Your earliest major role as a child actor was
in the Children's Film Foundation film Breakout,
can you tell us what made you want to get into acting at such an early age?
It was all rather accidental to be honest. I was about 6 years old. My sister belonged to an agency through her dancing school and one summer she had a casting for a commercial.
Being the school holidays my mum had to take me as well
and the casting director said that I should go in to audition.
My mum replied that “I didn't do anything”, but I went in anyway and got the role in this McVitie's cakes commercial. The agency signed me up and
that was basically how it all started. I've just been incredibly
fortunate to carry on doing it from that moment. I didn't
really have much of an interest up until that point but from doing
that one job I enjoyed everything about it. Especially the film cameras and the studio environment.
It all felt very
natural and I think that enjoyment was what carried me forward
to continue getting parts. And the film Breakout was a big turning point as not only was it enormous fun to do but it was because of it that I got the role in the TV show T-Bag.
You also worked with Terry Gilliam on an uncredited part in his film, Brazil. Given
the nature of Gilliam’s style of film-making
and status as a ‘Python’ – what was it like to work with him?
As a child the iconic status of a lot of the people I met was slightly lost on me and
such it was with this job. I loved doing it and everybody
was wonderful to work with but the realisation many years
later of what a classic film it is, to see the cast list and for me to be
a part of it in some small way was very exciting. Incidentally this role was my first ever speaking part.
was thrilled to be given this opportunity but had to check first with my mum that it was ok for me to swear at Jonathan Pryce!
big break was when you were cast as T-Shirt in the CiTV series, ‘T-Bag’ in
watched a few episodes and it’s a total nostalgia trip, but it’s interesting to
grow from a child to a teenager. What was it like growing up on screen?
It was slightly strange I guess but I
was very well looked after while working on the programme.
The producers and writers
were so supportive and allowed me to have fixed braces on my teeth and wrote
the character in a way that allowed me to become more of a teenager as opposed
to just replacing me with a younger model! In the last series there was even a
scene with me having a shave! It was incredibly good fun and I got to work with
amazing people. In many ways the fact it was on TV was secondary for me to the enjoyment
of actually making the series. It was very popular though and recently I was shown
ratings of the time and it was one place ahead of Doctor Who which is quite phenomenal.
it difficult juggling academic work with filming?
I was supported so much by the
production and they provided a private tutor for me whilst filming and
rehearsals took place. It was quite hard work having to get to rehearsals early
to do some school work and then staying after rehearsals to make sure I did the
required hours each day, but the tutor was amazing and made sure that I kept up
with what my school was teaching at that point.
T-Bag series reinvented itself with every new series, and you were the only
to do the full run of the show. What made you want to stay for such a long
of your young life?
I wasn't in the very first episode. As
I mentioned I was cast in T-Bag due to being in the film Breakout. The executive
producer saw me in that and got the writers to write me in as the side kick to
T-Bag. But the show was already in production so it wasn't possible to write me
into the first episode. So I suddenly just appeared in episode two. I basically
stayed for so long because it was so much fun! I was told that Grange Hill was
interested in me going into that but I didn't want to leave T-Bag because, as
you state, it reinvented itself and kept moving forward so was always
interesting. It eventually finished when Thames Television lost its franchise
in London but I think it had reached the end of its life anyway. It certainly
had for me as, by this point, I was juggling doing my A-levels and still rehearsing
and filming which was becoming very difficult. There was a short time where I questioned
my childhood and how I'd missed out on so much from working, but this didn't last
long as I soon realised that I was incredibly lucky to have been in such a
position and got to experience and learn so much from doing it.
was your favourite series of T-Bag to do?
I think it was around series 4 or 5
when Elizabeth Estensen was T-Bag and Kellie Bright (who now is in Eastenders)
came in as Sally. I did enjoy them all
really but that felt like when it really peaked.
enough, Lee Pressman now writes for Thomas and Friends – was it a nice surprise
to be reunited with an old associate from the T-Bag days?
It was amazing. I had seen Lee a couple
of times at a T-Bag reunion and through him writing for Fireman
Sam which I also
work on, but the way our paths have continued to
cross and the thrill it is seeing his
name as writer on a script I get to perform is truly special.
was through T-Bag that you began doing voiceover work, was there something
about that which you particularly enjoyed over acting to camera?
I had actually been doing voice overs
before starting T-Bag. I worked on many television commercials including a
whole series of adverts for the Care Bears amongst others. I have always
enjoyed doing them but I wouldn't necessarily say I preferred doing them to on screen
acting. I'm very lucky to work in all different areas of acting and I think
that keeps things exciting and fresh.
lot of child actors tend to step away from acting. When T-Bag ended in 1992, you
did your A-Levels and returned to acting later. What made you want to keep
I didn't really have anything else to
do! Is the flippant answer but basically the truth. After completing my
A-levels (and working hard on them to
achieve good grades) I considered going to university or drama school and
also considered taking some time out to travel or something like that. I had
told my agent that I didn't want to be submitted for anything while doing my
A-levels but on finishing I started auditioning again. I just started working and
went from job to job (theatre and TV),
started my first proper animation (The
Legend of Treasure Island) and didn't look back really. I've been
incredibly lucky ever since to have continued working and making a living doing
something that I absolutely love!
made a successful transition from child actor to adult performer, performing as
Jim Hawkins in the animated adaptation of Treasure Island (Remember it, loved it!). After
nine years as T-Shirt, was it difficult stepping out of the shadow of your
It was slightly difficult personally I
think. I moved on from being at the heart of a very successful show into being
a young actor trying to get a job. The reality was that I was very fortunate
that I worked extensively right from that point, and not just any work but incredible
opportunities to work with amazing people and learn so much. So, professionally
it wasn't that hard to move on from T-Bag. On Treasure Island (where I took over as
Jim Hawkins from Dawn
French) I worked with Hugh Laurie, Chris Barrie and David Holt who were all
so supportive and
inspiring to watch. In the theatre I worked with Alan Ayckbourn who is a genius
and he invited me back again on a couple
of occasions after that to work on
plays at his theatre. I genuinely felt like I served an apprenticeship which, with
the calibre of people I was
working with, was quite an education!
top of screen and voice acting, you’ve also appeared on stage as well. Can you tell
us more about your stage work? Was it daunting knowing that you couldn’t just
go for another take if you fluffed a line?
It is a very different process but
largely that is prevented by the long rehearsal process. In that time you hope
to iron out any difficulties and make sure lines are thoroughly learned.
Of course being live anything can (and often does) go wrong but that
part of the thrill and excitement of the live performance for both actor and
audience. It is an incredible experience to perform in the theatre and I’m
doing a new show in October - a punk musical!. The reality is that I have two
young children so working evenings and weekends on a stage production is tough.
So I haven't pushed getting that type of work as much as I would've done otherwise.
By doing voice overs it is much more
suited to being around for the children plus my 4 year old son is a big fan of
Thomas and Friends so for me to be part of that and other shows that he watches
is such a thrill!
forward a couple of years, you film a coffee commercial in Japan with Ewan McGregor.
What was it like working with him?
That was only a couple of days filming
but it was a fun shoot. Ewan was lovely and like the best actors is easy to
work with despite being a big star.
2012 to 2015, you took on the role of Timon in Disney’s stage show of The Lion King.
Can you tell us more about the role and the show itself?
I have done many different plays and
musicals but getting to appear as Timon in Disney's The Lion King which has
audiences of over 2000 people each show was a dream come true! It was a wonderful
opportunity and one I was
thrilled to be offered. I first auditioned for it about 10 years ago and got
very close but didn't get it. I was very upset and disappointed, but thankfully
they remembered me and when the time was right everything came together and I
got the part. That was an amazing feeling and an incredible show to be part of.
I love the role and got to sing Hakuna Matata which was fun but the
whole show is an amazing spectacle. I also had to learn a very specific style
of puppetry which takes an awfully long time to master but I had an eight week
rehearsal process. I managed it but the great thing was through the couple of
years I was in the show I continued to learn and improve which kept it very
fresh and exciting. Getting to perform at the 15th anniversary show in London
was also a real highlight.
also quite impressed to learn you did voices for Pixar’s Brave. What was it
like working on such a big project?
