You’re an actor now, but I read that you started doing fashion design?
Yeah, I was in Coronation Street when I was 8, but I came out of it and didn’t do anything for ages. I got really spotty and started puberty and I hated everyone for quite a few years. I did various courses at college, I did an art course and I was shit at it, because I couldn’t keep up with the academic side of it, which shouldn’t be what an art course is about. I was good at the creative stuff, like drawing but I just couldn’t read or write very well.
I was starting to get in to girls a bit more and I wasn’t very interested in my academics, I’d just finished secondary school and I was one of those kids that didn’t really give a shit. Eventually I got on this Year 0, which basically means if you didn’t get the qualifications from school then it allows you to get into university… and renders your GCSE’s completely fucking pointless. I did the fashion degree and this one time a girl challenged me about wearing the same jeans two days in a row. I was having a really bad day and I was losing marks because of my writing and spelling so I just threw my folder out the window and fucked off, ‘Sod it, I’m so sick of this shit.’…You know, I predicted the gypsy dress and I got a really good mark!
I said, ‘This time next year, all girls will be wearing gypsy dresses.’ And I was right. The thing with fashion is that you have to live it, if you’re going to do it as a career. Everything has to be about the changing of trends and I didn’t live it. I didn’t like it that much, that I wanted to live the shit, it’s very fickle.
How did you get back in to acting from that?
Well I was always on and off, but for some reason I just wasn’t very successful at all…(laughs). I think I was trying to do everything I could in every audition that I went to and sort of ruined it. What I’ve worked out now is if I try or start acting professional, I fuck it up. I just have to not think and just be. Try not to act, if I can help it.
Yeah, apparently the best actors aren’t really acting
Yeah, they’re not, they’re just being, like Lauren (Socha) is brilliant, she’s just so natural and doesn’t over think anything. I think this character is certainly a bigger performer than Woody (This Is England) because of the tone of show, that this is and the tone of the character that they want. He uses his hands a lot more.
Misfits is such a successful programme, was it intimidating coming in to it? How did you get the part?
Yeah it was. I had two auditions, I was sent the script and I’m not joking when I say that I pissed myself laughing. I was at my mum’s house reading it out the window…not reading it out the window like a lunatic, just gently leaning. I was just laughing out loud, and I never really watched Misfits, I don’t really watch that much TV, I watch a lot of films - British films, foreign films. I read the script, really liked it, loved the character, and I know this is a bit arrogant, but… bollocks, I knew I could do it! I fucking knew it.
I thought, ‘I better get this, because I will be good at it if I do’. I went to the second audition, and they told me to look a bit younger, like come with some trainers or jeans and t-shirt. My agent said, ‘Go in tight jeans and a white t-shirt’ and I was like, ‘What? The fucking Fonz? You want me to go in like The Fonz, because that wins every audition, that’s the youthful look!’ So anyway, I went like a car thief instead. I wore these trainers, really disgusting, massive car thief trainers. I wore them and a hat at a jaunty angle, and Matt (Strevens, the producer) took the piss out of me. I ended up getting it, but there was a lot of ‘umming and ahhing’. I think Matt always wanted me and some were maybe torn.
Apparently once they saw the rushes after the first week it was, ‘Didn’t we choose the right guy’ and they were all on my side.
This Is England is considered a cult hit, when you were making it did you expect it to be so good?
Do you know what, come the second one I did. You don’t think that while you’re doing it, because you’re so in to it that you don’t consider the impact it’s going to have. It sounds really corny, I know it does, but you just sort of zone out into what you’re doing and you start believing what you’re doing. There isn’t another director like Shane (Meadows) on the face of the earth, there just isn’t. I can’t say I’ll ever work with anyone quite like him again. I’m now part of a new gang, but that gang will never, ever leave me. I’m so proud of it. (Points to his heavily tattooed arms) I’ve marked my body with it for life, Shane and Mark (Herbert, the producer) saved me, I could have ended up being a fucking plasterer for the rest of my life or working on shit building sites.
I was getting in to all sorts of shit, they really sorted me out and I’m not too proud to say it either. If it wasn’t for them I’d be fucked, I really mean that. There is such a family atmosphere on set, they won’t put up with any dickheads, it doesn’t matter how good you are at your job, if you’re a knob head then you can just piss off. Pull your weight or do one…and don’t be an arsehole while doing it.
We work bloody hard, we play hard as well, to be fair - we’re all still arsehole actors. Actors are dicks, man. Oh god we’re all such arseholes, all we do is moan, you get a herd of cows or a flock of geese and you get a fucking whinge of actors, a big whinge of the dickheads…and I’m one of them. I had a right shit time as well, when I was a plasterer it was crap. I had no money, I couldn’t even afford to get properly drunk, I’d just have to go home, mildly pissed.
We’re pampered and we all get very neurotic, our job’s based on feelings and emotions. When you’re asked to cry and that, that’s a general chemical reaction, you don’t just cry.
Do you find it easy to cry on CUE?
