Inside Soap, Mar 8-14 2008 "Big Interview: Michael Jayston" by Kate Woodward

Popular star Michael Jayston talks about James Bond, Doctor Who fans and staying young at heart...

You know soap is a serious business when an actor with the gravitas of Michael Jayston takes on a role. After all, this is a man whose previous parts include Mr. Rochester, Charles Dickens and Doctor Who. However, Michael's currently calling Emmerdale village home, as he plays out one of the show's most darkly delicious comedy plots ever - though he admits that he had no idea what was in store for him when he signed up to star as nasty Nicola's ailing husband, Donald De Souza...

"When I accepted the role, I didn't know anything about it," smiles the actor, who's accosted by Inside Soap as he finishes filming a scene. "I was doing a production with David Suchet in the West End, and travelled up to meet the Emmerdale people. But because I was tied up in the play for a while, I never thought anything of it until they offered me the part a week later."

While Michael might have had his mind on other things, the soaps' bosses knew what they were doing when they brought him on board. As devious Donald, he's a triumph - something that's proved by this week's antics, when his character not only ups his game with scheming Nicola, but also ignites a feud with the powerful King brothers! Taking on all the village's most threatening residents at once... is he mad?

"Donald hasn't become a multimillionaire by being a twerp," says 72-year-old Michael, with a devilish glint in his eye. "He's looked at the village and thought, 'I like this place - there are opportunities because it's not being run efficiently." And that's why he decides to ruffle Matthew's feathers."

The usually unflappable Matthew is left in a state of shock when younger brother Carl betrays the clan to align with Donald in a new business venture, KD Refuse. And Michael reckons it's more than business.

"Donald quite likes Carl - I think he reminds him of the son he might have if Miles had been less volatile," he muses. "Fortunately, I get on really well with Ayden Callaghan who plays Miles. We go out for meals together and have a quick pint across the road if we don't have to be on set early the next day."

And Ayden's not the only pal Michael's made in the Dales. He has nothing but good things to say about his leading lady, actress Nicola Wheeler (Nicola), despite the fact that her catty character is hell-bent on putting Donald six feet under!

"Nicola and I were driving somewhere the other day, and I said to her, 'I feel like I'm a 15-year-old inside.' And she replied, 'Well I feel about 12!'. I like that," enthuses Michael. "That's how it is with actors, if they're any good - you get on with them straight away. I don't want to sound too luvvy, but there are very few people I've disliked in my career."

And what a career it's been. Michael has amassed a notable body of work, including a remarkable stint in Doctor Who in the 80s where he played an evil future version of the Time Lord - a role that still fascinates the drama's aficionados.

"I like the fans, they're sweet," chuckles the star. "They can lose me with their questions, though - it's as if they've done an A-level in the show! But I'm very proud of it. I could easily go back to the series, though perhaps not with the way it's done today. I like David Tennant, he's very good."

For now, Michael's focused on Donald and the Dales. He confesses to being a soap fan, having had a stint in Eastenders when Peggy Mitchell when to Spain for husband Frank Butcher's 'funeral' in 2002. And the actor adds that he loved working with Walford legends Barbara Windsor and Mike Reid, and continues to admire the work of the fabulous June Brown (Dot Branning).

"I know June quite well socially," shares Michael. "I think she's brilliant. I watched her recent solo episode and thought it was an acting masterclass. The next time I see June, I'm going to kneel at her feet."

There's be plenty of actors who'd say the same about Michael. With a career spanning four decades, he's got a lot to be proud of- but one major role eluded him...

"I was up for James Bond once," he says. "It was between me, Patrick Mower [who plays Rodney] and one other person, but then the outgoing star, Roger Moore, decided that he wanted to do more, so none of us got the part. People make such a fuss about it all now, but it was a very long time ago. I don't have any more unfulfilled acting ambitions - if the script's good, you can count me in!"

- Kate Woodward