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Interview: James Hooton

29 April 12 words: Jared Wilson

He’s spent the last seventeen years playing a member of the most infamous Yorkshire soap family on TV, but James Hooton is still a Nottingham lad through and through. So when he got a call from an old friend who was putting on a play about the Motherland then he decided it was an opportunity worth skipping a few of episodes of Emmerdale for…

How did you first hear about Our Style Is Legendary?
The writer Daniel Hoffmann-Gill and I went to Frank Wheldon Comprehensive many years ago. I was quite a few years older than him, but we’d performed in school plays together - he was Adrian Mole and I was Barry Kent, so I got to bully him. We kept in touch after that and he mentioned the play quite a few years ago . Then when he knew the project was going ahead, he came to see if I could do it. I jumped at the chance.

What does the character The Swinging Man mean to you?
He has characteristics that you might see in any city, but with a local angle because of the dialogue. He’s like a voice of Nottingham. The bad fortune his life has seen could well mirror what’s lurking round the corner for the two main protagonists, Danny and Michael. He’s an odd one - he doesn’t physically interact with any of the other characters, except at the end; it’s like he’s been waiting around to claim one of their souls.

When you were growing up in Carlton, did you see characters like that?
Yeah, there’s always people hanging around and drinking on street corners and stuff. Lost souls who feel they have been given a bum deal and have had psychological trauma to deal with. Everybody who grows up around Notts comes across those sort of people.

When you performed the first run of the play in Covent Garden last year, how did it go down with the London audience?
I think it went well. It’s a Nottingham story but with universal appeal - anyone can identify with the characters that they see. We’ve all been teenagers and had our rites of passage, dealing with drugs and different friendships. But obviously, it’s a different vibe coming to Nottingham with it - hopefully the audiences will appreciate the dialogue and the local places and themes it covers even more.

So what’s it like being a regular in a soap like Emmerdale?
The show’s been really good to me and has given me regular work for seventeen years. I’ve left a few times and was fired once as well, but eventually I’ve always come back. It’s been an interesting career, but it can be hard playing one character for that length of time. It’s probably why doing something like Our Style is Legendary is a refreshing change. It’s very seldom at Emmerdale that we get any rehearsal time; it’s all done on the run. So to spend time on the play is amazing as I’ve not been on stage for fifteen years.

Everybody knows who the Dingles are, and Sam is a character that has evolved with you...
He has always had this strong moral compass, even though he’s a simple character; and that’s what I like about him. Within the Dingle family there’s this code of honour and they all look after each other. When I first came into the show it was for eight episodes and I was involved in a story where a child went missing and Sam pretended he’d kidnapped them to get some ransom money, so he could take his family on holiday. He’s done some wrong things, but usually for the right reasons.

Do you ever worry about being typecast?
It’s a difficult one. It can open some doors, and it can close others. As an actor, getting a job with regular money is something you need to take while you can. I think it’s a lot to do with luck, this industry. You can be in the right place at the right time and get a break here or there and it can lead onto other things. Or the well can run dry all of a sudden and you don’t get any work for eighteen months. That’s just the way it goes. I’ve been fortunate enough to do things for a long time, but I know I could quite easily leave this job and not act again for another ten years.

Before this, your last Nottinghamcentric role was in Shane Meadows’ Twenty Four Seven. What was it like working with Shane?
It was a great job to have and it was great fun to do, but I think the actors put a lot of work into that film to make it what it was. What Shane does really well is give actors free range to improvise. So I think he’s reliant on his cast to give part of themselves to the project and it becomes an ensemble piece. My favourite of his other films is A Room For Romeo Brass, I think that’s Shane’s best piece of work ever to be honest. I love Paddy Considine’s role; it’s an amazing performance. 

What was Bob Hoskins like?
Bob was sound; a terrific actor and a good laugh. He just became one of the guys, and he was good fun to work with. He’s had a great career and you could perhaps expect a certain arrogance from someone who’s done as much iconic work as him. But he was very down to earth and just a really good bloke.

There’s a baby version of James Corden in that film, what was he like?
He was just a really lovely lad and he’s gone from strength to strength since he started writing his own stuff. It was a pleasure to work with him before he was well known. Even back then he’d done lots of different projects and i’m really, really pleased he’s been as successful as he has.

What else in your career are you really proud of?
I performed at The Playhouse in a theatre version of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning as a teenager. Then back in 1996, just after I left Emmerdale for the first time, I got the part of Colin in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner there too. Chris Gascoyne - Peter Barlow in Coronation Street - pulled out with ten days rehearsal to go and I was asked to replace him. I was very fortunate to meet Alan Sillitoe as he and his brother came to watch the show. That’s one of the highlights of my life. He was a top bloke.

So, you’re a Notts lad, but you live in Leeds now and most famously play a Yorkshireman. Are you sure there’s no divided loyalties?
Never. There’s no place quite like Nottingham, and I miss it terribly. There’s no chance of me dividing any of my loyalties. I know where I’m from. I’m Nottingham ‘til I die.

Our Style is Legendary is at the Nottingham Playhouse from Tuesday 1 – Saturday 5 May 2012, sponsored by LeftLion and funded by the Arts Council.

Our Style Is Legendary website

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