ITV Studios for MASTERPIECE
Aidan McArdle as Lord Loxley
Throughout the ages, there are men and women who have exchanged wedding vows and embarked on a “marriage of convenience.” While some of these couples truly care for one another, or subsequently come to care for one another, there are others whose public displays of affection, if any, are for show only. In the popular British ITV drama series Mr. Selfridge, Lord Loxley and his wife Lady Mae Loxley share one of these more unconventional marriages. During the show’s first season, Lord Loxley existed in name only, but this [second] season, he appears in the flesh, much to the annoyance of his wife. He is played by the talented and affable actor Aidan McArdle, who, like Lady Mae, knows precisely what makes his character tick.
“I would describe Lord Loxley as someone who is privileged and regardless of what might be happening in the world, he always has a view of himself that he should be at the top of the chain,” explains McArdle. “If, however, he’s not quite there at the moment, he’ll do something to make sure that he gets to the top of the chain. My character is ruthless and not so much of an ambitious man, but one who will do whatever it takes to get what he wants. He definitely has fun when it comes to beating other people to the top of the ladder, and maybe even takes pleasure in making people feel uncomfortable while doing it. So he’s a really lovely guy,” jokes the actor.
“Initially, I played Loxley as this type of mysterious gentleman who slowly shows that there’s far more steel in the proverbial velvet glove than Lady Mae [Katherine Kelly] might think. At the beginning of Mr. Selfridge’s second season, Lady Mae believes she can handle any man in the world, but Lord Loxley is in financial difficulty when we first meet him, and she quickly realizes not only can she not handle him, but that he’s a very dangerous man. Lord Loxley is going to turn her whole perception of who she is and her world upside-down.
“So there’s no getting around him at all, but I think that Lady Mae still considers him just a public schoolboy. Actually, he wants to win, and he wants to win in his marriage as well as win in terms of using his position as a member of the House of Lords to get back on top, and never for one second does he think he will fail. That’s his strength. Lord Loxley doesn’t care about self-awareness or about other people. He does, though, understand how being privileged can work in a society where class is a huge aspect of the specific machinations of that particular society.”
Set in the early 1900s, the first season of Mr. Selfridge finds the successful American retail entrepreneur Harry Gordon Selfridge (Jeremy Piven) coming to London, England with grand plans to open a department store on Oxford Street unlike any seen in Europe. One of his staunchest supporters is socialite Lady Mae Loxley, who not only has a passion for shopping but also for the advancement of women’s rights. She provides Harry and his family with all the right contacts to succeed professionally as well as socially in England, and he, in turn, supports her causes. When season two opens, five years have passed and Selfridges is celebrating its fifth anniversary. Lady Mae is ready to leave for a store visit when Lord Loxley unexpectedly arrives from the country. Like a black cloud, he descends upon the household. Happily for McArdle, his arrival on the Mr. Selfridge set was a far more pleasurable experience, and equally as memorable.
“I’d never acted before with Kate Kelly, and on my very first day of work on the show, I had to film this really brilliantly written scene where Lady Mae isn’t doing exactly as her husband has asked of her, so he dips one of his fingers into the yolk of this runny egg that she’s eating for breakfast and daubs it all over her face in this very horrible and proprietorial way,” recalls the actor.
“Years ago I was working on a project where I had to do a love scene with this actress. So I sort of snuggled into her to try to make her laugh and feel more comfortable or whatever, and she said to me, ‘You’re giving me a beard rash.’ That totally froze me out as an actor. All I could think was, ‘OK, now I can’t do anything with her. Is she going to be upset if I do this, or maybe that?’ I ended up being pretty stilted in the scene, and that’s an awful pity, because if you’re a regular on a show, I think you should really try to make a new actor feel comfortable in a scene with you, especially a love scene. Whenever I’ve been a series regular, I’ve remembered that incident and thought, ‘I’ll always try to make anyone coming onto this set for the first time feel like they own this space,’ do you know what I mean?
“The scene that I had to do with Kate Kelly in Mr. Selfridge was worse than what I had to do in the scene I just told you about, and she could not have been nicer. Kate made me feel totally at home. She’s one of those people who know what the job entails, comes onto the set, delivers a performance and there’s no ego involved. In this show, everyone was there to do the same thing, which was to tell the story in the best way possible, and Kate was amazing. Of course, I was apologizing and reaching for hand sanitizer, because I was sticking this egg yolk-covered finger in her mouth, and, again, this was literally the first day we’d met. So you’ve got this kind of schizophrenic situation where you have to behave like a total bastard in front of the camera, and then as soon as the director says, 'Cut,' you’re saying you’re sorry and asking your fellow actor if they’re alright. It turned out to be a great fun, though, and Kate and I were joking about it within a couple of minutes. She made the whole thing go really, really well for me and I was extremely grateful.”
Shortly after arriving in London, Lord Loxley accompanies Lady Mae to Selfridges, where he wastes no time in telling Harry that he is closing out his wife’s account. He turns up his nose at Selfridge, which Harry politely overlooks, but he does express his objections when Loxley dares to address Lady Mae in an ungentlemanly-like manner. As Loxley continues to try to exert his control over Lady Mae, he discovers that Selfridge is not about to bend to his will.
