Interview with John Simm on The Devil’s Whore

John Simm as Edward Sexby in The Devils Whore (2008)

John Simm as Edward Sexby in The Devil's Whore (2008)

This is the interview I did with John Simm (extremely nice guy, very down-to-earth) for my MA project on period dramas, not techinically cinema I know but thought I’d include it as I know there are many John Simm fans out there, me for one. And I still really have to see Human Traffic!

 What drew you to the role of Sexby?  

Marc Munden wanted me to play John Lilburne so I read the script and I just totally fell for the part of Sexby, and once I had it on my head I couldn’t possibly play the part of anybody-else, so I told him that. And I had to audtion for it which I hadn’t really done for a while but I went in and fought for it.

And what particularly about the role of Sexby attracted you?

 It’s just a hell of a role, it’s one of the best parts for an actor I’ve ever read I think.  He’s soulless, godless, he’s a mercenary, he’s got a metal hand, he’s a brilliant swordsman and horseman.  He discovers love, he discovers honour and he gets his head turned by so many different factions. It was such a rich, rich multilayered part. And as an actor I’m drawn to darker roles and he’s a swashbuckling anti-hero. And when your kid as an actor those are the parts you dream about playing.  That was my Clint Eastwood man with no name. It was  beautifully written by Peter. It was one of those I just thought I’ve gotta play Sexby.

 I knew it was gonna be different to other period dramas because it was directed by Marc and we went out and chatted about the character and the look of him. And the way he was gonna shoot it was like a spaghetti western, that’s  a very, very dark, windy and bleak desolate place. The location helped I must say. I loved his vision, we both had the same vision Marc wanted him to be quite feral and quite horrible.

He’s not a conventional hero in one scene it looks like he nearly rapes Angelica.

 He’s very dangerous, we wanted the audience to think ‘can we trust him?’ He’s not very nice he’s a killer, he murders people for money. We needed that element of danger with him so when he says ‘will you swim naked with me’, you think maybe for a minute, will he rape her? And it happens again later on when he pushes her on the bed you think ‘what’s he going to do?’ He’s kinda tamed over the years by his love for this woman.Rainsborough’s the classic hero of the piece and Sexby’s the anti-hero and those are my favourite parts, I go for darker parts.

Did you do any research on this historical figure or did you just look at what was in the script, as I know there’s not a lot of information on him?

Well, he didn’t shoot himself  that got put in the character and he did get arrested for trying to  assassinate Cromwell, but I think Peter used a lot of dramatic license with him. Obviously with the ending, I loved the fact that he’d killed himself. It was all a bit more romantic. So the real guy didn’t really figure much in my head, I just concentrated about how I could make him dangerous. And obviously he was a brilliant horseman and swordsman and I has to do a lot of training for that, so a lot of horse-riding and sword-fighting which was great fun

What did you think of the historical changes that were made for the drama And the criticisms that historians have that  it’s dangerous to  mess with historical accuracy?

It depends on the quality of them, I mean something like The Tudors I find offensively bad, it’s like Britain’s Top Models it’s awful,  it takes a lot of liberties with the truth I think. From what I’ve seen I wouldn’t like to be in something like that. I think Peter has made it interesting , the whole period is incredibly interesting with the King and  Roundheads and Cavaliers and there’s nothing ever done about it, on our own civil war. It’s amazing that more hasn’t been done. So I think he’s just taken as much dramatic license as he needed to, and also it’s a fictional lead story and character,  and the real events are happening around her  and the real events happened so he can’t pretend that a lot of them  didn’t or change them. He has to stick to a certain timeline, I mean he can jiggle things around but that’s artistic license. I think you can trust with him it he’s not gonna take the piss and make outrageous claims. I look at it as a beautiful piece of writing and a beautiful story and  we’ve got a great director and it’s gonna look great. So I think of it totally as an acting exercise with the character we’ve come back with. I think a lot of it was accurate, I’m sure it was because I was reading a lot about it while filming it.

Did you know much about the period before starting? Was there a sense  that you learned more or got more interested in the period while doing it and after?

 I knew a little bit from what I’ve done at school, but not loads, that’s one of the best thing about being an actor is that you can delve into these times and worlds and history books and it’s your job.  I read loads about it and that was part of my research which was wonderful research.

Did you feel that this was a drama that could renew interest in the period for people who may not know much about the period?

If you didn’t know anything about our own civil war and you saw that I think if I didn’t that I’d be quite interested in it. I just see it as a great drama, it’s not a documentary. I was totally immersed in the preparation for it, we all were, we thought it was incredibly interesting.

Do you think period dramas remain important  to British television output and actors ?  And do you think they represent  great opportunities for British actors to raise their profiles?

 We do it very well,  the only other period drama I’d done before that was Crime & Punishment both of the ones I’ve done have been very very dark and very very gritty. Those are the things I’m drawn to.  I love Dickens and I loved to do Dickens.  I thought Bleak House  was  fantastic . Yeah, we do it better than anyone-else, I always watch them when they’re on because we do it brilliantly I think.



  1. What! It’s 2012 and I’m the first person to have commented?! They’ve just repeated The Devil’s Whore on TV here in Oz and the sight of John Simm with long hair and goatee and a tortured heart sent me off to google me some Edward Sexby. Great interview, really interesting to learn he really fell in love with and fought for the part. Cheers, Cate.

    • Thanks for your comments Cate sorry taken me ages to reply do you have a blog yourself?

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