LOS ANGELES — Christopher Foyle, the World War II English police detective turned postwar spy catcher, is a man of few words. Michael Kitchen, the actor who plays him, also tends to limit his public utterances — at least to the media.
But Kitchen agreed to share his thoughts on the character and “Foyle’s War,” the series that began airing in 2002 and has become a hit in Britain and other countries and a staple of PBS’ “Masterpiece Mystery!”
For filmgoers, Kitchen may linger in memory for his small but precisely drawn performance in “Out of Africa” as Robert Redford’s friend who succumbs bravely to illness, or in “Enchanted April” as a man visited by unexpected romance.
Precision is Kitchen’s hallmark, such as the level gaze or tilt of the head he uses to great effect in “Foyle’s War,” which wraps its latest PBS season on Sunday.
More episodes are in the works for next year and there are hopes for “many more seasons” ahead, said Mark Stevens, head of producer-distributor Acorn, which released the show on DVD this week and is streaming it on Acorn TV.
In an email exchange, Kitchen discussed breaking a vow, his career and the symbol of respect for war’s casualties that he keeps close.
AP: Why did you decide to return to the role of Foyle in the postwar episodes?
Kitchen: There was not one good reason not to. It’s the case that, as a younger man, I’d sworn never to become a TV detective and although signing up for the show at the very beginning was never an issue, I couldn’t shift a lingering guilt for letting the younger guy down. So it’s a fact that I had suggested fairly early on — and on more than one occasion and not least because I believed it — that moving the character into Intelligence (work) might be less confining than the obligation to a weekly Hastings murder. So, as far as this series is concerned, there was no decision to make. Happy and guilt-free with the move and I concede the timing’s right to move him now; I’d been a bit premature.
AP: Unless you perceive it otherwise, Foyle appears to be the defining role of your career and clearly is a character embraced by the audience.
Kitchen: It’s certainly defined the last 10 years because I’ve done little else. This isn’t a complaint; having enjoyed the 30 previous years avoiding definition, it’s a privilege to be able to wait for projects that 100 percent fulfill the criteria, of which there have been, theater and radio aside, perhaps only about six. All worth the wait.
AP: Did you see it as a possible turning point in your career, from a respected character actor to leading man at midlife?
Kitchen: Less a turning point than a consequence of the turning point which had happened some while before. But it did come at a time when my attitude to the business had changed considerably, and whereas before I’d turned down a good handful of long-term offers for various reasons, this now felt right, good and very acceptable.
AP: When you were a youngster, did members of your family share their wartime experiences? If so, did any of those memories influence your work on the original “Foyle’s War” series set during WWII?
Kitchen: “I can’t say they did, directly. My dad had a small suitcase stuffed with photos, mementoes from wherever he’d traveled as a Royal Navy gunner. Not that he gunned very much, as it turned out. I’d haul it out and go through it time and time again. That world, that war, that time, in that suitcase, the smell, the feel, the aura, the weight of it, I carried with me and still do: A poppy hangs in my car 365 days a year.