Digital Spy caught up with Laurence recently to chat about his new role, pranks on set, the future of Lewis, his role in Madonna's big-screen directorial debut W.E. and his musical aspirations...
What can you tell us about your character Jonathan?
"Jonathan Donald - car salesman, bit of a w**ker! Likes fast cars and loose women. He thinks he's quite cool, quite sexy… quite perfect, really. Yeah, he's a bit of a kn*b."
Is there a certain level of enjoyment that comes from playing such a cocky, brash character?
"A huge level of enjoyment, because you get to say really deeply inappropriate things! It made me laugh, some of the things I had to say to people. You're working with special needs kids, and he's really rude to them. [But he's] not meaning to be rude to them. There is a guilty pleasure in being rude and knowing that it's acting rather than you. But you get the same release as if you were being rude in life."
It must be a big change from filming Lewis…
"Yeah, absolutely. It's the complete polar opposite, I think, from [my role in] Lewis. Though you're always sort of the same, aren't you? Same face and all that!"
How does Fast Freddie balance comedy and tragedy?
"When I was reading it, I started off laughing quite a lot, and you slowly find yourself stopping laughing. There are still more laughs, but then you find yourself feeling 'Oh f**k, no!' It's goodnight, sweet prince! Night night, Freddie."
What was it that attracted you to the project?
"It was just a really good script, I really liked reading it. I didn't know any of [Christopher Dunlop's] writing before, and often when you read such scripts, they're not quite ready. You feel, 'Oh, if they could just make that a little bit better' - but [this script] was very tight and it didn't need that much work. I really, really loved it when I read it, and I don't always love jobs that I do."
Is it exciting or nerve-wracking to be fronting a big Christmas drama?
"Well, you're an actor - people judge you and criticise you, and praise you and say you're great in equal measure. So all you can do really is work as hard as you can - if you're good, then great, and if you're bad, then [that's] bad. I don't really care - it's a job. A job I love dearly and am very grateful for, but if people want me to work, I'll work, and if they don't, I'll find something else to do. I'm not going to cry over it.
"But I'm quite pleased [to be fronting a Christmas special]. I was surprised [by the material] - I didn't know ITV were that risky. Lewis has its own vibe, but this is kind of a cool show. I thought it was cool."
How was the whole filming experience?
"I enjoyed working with everyone, they were quite funny. Tamzin Outhwaite has got a dry little sense of humour and she's always looking to cause trouble on set - that makes the day go quicker! David Westhead should be sent to prison for how badly behaved he can be - it's so funny! And the kids in it were really enthusiastic, so there was a nice balance. It was a very, very happy job."
You filmed scenes for a Christmas party inside a grand Georgian house…
"It was cool, yeah. I wouldn't have bought that house myself - well, I couldn't have bought that house! But yeah, it looks like a perfect house and the whole design team really did it so beautifully. We had one scene where we were filming with snow machines, and this is in the middle of summer, and people were shivering! More than one, naturally doing it. It was cool, it was really nice."
The story follows Jonathan as he becomes a better person over the Christmas period - is it a modern Christmas Carol?
"It's definitely a modern Christmas tale, but it doesn't have a happy ending. Well, it does have a happy ending in many ways, but it's a moral dilemma story. It's [about] a white lie - is it wrong to lie to someone if it's going to make them feel better? That is a proper dilemma.
"So it goes from being quite funny to quite serious, and then back to quite funny, and then quite sad. I think it's perfectly suited to that emotional, Christmas, p*ssed-up thing that people do. [They'll shout] 'I wouldn't do that!'. It does have a 'What would you do?' element to it as well."
Lewis was also recommissioned back in June…
"Show me the money! Yeah, Lewis is going again, which is good. I read the scripts [and] they're really good. Surprisingly good scripts. So that'll keep me busy until nearly Christmas, and then my following project is going on holiday! And then at the beginning of next year, I will gently warm up into whatever comes next!"
Have you been surprised that Lewis has kept the quality up for five series?
"Well, Kevin [Whately] fights for it so much, and the producers fight for it. I know it wouldn't get made unless they spend the money. Kevin has done 50 episodes as Lewis, so he knows - he can see where the money's going and the moment they haven't got enough money to pay for it [properly], he'll stop doing it.
"You have to spend money on stuff. If you don't spend money on stuff, it looks cheap and s**t - that's the rules, isn't it? It's like the first series of Mad Men - they never went outdoors! Ever! And then they suddenly got a few quid and they could go outside!"
You also play King George VI in Madonna's film W.E. - how was that?
"Very enjoyable - I liked it a lot. It was hard work, because I was shooting Lewis at the same time. That was in June last year. And yeah, [Madonna] was a really good director. I enjoyed working with her and hopefully the film will be good. The Weinsteins have bought it [for US distribution] so we'll see what happens. I think I read that on Digital Spy!"
Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions in your career?
"Musician! I write and play music, I'd like to be a musician, at some point."
Do you want to seriously pursue a musical career - release an album and so on?
"I will, at some point. Well, I hope so. Might be fun, mightn't it? Something else to do!"
Fast Freddie, The Widow and Me airs on Tuesday, December 27 at 9pm on ITV1.