On the money! As Hustle bows out after eight series, its stars let the show’s secrets out of the bagNo, it’s not another trick, slick conman drama Hustle really is bowing out. Here, its stars spill a few of the show’s secrets (and reveal Robert Vaughn’s joining Corrie!)
Actor Robert Vaughn says working on the BBC drama Hustle has been ‘the most enjoyable eight years of my life as an actor’. Why Because of the people he’s met. ‘Not only have I enjoyed working with them; they’ve become very close personal friends,’ he says.
Blimey! This is the Robert Vaughn: Hollywood legend, star of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and last surviving member of The Magnificent Seven. This is a man who once ended up in a Mexican brothel with Steve McQueen, got drunk with Bette Davis and has Robert de Niro on his friends-and-family list. Is he really saying he enjoyed hanging out with the Hustle guys more
It’s rather startling – not least because Hustle is mostly filmed in Birmingham, and often in the rain. ‘There’s no special treatment for Mr V either,’ points out co-star Robert Glenister.
From left: Matt di Angelo, Robert Glenister, Adrian Lester and Robert Vaughn
‘I’m sure he would be able to demand a big Winnebago, and get whatever he asked for, but he never has. He is the most unstarry Hollywood star you could meet. But my goodness, he does have some tales to tell. Once, we filmed on location in the States and his old mate Robert Wagner was on set too. We went out to dinner and you should have heard them. Between them, those two had Hollywood sewn up.’
Alas, maybe Mr V, as the others call him, is getting so emotional about the Hustle gang because it is now no more. Unless it’s all a big scam – the ultimate Hustle con – this is the end for the BBC drama that brought us fake bank heists, casino capers and audacious scams to sell everything up to and including the Sydney Opera House.
A final series has been filmed. The last deck of (dodgy) cards has been flung into the air and the actors involved are getting ready to go straight. Or at least straight on to the next job, which in Vaughn’s case is – even more surreally – a fleeting role in Coronation Street, where he plays a wealthy American. He seems to love the Corrie team too.
Kelly Adams as Emma, the sole female member of the Hustle team
‘It’s an institution, isn’t it I like being part of national institutions – rather than mental institutions.’ Maybe it isn’t surprising that there’s something of a sombre air beneath the banter as today’s photoshoot with the four Hustle boys will be their last together. Since they’re in character, it’s an afternoon of sharp suits and bling cufflinks. If Adrian Lester – who plays Micky – seems at home with the card tricks, it’s because he is. All the actors were trained in the con-artist’s trade in the early days.
‘Watch your wallet,’ jokes one crew member. ‘They all know how to relieve you of it without you even noticing.’ Is it like this off set too, though When they’re filming, the guys all share flats in the same apartment block. They socialise together – or at least have done recently.
‘To be honest we didn’t at the start. But during the series we’ve just finished – because we knew it was the last – we made more of an effort,’ reveals Glenister, who plays Ash. So was the socialising up to Mr V’s standards, with bar-room brawls, dancing girls and other unmentionables Glenister falls about laughing. ‘No, wrong era! It was more in bed by 9.30pm stuff. Those heady days are long gone.
Some fan letters were weirder than others. I got one from a budgie once. First, the budgie’s owner wrote tome, then the budgie itself – in shaky handwriting.
‘Listening to Mr V’s stories reminds you of how much has changed. You don’t have the old hellraisers, like the Burtons and the O’Tooles. And the industry wouldn’t stand for it anyway. If you’ve been up late and look awful, filming stops, and a day’s missed filming can cost 10,000. It just isn’t done.’
What’s interesting about the Hustle gang is they’re such a diverse bunch. While Vaughn is Hollywood oldschool, the youngest member of the posse is Matt di Angelo, 24 and a veteran only of EastEnders and Strictly Come Dancing. He’s the one who seems most het up about how cultural norms have changed – perhaps because his generation will never know what it is to be an icon.
‘I feel depressed about it actually. You don’t have stars any more. You never saw Marilyn Monroe coming out of the off-licence with a packet of fags in a hoodie. There was a mystique. Now, it’s all dumbed down. People want to watch The Only Way Is Essex and Desperate Scousewives. It’s a disposable age, meaningless.’
