PASADENA, Calif. - Filling the oxfords of one of Britain's most famous gumshoes could make most actors quake with fear. But not Shaun Evans. When Evans was first approached about playing the cultured and cantankerous Inspector Morse as a young man, he had his doubts.
After all, John Thaw had portrayed the crossword puzzling Morse for 33 episodes over a span of 13 years. And it seemed the TV persona, which aired on PBS, died with him when Thaw passed away in 2002.
Evans, 32, told his agent he'd like to read the books first and asked him to find out how many other actors were on the list to play young Endeavour Morse.
Evans was a voracious reader as a kid, a passion that helped earn him a scholarship to a vaunted high school in his hometown of Liverpool.
A day or two passed, and his agent phoned again. "'There is no list,' he told Evans, who was in Los Angeles. 'They're being very specific about just you playing the part.' So Evans read all of Colin Dexter's "Morse" novels.
"When I read the books, I thought, 'Here you've got a character who has reached his midlife. He's never married, seems quite unhappy in the choices that he's made in his life and in his general interactions with people. And so for me, I thought, 'God, that's interesting. I wonder how we can get him at the beginning of that.'
"So by the time I did get back I had ideas about how I felt it would work out," he says.
Evans made it clear he wasn't interested in doing an impression of Thaw. "I'm not your man for that. And I wish you the best with it," he told them. "I think they were kind of delighted by the fact that I'd taken the bull by the horns and read the books and had some ideas about it."
Those ideas will be evident tonight when Evans dons the mantle of the 1960s Morse in "Endeavour" premiering on "Masterpiece Mystery!" at 9 p.m. on WHYY-TV 12.
Evans, whose family hails from Northern Ireland, admits he's sometimes frightened to take on a new role. "You have a little bit of fear, but I think that's what's exciting," he says.
"The idea of, 'Can I do this?' But it's a personal thing; it's not for anybody else. It's like you wonder if you can actually do this. You often have it, but it's a fleeting thing because the reality is you're trying to brainwash yourself so much with the script that you have in front of you and all of the different components of it. And (you want to) make sure your subconscious is working properly. You only have really one moment of like, 'Oh well, no.' I also think that that moment is very important because it's good. I'm challenging myself. This is good."
He's been challenging himself ever since he trekked to London at 18 to study acting at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. "It forced me to grow up, and it also gives you an opportunity to see there is another world outside of the one that you've been brought up in," he says.