Tom Conti on his role in Rough Justice at Milton Keynes Theatre

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It is not surprising that Tom Conti chuckled when I suggested he might be pigeon-holed as a “comedy dad.”

“I have only done two,” he laughed, “But I do enjoy working with those girls.”

Different generations remember Tom in different parts.

As a 30-something, I think of him as Emily’s dad in Friends and the clumsy but good-natured father of the lead character in the sit-com, Miranda.

To older women I suspect he is still a sex symbol, particularly given one memorable role he took on as the “holiday affair” in the hit ’80s movie, Shirley Valentine.

The public should consider themselves lucky to see Tom act as the 70-year-old’s original career plans to go into the Air Force were foiled by his mother.

He recalled: “I wanted to be a musician, then I decided to join the Air Force.

“I did not join in the end because my mother did not post my letter. She had lived through war and lost family in the First World War.”

Bringing his career up to date, Tom’s 2012 credits not only include an appearance in the latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, but next month he will take to the stage at Milton Keynes Theatre as James Highwood in Terence Frisby’s courtroom thriller, Rough Justice.

So is he making a sharp turn away from comedy?

Tom, who has also appeared in the TV comedy, Parents, said: “ I have done so much comedy recently it is sort of a relief to be doing something straight, it is different, although there is a lot of heart in it.

“Rough Justice isn’t a po-faced drama, it is about a man in a terrible quandary; the law can work very badly for people and this man is in a terrible dilemma over a murder charge.”

He continued: “There are things I choose to do and they are different all the time.

“You can fall into a romantic lead thing and never be able to dig yourself out.”

Looking back on Shirley Valentine, Tom felt the film would be a success even at an early stage.

“Shirley Valentine was all about forgetting who you have married, it made people look at each other, people who had been married for 20 years and hadn’t realised they had forgotten that lovely girl they had married, who is now their wife, or the young man sitting across the fireside; they had forgotten who they were.”

“I knew it was going to be a success when I saw the first scene of Shirley talking to a rock. I went along to be supportive as Pauline Collins is a friend of many years.

“The camera started to roll and she started to talk to a rock and I thought ‘this is going to be great’.”

Rough Justice will run at Milton Keynes Theatre from September 17 to 22.

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