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    The Esoteric Interpretation of Pinocchio
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The Esoteric Interpretation of Pinocchio

The Esoteric Interpretation of Pinocchio

Dec 28th, 2009 | Category: Movies and TV |401 comments

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Released in 1940, Pinocchio is a Disney classic still appreciated by children and adults around the world. However, the story of this wooden marionette conceals a great spiritual allegory based on esoteric teachings, which is rarely discussed. We will look at the origins of this animated adventure and its underlying meaning.

I first watched Pinocchio as a child on a poorly recorded VHS tape with my little brother while eating Fugee-O’s. I enjoyed the catchy tunes and Jiminy Cricket. I was, however, terrified by the Coachman and I did not quite like the underwater part. That’s pretty much what I remembered of this Disney classic until recently. On a lazy Sunday night, I came across the “digitally remastered” movie on TV and I watched it “for old time’s sake”. What was supposed to be a fun trip down memory lane became a shocking revelation: Pinocchio was one of the deepest movies I’ve ever watched. Could it be a huge allegory about spirituality and modern society? Did I detect hints of initiation into occult Mysteries? I immediately started to research Pinocchio’s origins and all of my theories were abundantly confirmed.

Needless to say, this movie is now a staple in today’s popular culture. How many people have NOT watched this movie? On the other hand, how many people are aware of Pinocchio’s true underlying meaning? Behind the story of the marionette trying to become a good boy is a deep spiritual story that has its roots in Mystery schools of occultism. Through the eyes of an initiate, the children’s story about “being good” filled with lessons about ”not lying” becomes a man’s quest for wisdom and spiritual enlightenment. The brutally honest social commentaries of Pinnochio depicts a grim vision of our modern world and prescribes, perhaps, a way to escape its traps. Through the author’s background and literary references, one can understand the hidden gnostic meaning of Pinocchio.

Pinocchio’s Origins

Carlo Lorenzini aka Carlo Collodi

Pinocchio was originally written by Carlo Lorenzini (known by his pen name, Carlo Collodi) between 1881 and 1883 in Italy. Lorenzini began his writing career in newspapers (Il Lampione and Il Fanfulla ), where he often used satire to express his political views. In 1875, he entered the world of children’s literature and used this outlet to transmit his political convictions. The series Giannettino, for example, often referred to the unification of Italy.

“Lorenzini became fascinated by the idea of using an amiable, rascally character as a means of expressing his own convictions through allegory. In 1880 he began writing Storia di un burattino (“The story of a marionette”), also called Le Avventure di Pinocchio, which was published weekly in Il Giornale dei Bambini (the first Italian newspaper for children).”

Le Avventure di Pinocchio, a fairy tale describing the adventures of a stubborn marionette in his quest to become a real boy, was published in 1883 (you can read the original book here, if you wish).

Lorenzini’s work was not solely political. His writings, especially Le Avventure di Pinocchio contained a great deal of metaphysical aspects that are often overlooked by modern readers. One important fact needed to fully understand the depth of Lorenzini’s work is that he was an active Freemason. In an essay called Pinocchio, mio Fratello (Pinocchio, my Brother) Italian Freemason Giovanni Malevolti describes the Masonic background of Lorenzini:

“Carlo Collodi’s initiation into Freemasonry, even if cannot be found in any official records, is universally recognized and often referred to. Aldo Mola, a non-mason who is generally defined as an official historian of Freemasonry, has expressed with great certitude the writer’s initiation into the Masonic family. Events in Collodi’s life seem to further confirm this thesis: the creation in 1848 of a paper called “Il Lampione” (The Beacon), which, as stated by Lorenzini, “illuminated all who were teetering in darkness”; he also considered himself a “passionate disciple of Mazzini” (a prominent Italian Freemason and revolutionary).”

Collodi can also be found in this document published by The Grand Lodge of All England listing famous Freemasons.

Malevolti continues:

“There are two ways to read “The Adventures of Pinocchio”. The first is what I would call “profane” where the reader, most probably a child, learns about the mishaps of the wooden puppet. The second is a reading from a Masonic point of view, where heavy symbolism will complete, without replacing, the simple and lineary narration of events”.
- Giovanni Malevolti, Pinocchio, mio Fratello (free translation)

Lorenzini wrote Pinocchio following the long tradition of mystic texts: a simple narrative story that can be enjoyed by the masses with a hidden meaning reserved to those “in the know.”

