This Saturday on BBC, Peter Capaldi becomes the 12th actor to play one of the Doctors on “Doctor Who.” But who is he? After Christopher Eccleston, he’s arguably the most well-known actor to assume the role. Perhaps you’ve seen him — or better yet, winced at his creatively profane shouting — before. Here are some things worth knowing about the Scottish actor.
He’s the nice, stammering guy from “Local Hero.” Though Capaldi is best known for playing mean and screamy, many may know him for playing the opposite temperament. In 1983, Capaldi co-starred in this charming comedy from Scotland’s peerlessly dry witted Bill Forsyth (“Gregory’s Girl”). He played a polite, endearingly awkward biologist who falls in love with a woman who may be a mermaid. He stammered, he blinked a lot and generally seemed like the kind of guy you wanted to hug.
He killed topless vampires with Hugh Grant. Capaldi teamed with another actor known for his stammering for 1988’s “The Lair of the White Worm,” directed by no less than that most purple of filmmakers, Ken Russell. His archaeology student and Hugh Grant’s socialite try to take down a monster (Amanda Donohoe) who was sometimes averse to clothes. Improbably, it wasn’t that fun.
He’s an Oscar-winning filmmaker. After his wife accidentally confused the names Frank Capra and Franz Kafka, Capaldi hit on an amusing idea: what if it was the brooding Czech who wrote “It’s a Wonderful Life,” not Capra. It’s not an idea that fuels a feature, but as a short it fits just fine, and it was funny enough – thanks in part to Richard E. Grant in the lead — to net Capaldi an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film. (He’s directed one feature, 2001’s “Strictly Sinatra,” with Ian Hart and Kelly Macdonald since, with another, “Born to Be King,” just announced.
He’s one of the great “Hey, it’s that guy” guys.Capaldi pops up everywhere, especially in the last decade. He’s in “Dangerous Liasons.” He was in the Mr. Bean movie “Bean.” He was on “Peep Show.” He was a scary father on “Skins.” He was on “Torchwood,” by the creators of this new “Doctor Who” incarnation. Recently he was wasted in “The Fifth Estate and “World War Z.” And he’s second billed, after Nicole Kidman, in the forthcoming “Paddington,” in which he’s not a cursing teddy bear.
Most importantly of all, he’s Malcolm Tucker. Capaldi’s biggest — or at least loudest — contribution to culture is as the hyper-sweary communications director on the BBC government satire “The Thick of It,” as well as its movie semi-spin-off, “In the Loop,” which brought him to America, and in one stand-off for the ages, James Gandolfini. (The creators have since given the States their own version with “Veep,” which sadly does not feature Capaldi or anyone like him.) Tucker started off as a supporting character, swinging by the offices of a bumbling minister (Chris Langham) to shout and intimidate and generally seem irritated. But he became a more prominent figure as the show wore on, and by “In the Loop” and the third series he was essentially the protagonist.
Tucker is known for his colorful insults, some of them hand-crafted by “swearing consultant” Ian Martin, which don’t merely feature actual cuss words — though it has plenty of those — but make creative use of language in general. Tucker screams some of them, but he’s debatably even more terrifying when he’s whispering them through a thick Scottish hush while speaking an inch or two from his prey. “The Thick of It” officially wrapped in 2012 with its fourth series, but there’s always the chance for a spin-off — which is to say: please make that happen. (“The Thick of It” can be watched — with irritating commercials — on Hulu, while “In the Loop” is a perennial favorite on Netflix Instant. Or if you just need a quick primer, indulge in one of many Malcolm Tucker best-ofs on YouTube.)
On one hand, it’s sad that “Doctor Who” will remain a family show, meaning Capaldi’s mouth will remain clean. On the other, check out those fancy digs.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge