From Peter O’ Toole to Mark Gatiss, Yorkshire has produced a glut of stars, now Sarah Freeman meets two young hopefuls hoping to break into the big time.
A few years ago, back when Fat Friends was filming in Leeds, Rory Girvan decided to have a look behind the scenes.
The set was just a short walk from his home in Roundhay and, while only 13-years-old, the teenager already had his heart set on becoming an actor. So much so, he’d even had business cards printed. They didn’t say much, just his name and telephone number, but during a break in filming he managed to hand one to one of the show’s stars, James Corden.
“He wasn’t a big name back then,” says Rory, now 24. “I’m not entirely sure what I expected to happen, but I just thought, ‘Well, why not?’ You never know, one day he might give me a call.”
It was on Fat Friends, the series written by Leeds’s Kay Mellor, that Corden met Ruth Jones and together they went on to write the award-winning Gavin and Stacey. Rory never did receive a call from the actor, but in a twist of fate he is now starring with Jones in her new comedy drama Stella.
“Normally you audition for a part and are either told, yes or no, but it was a bit different with Stella,” says Rory, a former pupil of Roundhay School. “I saw they were looking for actors in September 2010 and wrote to the casting director. Quite quickly I got an email back saying, thanks, but no thanks because they were looking for a Welsh actor.
“I didn’t think anything more about it, but then early on the morning of January 9 last year she called to say they hadn’t found anyone suitable and would I be interested in auditioning. It was a no- brainer.”
That he can remember the exact date, says a lot about how important this role could be for Rory. After training with the National Youth Theatre much of his acting had been on the stage and Stella represents his first big move into television.
In the 10-part drama Rory plays Sunil, boyfriend of Stella’s 16-year-old daughter Emma and while the series might not have the belly laughs of Gavin and Stacey it has been well-received by critics.
“The fact I came from Leeds and Ruth had filmed Fat Friends up here helped to break the ice and what’s great is that she ended up writing the part specifically for me. As an actor, that’s not something which happens very often and throughout the filming she would say, ‘Look, if a line doesn’t feel right tell me and we can change it’.
“When I was sent the first script, the quality of the writing leapt from the page. When you’re starting out in acting inevitably you get sent a lot of amateur scripts and that’s fine, but being a part of something like this does make you feel incredibly lucky. Plus, when you are given a part that is perfectly written, it makes your job as an actor 10 times easier.”
While Rory had grown up wanting to be either a footballer or an actor, after completing his A-levels he decided to pursue an academic course at university rather than going straight to drama school.
“That decision was largely down to Ian Brown, the artistic director of the West Yorkshire Playhouse,” he says. “I was talking to him one day about going into acting and he said, ‘Remember, there is no rush, you should do something else first, because good actors need to have life experience’. So I went to Manchester University and did a degree in politics and international relations.
“It was absolutely the right decision. At the time, Manchester had a really successful drama society and I was there at the same time as the stand-ups Jack Whitehall and Joe Lycett. There was a real buzz about the place and it meant that I had a chance to see whether acting was what I really wanted to do.”
It was, and when he graduated, Rory began securing small roles in a number of theatre productions and decided against any formal training. It was, he admits, a bit of a risk, but with the early episodes of Stella having attracted ratings in excess of 1.3m it looks like it has paid off.
“At first I was taking on temporary work and picking up waiting jobs here and there, but recently I’ve been able to survive on the money I earn from acting. It’s funny really, because at the start of last year I moved to London to be closer to where most of the auditions take place. Almost immediately I got cast in Stella and spent the next six months filming in Cardiff.
“I haven’t seen a lot of the London flat and if we do get a second series my plan is to move back to Leeds.”
While he knows there are no guarantees, having also been cast in Broken, a film which follows the impact of a violent attack on one young girl, with Cillian Murphy and Tim Roth, Rory looks set to become a familiar face on both stage and screen.
“I’m not sure where my desire to act came from. My dad once played one of the Seven Dwarves in an am-dram production of Snow White, but that’s as far as my family’s involvement in acting goes. It was just something that was always there and I’m just so glad that I’ve had the opportunity to give it a go.”
Just a few miles from Rory’s home, another young actor is also relishing the chance to make his mark on the industry in a show which has divided audiences.
When Skins premiered on Channel 4 in 2009, the gasps from outraged parents were almost audible. One group in America had branded it the most dangerous show on television and when it was remade for the UK, its portrayal of teenage sex and drug use was no less hard hitting.
Three years is a long time in television, but while the controversy has largely died down, newcomer to the show Sam Jackson admits a certain trepidation to watching his debut with his parents.
“I was up in my bedroom watching from behind the duvet,” says the 18-year-old, from Wetherby. “Funnily, enough my Dad had watched the first series and was a big fan, so it wasn’t too worried about the content, but it’s a weird experience seeing yourself on screen, I think it’s always a mix of embarrassment and sheer excitement.
“Skins was and I think still is ground-breaking. It was a shock to audiences when it first went out because no-one had seen anything quite like it before. But the reason why it works is because it’s gritty and it shows a side to teenagers that a lot of people like to pretend doesn’t exist.”
Sam plays Alex, who arrives as a bit of an enigma and struggles to break into the gang of tight-knit friends. As the new boy among the cast regulars, he felt a similar trepidation.
“It is daunting going into a show like Skins where most of the rest of the cast know each other,” he says. “To be honest initially I really didn’t know what I was doing, but everyone remembers what it’s like that first time in front of the camera and they were all really friendly.”
Before being cast in Skins, Sam had secured a number of small roles in shows like Hearbeat and, after finishing his A-levels at St Aidan’s School in Harrogate he’s planning to move to London pursue drama full-time.
“I always thought acting was easy until I was in Skins,” he says. “It was long hours and I spent a lot of time travelling back and forth from Bristol to Leeds, but even when I was exhausted I loved it.
“The whole experience was confirmation that this is what I want to do and I can’t wait for the next opportunity.”
Skins is on E4, Mondays at 9pm. Stella is on Sky 1 on Fridays at 9pm.
Pet with star quality needed
WhilE actors may command, the big salaries, it seems animals are now demanding their share of the limelight.
After Uggie the dog’s star turn in The Artist, York Grand Opera House is searching for a similarly talented pet.
The theatre is looking for a dog to star in La Bohème next month. Hopefuls won’t need to demonstrate an extensive CV, but they will need to be both small and well-behaved.
To audition your dog, send a photograph to Louise Delahunty at Derek Block Concert Promotions, 70-76 Marylebone, London NW1 6SP or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The closing date is February 17.