Analysis of the Movie

There are many differences between Collodi’s book and the Disney movie. The storyline has been simplified and Pinocchio became an innocent, happy-go-lucky character rather than the stubborn and ungrateful misfit from the original book. All of the fundamental elements are still however present in the movie adaption and the underlying message remains untouched. (I’ve heard you can watch the whole movie here, but I’m not sure).

The Creation

The movie starts off with Geppetto, an Italian woodcarver, turning a piece of wood into a marionette. He gives the puppet human-like features, but it remains a lifeless puppet. Geppetto is, in some ways, the Demiurge of Plato and of the Gnostics. The word “Demiurge” is literally translated from Greek to ”maker, artisan or craftsman.” In philosophical terms, the Demiurge is the “lesser god” of the physical world, the entity which creates imperfect beings who are submitted to the pitfalls of the material life. Geppetto’s house is filled with clocks of his craft, which, as you might know, are used to measure time, one of the great limitations of the physical plane.

“Out of the pleroma was individualized the Demiurgus, the immortal mortal, to whom we are responsible for our physical existence and the suffering we must go through in connection with it”
- Manly P. Hall, Secret Teachings of All Ages

Geppetto has created a great-looking marionette, but he realizes that he needs the help of the “Greater God” to give Pinocchio the divine spark needed in order to become a “real boy” or, in esoteric terms, an illuminated man. So what does he do? He “wishes upon a star”. He asks the Greater God (the Great Architect of the Masons) to infuse Pinocchio with some of its divine essence.

Could this star be Sirius, the Blazing Star of Freemasonry?

The “Blue Fairy”, the representative of the Great God, then descends to earth to give Pinocchio a spark of the Universal Mind, the “Nous” of the Gnostics.


“It was affirmed by the Gnostic Christians that the redemption of humanity was assured through the descent of Nous (Universal Mind), who was a great spiritual being superior to the Demiurgus and who, entering into the constitution of man, conferred conscious immortality upon the Demiurgic fabrications.”
- Ibid.

The Fairy confers to Pinocchio the gift of life and free will. Although he is alive, he is not a yet a “real boy”. Mystery schools teach that real life only starts after illumination. Everything prior to this is nothing but slow decay. When Pinocchio asks “Am I a real boy?“, the Fairy replies “No, Pinocchio. To make Geppetto’s wish come true will be entirely up to you. Prove yourself brave, truthful and unselfish and someday you will be a real boy“.

This theme of self-reliance and self-improvement is strongly inspired by Gnostic/Masonic teachings: spiritual salvation is something that has to be deserved through self-discipline, self-knowledge and intense will power. Masons symbolize this process with the allegory of the Rough and Perfect Ashlar.

“‘In speculative Freemasonry, a rough ashlar is an allegory to the uninitiated Freemason prior to his discovering enlightenment. A Perfect Ashlar is an allegory to a Freemason who, through Masonic education, works to achieve an upstanding life and diligently strives to obtain enlightenment. In the Fellowcraft Degree, we see the use of the Rough and Perfect Ashlars. The lesson to be learned is that by means of education and the acquirement of knowledge, a man improves the state of his spiritual and moral being. Like man, each Rough Ashlar begins as an imperfect stone. With education, cultivation and brotherly love, man is shaped into a being which has been tried by the square of virtue and encircled by the compasses of his boundaries, given to us by our Creator.”
- Masonic Lodge of Education, Source

The same way Masons represent the process of illumination by the transformation of a rough stone into a smooth one, Pinocchio starts out his journey as a rough piece of wood and will seek to smooth out his edges to finally become a real boy. Nothing is however handed out to him. An inner-alchemical process needs to take place in order for him to be worthy of illumination. He has to go through life, fight its temptations, and, using his conscience (embodied by Jiminy Cricket), he has to find the right path. The first step is to go to school (symbolizing knowledge). After that, life’s temptations rapidly come across Pinocchio’s path.

