From Coronation Street to The Control Room: Marvel star explains how MCU shaped new role

·11-min read
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

The name Iain De Caestecker may not ring many bells but if you're a fan of Marvel's Agents of SHIELD there's a chorus sounding out right about now.

One half of FitzSimmons, De Caestecker has grown in popularity since playing SHIELD agent Leopold Fitz and for those of us who have seen his work it's not hard to imagine why.

The role of Fitz is just one of many, as De Caestecker has been around for a while now. So long in fact he cut his acting teeth on the cobbled streets of Coronation Street.

Since then he's matured into an actor with empathetic and emotive range, something which really shines in his latest role on The Control Room.

De Caestecker plays Gabe, an emergency call handler who one day receives a call from an estranged friend that turns his world around in a totally unexpected way. His nervous energy is enough to give those watching palpitations.

As we follow him on his journey the question becomes, 'How far would you go for someone you love?' and if you're Gabe, that's pretty far.

In an exclusive interview with Digital Spy De Caestecker discusses what it was like to play someone pushed to the brink of his emotional capacity and how his MCU experience helped shape the role of Gabe.

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

The Control Room was really, really intense and gripping. What made you say yes to the role of Gabe?

Lots of different things. Initially, when I read it, it was just as gripping on the page as it will be on the screen.

It was a real page-turner. I had palpitations for days afterwards. I think. Nick [Leather - the screenwriter] doesn't leave much time to even breathe in between. It's just relentless.

He's a great thriller writer, but at the same time he… I think he's a bit of a romantic as well and at the core of the story is a love story, which is extremely… It's a very complex one. There are facets in there that will be relatable to everyone in different ways, to varying degrees. So the marrying of those two things, I thought, was really cool.

Also, lastly, the character of Gabe, that was the thing that probably attracted me most.

He was – you always have to say this in inverted commas – he's an "ordinary" guy, but he is put into extraordinary circumstances, well out of his seeming capabilities.

I was really interested to do a type of thriller that hopefully tried to go towards the reality of what someone like him, who's thrust into a world like that, and a set of circumstances like that, what would really happen to his psyche.

Because for me, the interesting thing, I thought, was: "Would I have a panic attack?"

Yeah. It looked like he had a breakdown. It was so cool to see.

Yeah. Oh, thanks. That's part of it. You need to just close the curtains, and just sit in a room, and shiver for three days. That's what I would be like. I get nervous when the police walk by in the streets.

So, yeah. All those things.

What was it like to shoot with all of that intensity and all of that build-up?

Actually, the shooting of it was quite different. The chase scene in episode one, we shot the whole shoot in different periods.

I think on the first day, we shot some of it, and then… because it was on different locations, and we had to use a green-screen thing.

So you just had to prepare a lot beforehand. I would say, "I'm going to do this. Is that OK? Raise your objections now, because once it's set in place, I can't go back."

I don't find those things as fun to film, really.

But it was definitely a different experience watching that back for you?

Yeah, it was. It's weird to watch things back, in a way. When you watch something like that, it's interesting.

One of our favourite things about you is your depth and range of emotions when you act. How was it to tap into those emotions for this role?

That's really nice to say. I enjoy that kind of stuff, actually. I prefer it when someone is pushed to the extremities of emotions. I think as an actor, it's just fun. There's a thin line between becoming melodramatic – which I'm always conscious of but I like doing that stuff.

I like seeing how far I can push it, teetering on that line. That's where I feel most comfortable, weirdly enough.

Sorry to dip into Agents of SHIELD, but it kind of reminded us of that split psyche between Dr Leopold Fitz and the real Fitz.

Photo credit: Jennifer Clasen/Disney General Entertainment Content - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jennifer Clasen/Disney General Entertainment Content - Getty Images

Oh, cool. It's funny, because I was just talking to someone in an interview, and they said Nick had said that he wrote it with me in mind.

Which is really lovely and I go, well, God, that's part of the reason I read it, it was an amalgamation of a lot of things that I relate to personally, but also it's a character that I feel like I've had the most enjoyment doing.

It was funny, that, because I think that sometimes you can experiment with something in one character… then when you have a character who has a similar scenario, you already have this thing that you've cooked a little, and then you put the icing on top.

It's maturing.

Yeah. We're talking about cakes now.

What do you think makes Gabe so loyal to Sam? She's damaged but she's a little bit unlikeable sometimes.

I think you could say she was unlikeable just because of what she does but I guess when you look into the reasons why you do that, you start to feel: "Oh, God, she was put, very much, into a difficult position."

