loving where we live. It's kind of like paradise for us.

CONAN: I have to say, animals? That would strike fans of the show as unlikely. Doc Martin does not get along with animals.

CLUNES: Well, yeah, he hates them. But that was my idea, because to me...


CLUNES: ...(unintelligible) doesn't like a dog, they're wrong.


CONAN: Well, dogs like him. He just doesn't like them.

CLUNES: Well, I thought that was rather funny to have dogs just adore him. And the terrier that we have at the moment, Dodger, is such a clever little dog. Just - you know, he'll cock his leg on a common(ph), he'll hit his mark every time without a tape mark on the floor. He'll just get always - then toward the gate. He's brilliant. I know humans who can't do that.

CONAN: Let's see if we get some callers in on the conversation. We're talking with Martin Clunes, a British actor who mispronounces his own name and...


CONAN: ...he stars as Doc Martin, 800-989-8255, email us talk@npr.org. And let's go next to Sylvia, Sylvia with us from Orlando.


CONAN: Hi, Sylvia.

SYLVIA: How are you?

CONAN: I'm well. Thank you.

SYLVIA: Hi, Martin.

CLUNES: Hi, Sylvia. How you doing?

SYLVIA: I'm great. I enjoy your show so much. It makes me laugh(ph) .

CLUNES: Oh, thank you.


CLUNES: Oh, good. That's the plan.

SYLVIA: Yes. Are they ever getting married?

CLUNES: Oh, everybody else asks me this. Well, you know, we can hang on to this, this will they/won't they scenario for as long as - well, not indefinitely, I'm afraid. But we'll keep hanging on in there. We've just shot, finished shooting the fifth series which I am at liberty to tell you contains their child, the poor baby.

SYLVIA: (Unintelligible) last episode.


CLUNES: That's right. Yeah, when we had the baby there. Well, he's with us throughout the series.

SYLVIA: And it's a he, okay...

CLUNES: It's a boy, yes.

CONAN: It's a boy. Well, congratulations.

CLUNES: It's a boy. Oh, no, I spoiled that. But yes, it's a boy. I can tell you that. So that kind of - you know, that alter things for them because just before the - they had the baby, they kind of reached the decision that, you know, love each other, though they kind of seem to, they just can't live with one another. And - but having the baby really throws them back together and rekindles that. But you know, not a - they're not a normal couple. And it would be - it wouldn't our show if the course of love ran true and freely.

CONAN: Sylvia, thanks very much for the call.

SYLVIA: Thank you.

CLUNES: See ya.

CONAN: Listeners may also remember you as one of the lead character in another TV series, "Men Behaving Badly." It is, though, hard to imagine characters more different than Gary Strang and Doc Martin. For one thing, Doc Martin falls dead asleep after just a couple of glasses of wine.

CLUNES: Yeah, he's bad with drink.

CONAN: Yes, he is.

CLUNES: Yes. Instantly morose. Yeah, poor thing.


CONAN: And Gary could drink a few.

CLUNES: Ah, yeah, he liked - yeah, he did like a few. Yeah. Those were the days.


CONAN: We can hear that your character is not very much like Doc Martin. Is your character a little bit more like the...


CONAN: ...like Gary Strang?

CLUNES: Somewhere between the two, it's a scary thought, isn't it. No, maybe not. I mean, you know, I had a go it at the appropriate time. But the thing about "Men Behaving Badly" was that it was kind of at the inappropriate time. They were, you know, both in their 20s and they should have got that stuff out their system.

CONAN: And sort of in eternal adolescence.

CLUNES: Oh, yeah, yeah. Shocking. And people say, you know, is there any chance of, you know, you remaking that show and picking up the story? No, you think, my god, how seedy. I'm 50 this year.


CONAN: Good heavens. It's hard to imagine what they have done after all this...

CLUNES: It will be awful. It would take on a real...


CLUNES: ...a really bad whiff(ph), I think.

CONAN: Let's go next to Bryan(ph), and Bryan with us from Bordentown in New Jersey.

BRYAN: Oh, hello. Mr. Doc Martin.

CLUNES: Hi. Hi, Bryan. How are you doing?

BRYAN: Fine. I guess my question is, I've stayed in the town that is called Portwenn, it was before your last season was being filmed and just...

CLUNES: Oh, yeah.

BRYAN: ...wires all over the place. So I'd like to know, when the crew descends upon there...


BRYAN: ...I guess block off streets for filming and - is there a - is there a happiness (unintelligible) many years?

CLUNES: There's a mixture, Bryan. There's - I mean, it is a mixed blessing having a crew - you know, a film crew in your town. I mean, the actual crew, the filming of it, can be quite obstructive, but it's worse for - it's worse - I mean, you'll have noticed there's a bottleneck down the hill where cars just reach an impasse and can't get pass one another. And there's an unwritten law that if you're a certain way down the hill, you have to give right to whoever's coming uphill or whatever. And nobody knows that unwritten law, and most of the people going through there are visitors, so it's a real mess. When we're there, we're actually marshalling the traffic.

BRYAN: Last March, we walked the closed(ph) path.

CLUNES: Oh, beautiful.

BRYAN: So we're going back there.

CONAN: What's the name of the actual village, Bryan?

BRYAN: Should I tell?

CONAN: Yeah, why not?

BRYAN: Port Isaac.

CLUNES: Yeah, Port Isaac.

BRYAN: It's a little...

CLUNES: On the north coast of Cornwall, north coast of Cornwall. It's really beautiful.


CLUNES: You know, it was pretty before we were there. And it was used as a location before we were there.

CONAN: So perhaps in the annals of British television, same as - eventually as Portmeirion.