It was amazing. The energy and
enthusiasm with which it was produced and directed was quite astonishing and
yet another fabulous learning opportunity. I only have a few bits in the
finished film but to work with Pixar was quite an honour, and one I'm hoping to
repeat if they give me the opportunity! I did have to pretend to be Scottish
though for the whole time I worked with them!
ranged from shows aimed at children to radio plays and films aimed at an adult audience.
Which do you enjoy most and, if possible to choose, which shows have you considered
to be your favourites to work on so far outside of T-Bag and Thomas?
That's such a difficult question to
answer. As I mentioned already it is a great position to be in to work in
different genres and different mediums as an actor. I played a very nasty character
in a true crime story and it was very difficult as the things I had to portray
had really happened but I did relish the opportunity to play such a
character. That was obviously for an
adult audience, but I've also loved family friendly things I've done. I presented
CITV live for a short time which
was very much outside of my comfort zone but hugely enjoyable.
I think I most enjoy things that
challenge me as a person and as a performer and, hopefully, I rise to that
challenge and make it out the other side. I did a promo film for Mercedes
called Magic Garage that involved lots of stunts and that was a fairly scary
shoot but ultimately a huge amount of fun! I think one of my favourites was a TV
drama for the BBC I did called Against All Odds. A true life story about two
young guys that bought a trained a race horse. It was beautifully made and I'm
very proud of that.
more recent years, you’ve become more involved in children’s TV as a character voiceover
on shows like ‘Get Squiggling’ and ‘Fireman Sam’. Has it been a conscious decision
to do more voice work or just something that’s happened due to your ability?
It has been a case of life finding its
course and then actively pursuing and focusing on that. It does fit in incredibly well with being
father to two young children but it's also a type of job that I hugely enjoy (I hope
that comes across) and a position
that I know that I am so grateful to be in. Even while doing The Lion King I
continued to record voice overs so it is something I have worked hard at and
I'm lucky to have such a great voice over agent to help me in this aspect of my
career. If I'm getting to do something I love and making a living then I truly
feel like the luckiest person in the world. Getting to voice such an iconic character
as Thomas is both a massive responsibility and a huge privilege so while Mattel
Creations want me I'm very happy to continue doing it. There is a famous saying
that “if you find a job you love you
never work a day in your life”. That's
pretty much how I feel about doing the voice work
you find you enjoy the creativity and freedom that this style of acting brings? Have
you always had a knack for voices and
It's wonderfully freeing - not being
limited just by what you look like. I've provided voices for animals, space
aliens, people from nations all over the world, pretty much most things really!
I did use to do impressions as a child and enjoyed playing with different
voices so I guess I've just carried on with that really. I find myself now
really listening and studying different speech patterns and accents when I hear
them. You never know when you might use something that you've encountered.
the voices you create for the characters based on anyone you know or have
I think as an actor (writers are worse!) you are always
soaking up things around you that may in some way influence something you are
working on. I wouldn't say that the characters are "based on"
individual people necessarily but different aspects can be muddled together to
create something. I once followed a man down Oxford Street in London who had
the most fantastic walk with a cane and I knew that I had to have the character
I was portraying in a play at the time have that walk! I think actors are like
the Borg. We assimilate.
before joining the cast of Thomas and Friends, you were playing Toot the Tiny Tugboat.
How do you feel about playing two well-known pre-school characters?
I'm extremely happy! Toot is such a
wonderful show. I auditioned for it about two years prior to getting the call
saying it was going to happen so it was a very pleasant surprise. I also learnt
a great deal from recording
that series that I've been able to bring to Thomas. I'm certain that I wouldn’t
the audition for Thomas with such confidence if it wasn't for Toot, so I'm very
grateful for that as well!
did you find out about the role of Thomas becoming available, and what
attracted you to audition?
