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Interview: Joe Dempsie

6 July 10 interview: Jared Wilson

Joe Dempsie from Skins is doing a fundraiser for The Television Workshop next week. Here's an interview with the man himself...

While Dev Patel has recently become a household name after his show-stealing performance in Slumdog Millionaire, another one of TV’s Skins alumni might be about to follow. Nottingham’s own Joe Dempsie has also featured in Doctor Who, Merlin and most recently as Duncan Mackenzie in The Damned United (the Cloughie at Leeds United movie). We caught up with him for a verbal kick around…

You’re in LA at the moment. What you doing out there?
It’s my first time out here for work. I’ve got an agent here and I’m really just auditioning and meeting casting directors – mainly as a way of just letting them know that I’m about. Skins got a low-key airing on BBC America out here and, seeing as the industry is generally moving quite slowly back home right now, I thought it was a good time to come out. I’m having a great time! In a very freaky twist I bumped into Toby Kebbell randomly on Sunset Boulevard on my second day here, so we’ve been hanging out a fair bit. Two Notts boys in LA eh….

So what made you first want to become an actor?
If I’m being honest, acting wasn’t exactly something that I had a strong desire to do from a young age – but I used to enjoy it when it was compulsory in school. As a result of that when I was thirteen I auditioned for the Television Workshop on Stoney Street. I didn’t get in first time, but then I went back next year and got through – and it was at the workshop that I really learned everything I know. My first part was in a play called Second From Last In The Sack Race, I had two lines, and my main responsibility was to turn the set round, but I loved it! The Workshop was a uniquely supportive, constructive and creative environment to grow up in, and I just really enjoyed it, it was as simple as that. I just think that you only get one shot at life, so you might as well spend it doing something you enjoy.

Everyone knows you from Skins. It must have been a dream part to get for a young actor like yourself.
Absolutely! When I got the part, I had only recently been taken on by an agency and to be honest was pretty anxious to get a job of any kind – so I was really chuffed! That being said, even once we started filming none of us had any idea how successful the show would be, and I think we still don’t fully grasp the scale of it’s popularity. It really did come out of the blue. On a personal level in terms of the character, it was a gift of a part. I felt that Chris was the one that had the most depth and variation – he was the most outgoing and gregarious member of the gang when with his friends, but he also had the most to deal with personally. There were two very distinct sides to Chris, and as an actor it was great for me to get to show them.

I bet you have loads of good memories of filming Skins. Do any stick out in particular?
The whole thing was such a great experience – and it came at a very good time for me. A lot of my friends had gone off to study and I was beginning to feel a bit left behind, so in a way Skins became my university. I got to move to a new city, live away from home, meet new people and take the first steps to achieving my ambitions. Like I said the whole thing was ace, and as a group of teenagers living away for the first time, there was obviously a lot of drinking. Something that sticks out was a running joke that we used to play on Dev when he was pissed which involved one of us going out of the room and calling him, pretending to be this completely made up guy called John, who was apparently out to get him. Dev is a pretty gullible drunk, and to see him tell ‘John’ in no uncertain terms not to call again was always good value.

Do you still get people asking you about Chris Miles in the street?
Yeah it still happens a fair bit, and I can still be pretty shy about it when it happens! But I’m still amazed at how many people have seen the programme and who seem to have connected with Chris on some level. It’s great. The way the show dealt with his demise as well was pretty unflinching, which I think both moved and disturbed people in equal measure.

Does the Hollywood success of your co-star Dev Patel in Slumdog Millionaire inspire you a bit?
Of course. Dev got that part when we were half way through the filming of series 2 – and he had no idea how big it was going to be. I was like “well, you know Dev this is a Danny Boyle film. He’s a really well respected director so there will be interest in it”, but even I couldn’t have predicted all of this. It spurs me on, because even with the success of Skins the whole notion of the Oscars still seems a world away, and Dev is a perfect example of how it only takes one great part to reach the pinnacle of this industry. I’m still looking for mine, but the thing I like about this job is that you never know what’s round the corner and to see one of your good friends at the Oscars makes it all the more attainable. Dev really does deserve every ounce of his success though, it couldn’t have happened to a more genuine and humble person.

You’re currently the voice of Clearasil adverts. How is that working for you?
Err, yeah pretty well. There’s not an awful lot interesting to tell you about it really. Not being cheeky or anything but I just go in and read the words off a sheet. However it was pretty ironic that when I started doing them I was actually pretty spotty. I’m not now….but I don’t use Clearasil. Scandal!

