The British actor, who appears in “All Creatures Great and Small” and “Slow Horses,” talks about bird-watching, history podcasts and why he stands up for rats.
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In the first episode of the current season of “All Creatures Great and Small,” Siegfried Farnon wins a rat in a drinking contest.
The actor who plays him, Samuel West, felt victorious, too. He’d been angling for a rat to make its way into the PBS series — about a rural veterinary practice in England in the late 1930s — and has been a fan of them for even longer.
“I’ve had five rats in my life, but they were sort of baby substitutes,” West said in a video interview last month from his family’s home in North London, which they share with a pair of kittens but no rats. “I can’t wait for my children to be old enough to have them again.”
In addition to “All Creatures,” whose third season began in the United States this month, West can also be seen in Apple TV+’s spy thriller, “Slow Horses.” He spoke to us about the days he looks for 100 birds, the years he’s spent on a single stamp and why chamber music can feel more like acting than acting. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
1. Dungeons & Dragons I was a very early adopter of Dungeons & Dragons. I started around Christmas of 1977, when I was 11, playing on the floor of the boy’s loos at school, literally sitting down with paper and rolling dice before school. Now, I play every week online. The game has evolved so much over the years. The new edition has completely transformed the game: It’s much simpler, it’s full of mechanics that are easy to learn, and it’s very inclusive.
2. Tom Phillips He painted, wrote books, made art for album covers, wrote an opera called “Irma.” I met him when I was 16. I’d never really met an artist before, and I didn’t really know what an artist’s life was like. Tom showed me that it didn’t really have to be like anything, or it could be like as many things as you wanted, because it was only really limited by his skill and his curiosity, both of which seemed to be infinite.
3. Darcy Clothing This clothing retailer in the United Kingdom used to be a very well-kept secret among costume designers who needed to buy a large number of period shirts dating as far back as the 16th century. Anyone can shop there and it’s all very good quality. Siegfried Farnon and I both get shirts there. I particularly like shirts with long, pointed, soft collars without stiffeners, like men wore in the 1930s.
4. Stamp Collecting At a party 20 years ago, a woman was trying to pretend to be interested in the fact that I collect stamps and asked me how many I had. It’s not a question that anybody who collects stamps would ask somebody else. I realized that what she was asking about was an accumulation. And I thought, What’s the difference between an accumulation and a collection? I suddenly realized that a collection is defined by what it leaves out. That was incredibly enabling.
5. Bird-watching If we’ve got a full day to go birding, we almost always go to Norfolk, which is the best bird-watching county in Britain, bar none. And we try and do what’s called a Big Day, which means we start just before sunrise — usually in a wood on the Norfolk/Suffolk border — and we drive through Norfolk maybe with one stop. Then we go along the A149, which I call the birding Silk Road, and we finish just after sunset listening for owls. We try and get to 100 species.
6. Gem There’s a great restaurant in our neighborhood called Gem that serves Greek, Kurdish and Turkish food. Twenty years ago, I went in and they said, Before you order, do you want this? Because we’ve made too many and it’s really nice. So, I sat down and I had this sort of chopped-up kebab with tomato sauce and bread and butter. It was absolutely delicious. I had nothing else for about eight years.
7. Lagavulin 16-Year-Old I have about 15 different whiskeys upstairs on a shelf. It takes quite a long time to get through because I don’t drink quickly. But it’s very warming and lovely in the winter. The darker, the peatier, the smokier, the better. My favorite whiskey is probably Lagavulin 16-year-old, which is the Scotch that Nick Offerman’s Ron Swanson drank on “Parks and Recreation.”
8. Sleeper Train to Penzance The train leaves Paddington at five minutes to midnight, but if you have a sleeper, you can get on at 10:30 p.m., check into your room, and go to the buffet car for a whiskey — crisps for the children — before wandering back to your berth. In the morning, they knock on your door and bring you coffee and croissants or bacon rolls. If you’re lucky, when you lift your curtain, you can see the sun rising behind St. Michael’s Mount, and you get to Penzance at about five past 8. We just took our children and they adored it.
9. “The Rest Is History” Sometimes when you’re looking out of the window or reading the paper and thinking, “God, everything’s a bit of a bin fire,” it helps to go back and look at other times in history where things were also a bit of a bin fire or to just get a bit more perspective on the fact that things change and even terrible things pass. That’s one of the reasons I like the podcast “The Rest Is History,” hosted by the British historians Dominic Sandbrook and Tom Holland. They have a wonderful series on the American Civil War.
10. Mendelssohn Octet Felix Mendelssohn wrote the first version when he was 16. The piece is so brilliant, so joyous, so full of energy, tunes, life and vivacity. When I was a teenager playing cello, it was my gateway drug to chamber music. The chamber music repertoire actually reminds me more of acting than acting does sometimes — the togetherness between a string quartet and the way you have to really listen to each other. I love working with musicians because, in addition to being talented, they also practice. Actors, on the whole, don’t practice.
Samuel West Takes Comfort in D&D, Mendelssohn and Ron Swanson’s Whiskey – The New York Times