With his striking good looks and a conveyor belt of stunning girlfriends including Nastassja Kinski, Princess Stephanie of Monaco and Demi Moore, Rob Lowe was the poster boy of the 1980s.
The star of films such as The Outsiders and St Elmo’s Fire, he was a fully paid-up member of the Brat Pack – the gang of young Hollywood actors and party animals that included Charlie Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Robert Downey Jr and Sean Penn.
Since those heady days there have been notable TV roles – he was nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of White House PR man Sam Seaborn in The West Wing, and has starred in the shows Brothers And Sisters and Parks And Recreation.
There have been two tell-all autobiographies about Hollywood, addiction and recovery, one of which, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, became a hit one-man stage show.
And there have been theatre roles, including a 2005 West End run with Suranne Jones in the military courtroom drama A Few Good Men.
But his latest incarnation in new six-part drama Wild Bill, playing a tortured American policeman appointed Chief Constable of the East Lincolnshire Police Force based in Boston, takes him way out of his comfort zone.
Rob Lowe’s latest incarnation in new six-part drama Wild Bill, sees him play a tortured American policeman (pictured) who is appointed Chief Constable of the East Lincolnshire Police Force. The role takes him way out of his comfort zone
It uses as its premise the shocking real fact that in 2016 Boston was dubbed the murder capital of the UK.
Famed for St Botolph’s church, which is known as the Stump and can be seen for miles around, the sleepy town with a population of around 70,000 saw ten murders in the year up to September 2015, giving it a higher per capita killing rate than London or Manchester.
In the show, Bill Hixon – with his first-class degree in criminology and a masters in psychopathology – is more than qualified to tackle the crime figures with his charts and algorithms.
Bill is brought in not only to tackle the crime, but also to drive through drastic cuts.
From the outset he’s not about making friends, but when he arrives he discovers the people of Boston are just as cynical as he is. Soon he’s propelled into frontline policing and forced to reconsider his relationships with those close to him.
‘Bill’s an American law enforcement analyst,’ says Rob when we meet for lunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles.
‘His father was a cop, and he decided he didn’t want to be ground down by the system like his dad was.
‘So he went the other way; he went to Stanford University and got his degree in algorithms.
Lowe praised his wife Sheryl Berkoff for keeping him grounded. Pictured, the couple in 2017
‘He has a 14-year-old daughter, Kelsey, who’s been struggling since her mother died, which may or may not have been suicide.
‘He’s headhunted by the police force in Boston to come and take care of the largest crime rate per capita in the UK.’
Bill is a volatile man and Rob found him the perfect vehicle to jump into.
‘He’s a classic fish out of water – a cosmopolitan American in Britain. It’s a different case each week but each case has a correlation to the growth of my character.
‘He’ll say anything and he’s hot-tempered, and runs foul of the British sensibility. For me it was very present.
‘I’d come off more than 19 years of American TV and I needed a break. Something new, something different.
‘One of the co-creators of the show is Kyle Killen [who wrote US series Lone Star and Awake] and I’m a massive fan of his.
‘We were trying to find something to do together and he said, “I have this thing in my back pocket that may be being made in England. They’re going to bring in English writers to make it more authentic.”
‘So he sent it to me and I really responded to the notion of playing this cynical, jaded, know-it-all character in a really different landscape.
‘It’s not inconsequential for an American who lives in Los Angeles to move to England, but I embraced the new start.’
Rob in St Elmo’s Fire, in the back row on the right, next to former girlfriend Demi Moore and Emilio Estevez
Into Bill’s orbit come various characters who will have a major impact on his time in Britain.
There’s pompous, nouveau riche Crime Commissioner Keith Metcalfe (Line Of Duty’s Tony Pitts), who has his own reasons for parachuting Bill into Boston, while Bill’s frustrated deputy DCC Lydia Price (Anjli Mohindra, who played the bomber in Bodyguard) is smarting at not getting the promotion.
Then there’s captivating barrister Mary Harborough (Rachael Stirling), who turns Bill’s head, and journalist Lisa Cranston (Angela Griffin) who’s relishing the prospect of Bill providing fresh stories.
‘The show is almost a Western allegory,’ says Rob.
‘I’m literally a new sheriff in town, and that flat landscape in Lincolnshire gives it a look you haven’t seen before.
‘It was reminiscent of places in the US Midwest. I’m from Ohio and we have landscapes like that – where you can see the horizon for miles.
‘I was surprised to find that in England, but Lincolnshire is as flat as a pancake.
‘The uniform really does help too. The first time you put that on it makes such an amazing visual statement.
‘It affects everything about how you carry yourself. Having done this for so long, it becomes increasingly rare to find a look on camera that you’ve never done before.
‘ Wearing a Chief Constable’s uniform is definitely a first for me.’
At 55, Rob is still heart-stoppingly handsome. His eyes are piercing blue, his cheekbones chiselled and his body is lean.
He’s a curious mix of charisma, self-deprecation and fearlessness. He’s been almost 30 years sober and says most of what he has achieved in that time could never have happened if he’d still been drinking.
Bill is a volatile man and Rob (pictured in character) found him the perfect vehicle to jump into. ‘He’s a classic fish out of water – a cosmopolitan American in Britain. It’s a different case each week but each case has a correlation to the growth of my character’
He says that as a child, he always felt like a grown-up. Working as an actor, he was the breadwinner for the family from the age of eight.
His parents divorced when Rob was four, and although he’s close to his younger brother Chad, also an actor, he has the air of a loner.
His big break came in the Frances Ford Coppola classic The Outsiders, and despite the trauma of having most of his role end up on the cutting room floor he went on to forge a name for himself.
