'Game of Thrones' actor Crook finds gold with 'Detectorists'

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

LOS ANGELES (AP) — For those in search of buried treasure, Mackenzie Crook is your man.

The British character actor has loaned his memorably weedy, gaunt-faced presence to "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies (as wooden-eyed Ragetti), the original U.K. "The Office" (stickler Gareth) and "Game of Thrones" (the warg Orell).

But it's with "The Detectorists," about men whose passion is digging up the British countryside in search of coins and other ancient treasure, that Crook and viewers really strike gold.

The amiably eccentric — but emotionally direct — comedy series is written and directed by Crook, who plays Andy, a temp worker yearning for archaeological greatness. The estimable Toby Jones ("Infamous," ''Wayward Pines") co-stars as his buddy, Lance, who suffers delusions of smoothness.

The compact, baldish Jones and gawky, shaggy-haired Crook make for a classically mismatched pair. Bonus casting: husky-voiced Rachael Stirling (so good in "The Bletchley Circle," ''Tipping the Velvet") as Becky, Andy's girlfriend and baby mama. Season two earns triple points with Stirling's real-life famed mother, Diana Rigg, aboard as Becky's mom.

"The Detectorists" can be found on the British-centric streaming site Acorn TV. Catch up with season one and then dig into six new masterfully observed chapters on modest lives in a small town, fictional Danebury, home to the Danebury Metal Detecting Club.

The impeccably understated dialogue is both real and, at times, wonderfully surreal. In one scene, Andy and Lance are on the hunt, holding fast to metal detectors and dreams of glory and riches, when a trampoline suddenly goes tumbling past. A motorist soon pulls up alongside them.

"Any of you chaps see a trampoline?" he asks.

Andy: "Went that way."

Driver: "Was there a child in it?"

Andy: "Don't think so.

Lance: "Is that good news?"

Driver: "Potentially."

Crook, who performed his own material as a stand-up comedian before turning into an in-demand actor, had long wanted to write for the screen. But certain Andy-like elements of his personality — a tendency toward "laxness," as he put it — got in the way.

The idea for "Detectorists" was one he'd been nursing for years, as Crook recently discovered when he found an old notebook of his from 1999.

"I've never been a detectorist myself but had seen a couple of these guys on television, and they just come across as very obsessive about their pastime and very protective as well," he said by phone from London. (He lives there with his wife and two children with literature-inspired names, son Jude and daughter Scout.)

His TV glimpse of the enthusiasts got him thinking about how people, specifically men, become enmeshed in a "seemingly dull" hobby. Detecting, for one, is pursued throughout the U.K., a vast burial ground for remnants of its long history.

While Jones and Crook had crossed paths on a half-dozen movies, the pair had never acted together before Crook gave him a draft script for "The Detectorists." Lance was originally intended to be "macho," Crook said, but with Jones aboard he evolved into "a wise man and a gentle character."

Character is what Crook is most interested in exploring, with ordinary people and their inner lives at the series' core. What he's created is extraordinary, although the low-key, self-effacing man who comes across in conversation seems unlikely to label his work as such.

"At the age of 44, I seem to have finally found my discipline, which is quite a relief," Crook said. "I'd like to get more (writing) done if I can keep that momentum up."

He's buoyed by reaction to the show, including high ratings and awards in Britain. It's also been embraced by members of the detecting community, he said, despite initial wariness about how they'd be depicted.

He sees more life in "The Detectorists," with at least another season or perhaps an extended TV movie in mind. That means a return to Framlingham, a historic English village that stood in for Danebury during filming and also lays claim to being Ed Sheeran's hometown.

"He often turns up at the local pub, so we played second-fiddle to the pop star," Crook said.

That may be. But "The Detectorists" is second to none.