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Interview: Thomas Turgoose

28 February 13 interview: Jared Wilson
photos: Lee Wallis

At the age of twelve Thomas Turgoose was living in Grimsby, smoking weed, drinking, stealing cars and getting in trouble with the law. Then he stumbled upon an audition for Shane Meadows’ This Is England in a youth centre and it changed his life forever. Now, about to turn 21, he has a clutch of international acting awards behind him, travels the world going to film festivals and is on first name terms with Johnny Depp and Michael Fassbender. What happened?

Take us back to that first This Is England audition?
They were looking for someone who’d never acted before and were running sessions in a youth centre near me in Grimsby. I was in the right place at the right time and was just thinking about the money. I did the audition (which can still be seen on Youtube) and I got a call a couple days later asking if I’d come back to do the same again with Shane and Jo Hartley (who plays Shaun’s mum). I got a train to Nottingham, met all the gang for the first time at Broadway cinema, and they asked me if I wanted to do the film. All I wanted was to buy a good push bike and a Playstation and to give some money to my mum.

You were cast as Shaun Fields, which is a thinly veiled reference to Shane Meadows. He basically cast you to play the young version of him. Did you feel any pressure because of that?
Not really. All the guys on set made me feel comfortable and told me to just be myself. I didn’t really think about it much. Shane has always said I reminded him of his younger self, but it’s only really now when I look at how successful he’s been that I can see what a compliment that is. 

How much do you feel you were playing yourself and how much were you playing the
young Shane?

I was playing myself within a storyline of things that happened to him. Shane would just put us in a room and structure a scene and then let us go with it. We’d just bounce off each other and be ourselves.  He’d modify things he didn’t like and if we didn’t like what he changed, he’d change it again until we were all happy with it. Rehearsals are the most important thing for Shane. There have been times when we’ve had two hour rehearsals for one scene. If he wants that, he’ll get it because he knows the final piece is going to go out in his name.

Your mother died of lung cancer just before the movie came out. That must have been a difficult time?
Yeah, it was. I grew up with just my mum, as my dad wasn’t around. She was the person I could always speak to and was my best mate too. We knew she wasn’t very well and was always in a lot of pain. It wasn’t a relief when she passed away, but I did think, “at least she’s rested now and not poorly anymore.” It seems mad to deal with at that age, but all my mates and all the This Is England guys really supported me I’m not one of those people who’ll sit down and cry about it because it’s not going to bring her back. Me and my mates even have banter about it.  Some of things Michael Socha (Harvey in This Is England) and I joke about make the rest of the cast wonder, “how can they say that to each other?” But I think Michael and I are similar; he’s lost his dad and I’ve lost my mum. We deal with things in a similar way. I know deep down that my mum wouldn’t want me crying. She’d rather see me down here having a laugh.

Did she ever see the final film?
No. She was around while we were filming and was there all the way through it on set with me. But she only saw one little bit before she died. Shane put a clip on a DVD for her and she loved it. She was crying and was really proud of me. When my mum passed away they hired a minibus and the whole gang came up for the funeral. Ever since then we all become a really close family. Later the film was dedicated to her, which I didn’t know
about until we went to Rome for a film festival. That was the first time I saw it all the way through and the dedication came up at the end. Shane never told me he was going to do that.

What’s it like on set? Is it fair to say that ‘the gang’ are all great mates in real life too?
We go for a pint after we finish work and we’re like “we’ve been paid for today... we’ve been paid to have the time of our lives.” Even now we all still meet up and are always tweeting and texting each other. We’ve all known each other for eight years now and I think we will do for the rest of our lives. I was only twelve when I met them and now I’m nearly 21. That’s a massive part of my life.