Not at all, I have to think of really awful things and then afterwards you’re just expected to cheer up -‘Oh it’s only acting.’ Well it’s not, it’s not only acting, you can’t just turn on tears…You can use a tear stick, but that’s cheating!
So you think you would still be a plasterer?
Yeah, I don’t know if I’d be a plasterer, but I just had no confidence in my future- I couldn’t read, I couldn’t write, I’ve got ADHD, I’m a pain in the arse, got quite a volatile temper. I’d have been something crap or without a job, god only knows really, because I wasn’t happy, let’s just put it that way.
My hands were cracking, and I remember when I went on to Emmerdale my hands started to go soft again and that was a big deal for me, and that was when I felt that, not that I’d made it exactly, because you never make it as a British actor. I just don’t take it for granted, because I know full well how cruel it is out there.
Would you like to make more films or move into theatre?
I’d like to do more film because you do a bit and you come away and get back to being yourself, and I love being with my mum and my sisters as well, I miss them. You get quite a bit of time off to recuperate. Some of the characters you can play- like when I played Woody, and I came home from This Is England, I got really depressed. I had to take anti-depressants, I get bad depression all the time, and it’s purely chemical, it’s not got anything to do with what’s going on in my life. I’m just an idiot actor, but it really does just fuck with your head.
With Misfits, my character Rudy isn’t like me, I’m quite sensitive and Rudy doesn’t give a shit about anything, he’s disgraceful.
What’s your big ambition as an actor?
I’m just happy going with the flow. Getting corny again, but I just feel like a really lucky lad, I’m dead happy with my lot and I want to work hard and do well. I love my job, I might never have found acting and I’d be repairing people’s walls. I’m happy to be doing it at all. It means so much to me when people like Shane and Mark believe in me, that’s why I do this (points to their names tattooed on his arm).
I know Shane and Mark are quite British, rough names and look a little bit chavvy but I’m so proud of them, they saved my life as far as I’m concerned. Mark said this thing before we watched our promo, ‘You’re all in it, so be proud’ and I remember going, ‘Fucking hell, this is really happening!’ We watched it and…bollocks… it was brilliant, we were brilliant! We worked like fuck, and poor Vicky (McClure) had just filmed her rape scene. Vicky really went through the mill in that, she worked so hard and as a result has a BAFTA. No one deserves it more, unbelievable telly. There hadn’t been telly like that for a long, long time.
Do people recognise you on the street?
Yeah, but it’s not so bad for me at the moment. The more often you’re on the telly, the more often it starts to flare up again. When we went to Latitude, we were mobbed, because we were all together. Literally every two seconds big groups of kids, loads of under-developed breasts everywhere, and bad chest hair and facial beards, all really wanting to have a photo. They were dead sweet, but full on because they were drunk and they saw the Misfits knobs off the TV.
The sheer scale of it, really shocked everyone and the impact that it’s had on so many young people is unbelievable. Once you’ve gone on telly, you exist to a lot of people. I think that’s why Jeremy Kyle’s so fucking successful.
Do you like it?
No, it’s completely unnatural, it’s bizarre but it comes as part of the job. I owe it to all those people and I always have time for them. I’m good with my public… I said my public then…bit arrogant wasn’t it? (Laughs)
Yeah, I’m good with my public, I’m good with my ‘fans’ and I always give people time, all the time. I’ll blow my own trumpet with that, I always try with people.
Are there any actors or directors that you would love to work with, dead or alive?
I’d love to work with Ken Loach, because he has a really organic way of working, he’s similar to Shane in that way. I just can’t wait to go back and work with Shane again, as soon as you’re finished, you’re looking forward to it again. He’s a good mate, he’s not just a boss.
Are there any films that you would have loved to have been in?
I would loved to have been in Snatch, I really want to play an Irish person. I’m good with accents and not a lot of people know that and I’d like to be able to use that. I got to play a Glaswegian space rapist in Serbia, for a Luc Besson film called Lockout and that was really good. He’s a right fucker… literally, 52 counts of rape and murder. It was fascinating filming in a country like that, and I worked with Guy Pearce, he’s such a great actor, very intense and it was a big deal for someone like me.
I’m from Chorley and it’s a fucking big deal, I got to be a space rapist with him and he hits me in the head. Maggie Grace was in it from Lost and Peter Stormare from Fargo…I’m name dropping now, aren’t I? I was really star-struck, the name-dropping thing is hilarious, but I’m proud of it.
Would you like to work in other countries?
No, I don’t, I’m happy where I am. Fucking right I’d do America, if someone offered me a blockbuster film, I’d literally chop my cock and balls off, you could just have them. You sort of get what you’re given, but I think I’m doing alright on the career front.
Who is your IDOL?
I’ve got loads, I like Ian Brown, he’s a young lad from a similar background as me, and he’s done well and people respect him. If I had to write my obituary I’d want people to say that I worked hard and I was a dickhead on set.
I will not pretend to be a professional actor for the sake of the industry. Bollocks.
Misfits @10pm on E4
This is England '88
13th-15th December @10pm on Channel 4
Interviewed by Emma Hurwitz
Photographed by Elliott Morgan