The Temptation of Fame and Fortune

On his way to school, Pinocchio is stopped by Foulfellow the Fox (not a very trustworthy name) and Gideon the Cat who lure him to the ”easy road to success”: show business. Despite his conscience’s warnings, the marionette follows the shady characters and is sold to Stromboli, the belligerent puppet show promoter.

During his performance, Pinocchio is acquainted with the up sides of the “easy road”: fame, fortune and even hot women puppets.

Pinocchio however quickly learns the great costs of this apparent success: he cannot go back to see his father (the Creator), the money he generates is only used to enrich Stromboli, his “handler”, and he sees what fate awaits him when he grows old.

A rather grim depiction of show business, isn’t it? He is basically nothing more than … a puppet. After seeing the true nature of the “easy road”, Pinocchio realizes the sad state he is in. He is caged up like an animal and at the mercy of a cruel puppeteer. He was duped into selling his soul.

Pinocchio then gains back his conscience (Jiminy Cricket) and tries to escape. All of the good conscientiousness in the world cannot however save him, Cricket cannot open the lock. Nothing less than a divine intervention is needed to save him, but not before he is truthful to the Fairy (the divine messenger) and, most importantly, to himself.

The Temptations of Earthly Pleasures

Back on the right path, Pinocchio is stopped again by Foulfellow the Fox who lures him into going to “Pleasure Island”, a place with no school (knowledge) and laws (morals). Kids can eat, drink, smoke, fight and destroy at will, all under the watchful eye of The Coachman.

Pleasure Island is a metaphor for the “profane life” characterized by ignorance, the search for instant gratification and the satisfaction of the one’s lowest impulses. The coachman encourages this behavior knowing it is a perfect method to create slaves. The boys who indulge enough into this dumbed-down lifestyle turn into donkeys and are then exploited by The Coachman to work in a mine. Another rather grim depiction, this time of the ignorant masses.

Pinocchio himself starts to turn into a donkey. In esoteric terms he is closer to his material self, personified by this stubborn animal, than his spiritual self. This portion of the story is a literary reference to Apuleius’ The Metamorphoses or Golden Ass, a classic work studied in Mystery schools such as Freemasonry.

The Metamorphoses describes the adventures of Lucius who is tempted by the wonders of magic, because of his foolishness, turns himself into an ass. This leads to a long and arduous journey where he is finally saved by Isis and joins her Mystery cult. The story of the Metamorphoses bears many resemblances with Pinocchio by its story line, its spiritual allegory and its theme of occult initiation.

Pinocchio, once he regained his conscience, escaped the prison of profane life and escaped Pleasure Island.

The Initation

Pinocchio returns home to unite with his father but the house is empty. He learns that Geppetto has been swallowed by a giant whale. The puppet then jumps into water himself and gets swallowed by the whale in order to find his Creator. This is his final initiation, where he has to escape the darkness of the ignorant life (symbolized by the womb of the giant whale) and gain spiritual light.

Once again, Carlo Collodi was heavily inspired by a classic story of spiritual Initiation: the Book of Jonah. Found in Christianity, Islam and Judaism, Jonah and the Whale is also read in Mystery schools.

“Jonah is also the central character in the Book of Jonah. Ordered by God to go to the city of Nineveh to prophesy against it “for their great wickedness is come up before me” Jonah seeks instead to flee from “the presence of the Lord” by going to Jaffa and sailing to Tarshish. A huge storm arises and the sailors, realizing this is no ordinary storm, cast lots and learn that Jonah is to blame. Jonah admits this and states that if he is thrown overboard the storm will cease. The sailors try to get the ship to the shore but in failing feel forced to throw him overboard, at which point the sea calms. Jonah is miraculously saved by being swallowed by a large fish specially prepared by God where he spent three days and three nights (Jonah 1:17). In chapter two, while in the great fish, Jonah prays to God in his affliction and commits to thanksgiving and to paying what he has vowed. God commands the fish to vomit Jonah out.”
- Source

Jonah after his spiritual initiation

Manly P. Hall explains here the occult meaning of the Jonah and the Whale.

