Peter Wingfield in the Sunday People
ACTING? IT'S A DOC'S LIFE
EXCLUSIVE Holby hunk lifts lid on his nightmare personal life despite tackling job he loves Telly medic peter says getting on the screen is painful
By Jon Wise Jon.Wise@People.Co.Uk
HE IS the handsome Holby star who makes good money from doing a job he loves.
His career has taken him to Los Angeles and given him legions of adoring female fans.
Yet Peter Wingfield - who plays Consultant Dan Clifford in the BBC1 drama - has some simple advice for anyone looking to follow him into the acting profession: DON'T.
"Do something else," he says. "You should only be doing it if you absolutely cannot do anything else in the world.
"There's no pension plan or backup. If you have no work you still have to hold it together.
"There are lots of times when it is clear that people just don't want you. "If people just want the money that can come with it then I would say buy a lottery ticket instead.
"The good points are just so mind bogglingly good. But the bad times are so hard."
Peter, 44, finds his work also causes him problems in his personal life, as filming Holby in London means he's separated from his wife Carolyn for weeks on end.
The couple moved to Los Angeles 18-months ago with their seven-year-old son. Both mother and son are still living there.
"I'm not going to lie - it is brutal," he shrugs. "It is harsh being away from them.
It's what I do but this certainly is the toughest because it is a long time not to see them.
"We have eight-week separations and then 10- week separations. They come over when our son has holidays and I go back when I take my break. But it is tough - really really tough.
"I have a place that I am renting in north London near the studios and that's my life.
"It's like an office job. I get four weeks holiday a year.
"Carolyn and I talk for an hour every night. Two or three hours some nights depending on what is going on."
He clearly thinks playing arrogant medic Dan is worth some sacrifices, however.
"He's ash*t disturber," says Peter. "He comes in and shakes things up and is provocative. You need someone like him to kick things around a bit."
But Peter reckons he is the polar opposite of his alter-ego.
"He works at a much faster pace than I do," explains Peter.
"He doesn't contemplate things, he just does it and doesn't worry about the consequences.
"I am completely the opposite of that. I vacillate and mull things over and I take things at a much slower pace than him.
"The first couple of months was exhausting.
"I would do a scene and think I was gabbling and talking as fast as I could, and when I watched it back I was just swaying through the ward.
"I spent the first couple of months living in a triple espresso kind of world, trying to keep the energy up from 7am till 7pm.
"At the end of the day I was absolutely knackered. It was just killing me."
Cardiff-born Peter admits that it was easier for him to make his role authentic than most actors.
He trained as a doctor in real life - dramatically quitting just a month before he qualified. He revealed: "I didn't know anyone who was an actor and I'd grown up with the idea that I'd have to have something else to fall back on.
"So I thought I would qualify as a doctor first.
"But when it got close to my final exams I began to worry that if I qualified I would be a doctor who acted rather than just an actor.
"So it was important to me not to qualify so that I would have no choice but to make a go of showbiz."
Peter, whose elder brother David is a GP, spent five years training to be a doctor at Oxford University and St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College, north London.
And his decision to quit when he was 23 caused massive rows with his family and friends.
"It was a pretty tense time," he sighs.
"Getting very close to qualifying as a doctor and then walking away from it was pretty scary for everybody, me included.
"Some family and friends were very supportive it and were appalled." But since landing his plum role in Holby last November, Peter says his family could not be happier.
He laughs: "Now I am a doctor and I am the best kind, because my family can see me doing my work each week on TV if they want.
"If I was a real doctor then they would just get a sense that I was out there working somewhere, but never actually be able to see what I was doing."
Peter studied acting at the Barbican in London for two years after leaving med school.
He went on to star in hit US show Highlander, spending half of the year filming in Paris and the other half in Vancouver.
In 1996 he was Tully in the Second World War drama Over Here and a year later he came back to star as Tom Kirby in Noah's Ark. But he has not been on British TV for ten years.
He has had roles in US smash hits such as Smallville and X-Men and gets recognised all around the world.
"Two Russian guys who had seen me on Highlander came up to me," he laughed:
"They started speaking to me in Russian because it had been dubbed and they thought I was fluent.
"That was weird. I have been to conventions in Australia and people are wearing T-shirts that have your face on them. It's just weird. It's always a bit freaky."
Peter - whose dashing looks don't go unnoticed by the women at the restaurant where we are having lunch - moved to Canada in 1997, which is where he met Carolyn.
Their separation aside, he is enjoying every second of being back on British TV.
"I am loving Holby so much at the moment, I feel like I am constantly learning," he says.
"I went and watched some operations for research.
"But nearly everything is done very delicately whereas Clifford is very much into sticking the knife in and ripping people apart.
"I didn't see any of those types of operations at all."
Smirking, he adds: "No one has mistaken me for a doctor in real life yet.
"But people have always thought that I am someone they could trust and they could tell their problems to and I would help them in some way."
If he does ever get bored of being back in Britain, he's got a great plan to bring his new job Stateside.
"What would be really great is Holby the Movie with Steven Spielberg producing and Sam Mendes directing," he says, breaking out into a huge grin.
"Kate Winslet could be in it - and Denzil Washington and Angelina Jolie. It would be brilliant."
Even worth giving up that doctor's career for.