“My character considers someone like Harry to be nouveau riche, but because Loxley has been living out in the country, he’s unaware that there’s been a shift in society from the class-based privileged to the new elite,” notes McArdle. “He calls Harry a shopkeeper, but to be more accurate, Selfridge is showing society a new way to shop and a new way to be a consumer. Loxley thinks that the old rules still apply, and while Harry isn’t allowed into the ‘old boys’ network that is the House of Lords and similar types of committees, his financial might alone makes him a tremendously powerful individual. As the second season of Mr. Selfridge goes on, it dawns on Loxley that as much as he might want to, he cannot dismiss Selfridge as simply a shopkeeper, and an American shopkeeper at that. Loxley is ultimately forced into a position where he needs Harry Selfridge, which is when he comes to see the steel that is behind Harry and that there’s more to him than he originally thought.
“In terms of Lady Mae, I felt that they had a very hasty marriage after probably a sort of very dysfunctional sexual relationship,” says the actor with a chuckle. “I can only imagine it was a little bit weird, whatever the two of them got up to, and after that they came to some sort of conclusion that he’d live in the country and that she, just for propriety’s sake, would be his representative in London. Now, suddenly, Lord Loxley is having financial difficulties and he has to reclaim his space—or what he believes to be his space—and he basically ‘owns’ Lady Mae because she’s his wife and part of that space. That’s how he looks at her.
“I’ve always thought of Lord Loxley and Lady Mae as being like a pair of spiders that have come together and it’s all about the game and who’s on top. There’s something almost deeply attractive in the dysfunction of it, but that’s not really who Lady Mae is. It’s his idea of who she is. I think he loves her, but not in a way that a human being would recognize love and want to be loved, but in a way that a psychopath would love someone. So it’s this mutual understanding between two predators that sort of know how the world works. In Loxley’s mind, I don’t think he could be with anyone else, and if she ever tries to get away from him, he will only end up owning her more. Loxley will have to win by capturing her, trapping her or doing something that would make her deeply unhappy. He wouldn’t care about that either, just as long as he won.”
Born in Dublin, Ireland, McArdle had his sights set on an acting career from a young age, but at one point he did mull over another option. “I think I wanted to be a vet until around the age of eight when my uncle explained to me how to castrate animals,” he says. “I couldn’t do something like that. I love animals too much, so that was that.
“I took drama classes as a kid, and that developed from me behaving like a total showoff to something else. It turned into this sort of urge that I had to do it [act]. I realize this might sound completely pretentious, and I don’t mean it to at all, but there was never any doubt in my mind from around the age of 12 that I was going to be an actor or that I needed to become an actor. It’s very hard to explain, but it’s not like you look down a list of professions and think, ‘Oh, yeah, actor. That suits my personality type, blah, blah, blah.’ You just end up needing to do it, and I can’t really explain it any other way.”
Ella Enchanted, The Duchess, Me and Orson Welles and The Borderlands are among the actor’s feature film credits. On TV, he has appeared in several made-for-TV movies as well as the miniseries Jane Eyre, Quirke and The Mill. McArdle had regular roles in Beautiful People and All About George along with a recurring role in Garrow’s Law and has guest-starred on such series as Casualty, Agatha Christie’s Marple, Afterlife, Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Law & Order: UK and "Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case," the series finale of the long-running Agatha Christie’s Poirot.
“That was tremendous fun,” enthuses the actor. “Those stories are so complex that, as an actor, you’re always checking the script to see where you are, but then it’s all explained in a sort of Charlie’s Angels-type way at the end, which is quite gratifying. It means that you can play the subtleties of it, because someone then explains your character through flashbacks. For example, in a Poirot you can totally underplay a line at the time and it’s not noticed. Then in a flashback, your character says the same line, but Hercule Poirot is also saying, ‘But he knew this would make her jealous.’ It puts an entirely new spin on it, so you don’t have to add in some subtextual thing so that viewers can read something more into that same line afterwards.
“The last scene I did in Poirot was one of the nicest acting experiences I’ve ever had. David Suchet [Hercule Poirot], who’s also a producer on the show, is a brilliant actor, and where some actors may have made a point of letting you know that they were the most powerful person in the room while doing a scene that was an important one for your character, there was none of that with David. He is such a generous actor as well as joy to work with, and because of that, we were both allowed to just sort of go for it and have a good old acting ‘bash’ at one another. It was amazing, and I was really thrilled how it turned out.”
Although most people try to keep their professional lives separate from their personal ones, an actor often draws upon his or her real world experiences in order to bring an added level of truth to their performance. “Depending on the role, you try to utilize bits of your own humanity and align that with maybe your character’s different view of the world,” says McArdle. “You then sort of take that on as your view of the world when you’re playing this character. With Lord Loxley, everything should be good for him. He’ll do whatever it takes and hurt whoever he wants, and it’s their tough luck because he’s a lord and should be able to do whatever he likes. So you just sort of go in a certain direction and do it. Of course, it’s even better when you’re handed well-written material with complicated characters.
“When you love doing what you’re doing, it’s a very privileged position to be in. When I was a kid, I didn’t know any actors, and becoming one seemed to me to be as impossible as becoming an astronaut, so I feel incredibly grateful to find myself making a living at what I love most.”
Season two of Mr. Selfridge premieres Sunday, March 30th in the U.S. on PBS' MASTERPIECE (check local listings for time). Please note, all photos from Mr. Selfridge and Agatha Christie's Poirot copyright of ITV Studios.