“When used as a symbol of evil, the fish represented the earth (man’s lower nature) and the tomb (the sepulcher of the Mysteries). Thus was Jonah three days in the belly of the “great fish,” as Christ was three days in the tomb. Several early church fathers believed that the “whale” which swallowed Jonah was the symbol of God the Father, who, when the hapless prophet was thrown overboard, accepted Jonah into His own nature until a place of safety was reached. The story of Jonah is really a legend of initiation into the Mysteries, and the “great fish” represents the darkness of ignorance which engulfs man when he is thrown over the side of the ship (is born) into the sea (life).”
- Manly P. Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages

Jonah emerging from the whale with the word of God

Pinocchio went through the hardships of initiation and came out of the darkness of ignorance. He emerges from tomb resurrected, like Jesus Christ. He is now a “real boy”, an illuminated man who broke the shackles of material life to embrace his higher self. Jiminy Cricket receives a solid gold badge from the Fairy, representing the success of the alchemical process of transforming Pinocchio’s conscience from a crude metal to gold. The “Great Work” has been accomplished. What is there left to do? A crazy accordion party, of course!

In Conclusion

Seen through the eyes of an initiate, Pinocchio’s story, instead of being a series of random adventures, becomes a deeply symbolic spiritual allegory. Details in the movie that are seemingly meaningless suddenly reveal an esoteric truth or at least a brutally honest social commentary. Inspired by metaphysical classics such as The Metamorphoses and Jonah and the Whale, the story’s author, Carlo Collodi, wrote a modern day tale of initiation, which is the most important aspect of Masonic life. Although Walt Disney’s allegiance to Freemasonry has always been disputed, the choice of this story as the second animated movie ever created by the studio is very telling. Many symbolic details added into the movie manifest a great understanding of the underlying occult meaning of Collodi’s book. Considering the numerous re-releases of Pinocchio and its world-wide success one can say that the entire world has witnessed his path to illumination, but very few fully understood it.

When put in relation with other other articles on this site, which reveal rather sinister meanings, the story of Pinocchio is an example of the nobler side of occult teachings. Striving to achieve a higher level of spirituality through self-improvement is a universal theme found in most religions. Pinocchio still remains typically Masonic and reveals the philosophical background of those in control of the mass media.



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Down the rabbit hole! Philosophy and social comment in 'Alice in Wonderland'

Down the rabbit hole! Philosophy and social comment in 'Alice in Wonderland'



by Abigail Muscat

You may think that Alice in Wonderland is just a children's tale you happen to take too seriously. Good news - there are more than a couple of reasons to completely justify your obsession with it! And people will be delighted to join you in discussing social issues in Wonderland over tea and treacle...

The Mad Tea Party

Anyone familiar with the art of Mark Bryan can tell you the significance of the Mad Tea Party. The tea-party in the Victorian age (when 'Alice in Wonderland' was written) was a function in which social norms and cultural rules were of the highest importance. It was of particular importance to the higher classes. Despite all the rules normally associated at a tea party and the pleasant socialising also associated with it, the tea party is nothing but a function of chaos in 'Alice in Wonderland'! There are no rules here, and everyone present at the tea party is completely insane. The Mad-Tea party can be taken as a parallel to society. Society is one mad collection of social norms which we abuse and use to our own advantage.

If we want to take it a step further, we can consider the dormouse as a symbol of the proletariat so often mentioned by Karl Marx. He is constantly abused by the larger and more powerful Hatter and March Hare. The dormouse is tiny and insignificant. He does not voice his opinions, and if he does, he is quickly quieted by the Hatter and the Hare. He is constantly sleeping as though his senses have been dulled. Marx often portrayed the lower classes as being victims of some sort of mechanism that would stop them from ever fighting for their rights, most often exemplified through the quote 'religion is the opium of the people' (more recently twisted to become 'television is the opium of the masses').

The King and Queen of Hearts

The King and Queen of Hearts seem to be a straightforward parody of the monarchy. Their followers are made to do the silliest and most degrading acts, and these followers only do so because they have been instilled with fear. The behaviour of the King and the Queen of hearts - and what they manage to do to their followers - is a simple example of the hysterical and conrolling effects that fear can have on society. Fear is a prevalent form of social control that is REALLY hard to break - even though, as Alice claims, they are 'only a pack of cards'. The cardboard monarchy and their followers have one thing in common; they all belong to the same deck of cards, they all belong to the same group. Despite the king and queen being no different than their subjects, they abuse their power nonetheless. The monarchy's court of justice can be linked to the mad tea-party in the wood. It is in the trial of the knave and in the tea-party that the story reaches two heights of complete idiocy. Society and its justice system seem to be governed by fools and the result is abuse and oppression.

