Meet Mackenzie Crook

Keira Knightley, Johnny Depp, Mackenzie Crook

Keira Knightley, Johnny Depp, Mackenzie Crook - Credit: Archant

How the multi-talented, Maidstone-born actor went from The Orchard Youth Theatre in Dartford to The Office and a star of the silver screen

Thirteen years ago The Office changed the face of British TV and with it, the career of Mackenzie (née Paul) Crook.

Crook’s perfectly realised, BAFTA-nominated performance as Gareth Keenan, the insufferable, sycophantic ex-army team leader was delivered, fittingly enough, with military precision.

As if his character wasn’t irritating enough, viewers also had to endure Gareth’s abomination of a haircut.

The ensuing years have been as eclectic as they have successful for the Kent-born actor, who swapped the everyday drudgery of Wernham Hogg for the fantasy world of Westeros and Essos in Game of Thrones, via a memorable comic turn in the hugely popular Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

“It’s been an amazing few years since The Office,” Crook says. “It opened up all the doors and not just for acting work but other things within that field. I’ve found myself able to do writing and illustrating.”

Thankfully, in person Crook is more socially adept than his most famous alter-ego - although it would be hard for anyone to be more awkward than Gareth – even recognising that his international success alongside David Brent and co. has given him an instant advantage over other creatives.

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“There’s a pang of guilt that I can go to a publisher with an idea for a book and they may commission it when I know other people are struggling,” he admits.

Crook is referring to his deal with Faber, who commissioned him to write and illustrate a children’s book, The Windvale Sprites, which references the Great Storm of 1987 hitting Dartford.

A keen graphic designer since his teenage years, Crook has also turned his hand to comedy, sketch writing, directing – only music videos, as yet – as well as theatre and radio work.

“It’s not like I’m going off and playing Premier League football,” he says of his magpie-like approach to these varied artistic endeavours. “It’s all within the field of storytelling.”

Alluding to the ubiquitous top-flight football was no accident. In Detectorists, the recent BBC4 comedy in which Crook stars, directs and debuts his screenwriting skills, the 43-year-old deliberately shuns mainstream culture in order to shine a light on rather more esoteric hobbies.

Alongside Marvellous actor Toby Jones, Crook (as wannabe archaeologist Andy) meanders through the English countryside, documenting in a very understated way two men’s preoccupation with discovering hidden artefacts.

Yet rather than mocking the ancient art of metal collecting, it is a well-judged celebration of it, as well as other similarly niche pursuits – some of which Crook personally enjoys.

“Hobbies, and pastimes in general, have always interested me; how people spend their time and how they can get obsessed by a particular subject,” he explains, discussing his motivation for the project.

The show’s success – it has already been commissioned for a second series – was a personal vindication for Crook, principally due to seeing the “quite daunting prospect of turning what was an idea 18 months ago into reality and it becoming a great moment in my career.”

A self-confessed coin collector, a hobby inherited from his father, Crook wears his anorak leanings with pride.

The actor admits he resisted his father’s enthusiasm for coins throughout his childhood, laughing that when he was growing up he “couldn’t think of anything more boring,” which raises the subject of his Kent upbringing.

“I had a really happy childhood,” he says. “I was born in Maidstone and brought up in Dartford, so I’m a Kentish Man.

“I love it there and my parents and my sister still live down that way; we visit places in Kent for holidays, such as Whitstable and Dungeness.

“Dungeness is the most incredible place,” he continues. “It’s quite other-worldly down there but it’s best when there’s not too many people, so I don’t know if I want to encourage people to go there! And Whitstable is worth checking out too, it’s a lovely town.”

Crook took his first steps into the world of drama during his Kentish youth. Educated at the Wilmington Grammar School for Boys, at 15 he joined The Orchard Youth Theatre in Dartford before taking his comedy show round the pub and club circuit – although that is not a time he remembers with much fondness.

“I’ve been out of that Kent comedy club circle for such a long time,” he says. “I remember going to a little pub in Hastings, and there’s a club in Maidstone that I did once, but I don’t think I was much of a success!”

He may have struggled to launch his acting career but, after persevering through some lean years – he was dropped from Channel 4’s late nineties comedy troupe The Eleven O’Clock Show and enjoyed only modest success with his ‘Charlie Cheese’ stand-up persona – Crook met The Office co-creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.

He managed to persuade them not to hand the part of Gareth to a more brutish, physically imposing actor but to take a chance on him. Accolades and awards followed, and Crook has not been out of employment since.

Gervais is rumoured to be taking paper merchant boss David Brent, complete with his cringe-inducing delusions of grandeur, to the big screen. Fans of The Office might be excited about that prospect, but Crook is unconvinced.

“To be honest I don’t know if I would get involved. And I really don’t think that’s the idea of this film, it’s the continued adventures of David Brent and what happens to him; I don’t think there’s any plans to revisit the old characters. I imagine that’s something he wouldn’t do.”

The Office movie aside, even without Detectorists’ follow-up series, Crook’s 2015 diary is rapidly filling up.

He finished filming the new BBC drama Ordinary Lives in Manchester at Christmas, while a role as Cassius the film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is currently “up in the air.”

However, we are most intrigued about Crook’s potential involvement in the new Pirates of the Caribbean film. The actor had previously indicated but his days as pirate Ragetti were finished, but now admits a return is possible.

“They’ve been in touch to check my availability. It’s up in the air whether my character will make an appearance or not, because I didn’t act in the last one.”

What made Crook decide to rejoin the crew? “I think I’m ready to do another one, I did claim at one point that my pirating days are over, but I might have to go with my tail between my legs and do another one!” he laughs

The New Year promises much for Crook, especially if he can make his resolution become reality. “In 2015 I’d like to do another play, possibly at the Royal Court. It’s a luxury you can only afford to do once every few years really.

Considering that he’s been in showbiz for nearly two decades, it appears Crook has earned himself the indulgence. n

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