Er, Matt, you made your name on EastEnders, then Strictly. It’s not exactly the path Gielgud travelled. ‘Yes, well if people knew the other stuff I’ve been offered they might see it differently. I was once offered 100K to be photographed with some herbal Viagra. I could be a millionaire if I didn’t care about longevity.’
Robert Vaughn on the set of “The Magnificent Seven” (left) and centre, in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (right)
In between you have Adrian Lester, 43, who’s had movie roles but who was, before Hustle, mostly known as one of the most promising theatre actors of his generation. And then there is Robert Glenister, 51, who’s a familiar face on British TV. He tells me that although he is mostly recognised from Hustle and Spooks, he’s never been allowed to forget an early acting role in Doctor Who.
‘Iwas 24 and I played an android. Very badly. It still haunts me. People come up to me with Doctor Who pictures to sign. Whatever I do, I’m nevergoing to escape that.’ When Hustle first appeared it was a very different sort of drama. ‘The look, the dress code, the plotting – it was all very new,’ agrees Lester. ‘All the talking directly to the audience stuff hadn’t been done on British TV before. It was quite radical.’
The high production values were what attracted Robert Vaughn. ‘The first time I knew the show had caught firein England was when I got into a taxi in London and gave the driver a fiver. He held it up and said, “Is this any good, mate” I said, “Oh, you’ve been watching the show,” and he said he loved it. I knew right away that something good was happening.’
The first series attracted over six million viewers and the last was more successful still. But which member of the Hustle team got the biggest bag of fan mail ‘Mr V, I would say,’ says Lester. ‘They all love him. We all got our fair share though, but some fan letters were weirder than others. I got one from a budgie once. First, the budgie’s owner wrote to me, then the budgie itself – in shaky handwriting. The budgie said it watched Hustle and looked out for me.’
The last series of Hustle has been filmed
Lester is in negotiations to play Othello at the National Theatre in 2013. Will he miss getting letters from budgies One assumes Othello at the National doesn’t attract a lot of them. ‘Yes, I will miss that level of connection with the audience,’ he says, deadpan. It rapidly becomes obvious that the Hustle actors are about as far from their on-screen personas as you get. Lester never wears slick suits, for starters.
‘I’m very much a jeans, trainers and baseball hat guy. When I’m dressedthat way I never get recognised. But if I put on a suit, I get someone shouting from across the street. It gets a bit irritating, actually. Nowthere are so many reality shows on – where the people are the same on and off screen – I think there’s a tendency to forget that people like me are actors. I’m amazed how many people can’t make the distinction.’
Lester is the one least reluctant to say goodbye to the show. Always worried about being typecast, he had told producers he would only come back for this final series if he could do some directing. So he directed the second episode where the storyline has him kidnapped and held in the boot of a car. ‘It wasn’t ideal,’ he says. ‘My very first chance to say, “Cut!” and I couldn’t do it because I was in the boot.’
He agrees with series creator Tony Jordan that the show had run its course. ‘The problem with a show like Hustle is that the premise is you can watch an episode without having seen the previous one. But this means it’s plot-driven, not character-driven and the plot doesn’t change: they’re bad, we con them. They think they’ve conned us. We win in the end.’ There was also, he admits, a practical reason to want out. ‘My daughters are ten and seven, and I’ve been away every summer filming, so I’ve missed out on all that time with them. Every year when they go back to school in September, I’m not there.’
So what happens to the Hustle actors now as they go their separate ways Actually, the future isn’t as assured for any of them as you might think. Glenister is currently getting rave reviews in a production of Noises Off at the Old Vic, but agrees he’s not expecting another primetime TV role to drop in his lap. ‘There was a time when you could expect to go from one show to another. Those days are gone. Budgets are being cut everywhere.’
He points out too that the slashing of movie budgets in Hollywood has meant film stars are increasingly putting themselves forward for roles in TV. Di Angelo jokes that he’s ‘unemployed and homeless’ (although he still drives a Porsche). ‘People assume that if you’ve done something like Hustle, everything is rosy. But in this game you start from scratch every time. People are more interested in discovering new talent.’
Maybe it’s no coincidence that Robert Vaughn – the great showbiz survivor, who turns 80 next year – is the most upbeat of all. He has no plans for retirement. ‘As long as I’m breathing and reasonably articulate, I will be acting. I’m going to go on and on and on.’
Hustle, Friday, BBC1, 9pm.