British by birth and a veteran of the London stage, Dominic West has made his mark in American movies like 300 and Chicago, but he’s best known for his five seasons as Baltimore cop Jimmy McNulty on HBO’s late-blooming mega-hit The Wire. Another provocative drama brings him back to TV this season: the buzz-worthy Showtime series The Affair (Sundays, 10/9c).

West plays teacher and aspiring writer Noah Solloway, a married father of four who becomes involved with a waitress, also married, during his family’s summer vacation in Montauk, New York.  The story is told from the quite different perspectives of Noah and his lover Alison (Ruth Wilson), which includes their marriages (to spouses played by Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson) and a certain crime, the full nature of which is a mystery that unfolds slowly as the series plays out.

Fortunately, West is less mysterious when it comes to talking about himself.

“I used to be in the circus and I enjoyed that quite a lot. I flew around on ropes. I’m proud of that and I’m proud of The Wire, obviously.”

What attracted you to this role?
He’s got a lot of flaws and I love that. No one wants to be black and white or the hero unless he’s an idiot, and that’s the stuff I respond to. That was what appealed to me about him. There’s a strong chance the audience is going to think, “I don’t like this guy,’ and that’s interesting as well. I play a lot of villains, so I was delighted to be cast as a hero, in sort of a villain context. I have five kids and live in England so to come to the U.S. for an extended period, it had to be really good.

But you got to spend the summer in Montauk.
And in fact, that was one of the attractions as I was sitting in London with all my kids throwing things at me as the rain poured down. They said, “Would be interested in doing a show set in Montauk where you have an affair with a girl on the beach?”  It’s what first piqued my interest. Then I had to tell my wife, “I’m off to America to make a show called The Affair.”

You’re playing an American New Yorker—was it hard to get the accent?
I’ve always found it incredibly difficult.

Does it help if you stay in character all day?
I wish. I tried but it’s really hard. I think it would be easier if it were a movie. In telly you have to stay in character for six years, if you’re a hit.

The Wire was a long-running hit. Do you get recognized most from that?Probably, yeah. People are still coming to it, which is quite nice.

So far, what are your favorite roles?
I used to be in the circus and I enjoyed that quite a lot. It was De La Guarda and it was all over the world, but I did it in London when I was younger. I flew around on ropes. I’m proud of that and I’m proud of The Wire, obviously.

Do you make a list of goals for the future?
I write goal lists every night and my wife and children make a mockery of my plans. It’s good to have those goals but you’re always at the mercy of other people. I’m starting to resign myself to that.

Are any of your kids interested in acting?
Yeah, my oldest, Martha. She’s 15. She made a film when she was nine and she was brilliant. But she gave up the movies and just did school plays. Her decision. But she’s really good. The others are seven, six, five and a baby.

What’s the best thing about fatherhood?
The best thing is you laugh all the time. The only problem with this job is I’m weeks without them. Fortunately in summer they can visit.