|16 Apr 2020
|Amazing Alumni: Arts
‘The English Game’ is a costume drama by Julian Fellowes about the beginnings of football as a professional sport and the first paid players (tied in with mill strikes) in the 1870s when it was formally a 'Gentlemen's game' played exclusively by Old Etonians and Harrovians amongst others. The story follows Fergus Suter who comes down from Scotland with his friend Jimmy Love to play for a small mill town in the North called Darwen, who changed football from a game similar to rugby to almost the version we see today - the pass and move game. I play Ted Stokes, the foreman at the mill and player who sets up a football shirt-making company in Darwen with the other protagonist Lord Arthur Kinnaird.
Like many actors I haven't had a smooth ride when it’s come to getting work. But I have been very lucky all the same. My first roles out of drama school were working with the BBC radio drama company doing various plays for Radio 4. It was a wonderful experience and I got to work with some incredible actors and learnt so much. Working with theatre companies like Theatre 503, Shared Experience and The National were also wonderful experiences. When I wasn't working, myself and a few actor friends set up a theatre company called 'Pooka' where we did some work from some our favourite writers. It was a great experience to be self-sufficient when other work was scarce, it really taught me a lot about not giving up.
I don't have a favourite really, a new role is always just as intriguing as the last. But I have to say the most exciting role was when I was cast in Downton Abbey playing Maggie Smith’s gardener John Pegg. Having the opportunity to work alongside the likes of Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton was a masterclass everyday I was on set and even just being in their presence made me better because it filled me with huge confidence moving forward.
Whether it’s working on stage or screen, I love meeting new people be they actors or stage managers, costumers, hair and make-up teams, lighting engineers or sound technicians, the business is filled with such hugely talented people, none more important than the other, but all with the same goal: to tell a story in the best way possible.
Now that safe measures have been brought on to all sets filming can continue. There a couple of things in the pipeline very soon that I’ll be starting.
I used to have very high-minded ideas of what I’d like to do but as you get more experience working as an actor, you're really just happy to be working. But if I were pushed on the subject, I’d love to play Henry V.
Go to lots of theatres and read lots of books and plays. Take part in school plays, local theatre companies in your area and youth theatres, like the National Youth Theatre or RADA youth group among many others. Drama school is a great place to learn as it teaches you the more technical aspects of acting, and it's a great place to make mistakes before you begin your professional journey.
Something that encouraged me when I was applying to drama school was hearing this story. Gary Oldman was auditioning at a very prestigious drama school (it shall remain unnamed!) when a member of the audition panel said to him - 'why don't you try another profession.' We all know where he is now. You'll get a number of rejections in this profession but the trick is to be stubborn and headstrong and never accept the word ‘no’, because something will come along when you least expect it.
Taking part in the yearly speech competitions was a great benefit. But I have to thank Felicity Debenham who cast me in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, I played Hermia which as you can imagine isn't every 13 year old boy’s dream, but she helped me have fun with the part and enjoy it. I distinctly remember the late great Ray Cook’s laughs throughout the play.
I wasn't the most academic student but I was incredibly fond of sport, so any rugby match, athletics competition, and latterly football matches (when it was brought in briefly), I really loved. I didn't fully appreciate at the time how immersed we were in all forms of artistic endeavour too. So on some level it rubbed off.