In a hypothetical transatlantic survey, the name David Tennant would draw the same reaction from both sides of the ocean, with respondents calling out "who" with equal conviction. The tone, though, carries the significant difference in identification, with the man in question bewildering Americans and beloved by the Brits.
The Scottish actor is an icon in the United Kingdom, thanks in large part to his long residency as the titular Doctor in "Doctor Who," the humanoid traveler of space and time who has protected the earth in BBC adventures for the past five decades. An entertainment institution comparable to "Star Trek" in the United States, the show relaunched after a lengthy hiatus in 2005, with Tennant taking control of the flying phone booth -- yes, that's how he gets around -- a year later.
He proved a perfect fit, winning a multitude of Favourite Actor awards and even topping a poll for sexiest man in the world. And with that remake a wild success -- he handed the reigns to the 11th Doctor, Matt Smith, last year -- the actor decided to roll the dice once again, taking on the big responsibility of inhabiting another beloved character.
This time, it was Peter Vincent, vampire expert, in the upcoming big screen reboot of the camp vampire classic, "Fright Night," as he joined a cast that includes young leads Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots, as well as Colin Farrell and Toni Collette.
"It's interesting. I don't think I really think about it before I jump," Tennant laughed in a conversation with The Huffington Post. "I probably should because yeah, absolutely, as with 'Doctor Who' before it, there's a great deal of love for 'Fright Night,' and there's a great deal of love for Peter Vincent. Of course, because he was embodied by Roddy McDowell, who people rightly adore, me included. Of course, that's part of the attraction to things like this, that you're becoming part of a beloved line, but then once you're in there, you realize you have the responsibility not to mess it up, which comes after the event and can give you some sleepless nights."
The insomnia is only fitting, given the subject matter, but luckily, he noted, his Vincent isn't "that comparable to Roddy McDowell's" original incarnation of the character, as they "come from a very different place, from a very different world."
Relocated for the 21st century, Tennant, at the direction of screenwriter Marti Noxon, created a sort of a goth rockstar Vincent, a character borne of a DNA mix of Britpop and Ozzy Osbourne. He sports a long black wig, goatee and leather pants for a Las Vegas stage show spectacle, while backstage undressing a boozy vulnerability that becomes key late in the film. Both the role's comedic and secretly dramatic elements were an inviting combination for the actor.
"A Las Vegas illusionist, there is already something quite juicy to begin with, and the fact that his private life is a sort of car crash, from an acting point of view, one is quite keen to get one's vampiric teeth into," Tennant explained. "And then the fact that he's got a dark secret, the fact that he drinks too much, all these things are wonderful opportunities."
Add in director-granted freedom to experiment with scenes and approach and, "It was just a real treat, to get handed a character that already had so many juicy elements going for him."
Lording over ancient vampire artifacts from ages of archaeological digs and his own lifetime of study, Vincent is a fraudulent star, long since resigned to a life fooling transfixed Vegas audiences into believing stagecraft and trying to drown his truth in liquor. It takes a visit from Yelchin's desperate teen Charley to revive his spirit.
Though wildly dissimilar in both appearance and intellectual rigor, both Tennant's Doctor and Vincent show off his quick wit and comedic talent, as did much of his pre-Doctor work, including the well-received miniseries, "Casanova." There is, however, a much more dramatic side in his repertoire; he earned vast acclaim for his run as Hamlet on the West End, is now starring in another Shakespeare work in "Much Ado About Nothing," and will soon feature in a film about the tragic plane crash involving Manchester United.
"I'm quite greedy for the variety, I think," he explained. "I love the fact that I'm doing Shakespeare in the West End at the moment and then talking about vampires at the day. That's sort of what I'd always hoped I'd manage to do, to mix things up like that, to have a wide variety of work. I think it just helps you to keep being hopefully creative and it keeps challenging you. It's ideal really, if I can do a film and then a play and then a bit of tele and then a radio play and then an audio book, I love the fact that I'm in a job where I get to do all those different types of things."
He credits many of the opportunities to the Doctor, and that doesn't just extend to his recent run of success; as he's admitted over the years, that role was why he got into the business in the first place.
"In Britain ['Doctor Who'] was always a ubiquitous part of our cultural heritage and I grew up, as everyone in my generation did, grew up loving it. And as a kid I was transfixed and thought, that's the job for me," Tennant remembered. "I very quickly got that it was telling stories. I always understood the sort of fact/fantasy kind of definition, I very quickly got what actors did and I just sort of got that it was a great job. I've been very fortunate that I have been so far been able to make a living at it."