One of the questions I’ve been asked a fair few times over the past eight years is the seminal, “how did you get into acting?” Which is a question I’ve routinely answered poorly. Therefore I thought I would go a bit biographical this Sunday, and tell you about my origin story as an actor, in case Marvel or DC want to add me to the Avengers or Justice League.
I know it is a cliche, but it is true to say that I have loved acting as far back as I can remember. I think something I adore most about it is the ability to do more varied and exciting things than you could ever imagine. When I was four I wanted to be a policeman, but changed my mind aged five when I realised that being in the police had its risks. However, as an actor I can play a policeman, but I could also play a serial killer (though that was not what I was thinking about aged 5), or I could play a talking lion, or even be a wizard. It was this kind of thinking that endeared acting to my imaginative mind, so that I engaged in our school plays with the distinct desire to show off. The first school play I ever did was the Nativity, in Year 1 (don’t ask me for the American equivalent, as I don’t have a clue). There, I played the incredible role of ‘Guest 2’ with – well, um… I played the role, at least. To be honest, it wasn’t until year 3 that my first major role, as Ciaphas (who was painted as the main villain) in ‘The Easter Story’, dawned. It’s funny to talk about it now, but when I was in year 3 I had my first (and only) diva-esque strop. Originally my teacher had given me the role of Pontius Pilate, who appeared in one scene with a hearty monologue, only for me to shake my head and announce my disapproval – I wanted Ciaphas! I still remember the teacher-director giving me a dressing down later that day, but on the next I did get the part.
Despite my acting exploits in First School, it wasn’t until the age of 10 that I had my first taste of fame, beyond having a small photo in the local newspaper. Though it would’ve been around this time that I acted in two local pantomimes at the Tivoli Theatre (playing Half-wit the pirate in Sinbad and a policeman in Aladdin), I auditioned for and appeared on a now-defunct CBBC quiz show, Get 100. Presented by Hardeep Singh Kohli, I got invited to spend a whole day in Glasgow to take part. For those of you who don’t know, Get 100 was a quiz show that (sadly for me) was mathematically-based. You were asked a question with an answer between 1 and 99, which was what you scored if you got it right. The aim of the game was to finish as close to 100 as possible. I quite enjoyed the experience, up to the point when maths became involved. Unfortunately I think the footage has been lost from everywhere apart from the BBC archives, unless it turns up on one of our older recording devices, but it’s fair to say I didn’t do very well. If I remember correctly, I finished on a grand total of 12 points, which I scored for saying how many months there were in a leap year. It could have gone better, to say the least. Nonetheless, I did get to visit Scotland (which I hope to do so again one day), and I had fallen in love with the screen.
Buoyed by this experience, it was only a year or so later that I joined my first acting agent, Abacus Agency, who are well-known for bringing through young ‘stars’ such as Keira Knightley. I still remember the workshop day, which served as an audition to join the agency, vividly well. We had to do all sorts of improv and script work, but then had an interview (of sorts) with the agents. There I had to sing a portion of a song from Oliver and perform a poem. I can’t remember which song it was from Oliver, but I don’t thing it went very well, as I’ve always had an estranged relationship with my singing voice. However, I can clearly recall doing my presentation of ‘The Owl and the Pussycat went to see’, in which I gave the pussycat a kind of flirtatious Spanish accent similarly to Puss-in-Boots from Shrek. Midway through, as I burst into my energetic voice, one of the agents whispered to the other “he’s a natural”. Or at least I’m fairly sure she did, unless I misheard her and she actually said “let’s never put him up for a role involving accents”. To shorten the story, I joined Abacus Agency, and within weeks I had my first auditions – for a KFC advert, and for what would eventually become the Ewan McGregor/Naomi Watts film “The Impossible”. Naturally I didn’t get either of them, but Harry Potter was waiting…