The thing about the two of them is, they have this unspeakable and also unbreakable bond. Even after all these years of not seeing each other, it's kind of as strong as ever.

I guess the same way that Gabe takes that first plunge into taking the van for her, it's the same way as, I think, she had a similar scenario when she had to phone Gabe that time. You know, she was like, "I'm trapped in a corner, and there's only one person I can think of that will help me."

That's what I really like about thrillers like this.

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

What do you think is going through Gabe's mind when he finds out that Sam has lied to him about the dead body? We were thinking: "Why didn't you check the van?"

I know, I know. Yeah, I know. I thought the same thing. I think his thinking behind it was: 'Maybe if I don't see this thing, I'm not involved in that way. I'm just getting rid of this f**king van.'

But, yeah. When that moment happens, when he finds out, it's just heartbreaking.

I remember the first time I read it, and I had no idea how it was going to end, and I was, of course, straight away, feeling a huge degree of anger towards Sam as well. That twist was a really cool twist, I thought.

I mean, there's no other way… You don't really have to do much there as an actor, I don't think. If somebody's watched up to that point, I hope they're following the story to the point where it's enough just to find out she's done that.

There's not much ability needed to portray or get across that this is fucked up.

Later Sam was responsible for the fire in the Christmas tree farm when they were younger. The one in which Robbo's dad passes away but Gabe takes the blame. How do you think that event – and Gabe covering up for Sam at the time – manifested itself in their adult life?

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC


I think there's a lot of guilt in Gabe.

There's a thing of: 'Have I done the right thing?' Part of jumping into the narrative that he does is, trying to correct wrongs from the past.

I think a big part of what we talked about beforehand was the loss of his mother, and how much that shaped him as a person, actually; the fact that he's never properly come to terms with it. It's been an unspoken tragedy in his life.

Sam was this one person who's had a similar experience, and they never had to talk about it but they were both, at the time, these kind of pariahs. Weirdly, after something like that, they found solace in each other, in a massive way.

So when he loses Sam as well when he's a young boy – I think that's why when we find him at the start, Amy (Neil - the director) and I were quite keen to show that this is a guy, it's not like he's iving a happy life and suddenly he gets boom. He's not living a good life already, you know? He doesn't have much to lose.

He's kind of just existing at that point, in the beginning.

Yeah. That's a perfect way to put it. There's no joy in his life. He's just kind of coasting through. I think he's crafted a little, comfortable world for himself that he can exist in. He doesn't have to test himself, and he doesn't have to confront his past, you know? 'I'll just get by.'

Really randomly, in my research of you this morning, we found out that you were in Coronation Street as Adam Barlow.

Yeah.

Do you remember any of that?

Yeah, I do.

Was that one of your first roles?

I guess kind of. I'd done a few things when I was younger. I went to drama class, and someone saw me and cast me in a couple of things.

I can remember a little bit of the experience. I can remember my first day there, and that's about it. The people there were really lovely to me. But in terms of the acting stuff, I don't think I really understood what that was back then.

I was just out in town with my mates the next day, and people were coming up to me in the street. It was quite jarring. I remember, it was quite scary at the time, because I didn't realise the pull that that show had.

It's one of the top soaps in the UK. How long would you say it took you to get used to fame or being recognised?

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images


I don't know. It's not too crazy for me, to be honest. I've been quite fortunate in that I've mostly played characters with a much sturdier and more enviable moral compass than I do.

So a lot of the time, people come up to me in the street, and they'll say, 'I really enjoyed that character,' and that's a really lovely thing. To have somebody come up and just appreciate something.

So I'm lucky. When I have it, that's the kind of thing I have but a lot of the time, I'm still very anonymous.

I think: be careful what you wish for. I guess I have friends who have been, or are, at stages where it's a bit more consuming. It's not always as fun as you would think.

What's next for you, and what would be your dream role?

Photo credit: Jennifer Clasen/Disney General Entertainment Content - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jennifer Clasen/Disney General Entertainment Content - Getty Images

What would be a dream role? I don't know. I feel like I've done some of them already. Everything's just a bonus now.

I'd love to do something just for the fun of it. Some kind of cool action sci-fi film or something, just because I think it'd be quite fun but I guess I had that with Marvel to a certain extent.

There's nothing left.

That's not true.

No, I'm sure I'll think of something as soon as we finish.

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

All episodes of The Control Room are available to watch on BBC iPlayer

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