My voice agent informed me that they
were auditioning for the part and at the time I was on holiday. So I had to
find some time to hide in the hotel room with the air con off and windows shut
to block out extraneous noise and then record a demo on my phone to send to HIT
Entertainment. After that they called me
in to the studio to do another test and this was followed by another session
where they assessed how well I could dub the American voice as this is such a
Then I believe there was one final audition
which was a record of The Adventure Begins
(if my memory serves me correctly)
which they were obviously happy with, and then I formally got offered the job
about a week after that. In terms of what attracted me I think that's a no
brainer. There aren't many more iconic characters than Thomas and the chance to
voice him was, and is, a dream come
you nervous about auditioning for such an iconic and important character, and how
did you feel when you were the one they chose to take over the role?
I wasn't initially nervous. It was more
a feeling of excitement that I was getting to audition for such an amazing
role. It was as the process proceeded and I realised that I was in with a shot
that the nerves ramped up. I became aware that I was getting nearer and nearer
to the job and the nervousness made me realise just how much I actually wanted
the job. But nerves are definitely part
of the job and are just proof that you care!
you tell us about the audition process for the role? Was it a matter of keeping
the voice as consistent as possible or trying to put your own stamp on it?
I think there's a certain expectation about what
Thomas will sound like but, from my point of view it, was a case of not
worrying too much about a "voice" but more attempting to capture his
joy, excitement and cheekiness. Through the audition process I was guided and supported
by Sharon Miller with regards to performance. Having someone that you can trust
made your debut playing Thomas in a recreation of his earliest stories in
The Adventure Begins – were you familiar
with the original stories before joining the cast? Did you read the books as
I wasn't so familiar with the books but
did watch the original television series when I was younger. I have
subsequently read a lot of the books but I think at that time it was more instinct
and being guided by Sharon and Ian (McCue) that got me through the initial recording
Adventure Begins saw you playing Thomas when he first arrived on the Island. By comparison
with Series 19 and Legend of the Lost Treasure, Thomas sounds ‘younger’.
it a conscious decision to play him like that, or just you trying to find your
feet as the
In all honesty I think it was a
combination of both. Thomas in The Adventure Begins is obviously a lot more
naive and wide eyed which inevitably led to a younger feeling sound.
But when it came to recording Legend of the Lost
(which was the second thing I recorded)
Ian had already decided that he wanted a slightly more settled Thomas that led to
a more grounded vocal tone. I think we actually went back over some of the
early recordings for LotLT to rerecord with the older attitude we had
discovered on the way.
This was when I was grateful to be
working on a project that was so cared about. To redo a chunk of the film very
subtly was expensive and time consuming for HIT. But it's all credit to them
that they took
the time, care and effort to make sure it was as good as it could be and I
personally am so incredibly proud of that movie. I think it was a fitting celebration
of Thomas's 70th birthday.
we met you at the Legend of the Lost Treasure premiere, your children were enthralled
by the fact that their “Dad is Thomas!” – are they fans of Thomas and the other
shows you work on?
Being at the Odeon Leicester Square
that day made it all very real to me as well as for them. It was a truly
special day and having them with me to experience that made it all the more
exciting. It was also an incredibly nerve wracking day as I hadn't seen the finished
film at that point so it truly was a premiere! The fact they were so enthralled
was just magical. I had some friends with their children there as well which
was also lovely.
My daughter understands what I do and
is very proud. Her teacher told me recently that she had told them about my job
and they didn't believe her! But then
they had googled it and was surprised to find out she was telling the truth.
My son is a big fan of shows like Thomas,
Fireman Sam and Go Jetters and my daughter is old enough to take to work with me
and get to enjoy the fun of being at the studio while I record them. So it’s
lovely to be able to share my work with them, and for them to enjoy it too!
your first year recording for Thomas, you got to work alongside big name stars
Hurt and Eddie Redmayne, as well as debut in the 70th Anniversary feature – how
it coming in at such an important time in the history of the series?
I certainly felt the pressure of coming
in at such a key time, but the great thing was that, being a big relaunch and
anniversary, a lot of care and attention was taken and I'm incredibly proud of
Legends of the Lost Treasure. As you say the guests they managed to get to
provide voices were first rate and it's that level of quality that shines
through. I truly hope that fans of the show love that movie as much as I do.
The premiere in Leicester Square was a memorable day, even if I turned up and
nobody had a clue who I was!