Wonderland as a journey to true wisdom

'Alice in Wonderland' has a recurring metaphor: Alice going down the rabbit hole on a philosopher's quest for true knowledge. Could it be that Wonderland is a world of philosophers? Can it be a world where one can go back to the 'unmoulded' brain of a child? In 'Sophie's World' by Jostein Gaarder, the philosopher tells Sophie she must think like a child to be a true philosopher. Wonderland is the place to do this, to release your inhibitions, to release pre-conceptions of ideas and to start really questioning to gain true wisdom, true knowledge. In its insanity, in its complete separation from the world of adults, one can begin the long journey to true knowledge.

Wonderland is a place of madness. 'We're all mad here,' states the Cheshire cat. Through the eyes of society, one who questions - even and perhaps especially the seemingly basic things - may seem mad, may perhaps seem like they are lost and drifting. But - is this true? Even Socrates, a philospher who inspired powerful emotions in the hearts of his listeners, was executed for corrupting the young. Socrates was the White Rabbit that led children down the rabbit hole and made things seem 'curiouser and curiouser'. The search for truth, the journey through Wonderland is considered 'queer', and to many, it may seem like it is easier to remain in reality and never follow the White Rabbit.

The White Rabbit

The White Rabbit is a spark. He is curiosity. It is he who leads Alice down the rabbit hole, it is he who woke her up from her daze since the hot day had made her sleepy. One notices how even though Alice was still a young child, the condescending world of adults was starting to affect her. She was starting to become an adult herself, and thus, would not question anything. Despite the fact she saw a talking rabbit run past her in human clothing, she found nothing too remarkable about it. It was only when he took out a pocket watch that she gave a start. It is the White Rabbit which Alice runs after and searches for endlessly in Wonderland, a symbol of her quest for knowledge. Just when things seem rather desperate the rabbit appears yet again, and Alice drives on through.

The existence of non-existence

The existence of Non-Being is probably one of the main reasons why the world of Alice was dismissed as one of absolute nonsense. Yet the existence of Non-Being is actually one of the oldest philosophical controversies of Western philosophy. It is clear that Carroll was influenced by his learnings of Greek philosophy at Christ Church.

The beginnings of this controversy can be dated back to the cradle of Western Philosophy: a group of philosophers called the Pre-Socratics (as in pre-Socrates, who in honour of Bill and Ted we should pronouce 'So-creights' not the correct 'Sock-rat-ease'). The Pre-Socratics were also called natural philosophers as they studied the most obvious thing to them: Nature. They wanted to develop the essence of being and explain the changes around them... namely, how things went from being to non-being. Parmenides of Elea was probably the most radical Pre-Socratic philosopher as he relied, for the most part, entirely on his reason. The crazy fool!

This Parmenides asserted that change is utterly impossible, as something in existence cannot move out of it. He said that only 'Is' (i.e Being) is, and one cannot speak of something that 'is not', for who can recognise something that does not exist? It was baffling to his rationality and therefore, he rejected it.

It seems that Carroll disagreed with this assertion, as both the Alice books show. In fact, Humpty Dumpy tells Alice 'there are three hundred and sixty four days when you might get un-birthday presents'. Carroll here seems to follow the ideas of another natural philosopher: Heraclitus.

Heraclitus and Parmenides are often contrasted because of their opposing views. Heraclitus was the very opposite of a rationalist; he was an empiricist (he followed observations according to what his senses showed him). Heraclitus was so deep that some other ancient guy who thought a lot said 'it would take a Delian deep sea diver to get to the bottom of him'. Heraclitus spoke of change, and said that opposites do not exclude each other - as Parmenides argued - but in fact complement each other.

Therefore, in a Heraclitean world (and in Wonderland), opposites (being and non-being) co-exist peacefully. This is the philosophical basis that Carroll must surely have used to write the Alice books. To Carroll it seems that 'nothingness' is, in fact, a special essence, something that is immaterial but existent.

