Mike Gold: Who Is Peter Capaldi?
When Peter Capaldi was presented to us as the new lead in Doctor Who, a tiny bell dinged in the back of my brainpan. I recalled his appearance on Craig Ferguson’s show; he and Craig were in a couple punk rock bands in the 1980s and had remained very good friends. I thought that was amusing as Ferguson is a big Who fan – he’s had a TARDIS on his teevee desk for many years now.
Capaldi’s casting was praised from hither to yon, and initially I dismissed all that for typical showbiz “sincerity.” But this wave expanded and seemed genuine. Since I’ve had little I could do the past month or two outside of annoying my daughter (and I already was pretty good at that), I decided to track down some of his work and determine his worthiness for myself.
I started off with his most frequently cited work, a political comedy called In The Loop . I’d say this is sort of a British version of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom but it preceded the HBO series by several years. Starring Capaldi as a British political operative who is foul-mouthed, personally offensive, in-your-face, and extremely effective. Reprising his character from the teevee series The Thick Of It, Capaldi joins Tom Hollander and James Gandolfini in what I found to be a very funny and very on-target story. Peter’s role is not quite over-the-top: he takes his character to the very edge, never reluctant to say what needs to be said in order for him to get his way. He has no problem walking into a room filled with his employees and shouting “Good morning, my little chicks and cocks!” or telling somebody who’s in his way “You know, I’ve come across a lot of psychos but none as fucking boring as you. You are a real boring fuck. Sorry, sorry, I know you disapprove of swearing so I’ll sort that out. You are a boring F, star, star, cunt!”
Funny stuff, although not for prudes or idealists. Capaldi was amazing. I started to understand all that praise.
Next up was a short film what Peter wrote and directed but did not star in. It’s aided by having one of the best titles in movie history: Franz Kafka’s It’s A Wonderful Life. Starring Richard E. Grant, who more or less played the Doctor in Steven Moffat’s initial Who offering, The Curse of Fatal Death, it’s about Kafka trying to figure out how to begin his classic short story The Metamorphosis, and… well, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a movie called Franz Kafka’s It’s A Wonderful Life. It’s nothing short of brilliant, although if you’re on strong hallucinogens you might want to wait until they wear off. And I say the same about Kafka’s work as well.
Did I mention it won the Oscar® and the BAFTA for best short film? It’s available on YouTube; this is the German subtitled version which, for some reason, I found even more entertaining.
Capaldi also starred in an 80-minute knock-off of Airplane! called Hotel! It’s better than the vast majority of Airplane! knock-offs, but that isn’t saying much. Peter plays the manager of a remote hotel that finds itself hosting the President of the United States – and, therefore, under attack from vaguely middle eastern terrorists. I found much of this funny, and once again I loved Capaldi’s work.
Doctor Who fans will find Hotel! interesting because it also stars Doctor Eight, Paul McGann, as well as Keeley Hawes, one of the lead villains from Capaldi’s first season as the Doctor. Oh, and it also stars Lee Majors as the President.
OK. Since I really am a tease, there’s better yet to come, as you’ll discover in this very space next week. And this one will be coming to your teevee set soon, on BBC America. No, it’s not Doctor Who. Here Peter Capaldi really gets evil.