Peaky Blinders' Arthur: "I get a lot of love from fans"

Morgan Jeffery
Photo credit: BBC/Caryn Mandabach/Robert Viglasky

From Digital Spy

As baby-faced gangster Tommy Shelby, Cillian Murphy is ostensibly the leading man of BBC Two's brutal Brummie crime saga Peaky Blinders.

But it takes nothing away from Murphy to acknowledge that, in truth, the show is an ensemble piece, with powerhouse performances from the likes of Helen McCrory and Joe Cole.

As the uncouth Arthur Shelby – Tommy's eldest sibling – actor Paul Anderson has become a particular fan favourite. As Digital Spy wrote in a review of the third series opener in 2016, Peaky Blinders "has a real secret weapon... in Paul Anderson, his Arthur Shelby the more savage counterpart to Murphy's magnetic mobster.

"A thug, a drunk, even a racist, [Arthur is] still somehow sympathetic in Anderson's hands."

Photo credit: BBC/Caryn Mandabach/Robert Viglasky

Ahead of Peaky returning for a fourth series this week, Anderson tells Digital Spy: "I do – I get a lot of love. I get a lot of people saying to me, 'I'm an Arthur.' The one thing I know when I play Arthur is that I don't just want to be brutal and a horrible, nasty individual.

"There's no enjoyment in just playing the bad guy, or someone who's just immoral for the sake of it. There must be a reason. And also, I like to think with Arthur that he has a vulnerability to him, and a sentimentality, and a conscience. And I try to portray that. So although he does wrong and he does bad things, he's not without guilt, and he suffers for that."

Becoming the Birmingham bulldog is a transformation for London-born Anderson, from the traditional Peaky Blinders haircut ("I find it very hard... it's a very strong look. And I need to remember that it's not me, because I'm very vain!") to the character's strong accent.

Photo credit: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

"I was always unsure about the accent," he says. "Birmingham was one of those accents where I thought, 'Wait a minute... Brummie? I don't think I can do it.' But now, because I know Arthur so well, it just feels very natural, because I'm not putting on an accent anymore, if that makes sense. It just comes from a place of truth."

At his brother's behest, Arthur has beaten, tortured and killed. But Anderson still hopes that his character will find peace before the series ends, even as the latest episodes promise to throw more violence and danger his way.

"I think he can find peace. I think people can change, and I think he can find it. I mean, I've asked myself this question, especially in season 4. You'll see – the opportunity is there for him to walk away, and it's like... why doesn't he?

Photo credit: BBC/Caryn Mandabach/Robert Viglasky

"Those thoughts of going to America with [wife] Linda, setting up a convenience store – I don't know. I don't think that would satisfy Arthur, to be honest. I don't think he would be very good working behind a tourist shop counter, selling bags of sugar. Do you know what I mean?

"Linda might want that, and Arthur might think he wants that, but when he gets it, does it compete? I don't think he'd be very happy."

Arthur, according to Anderson, is always happiest when he's at Tommy's side, and that's always where he'll return. Even if it kills him.

"[Series creator and writer] Steven Knight, he always surprises you. You can never predict what Steven's going to do. I often try.

"I thought Arthur was going to die in season 3. Because he has left a lot of carnage in his wake. He's upset a lot of people. So I thought, 'I'm going to turn a page and there'll be an assassin in front of me.' And you still can feel that way, certainly, this season. I don't know what Steven has in store."

Peaky Blinders returns to BBC Two on Wednesday, November 15 at 9pm.

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