An attentive and considerate man, Michael Keating is already apologising for being late, despite only being a couple of minutes past our start time.
'I'm afraid I've been locked out of my hotel room', he explains, passing round a healthy jug of milk for tea and a bowlful of mints. It's a somewhat disconcerting spectacle being waited on by a star of Blake's 7, but then Michael is a man remarkably free of ego and always showing interest in other people.
It's amazing how quickly conversation is turned to the other person, Michael soon enquiring as to how far I've travelled and what my hobbies are. After I confess to writing (lying about it not being science-fiction orientated for a semblance of cool) he notes that it's something he would like to try himself, but 'it's something you've got to have a burning desire to do, and being lazy does come into it.'
Taller than television made him appear ('I envisaged Vila as a very "small" character, so I affected a stoop') he's aged remarkably well, his dark black hair enlivened only by specks of grey and his face largely free of the signs that he's now entering his sixties. Naturally, I ask him about Blake, a show that he's at ease with, but one that doesn't occupy him to a large degree today. He's far from resentful of the series, or mildly disinterested (such as Steven Pacey) though admits to having not seen virtually any of the second and third seasons since their broadcast. City at the Edge of the World is naturally a favourite, and he would be interested in seeing The Keeper again, but generally it's 'like looking at a photograph of myself as a small boy… it's all so long ago.'
Would he approach the part differently if he was doing it today?
'Oh God yeah.' He instantly agrees, musing that the idea would be 'academic' anyway due to his age. Heroes on television, he observes, are supposed to be 'under thirty-five', though he insists his acting ability would have improved with age.
A keen rambler and an obviously literate man, Keating is free of bitterness that could accompany the lack of work currently in the profession. While he believes that reality shows will 'burn themselves out' and confesses that the day before we met he'd auditioned for The Bill, he talks about how relaxed he is with the situation and derides his 'tunnel vision' of earlier years which kept him focussed on work. This leads to talk of his divorce, conducted while filming the series, and his dissatisfaction with the final season.
Did he think the character was downgraded in the final year? Again, it's something that he agrees to without hesitation, bemoaning the unrealistic plot ('it would have been better if we'd stayed on a planet trying to survive for six or seven episodes') and the character 'going over old ground - I seemed to be saying a lot of the lines I'd already said throughout season three.' Though he remarks that 'We all started to get depressed' in the final year, he's enjoyed the travel the series has afforded him, and has revisited the first season on DVD. If there's a real element he holds to blame, then it's the scripts of that final year. 'It's like with hiking, an actor can only use the script as a route map, you can only really be as good as the script allows.'
Easy-going in nature, there's a friendly candidness to Keating that can surprise. While he confesses to getting on extremely well with all his co-stars, he admits to a dislike of director Michael E. Briant (The Way Back/The Web/Project Avalon/Deliverance) and believes 'the feeling was probably mutual'. Most shocking of all though is his revelation of aggression some years ago. Having many times said that Vila was cautious not cowardly, he then recounts a story of being mugged after a play in Leicester.
'I was so angry,' says the man who played the meek and ineffectual Vila, 'I began to shout, and I had this loud voice from appearing in theatre - they just ran.'
It turns out that Keating was hit with pepper spray and exploded with a four-letter rant that involved 'questioning their parentage and telling them to go forth and multiply.' Claims that 'If I'd had a gun I would have shot them… I would have shot them in the back' were met with alarm from the police, while in a state of 'neurosis' he spent the next few weeks 'carrying around a hammer in my bag, convinced everyone was out to get me.'
Jovial Vila as a Paul Kersey style vigilante? So many questions abound - does he condone such behaviour? Are his politics right-wing? (Probably not, as his wicked George Bush impression went to prove). Does he have a naturally violent streak? To be honest, I was so taken aback that none of these questions got asked, much less answered, and, perhaps sensing that the anecdote has startled, Keating returns to talk of his current loves. These include Arthur Miller, Frasier ('Some say it's very formulaic, but then what isn't?') and hiking. While many actors profess to regard theatre over any other medium, Keating claims that this isn't the case for him, and would love to do more film and television work. He'd also love to do more radio, though half-jokingly worries about 'being found out' should he try.
Our time is already up, and so we say our goodbyes and prepare to leave. Less showy than the other Blake stars, Michael is thoughtful, and, as always, a gentleman.
'Thankyou' I say as we leave. 'Thank you', he says with a smile.
Interview copyright AnorakZone.com, 2004. With thanks to Michael Keating.