Charlotte Lytton talks to This is England star Thomas Turgoose about growing up in the spotlight.
When This is England took the silver screen by storm in 2006, its young star, Thomas Turgoose, immediately became the poster boy for a lost generation. Playing the role of disillusioned pre-teen skinhead, Shaun, Thomas was quickly propelled to fame. But, six years and two television series later, the industry hasn't changed him: 'I live in Grimsby, and because it's so small and I've been doing what I've been doing for several years now, no one really cares anymore.
I'm not really bothered by fame: going to London always feels a bit crazy, so it's nice coming back home where no one really cares who I am!' And he has friends and family on hand to keep him grounded, 'If I ever tried to be someone I'm not, my friends would probably smack me, and my dad would too! The thought of not being nice to people does not appeal to me.'
Acting wasn't Thomas' first career choice, but after being spotted at a youth centre by This is England's casting director Des Hamilton, he decided to change his plans: 'Before the film, I'd never thought of acting. But now I love it, and when I'm on set with Shane (Meadows, creator and writer of This is England), there's nothing else I want to do.' Thomas is still at the agency he signed with at the age of nine, and juggled school with acting as he grew up.
Recently, Thomas ditched the skinhead look and took part in the BBC's adaptation of Sebastian Faulks' novel, Birdsong. 'Filming the show was mental; I was with a different cast in a different country, and the budget was much bigger than it is with the This is England franchise. It's great to experience both sides of the spectrum, big budget productions being filmed abroad like Birdsong, and working with Shane in Sheffield. It's crazy.' But Shaun remains close to his heart, and Thomas sees similarities between the character and himself: 'We've both lost a parent at a young age which is obviously not easy to deal with. When I'm preparing for a dark storyline, or something that I really have to tap into my emotions for, I need ten minutes to myself with my earphones in. I listen to songs personal to me, such as music played at my mum's and some of my friends' funerals, and that helps me to focus on the scene.'
Some actors get bored of the roles that made them famous, but Thomas says, 'I don't think I will ever tire of Shaun. It's obviously such a great pleasure to be on the set with Shane and all the guys, too. Shaun's such a great character and means a lot to me, so I don't plan to leave the show any time soon.' This is good news for fans of the franchise as the wheels have already been set in motion for This is England '90, another mini-series following the characters' lives. Both the film, This is England '86 and This is England '88 have enjoyed huge critical acclaim, and Thomas remains surprised by what a hit it has become: 'The success of it all seems crazy; I don't think anyone expected how well it would do.' Playing Shaun also earned him the British Independent Film award for Best Newcomer at the age of just 14, but being at a ceremony with Helen Mirren didn't overwhelm him. He may have met acting royalty including Johnny Depp, but there is only one occasion where it all got a bit too much: 'The only time I've ever been starstruck was when I met Les Battersby from Corrie!' And from A-listers to aspiring actors, Thomas has some sound advice for anyone in the trade, 'Go for auditions, make sure you've learnt your lines, and don't try to be someone different. Joseph Gilgun, the actor who plays Woody in This is England, always says that you should be who you wish to see, so just be yourself. I always keep that in mind.'