Interview with Matt King (Jeff Whittaker)

The first episode of the third installment of the Strike series, Career of Evil, aired on Sunday on BBC One. The episode received a lot of positive feedback from fans and praise for the leading roles played by Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger, as well as all the supporting cast. 

In Career of Evil, we have three suspects whom are all men from Strike’s past who have a reason to hate his guts. 

One of the three suspects is his late mother’s second husband, Jeff Whittaker, who Strike believes gave Leda Strike the injection of heroin that led to her death. 

Below is an interview with Matt King, the actor who is playing Jeff Whittaker in the series. 

How did you first become interested in acting?  

When I was 7 years old I was in a school production of a play called ‘The King Has Got Hiccups’. I was playing ‘Guard 3’ and had no lines to say. But on the night all the parents were coming to see the play, the kid who was portraying the King was ill and couldn’t perform. Luckily I had memorised all of his lines and offered to step up and play the role. I did exactly that – and the rest is history. That king had the most realistic hiccups you’ve ever heard, and from then on I knew I wanted to be an actor when I grew up. It only took another 30 years to make it happen.    

What drama training did you go through?

I had no formal training whatsoever. Can’t you tell? I did perform stand-up comedy in Australia for 15 years and I suppose that eventually became a back door into the world of acting and also taught me how to deal with almost any situation as a performer. Better than any drama school, although I’ve still never learnt to ‘become the tree’. So it’s swings and roundabouts.

How did you land the role of Jeff Whittaker in Strike?
I was offered the role without an audition because JK Rowling wanted me for the role. Which was and is an incredible honour. Just a shame I can’t show the kids what Whittaker gets up to. He’s hardly Dumbledore.
What was it like being on set for the Strike production?
I loved it. I think the world that JK (that’s what I call her) and the production team have created is beautiful and totally unique. A sort of heightened version of modern London but populated with characters that remind me of Dickens. I knew from the first time I stepped onto set and saw the way Tom and Holliday were portraying Strike and Robin this was going to something very special. 
Did you get the chance to meet J.K. Rowling?
JK and I have never been in the same room together. It’s just a thing we like to do.
The character of Whittaker is so richly drawn, and Strike fans love to hate him. What are your thoughts on your character?
After playing lovable drug-addled loon Super Hans in Peep Show for the best part of 15 years, it was really nice to play somebody who is purely evil with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. That’s all I can say right now – but Whittaker isn’t a very nice man.  

What was it like playing such a villainous character? What was the biggest challenge of the role?

I love playing villains as much as I love playing good guys. I’m really lucky in that I have ‘one of those faces’ (as a producer said to me once) that can be either good or bad. So while my kids get to watch me in stuff like Paddington or Get Santa, I still get to play these more serious dramatic roles in stuff like Bronson or Strike. But I think this is my first time playing somebody who is nothing but evil. I loved every minute of it… but I don’t like Whittaker. 

What do you think of the relationship between Whittaker and Strike?
Its early days yet but we can already see how deeply they despise one another. I think their relationship will continue to grow and if I know anything about JK Rowling and the way she so brilliantly upends your expectations, then there’s going to be a whole lot more to their story than first meets the eye.
 
Have you read the Strike books?
Uh… I’ve definitely got them on my bookshelf.
You recently said on Twitter that you’d auditioned for a role in Harry Potter but didn’t get the part. Would you consider auditioning for a role in a future Fantastic Beasts movie?
Are you nuts? Of course. Apart from anything else, my kids are obsessed with the idea of me appearing in FB. I’m sure JK will give me a bell at some point… 
What is your next project?
At the moment I’m writing a couple of projects of my own, one for the UK and one for the US. They’re taking up most of my time but there are also a couple of new acting roles in the pipeline. People will get to see those later in the year. Just look out for me. I’ve got one of those faces.
Career of Evil, Episode 2

Watch the second episode of Strike – Career of Evil, featuring Matt King as Jeff Whittaker, this Sunday at 9pm on BBC One. You can catch up on all previous episodes on BBC iPlayer.

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