Actor and comedian Steve Coogan has said taking on the role of Jimmy Savile was not a decision he “took lightly” because “it’s fraught with pitfalls”.
The 56-year-old Alan Partridge star portrays the disgraced entertainer in a new BBC One drama called The Reckoning.
The mini-series, due to be released this year, will tell the story of how Savile came from a working-class background to be one of the biggest stars in television and will also focus on his years of sexual abuse and the impact he had on his victims.
The makers of the programme were “working closely with many people whose lives were impacted by Savile to ensure their stories are told with sensitivity and respect”, the BBC said in a casting announcement last year.
Speaking on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch, Coogan said there had been a “great deal of antipathy toward me doing it when it was announced”.
“I understand people’s antagonism about the whole idea,” he said, but added that the script was “very intelligent” and “it was done in consultation with many of the victims of Jimmy Savile.
“And they came along to the shoot and their story was encompassed into the story of Jimmy Savile and I think with all these things, generally speaking, it’s better to talk about them than not talk about them.”
The script has been written by Neil McKay, whose other credits include BBC drama Four Lives, about serial killer Stephen Port, who drugged and raped four men before dumping their bodies near his home in Barking, east London.
The project also sees McKay work with Jeff Pope, who is an executive producer on The Reckoning.
Referring to ITV drama Des, in which David Tennant played serial killer Dennis Nilsen, Coogan said that while the actor had done a “brilliant job”, the series did not “attract the same kind of antagonism, even though his crimes were, in some ways, more horrific.
“I think that’s because Jimmy Savile played a trick on the entire nation so there’s a real feeling of antagonism about it, but you need to look at someone like that to understand how they’re able to operate and to prevent it happening again.”
Nilsen died behind bars in 2018, at the age of 72, having carried out a murder spree during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Coogan said he also spoke to the actors who were portraying Savile’s victims before they filmed scenes.
He said: “I’d go and talk to them as myself and go ‘Hi, I’m Steve, I’m not Jimmy Savile, that’s who I’m going to play today’.
“And you’re playing a role and we’re going to do it professionally, and it was so that they knew that I was someone else. So it was a tightrope, but I think we did it properly…”
Savile died in 2011 aged 84, having never been brought to justice for his crimes.