Lewis Carroll also seemed to share the concept of a non-material realm with the philosopher Plato. Here are some examples of the importance Carroll gave to the existence of non-material things:

'Try another Subtraction sum. Take a bone from a dog: what remains?

Alice considered. 'The bone wouldn't remain, of course, if I took it - and the dog wouldn't remain; it would come to bite me - and I'm sure I shouldn't remain!'

'Then you think nothing would remain?' said the Red Queen.

'I think that's the answer.'

'Wrong, as usual,' said the Red Queen: 'the dog's temper would remain.'

'But I don't see how - '

'Why, look here!' the Red Queen cried. 'The dog would lose its temper, wouldn't it?'

'Perhaps it would,' Alice replied cautiously.

'Then if the dog went away, its temper would remain!' the Queen exclaimed triumphantly.'

Lewis Carroll constantly asserts the essence of nothingness:

If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?


Take some more tea,' the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.

'I've had nothing yet,' Alice replied in an offended tone, 'so I can't take more.'

'You mean you can't take LESS,' said the Hatter: 'it's very easy to take MORE than nothing.'

Plato believed that everything in existence in our world (which is often referred to as the world of experience), exists as an Idea or perfect form in another plain of existence. This belief seemed to be shared by Lewis Carroll also, most clearly in the infamous grin of the Cheshire Cat:

Well! I've often seen a cat without a grin; but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever saw in my Life!

According to this Platonic theory, a grin can exist without its master, as a grin may exist entirely on its own, as a non-material being, as a perfect idea of a grin. As the Cheshire cat himself may be a non-material being and can exist, possibly without its body, as a non-material essence of a Cheshire cat head.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are countless philosophical theories about the world of Wonderland. Some say it is a message about the existence of non-existence, a satire about the war of the roses, a story about Carroll's interest in Logic and Language or simply written proof that he was high on drugs. This is probably why we are all so fascinated by this story; it is the type of nonsense we can comprehend, the type of nonsense that requires one to have a considerable amount of sense to write it. I'm sure all of you (myself included) are master Logicians when it comes to nonsense and stupidity.

'Alice in Wonderland' philosophy links




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John Simm interview: 'I don't really do awards'

John Simm interview: 'I don't really do awards'

The Mad Dogs actor on Sky's television drama, taking on challenging roles as an antihero, and the joys of being a dad

John Simm
John Simm, who stars in Mad Dogs on Sky1. Photograph: Martin Usborne for the Guardian

On a break from filming beneath the baking Balearic sunshine, John Simm sits on a white plastic patio chair and ponders "second album anxiety". Along with Philip Glenister, Max Beesley and Marc Warren, Simm is back in Majorca making the second series of Mad Dogs for Sky1.


The first – a darkly comic thriller about a lads' holiday blighted by dead bodies, drug barons and a gun-toting dwarf in a Tony Blair mask – was one of the channel's highest-rated and most acclaimed home-grown dramas. It earned a Bafta nomination in 2011 for best serial – but was, perhaps predictably, beaten to the prize by Channel 4's jury-pleasing Any Human Heart.


"Success, however you judge what that even means, brings with it certain pressures," says Simm, "but we were chuffed by the reception the first series got. I was very surprised, actually. Some people hated it – which I half-expected because it was so different from so much else – but they were luckily outnumbered by the people who loved it. You never undertake a project because you think other people will like it – because that way lies madness – but rather because you believe in it. And we believed in this. So it's great that a lot of other people believed in it too."


When the first series was announced all four actors were full of praise for Sky for taking a gamble on the drama, which is made by Left Bank Pictures and executive-produced by Andy Harries, whose past hits range from Cold Feet and The Royle Family to The Deal and The Queen. The success of Mad Dogs has, in their eyes, an added layer of lustre – Simm's Baxter, Glenister's Quinn, Beesley's Woody and Warren's Rick returned for a second run at 9pm on Thursday, and a third series has been commissioned and begins filming in South Africa this week.


