Robson Green faced the toughest challenge of his career when he trained himself to Olympic standards for next week's poignant new drama Blind Ambition, which can be seen on ITV on Thursday, September 7. The star of Grafters, Touching Evil and Reckless takes the role of an embittered blind sprinter whose rejected wife, played by Imogen Stubbs, finds comfort in an affair with Robson's guide runner, played by Mark Womack.
The son of a miner, Robson, who has his own television company called Coastal Productions in his home town of Newcastle, hired a personal trainer get fit for a gruelling shoot at Sydney's Olympic Stadium for the climax of Blind Ambition. His girlfriend, the beautiful former model Vanya Seager, who is 44, joined Robson on location in Australia at the beginning of February when she was six months pregnant with his first child. Now, 35 year old Robson is enjoying his new real-life role as the proud father of the couple's four month old son, Taylor, who was born on April 29.
Currently filming for the new ITV drama series Close and True, in which he portrays a crusading lawyer alongside fellow Northumbrian, James Bolam, busy Robson will also be shooting a controversial drama series about wife-swapping, entitled Take Me, later this year. Robson managed to find time to chat to OK! about the many exciting projects that are keeping him busy...
How did you manage to get up to Olympic speed so quickly for the role?
Believe it or not, I was once a sprinter. I started when I was 13 and did it for five years in the North East, where I come form, and in Scotland. I've been generally fit ever since, but I do need to be pushed. So, before shooting began on Blind Ambition, I had to spend five months training for five days a week with Craig Dilnot, who helped me lose a stone and make me look like a runner. He got my 800 metre speed from 3 minutes to 2 minutes 27 seconds, which is pretty damn good. The blind runner Bob Matthews, a seven times Paralympics gold medallist, also helped me with my research.
Did you survive the filming unscathed?
It was so incredibly arduous that I acquired painful tendonitis of the knee with all that constant pounding of the legs. I had to take a week off, and at one point I had a real psychological problem about it. I thought: 'My God, why do I have to do this film? Because if I can't run, we've had it.' But we worked on the body toning and I got over it.
Why did you feel you had to be pushed?
I'm not lazy, but I do have to be bullied in acting. Sometimes I just hit autopilot - there's only a certain amount of creativity you can produce from your own imagination and you need the help of other people. Good directors challenge you. In the future I want to produce, which I think will be harder than acting.
Does that mean you will give up acting?
Who knows if and when I'll stop acting, but to combine both producing and acting would be great. Acting is an obsession for some people, but not for me.
You're known for your trademark blue eyes. Weren't you taking a risk with your heart-throb image by portraying a blind man?
I don't understand this heart-throb notion. Girls don't fling themselves at me - that's an absolute myth. Hopefully I'm watchable because you see the mind working. I play to the camera lights a lot, so the make-up artist deadened the lights under my eyes in order to kill their blue colour on screen and make me look blind.
You've played a lot of good guys and heroes. Do you think the public will accept you as a wife-swapper in Take Me?
I just hope people care for the character. Take Me is a thriller set against the background of a wife-swapping circle. It's about failing relationships and the ways in which people try to salvage them.
You split up with your wife, Alison, in April last year and moved in with Vanya. For the record, has your divorce come through?
Yes, I'm divorced now. Vanya and I are very happy together. It's made me a better actor, believe it or not. It helped me to cope with things which have happened over the last two years. I've given up on this notion of trying to please everybody. I was astonished by the hassle Vanya and I got from paparazzi photographers on Bondi Beach when we were out there for Blind Ambition. Strangers being too familiar with me really annoy me now. They have no right to know about my private life. I'm shocked at people's audacity - questions from members of the public. Next, thing you know, it's in the paper.
You were quoted as saying you couldn't imagine anything worse than being a father, but your new responsibilities seem to suit you...
They're great responsibilities. I never said I couldn't imagine anything worse than being a father, I just said that fatherhood wasn't right for me at that time. When you have a child, you become a child again. I'm reading Winnie the Pooh to Taylor at the moment; there's a Pooh carry-cot for him in my Close and True trailer. You get sleepless nights, but you deal with it.
