A new "Masterpiece Mystery" character is arriving, bringing mixed blessings. The "Zen" stories are mixed -- excellent on July 17, impenetrable a week later -- but the settings and characters are terrific. Here's the story I sent to papers.
By MIKE HUGHES
For most of its three decades,”Mystery”
was geographically limited.
Englishmen kept killing each other.
More English folks (with occasional exceptions) caught them.
Lately, however, that has spread out.
First were the “Wallander” mysteries, with Swedish characters,
settings and attitudes; now “Zen” takes the same approach in
Aurelio Zen is a cop with a reputation
for honesty. “I don't think he's particularly honest,” said
Rupert Sewell, who plays him. “I think he's ... perfectly capable
of kicking a man when he's down.”
Still, he's better than his colleagues
on Rome's police force. Vincenzo Fabri, for instance, “has no
redeeming features whatsoever,” said Ed Stoppard, who plays him.
Zen is a decent chap in a tricky
system. “He never makes the right political decision,” Sewell
In the opener, one boss tells him the
suspect must be found guilty; a higher-up secretly tells him the same
suspect must be found innocent. Then – on a wholly different matter
– there's an ex-con who wants to kill Zen … and an office beauty
(played by Caterina Murino) who wants to love him.
“He's always in a bad situation,”
Sewell said. “He's always one step behind.”
It was a tough role, he said, modified
by the fact that he was working in a gorgeous place. “Just to …
walk back through Rome at the end of the evening was one of the great
For Stoppard, who usually plays good
guys, this was a fresh experience. “It was really good fun to just
sort of spend my day either leering at Caterina or sneering at
Rufus,” he said.
The two men have one important person
in common. That's Tom Stoppard, Ed's father, an acclaimed writer who
has won Tonys for four of his plays and an Oscar for “Shakespeare
Sewell has been in many of those plays.
“Rufus has been (my father's) surrogate son for about the last 20
years,” Ed Stoppard quipped. “I'm working through a lot of
Indeed, he says it was seeing Sewell in
his father's “Arcadia” that made him realize he wanted to be an
actor. His mother – Miriam Stoppard, a physician, author and member
of the Order of the British Empire – was not happy about this; his
father had mixed feelings.
“He'd spent most of his adult life
auditioning very, very good actors (who gave) very, very good
auditions and watching them walk out of the room without the job,”
Ed Stoppard said.
Now his son has joinied that
overcrowded field – and is getting hired. This season, he's been in
all three “Masterpiece” strands – Contemporary (“Any Human
Heart”), Classic (starring in “Upstairs, Downstairs”) and now
“Mystery,” as one of the creeps who makes Zen seem noble by
– “Zen,” on “Masterpiece
– 9-10:30 p.m. Sundays, July 17, 24
and 31 (check local listings)