The project has also ignited a new passion: wild swimming, which he has been doing off the coasts of Scotland and Ireland ever since reading about it in Liptrot’s book. “Beforehand you’re hoping that you trip over and can’t go through with it,” he explains. “Then you come out and you just wanna hug and kiss people.” He is determined to avoid becoming “one of those annoying people” who bang on about it, but will admit to owning a Dryrobe. “It’s leopard print, though,” he points out, which apparently distinguishes him from the earnest types.
Saoirse has the bug too. The couple recently kayaked Scotland’s Great Glen Way with a gang of friends, paddling in vast lochs by day and wild camping at night. “Amazing,” Lowden enthuses. “We reached a pub at one point and walked in there like we’d been missing for three months. We’d only been camping for two nights; you’d think we’d come back from Shackleton’s expedition.”
There was no training required to play River Cartwright. Sidelined by bosses after botching a practice response to a terrorist incident, the first episode of Slow Horses sees him moping around the deeply unglamorous Slough House, as opposed to, say, engaged in a high-speed boat chase next to a supermodel. “It’s deliberately pedestrian,” says Lowden, smiling. Has he thought about the slicker side of espionage, I ask? The fact that the new James Bond is yet to be cast will surely not have escaped the notice of a British actor of Lowden’s age and caliber.
He laughs in a way that suggests he’s aware the show could make him a contender in the eyes of fans, and Bond producer Barbara Broccoli has cast him previously (in her 2012 stage adaptation of Chariots of Fire). “Slough House is MI5, though, not MI6—strictly domestic,” he deadpans. Having grown up watching Daniel Craig as 007, Lowden insists, “It’s going to take a long time to get him out of my head. Or anybody else’s.” Someone new will eventually slip into the Brioni tux, though… and wasn’t the best Bond Scottish? “Arguably he was,” Lowden says, with what could definitely be interpreted as a mischievous grin.
Of course, fronting a billion-dollar film franchise for the next decade or so would leave him with less time to fling himself into freezing water with his girlfriend—not to mention a level of global fame I’m not sure he’s in the market for. I believe him when he says he’s never seriously considered a move to Hollywood, thousands of miles from morning dooks in frigid lochs and the theater work he hopes to continue forever. “I’ve been over a few times, but here seems to be where it’s happening,” he says. “The quality of stuff being made in the U.K. is just fantastic.” Besides, he adds, as he stands to leave, “I’m shite in the sun.”