What's the nicest thing about being a father?
Just looking at him. The best part is just watching Taylor as he focuses on things. His eyes are a beautiful brown, like Vanya's. I've got four framed photographs of him in my trailer. You realise that you may not always be able to keep him safe: life is a war zone. But at least he's sleeping in the same bedroom as Vanya and me - as he should be.
You've had lots of offers from Hollywood. What's the latest on that front?
There are projects that Hollywood want me to do and I'm going there in January for a week of meetings. We'll see what happens. They have sent me ludicrous scripts and asked me to sign two-year deals, but I just won't do that. The contracts are so vague - George Clooney got trapped in for five years! There is the possibility that Touching Evil might be made into a Hollywood movie, but I'm very sceptical of the American thing. I'm not going to re-invent myself there - that would be absolutely pointless. Life's too short and I want to do other things.
Do you ever feel guilty because of all the fantastic opportunities you've had in your career?
I never feel guilty about anything, and I oppose people who try to make me feel that way. I just think that if there is an opportunity to help other people, then that's what you do. Any rewards we need as human beings have to be emotional, and that's what I get from Coastal Productions. I think money can be put to good use. We took six young actors to Australia to give them an idea of what it was like to work on a film set. Four or five young people on work experience join every shoot we do.
As a socialist, you once said that you always look at life in a political way. Have you ever thought of entering politics?
I'm a politician now anyway, because I speak my mind. That comes from my father, grandfather and grandmother. I hope Taylor does, too, when he grows up. I hope he doesn't just accept things, but that he questions things as he gets older and learns by his mistakes. I also hope that he sees the good in people.
You once revealed that you were bullied at school. Now that you are successful, what would you like to do to those bullies if you met them again?
I don't need to do anything, do I?
(Maureen Patton/ OK! Magazine)
12 March 2000
One glance at him in his sexy beach wear and you can tell that Robson Green is in superb shape. He's shed half a stone and is sporting the sort of six-pack a teenage athlete would be proud of. But Robson, 35, dismisses his lean looks as all part of the job; "I had to look like an Olympic runner in my latest role," he explains. "At the start of filming, I took some shots of myself with a hand-held video camera and I looked like a bloke who had just come out of the pub with his shorts on! Since then my body has really changed. The gut and the love handles have gone and everything has toned up. It's been tough, though, because I had to get the diet right. Skimmed milk, no fat - and it was so hard to give up chocolate. A total nightmare, in fact. But although we've finished the series, I'd like to carry on keeping in shape. I feel so much better for it."
So the Geordie lad is glad now that he suffered for his part - not that there is anything he wouldn't do to make himself right for a role. He is passionate about his work, as his remarkable career so far shows. Everything Robson Green has touched since he played Jimmy Powell in Casualty, has been a success. Reckless, Rhinoceros, Touching Evil, Grafters... all were rattling good ratings grabbers. Each part consumes his life until the final take. And for the last year, Robson has been more immersed in his work than ever.
In The Last Musketeer, his character - Steve McTear - is training for the Olympic team but after getting involved in a crime scam that goes wrong, he takes refuge at a private girls school in Scotland - as a teacher. "I had to act with a bunch of girls aged between 11 and 18. It was really tough," he says with a wicked grin.
But the training was no joke and involved running sessions five times a week. Not so tough, but just as intense, was the training he had to do for the ITV drama, The Last Musketeer for which he had to learn to fence. He found it difficult but grew to love the sport. Robson says: "I'd never tried it before, but it's fantastic. Modern-day fencers would turn Zorro and the Three Musketeers into tea bags because they're so quick and energetic. But it's a beautiful sport - and very sexy. I had to get to a level where they could film me putting on the mask and then doing a bit of the fencing. They got a professional to do most of it, mind, but I've seen the rushes of the movie and a lot of the stuff that I did they used - which I'm really chuffed about."