CLUNES: Maybe. Maybe. Portmeirion I think was actually built for visitors. But Port Isaac is kind of built - was built for visitors before we got there. Most of the properties there are for rent.

BRYAN: Or like...

CONAN: I'm sorry, Bryan. You were saying?

BRYAN: Or like Torquay.

CLUNES: Torquay.

CONAN: Torquay, yes.

CLUNES: Yeah. With "Fawlty Towers." Yeah, that's right.


CONAN: Bryan, thanks very much for the call.


CONAN: We're talking here with actor Martin Clunes, star of the TV series "Doc Martin." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And Elaine is on the line, Elaine calling us from Brighton in Michigan.

ELAINE: Hi, Mr. Clunes. This is...

CLUNES: Hi, Elaine.

ELAINE: (Unintelligible) I met you when I was in Port Isaac in May. I was the poetry lady who liked Mr. Chips.

CLUNES: Hello there, poetry lady. How are you, Elaine?

ELAINE: And thought I can say hi again.


CLUNES: How are you doing?

ELAINE: I'm doing well, thank you. And the question I had for you is I mailed a packet of poetry to the (unintelligible) farm. And Tommy(ph) wrote some script ideas. And we were wondering if you ever received that package.

CLUNES: We did receive that package. The poetry got passed on to me, which I read and enjoyed. And I'm not sure what happened to the story ideas. They'll have probably gone to the relevant department.

CONAN: If you see them in season five, you may want to contact your lawyers, Elaine.


ELAINE: No, I'm just so happy you received them and...

CLUNES: We did.

ELAINE: (unintelligible) to talk to you again because I'm looking forward to the new show. And I so enjoyed meeting you. It was fantastic.

CLUNES: Well, we enjoyed seeing you around. You were there for a long time, weren't you?

ELAINE: Yeah, a couple of weeks and it was an amazing adventure. And all my friends are totally jealous here in Michigan.


CONAN: Elaine, thanks very much for the call.

ELAINE: Thank you.

CLUNES: Nice to speak to you again, Elaine.

CONAN: Here's an email from Dominic(ph): How do patients pay him? Does National Health compensate him enough to deal with all those quote-unquote, god-awful people?


CLUNES: I'm glad (unintelligible) god-awful. Well, that's how it works over here. I mean, he's - a local practice would be an NHS-run practice and you pay for any prescriptions, for any medication you took, but at a hugely reduced rate.

CONAN: Let's get...

CLUNES: It's quite - we're quite good at that.

CONAN: Mary's(ph) is on the line from St. Louis.

MARY: Yes, hi. First, I want to say I am addicted to "Doc Martin."


MARY: Your series is on my Christmas list already. But I'd like to ask the question, every character is so quirky. How do you decide or the writers decide how quirky you're going to be? And are the actors mostly local or are they brought in from London or somewhere else?

CLUNES: Well, we have - most actors in England live London. I don't, but most do. But there's quite - there's a healthy population of actors in Cornwall. But there's only so much work to go around, you know. But we have a mixture. Our principal cast are mainly from London. But we use a lot of local actors and actors from wherever they live, which make this show quite expensive to make because you have to put people up.

MARY: It's all wonderful. Thank you so much.

CLUNES: Oh, that's really kind of you. Thank you.

CONAN: And thanks for the call, Mary. I think you do benefit, though, from the fact that the Cornish accent falls easily on American ears. I was watching DVDs of a wonderful show called "Life on Mars," which takes place in Manchester. I had to watch it with a subtitles on. I couldn't figure out what they were saying.


CLUNES: Well, that's interesting. It's easier on the American ear, yeah. Well, I guess, it's kind of gentle, like a softened sort of - it's not - there's nothing too sharp in there, is there? We've had a lot of flack, actually, from people in Cornwall saying that's not a Cornish accent. But in truth, I've never heard two Cornish accents the same. So I don't know how - what measurement they're using.

CONAN: As the interloper, you don't have to do the Cornish accent.

CLUNES: No. I have a dialect filter.


CONAN: Let's go to one more call. Kim is on the line from Miami.

KIM: Hello there.

CONAN: You're on the air, Kim. Go ahead, please.

KIM: Hello there. I so...

CLUNES: Hi, Kim.

KIM: ...enjoy "Doc Martin."

CLUNES: Well, thanks.

KIM: I have enjoyed this show. My friend turned me on to it, and we've watched all the series. I'm looking forward to seeing series five.

CLUNES: Great.

KIM: And I was curious if the actress who plays your aunt, Stephanie Cole, will be in that.

CLUNES: No. (Unintelligible) no. No, no. For reasons that will - you know, will become apparent when you watch it. But she had a sister.


KIM: Oh.


KIM: That's lovely to know.

CONAN: A previously unknown sister.

CLUNES: Well, no, the characters (unintelligible) but they just chose not to speak about her.

CONAN: I see. She had a long history with going back. Had not been mentioned on the program.

KIM: I look forward to going...

CLUNES: She's played by Dame Eileen Atkins.

KIM: ...(unintelligible) to Cornwall because of this show. So thank you so much.

CLUNES: Oh, great.

KIM: I love your work.

CLUNES: Oh, that's very kind of you. But we have - the new aunt is played by Dame Eileen Atkins, who you may or may not know. But she's one of our heavy punchers over here.


CONAN: Kim, thanks for the call. Have a good time on your trip. Martin Clunes is star of the ITV series "Doc Martin." Seasons one through four available on DVD, now from Acorn Media. The box set of the TV movies that inspired the series will also be available August 30. Thanks so much for you time today. Martin Clunes joined us from his home in Dorset.

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