Tell us about The Damned United. Who else is good in it? What was the bloke playing Cloughie like?
The Damned United was such a great job for me in terms of just watching, learning and absorbing all I could from the rest of the actors. It was such a great cast; Michael Sheen playing Cloughie, Tim Spall as Peter Taylor, Jim Broadbent (Sam Longson), Stephen Graham (Billy Bremner), Colm Meany (Don Revie)…the list seemed to go on and on. The lads that were playing the featured footballers all got along really well too, so it was the perfect balance between work and play. I had a great time. And Michael’s ‘Clough’ is absolutely jaw dropping. I’ve been lucky enough to work with him twice now and he’s a man that’s absolutely at the top of his game. Like I said, I just watched and learned.

How did you find working with Timothy Spall?
I only actually met Tim a couple of times, and never on set, as my character Duncan McKenzie only played under Clough at Leeds, after Clough and Peter Taylor (Tim’s character) had parted ways. However on the couple of occasions that I did talk to him, he was lovely.

Must have been pretty cool to get the Damned United part as I understand you’re a big Forest fan. What are your best memories of watching the reds?
To be honest over the years there’s been far more heartache than joy. Weirdly enough the season we got relegated to league one was great fun as me and my mates went to nearly every game home and away. Obviously though the promotion on the final day of last season was the best individual moment. As a Forest fan you almost train your brain to expect the worst case scenario, but that day it all went our way. But yeah, it was extra special for me to get a part in a film about Cloughie – a man whose success at Forest will probably never be surpassed.

You did an episode of Doctor Who last year. What’s it like working on something as established as that?
It was pretty surreal, as although I’d never seen the show before working on it – I have uncles that have watched it religiously since the sixties. So I was pretty popular with them for a while. Honestly, I just saw it as another job, but it’s such an institution that you can’t help but treat it with a lot of respect.

Likewise you made an appearance in BBC’s Merlin. What did you think to the series?
I thought it was good. It kind of is what it is in the respect that it’s family entertainment so there’s only so much that you can actually show. I really enjoyed doing it though and I think the writing was sort of classic storytelling in a way. I have to say though I was a bit disappointed in the scheduling – from reading the script I got the impression that it was going to be somewhat darker, but as I said they ended up being restricted by the timeslot.

I see from IMDB that you were in Chris Cooke’s One For the Road. Have you done any other Nottingham films we should know about?
Funnily enough, yes. I mentioned earlier that I had been lucky enough to work with Michael Sheen twice, and the first time was in a little known British film called ‘Heartlands’ back in 2001. It was set in Nottingham and followed a guy called Colin (Sheen) in his quest to get his wife back, travelling across the country on a Honda moped. I played a lad called Craig, who gets left in charge of the newsagents as Colin sets off on his journey. Safe to say it’s not long before the place is overrun by kids swigging the beer and snaffling scratchcards…

You were on Lilly Allen and friends? Are you actually mates with her? Who else was there?
I’ve met Lily a couple of times and she’s ace, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say we were mates. We’ve got a couple of mutual friends as well but that’s about it. I had a wicked time on her show though, she’s a very funny girl – and we also had James Corden on with us along with Roisin Murphy from Moloko. Corden tried it on with Lily, and Roisin was completely pissed. Rather eventful…

What else have you got coming up in 2009?
There’s nothing set in stone at the moment, but there’s a few good things hopefully in the offing. Since Skins I’ve really felt like I want to make sure that everything I do is of a certain standard – which often means waiting a bit longer for a job, but I think I might as well be picky now while I have no financial pressures, and hopefully, if I make the right choices, the right jobs will come through when I’m older and have more responsibilities.

If you could get a part in any film or TV series, what would you pick?
Easy. Any part going in the impending Shane Meadows and Paddy Considine epic King of the Gypsies.

What’s an ideal night out of you when you’re back in Nottingham?
It’s weird that whilst Nottingham has this reputation for great nightlife, I think half of the venues in the city are still stuck in the dark ages when it comes to music and particularly door policy. For me though, an ideal night would be a few drinks round a friend’s place before heading to The Old Angel, Bar Eleven or Brownes initially, then Market Bar or Stealth for the rest of the evening.

Joe Dempsie and Jack O'Connell are doing a fundraiser for The Television Workshop on Tuesday 13 July 2010. 

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