Robson's new super-fit look comes with big changes in his personal life. His marriage of eight years to Alison - regarded as one of the strongest in the business - broke down and after all the stories of love affairs, he has found a new partner in former page three model Vanya Seager, 44, who is expecting his baby. Robson is an intensely private person and refuses to discuss his personal life. But it is clear he bitterly regrets the pain that his marriage break-up caused his former in-laws. "Things change in everybody's life and I am no different. In the end, you just have to get on with it. But I wish people would leave Alison's folks alone. They don't deserve to be involved."
And although he is sad that his wife had to endure a very public split, Robson accepts that as far as he is concerned, the recent blaze of publicity about his love life goes with the territory. Despite his celebrity, Robson claims to live a "normal" life. "I'm not going to lock myself away. I would be really unhappy if I couldn't live a normal life... you know, go shopping or go and see a football match with my dad. I do the same things as most people and, believe it or not, I don't get mobbed when I go out. In fact, people hardly notice me. I don't go in for the big celebrity thing. I don't own a private jet, a big car or give myself star status. I'm not materialistic in any way - I just want to make a good job of the work I enjoy."
He admits to only one great extravagance - fireworks. "It's a bit of a fetish, really," he reveals. "I buy a lot of fireworks and if there's any excuse, I'll put on a display. At the end of filming The Last Musketeer we lit up the whole north-west coast with fireworks."
Robson is currently filming Blind Ambition, and in April starts shooting for an ITV series called Close and Innocent (RG.com note: later re-named Close & True) in which he's a successful commercial lawyer. Then, at the end of this year, he embarks on a raunchy six-part series about wife swapping called Take Me. So he's busy and going to get busier if Hollywood, in the form of Bruce Willis, has its way. Willis rang one day but Robson thought it was a wind-up. "I was convinced it was my mate Joe, who's a brilliant mimic. I was about to say, 'Joe, that was the worst b***** impression of Bruce Willis that I've ever heard' when I realised it was no joke.
"Bruce's people kept calling me to say, 'Bruce is gonna ring in 15' and then 'He's gonna ring in 5...' Apparently he'd watched all seven episodes of Touching Evil and wanted to know if he could put me forward for some projects. We'll probably meet in the spring. Would I do a film with him? Does Barbara Cartland wear slap?" he roars with laughter. The prospect of meeting Bruce in the flesh doesn't trouble Robson one bit. "Now, if he were a Newcastle United footballer, that would be different," he says.
"I am intimidated by footballers and can't get a sentence out in the presence of one. I went to this New Year's Eve party and Alan Shearer came up to me and said, 'Happy New year, Robson.' I couldn't speak. I just looked at him and said 'Happy New Year... thank you!' Then I walked away and spent the rest of the night worrying about what he must think of me." (Sally Brockway/ The People)
Both Robson Green and Mark Womack underwent extensive coaching by athletes from British Blind Sport (BBS), the registered charity and co-ordinating body of sport for the blind and partially sighted in the UK. The objective of BBS is to encourage blind and partially sighted people of all ages to participate in sports at all levels, ranging from 'grassroots' to Paralympic representation.
Blind athlete Bob Matthews MBE says; "One of the hardest things to do when you're running blind is to synchronize your running with your guide. Robson and Mark seemed very comfortable with each other - very relaxed - and the more relaxed you are the faster you run."
Robson Green has nothing but praise for the blind athletes involved in the production. Says Robson; "I have been coached by some wonderful athletes and I think their fitness and dedication is inspirational. With their help, we've managed to make the running look extremely realistic and I'm very pleased with the results."
Further research was undertaken at the RNIB Manor House, Britain's leading provider of residential and non-residential assessment and rehabilitation for blind and partially sighted people and some filming took place at The Shire View Centre for Blind and Partially Sighted People in Leeds. The experienced, professional staff at the centre helped Yorkshire/ Tyne Tees TV's researchers and actors to understand both the realities faced by blind and partially sighted people and the technology and processes used by the workers who help rehabilitate them.
Explains Kaye Wragg, who plays mobility officer Rona; "I spent a day at Shire View and talked to the staff and met some of the blind and partially sighted people. They gave me general information and tips on how they work and I was amazed at their modern approach - they really encourage independence and that's such a good thing."