Nice one, bruv: the unlikely resurrection of Danny Dyer's career

The EastEnders actor’s second win at Tuesday’s National Television Awards is just the latest stage in a remarkable turnaround in the actor’s fortunes. But will it last?

Think back five years. Think about Danny Dyer, and the place he occupied in the world back then. Think about that horrible stretch, from 2007 to 2012, where Dyer’s career couldn’t have circled the drain any faster if he’d bought himself a jetski.

Stick a pin anywhere in his IMDb page during this period and you’d be guaranteed to hit an outright stinker. Ever watched Malice in Wonderland? No? Devil’s Playground? No? Pimp? Vendetta? Basement? Outlaw? Doghouse? Perhaps you only knew Danny Dyer for his TV work – for Football Hooligans International, Danny Dyer’s Deadliest Men or his appearance on Sally Morgan: Star Psychic – or as the man whose name was once associated with a Zoo relationship column that explicitly advocated violence against women. Horrible, isn’t it?

Now let’s return to the present day. Danny Dyer has just won his second successive National Television Award for his role on EastEnders, and is fast becoming a legitimate national treasure. You’re aware of all his mistakes and misfires, and his willingness to become an obliviously self-parodic cultural punchline, and yet you still find yourself rooting for him. This has been the most extraordinary career rehabilitation for Danny Dyer, and it’s all thanks to EastEnders.

To be specific, it’s all thanks to the character he plays. Superficially, there isn’t an awful lot to separate Danny Dyer and Mick Carter – they’re both cartoon cockneys in the classic mould – except the latter has been rigorously parsed and filtered to remove all the irritants.

Mick in the Vic…
Mick in the Vic… Photograph: Kieron McCarron/BBC/Kieron McCarron

Mick Carter is a PG-rated Danny Dyer; one who doesn’t swear or smoke, and can usually be relied upon to do the right thing. He’s the head of a mostly traditional family unit, he’s got a dog called Lady Di and he wears a pink dressing gown. Basically, Mick Carter is the best possible version of Danny Dyer, and this is why everybody suddenly loves him.

Dyer knows this, too. He seems to appreciate the structure of a day job, and not having to constantly swagger down manky Soho alleyways at 3am to film a transitional scene of a tenth-generation Lock, Stock … photocopy that nobody will actually watch. More than anything, he seems to relish never having to make a film like 2012’s godawful Run for Your Wife ever again, since watching even a second of that film is universally agreed to be exactly like spending several hundred years being pelted by high-velocity gravel.

Thanks to Mick Carter, Danny Dyer has been able to relax. He’s loosened up, both in person and on Twitter. He’s more self-aware now, too. Since his first appearance on EastEnders, and I honestly mean this in the nicest possible way, Danny Dyer has undergone a minor Shatnering. He’s put his artistic pretensions to one side in order to give the people what they want, and it’s paying off in spades.

Danny Dyer wins the award for Best Serial Drama Performance.
Danny Dyer wins the award for Best Serial Drama Performance. Photograph: Alan Chapman/Getty Images

Still, he should tread lightly. EastEnders has attempted this before, and it has been a double-edged sword. When the show hired Shane Richie back in 2002, for example, he was also handed the best possible version of himself in Alfie Moon. Moon shared many of Richie’s traits – he was larger than life, wore terrible clothes and desperately wanted to be Sid James – but had none of the creeping megalomania that seems to lurk a millimetre under Richie’s surface.

And it worked brilliantly, right up until Richie wanted to try other things. Project after project of his crashed and burned – the movie Shoreditch, the gameshow Reflex, the Minder remake, the retrospectively mind-boggling Jim’ll Fix It special – and it’s possibly because people prefer watching Alfie Moon to watching Shane Richie. As a result, his entire career has been penned in by a single role.

If he’s not careful, this might end up applying to Dyer too. But, really, that’s no bad thing. After all, the longer he’s hemmed in by EastEnders, the less likely he is to ever make Run For Your Wife 2. Surely that would be in everyone’s best interests.


Stuart Heritage

The GuardianTramp

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