New Drama, ITV, Monday, Tuesday: The Guilty
He was such a villian in Chancer that they've written a two-part thriller especially for him. He's the nastiest man on TV this week.
It's the pair of soft suede loafers that give him away. Hidden from the cameras, beneath his stern pin-striped trousers, starched white shirt and collar, only the gentle soles of brash barrister Steven Vey give a clue to the real identity of the actor with the steely blue eyes.
Meet Michael Kitchen, who played the roguish Roman in Chancer and is now cast in the role of the venomous Vey. But, says Michael, "I'm not like that, honestly I'm charming and decent really."
He's arrived at the studios to cast off his casual denim attire and step into libel lawyer Vey's crisp court apparel. But he keeps his own feet - his shoes and socks - firmly on the ground.
In the two-part thriller The Guilty, he plays a ruthless QC hiding a terrible secret. "It's a bit disturbing to think this role was written for me," he muses. "The writer claimed there was no one better to play the part - I'm not quite sure how to take that. Vey is easily the nastiest man I've ever played. Roman wasn't terrifically pleasant, but he was a lunatic. This man is operating with his mental faculties intact. He's of sound mind. He knows exactly what he's doing, which is what makes it so unforgivable."
Michael and his fellow actors spent a morning at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, watching real-life lawyers at work. "It helped to see how they move, how they behave, how much they can get away with," he explains.
In fact, Michael's parents considered the legal profession for him - though he wasn't so keen on the idea. "We never exactly saw eye to eye on my career," says the 43-year-old actor from Leicester.
His parents were bewildered at his fascination for the stage. "I think they imagined I was going to be a very expensive item," he smiles. He spent two giddy summers as a teenager in London with the National Youth Theatre, and went on to become a stalwart of London's Royal Court Theatre, the Young Vic and the National Theatre.
His other TV work includes The Brontės of Haworth, Churchill's People and Brimstone and Treacle - and his films include Out of Africa.
In the Seventies, the camera-shy actor found himself the centre of attention, as one half of a head-lining partnership - Joanna Lumley was his girlfriend for several years. It was even rumoured they would marry in 1979. But, says Michael, he was never ready to settle down at an early age.
"I would have made a hopeless father in those days, and fortunately I was wise enough to know that. But I did begin to think I was being awkward about finding the right person. And then, five years ago, I met Rowena."
They met at the Royal Shakespeare Company, where Rowena was working part-time as a dresser. Now they have a three-and-a-half-year-old son, Jack.
"He was born two weeks before my 40th birthday, I just squeezed him in," laughs Michael. "He has meant vast changes in my life, hellish responsibilities, but I'm enjoying every bit of it."
The family now plan to go into business. What sort? "I'm not telling," he grins cagily. This is the shy side of Michael Kitchen. "I was at the BBC when a very pleasant chap asked me to sign a piece of card," he says. "He knew my face but clearly didn't know my name and looked embarrassed after I'd autographed it. I don't think many people know who I am, but I don't mind at all."
And heaving a heavy coat over his denims, those suede loafers exit snappily out of the door.