LONDON — Peter Capaldi, the 12th Time Lord, says he should not be regenerated into another white man: it is time to diversify the doctor.
In the midst of his first season of Doctor Who, Capaldi is not ready to ditch the TARDIS any time soon but the swirl of rumor around the next actor to assume the role has become a feature of the show’s extraordinary 50-year lifespan.
The current doctor admitted in an interview with The Daily Beast that it was time for the show to move past white men. “Yeah, I think it’s open for anyone,” he said.
Idris Elba (The Wire), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) and David Harewood (Homeland) are among the black British actors who have been linked to the show in the past, but the producers have always opted for another white male.
Capaldi said the nature of the character—a time-travelling alien—meant his successor could take any form. “I think a woman would be very interesting, an Asian, a black person, you know ultimately Doctor Who is not human so he could be anything, you’re not blocked into any specific race or gender,” he said.
Steven Moffat, the showrunner, said last year that he “didn’t feel enough people wanted” a woman doctor when he was casting Capaldi. He appeared to backtrack this week at a women in television awards ceremony when he suggested that the doctor could eventually be regenerated as a woman.
Capaldi, who stars in Inside the Mind of Leonardo 3D, a Da Vinci biopic released in theaters next week, said it was a unique experience to take on the role of the doctor; immediately millions of people think they share a long personal history with you. “People are surprised to find themselves in the street and see Doctor Who walking towards them,” he said. “They are always delighted, which is one of the wonderful things about being Doctor Who because I carry Matt [Smith] with me, and David [Tennant] and Christopher Eccleston and Tom Baker and everyone. I get the benefit of 50 years-worth of television that people are affectionate about. They’re so pleased to see Doctor Who, not me.”
“I’m much more boring and curmudgeonly than Doctor Who but you get a lot of smiles, people are very friendly. I just try to be pleasant to people and not disappoint them, but I’m not a Time Lord, I can’t do any tricks, I can’t vanish or regenerate, or be rude—unless they’re a Malcolm Tucker fan, then I will be rude.”
Malcolm Tucker, a foul-mouthed political advisor, was the role that turned Capaldi into a household name in Britain. He was the breakout star of The Thick of It, a political satire that graduated from TV to become In the Loop, a movie which starred James Gandolfini alongside Capaldi. The creator Armando Iannucci adapted the concept for an American audience in Veep.
“Veep, yeah. It’s very good,” he said, refusing to be drawn on which of the series was funnier. “Oh, now that’s a terrible question to ask—I think, err, how do I answer this? Umm, Veep is made by most of my friends so I’m thrilled to see them reaching new heights, I just wish we were all back working together.”
So, will there be new episodes of The Thick of It? “There may well be,” he said.
For now Capaldi is thrilled to carry on as the doctor. He says he has yet to experience any negative feedback from the galaxy of Whovians. “They have not been so ungracious as to do that to me. I’m sure there are people who can’t bear me. I’m sorry about that but one of the great things about Doctor Who is that even if there are people who don’t like me, some people will really like me—for some people I will be their doctor. And that’s a wonderful position to be in,” he said.
From Tucker to the doctor and now Leonardo da Vinci, there is a common thread linking Capaldi’s best roles. “In some ways they are not dissimilar characters because da Vinci is astonishingly bright and clever but he was prickly, difficult to know he was mysterious, he was he was very much his own man. He was a maverick if you like and operated on the edges of the respectable bit of society.”
Capaldi says he would love to attempt a more obvious good-guy role but he knows he doesn’t look the part. “Sometimes when you’re an actor the things that work best for you also work against you. If you don’t have conventional good looks then sometimes that means you don’t get those parts that you think you’d really like to have a go at. But it’s also that unconventional quality that opens the door to these other kind of characters,” he said. “I don’t see myself in the George Clooney mold.”
Inside the Mind of Leonardo 3D uses the words of da Vinci, collated from the archives through months of research, to give the viewer an insight into an unparalleled brain. Three-dimensional shots attempt to capture the majesty of his triumphs from the artistic world to the scientific.
Capaldi said it was remarkable to discover the human frailties at the center of such a mind. “I don’t know if I fill the boots, but it’s certainly challenging to have a go at playing one of the greatest geniuses the world has ever produced,” he said. “You know he’s a very, very interesting character—quite mysterious, clearly very driven, but still someone who suffered from a lack of confidence and anxiety just like a regular human being.”
Inside the Mind of Leonardo 3D opens in theaters December 19.