But after a decade of success – and excess – he hit rock bottom in 1988 when he filmed a bedroom tryst with two women, unaware that one of them was just 16 and under the legal age for appearing in pornographic material.
He was never prosecuted but her parents brought a lawsuit that was settled out of court, and Rob’s career nosedived.
He went into rehab in 1990, got married a year later, and has spent the past 30 years trying to shake off the stigma that’s clung to him.
In the past he’s said he didn’t feel he was to blame. ‘People don’t know the facts of the case,’ he said in 2013.
‘They don’t know that it was a bar and that I got asked for my ID going in, so why wouldn’t I assume everyone else there is 21? That’s not on me. But I’m glad that those things that formed me happened. It made me re-evaluate my life and my career.’
Anjli Mohindra as Lydia Price, Rob as Bill Hixon and Angela Griffin as Lisa Cranston in Wild Bill
Sobriety and marriage have redeemed him. As we talk, I’m struck by his elegant hands, his fingers adorned with an intricate wedding ring and a gold ring with a diamond triangle.
Both were made by his wife Sheryl, a jewellery designer who sells her wares at high-end shops. The triangle is the symbol for being in recovery, which Rob takes very seriously.
He’s been married to Sheryl since 1991 and they have two sons, Matthew and John Owen.
In his boozy days when he dated models and dancers, he’d watch MTV and pick and choose the dancers on pop videos as if it were an online shopping channel.
But he soon found the life of restaurants, clubs and lunchtime naps boring. Sheryl, who came from nothing and owned her own house by the time she was 20, was his salvation.
‘I could do a reality show just about my wife,’ he laughs. ‘The first thing you need to know about a happy marriage is that it’s going to be a struggle sometimes.
‘I don’t know that monogamy is a natural arrangement. But in terms of society, happiness and well-being, nothing beats it.
‘And the key to it all is the thing Alfred Hitchcock said when asked about the key to a hit movie – it’s casting. I’m great at casting. You know that phrase about choosing the wrong people, “The picker is broken”? It means you can’t pick them any more.’
Rob’s picker was obviously on form when he chose Sheryl. She came over to London last year while he was performing in Stories I Only Tell My Friends.
‘She came back and forth but not as much as either of us would have liked because her jewellery company is a full-time job,’ he says.
‘My son John Owen came out for a bit, but Matthew was getting ready to graduate from law school so he wasn’t able to come at all. I went home for Christmas too.
Lowe was nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of White House PR man Sam Seaborn in The West Wing. Pictured West Wing cast members: Rob Lowe, Martin Sheen, Allison Janney, Moira Kelly, Richard Schiff, John Spencer, and Bradley Whitford
‘That was the most time I’ve ever spent alone, so I had time for my two favourite things, sleeping and working out, and I also wrote a script.
‘It’s taken me many years to find the healthiest way to fill my time, I don’t do well with time on my own. Throughout my career my family have always travelled with me.
‘Sheryl and I tried to do the two-week rule – not to be away from each other for more than two weeks at a time – but the longer you’re married the more you stretch it. So now for us it’s more like a three-and-a-half-week rule.’
Politics has always been a force in Rob’s life. He was actively campaigning for presidential candidate Michael Dukakis when the sex tape surfaced in 1988, and it was this that drew him to the role of Sam Seaborn in The West Wing back in 1999, the show that kick-started his career rehabilitation.
The character of Seaborn was initially considered the lead and Rob was hired because of his movie star credentials, but after it premiered the strong acting line-up – including Alison Janney, Stockard Channing and Martin Sheen, father to Rob’s old partners in crime Charlie and Emilio Estevez – pushed him down the pecking order and he left in 2003.
‘In all fairness the West Wing was so good it didn’t need me, but it needed me initially for people to pay attention to it and it needed me to get it on the air,’ he says now.
‘But after that the show was amazing. Everybody runs things differently. The other day somebody asked me to sign the cover of the first season DVD. I went to sign my picture and I couldn’t find my face because they’d put me towards the back, even though I was first billed… that’s just mean.’
The political connection still runs deep, and he tapped into it while in England filming Wild Bill.
‘It’s such a time of political upheaval and Wild Bill touches on that,’ he says. ‘I was stunned by the Groundhog Day element to Brexit.
‘The news when I arrived in November 2018 could have been the exact same as when I left in March 2019. I didn’t watch American news while I was in England – you guys do news very well so I watched the BBC and ITV. It was fun to watch the Prime Minister in the Commons.
‘We don’t have that in the States. I love the notion that the leader of a country gets heckled every week. We heckle from the sidelines. But Theresa May was dealt a bad hand.
‘Filming Wild Bill in Lincolnshire, that story is the same story that’s playing out in the US. It’s about a part of the world that feels lost and forgotten and not a part of anything else.
‘Setting a police drama in that place at this time is what makes Wild Bill extra special. The authenticity of the show is strong, we didn’t rein in any of the accents. There were times when I was thinking, “What are these people talking about?”
‘I miss the people of Boston, who are unlike any that I have ever met. And only in London can you have dinner with Michael Caine then get a selfie with Paul McCartney then have a conversation with Ronnie Wood about Mick Jagger’s vocal cords.’
He laughs that self-deprecating laugh that both sends himself up and makes him unique. ‘And I love the blue plaques on the buildings. “Ian Fleming created James Bond here.” We don’t have that in Los Angeles.
‘If we did it would be more like, “This is where Aaron Spelling wrote Charlie’s Angels.” It doesn’t have the same heft.’
Wild Bill will air next month on ITV.