"Our decision to go with Sky was vindicated," says Glenister, who also co-starred with Simm in Life on Mars. "If we had made it for the BBC or ITV, we would have been under more restrictions in terms of content, violence and language. That's understandable – it's one of the prices you pay for being on a terrestrial channel – but it wouldn't be the show it is and it wouldn't be the show we wanted to make. Mad Dogs has got much more of a filmic quality to it. In a way, it doesn't feel as if we're making television."


Arguably, the compliments heaped upon Sky are just actors' flannel, flattery designed to charm their current employer, but Glenister and Simm seem sincere. And Simm's reputation means he doesn't need to sweet-talk Sky, or stroke TV executives' egos. He is just as at home in uncompromising grown-up drama as he is in the likes of Doctor Who and Life on Mars and has a CV that reads like a list of some of the best dramas of the past 15 years, from Jimmy McGovern's The Lakes and Paul Abbott's State of Play to Danny Brocklehurst's Exile last year, via Sex Traffic by Abi Morgan and The Devil's Whore by Peter Flannery.


Exile on BBC1 last year, which co-starred Jim Broadbent, was a case in point. "That was proper quality, one of those jobs that you think 'yes, this is fantastic'. Olivia Colman [who played Simm's sister] was just incredible. It was a very, very tough job but I had come off the back of Hamlet [on stage at the Sheffield Crucible] so I was match fit."


However, the 41-year-old becomes sheepish when I describe him as "one of Britain's best actors". "That's very kind of you but I don't know about that. It's not as if I get up in the morning and, if I'm feeling downhearted, say to myself in the mirror 'Cheer up – you're one of Britain's best actors!'. I don't think about it at all. I'd go nuts if I did."


If Simm doesn't get at least a nomination for best actor at the Baftas for playing Exile's disgraced journalist who uncovers family and political secrets, there is something seriously amiss, I say. But Simm, who has never won a Bafta, isn't that bothered. "I don't know if you've noticed, but I don't really do awards," he says, archly.


For all that Simm is serious about acting, it isn't just him and his art he thinks about since first becoming a father 10 years ago. "It's not about me any more, it's about my family. Having children is the defining thing of your adulthood and I never want to be one of those dads who isn't really that arsed about seeing his children and is happy to go off for months and months on end. Nor do I want to be one of those actor-dads who drags them out of school to follow me around."


Mad Dogs' relatively short shoots in Majorca last summer meant that he could bring the family out with him during the summer holidays – he is married to Kate Magowan, a fellow actor who appeared with him in 24 Hour Party People and Exile. "When it came up, it was one of those things that made me think 'Why wouldn't I do this?' I've never done anything like it, I'm working with great actors and directors in a nice location, and it's just sounded exciting. I mean – what's not to like?


"You can't start turning down things because you think it's not good enough for you," Simm adds. "You have to weigh up the options and go for it, hopefully without compromising your artistic integrity too much."


Simm doesn't subscribe to Cyril Connolly's view that "there is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall", and says that being a dad and getting older have enhanced his life and work. "When I got to 40, I was happy. Now I can wear what I like, listen to what I like, don't have to try and be cool. I'm someone's dad and it doesn't matter any more. That's an enormous freedom."


I ask him if he thinks that part of Mad Dogs' appeal is that, amid the caper and chaos, it's about growing up and what it means to be a man. "Absolutely, it's about friendship. There's something really interesting about having those close friends that you've had incredible times with but growing up and away from them. The underlying tensions, the shifting in the group dynamic, the little lies you tell to big yourself up: it's something that happens to us all."


After he finishes filming Mad Dogs 3, Simm is heading back to the stage, again in Sheffield, to appear in Harold Pinter's Betrayal. He is, he says, "incredibly excited".


"I had an amazing time on Hamlet so it's great to be going back. It was exhausting but brilliant. Twice a day too. At my age. It should be illegal."

Curriculum vitae

Age 41

Education Edge End High school, Nelson, Lancs; Blackpool and the Fylde College; Drama Centre London

Career 1995 appears in Cracker episode written by Paul Abbott 1997-99 The Lakes 1999 Human Traffic, Wonderland 2000 Clocking Off 2002 24 Hour Party People, Crime and Punishment 2003 State of Play 2004 Sex Traffic 2006-07 Life on Mars 2007-10 The Master in Doctor Who 2008 The Devil's Whore 2011-12 Mad Dogs 2011 Exile


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