I never really thought about it as a career to start off with – when I was younger I wanted to grow up and be a football player! [This is England’s Casting Director] Des Hamilton was looking round the country for people who hadn’t acted before, and he came to a youth centre I used to go to when I wasn’t in school. He auditioned a few children there and I turned up as my cheeky self and it went from there. I was really lucky.
In my audition, which is on YouTube, I’m asked if I’d like to be an actor, and I say that I’ve never thought about acting. But I love it now, and when I’m on the set with Shane [Meadows, writer and director of This is England], there’s nothing more that I want to do.
Do you think you’ll ever get tired of playing Shaun in This is England?
No, I don’t think I ever will. It’s obviously such a great pleasure to be on the set with Shane and all the guys. [Shaun is] such a great character and means a lot to me.
You deal with a lot of heavy storylines in the show – how do you draw on such dark emotions?
For me personally, I need 10 minutes to myself with my earphones in and listen to songs personal to me, such as music played at my mum’s and some of my friends’ funerals.
A lot of the time, directors do a workshop where you sit and write about the appearance of the character and where they were brought up – details like that, which also helps.
What was it like working on Birdsong?
It was mental, I was with a different cast in a different country, and the budget was much bigger. It’s great to do both sides; big budget productions abroad, contrasting to being with Shane in Sheffield. It’s crazy.
You’ve acted for both TV and film; can you ever see yourself getting on stage?
It’s something that I’ve been thinking about and discussing with my agent, little bits and bobs, but it’s never really appealed to me massively. I think I would get stage fright: when you’re on set and you do something wrong you can just do that scene again, but if you’re on stage you kind of have to get yourself out of it. I would definitely like to try it in the future.
How do you deal with fame and growing up in the glare of the media?
I still live in Grimsby, I still live in the same house. I think if I ever tried to be someone I’m not my friends would probably smack me, and my dad as well. The thought of not being nice to people does not appeal to me. It’s nice coming back to Grimsby where no one really cares, it’s good like that.
You won an award when you were 14 for Best Newcomer, what was it like having that acclaim at such as young age?
It was mad, to get the nomination in the beginning was crazy. Being at an awards ceremony with Helen Mirren…I was 14 and I thought, this is ridiculous, and then I won! No one really expected it.
Do you have any hidden talents that people might not know about, any secret skills?
I am a qualified football coach, and I am a qualified photographer. I did photography when I was a bit younger, when I was 16/17, I went to college and did my National Diploma in photography. I have just done my level one and level two qualifications in football coaching.
What advice would you give to aspiring actors?
Go for auditions, know your lines and try and be yourself. Definitely don’t try and be someone different. Joe Gilgun, the actor who plays Woody, always advises to be who you wish to see, so be yourself, and don’t be anyone you’re not.
Do you ever get star struck?
I have only really been star struck once when I met Les Battersby (Bruce Jones) from Coronation Street I had no idea what to say. I’ve met Jonny Depp and that was a massive deal, but I think growing up and watching Bruce in Corrie and actually meeting him, I think that’s the only time I’ve been star struck.
This interview was originally published on IdeasMag here