Am I right in thinking Joe Gilgun got the cast’s names tattooed on him?
That’s true, but it was me who did it originally. I was walking past a tattoo shop one day and my mate dared me to get his name tattooed on me. I asked him where and he said, “on your arse.”  It was two names for a tenner, so I got my ex-girlfriend on there too. I went and showed all the This Is England lot and they called me an idiot. Then I showed it to Joe and he went, “ooooh” and I went, “I’ll get your name on there too.”  I ended up getting Joe, Michael, Vicky, Gadget, Joe Ellis, Danielle, what’s her new  face… Trev, and Ros. That’s not even all of them.  I’ve got fifteen names on my arse now. So yeah, it was originally me that got them - but then we all went and sat in the tattoo studio all day and got more done together. It was brilliant.

You were cast again by Shane as Tomo in Somers Town. There was a really good chemistry between you and Piotr Jagiello (Marek) in that film.
Originally it was only meant to be a short, but we shot so much because Shane shoots everything.  Piotr was great to work with; he’s a really nice guy and I enjoyed hanging out with him. We still contact each other over facebook and twitter, but it’s difficult because he lives in Poland and speaks mainly Polish.  

The banter between your characters was the glue that held the film together. I guess most of that wasn’t scripted?
No. We’d just sit down and Shane would say, “this is what you need to get across” and then we’d start shooting. Piotr was great; to come to a different country and understand how I was talking and be able to give it back too, was amazing. He did brilliantly and deserved to win the Best Actor award at Tribeca. That’s Robert DeNiro’s film festival in New York, you know? In fact we both won it as a joint thing, but Piotr deserved that more
than anyone else. Can you imagine me going to Spain and doing a film in Spanish?

You also shot a film called Eden Lake with Micheal Fassbender? What was it like working with him and Nottingham’s own Finn Atkins?
Working with Finn was great. She was really cool and I still speak to her regularly now. Michael Fassbender was amazing - he wasn’t quite as massive then, but still he’d done 300 and a lot of other good work. He’s such a genuinely nice bloke and he’d do anything for anyone. He had his own car on the set, which I don’t think he asked for. If there was anyone waiting around after shooting he’d say, “don’t wait around, jump in this car.”

How did that film compare to Shane Meadows’ films?
It was definitely different. It had quite a big budget and there were a lot of prosthetics – they told me I was getting a prosthetic head made, I didn’t know what it was and so it was mental to see the double of me. That and all the blood was mad, but it was really good fun to make. Other than living in a Travelodge in Slough for six weeks… that was rubbish. The tight bastards.

What were the differences between working on Eden Lake and Shane’s films?
It was all scripted and I didn’t have a big part in it, but the director, James Watkins was always good and really supportive. There’s a scene where I get stabbed in the neck, and I was terrified about doing it as I’d never done anything like that before. But he sat me down and spoke to me, as did Kelly Reilly, and they both told me to go with it and it’d be fine.

Did you feel like you were actually acting in that film, rather than playing yourself?
I was a bit worried about that at first as I was working with a lot of people who had done years of training as actors, whereas I’m not like that at all. I just got on with it and I think I pulled it off. I won an award from London Critics Circle for that film, which was totally unexpected, so yeah I think I did alright. 

You then landed the role of David in The Scouting Book For Boys. What are your memories from that?
It was a lot of fun. It was directed by Tom Harper who went on to direct the first two episodes of This Is England ’86. It was also written by Jack Thorne, who became the co-writer with Shane on all the This Is England TV series’. All the cast and crew went down to Norfolk and we stayed in a caravan site called Broadland Sands. We got our own caravan each and for me it was like I had my own house. I was seventeen and it was my first job without a chaperone, so I had to cook for myself too, which I really enjoyed.

When you were told This Is England was going to be turned into a TV series, what did you think?
It was the best news in the world, I was completely buzzing about it. On one level it was more work to keep me busy and keep me out of the pub (which it didn’t actually, it kept me in the pub more with them lot). On another level I’d get to work with all my old mates. Then they asked us about doing ’88 and we got to go through it all again.

Hopefully there will be a This Is England ’90 before too long?
Hopefully. We’ve just got to wait for Shane to get writing that. But he’s a busy man right now. He’s got lots of editing to do on this Stone Roses thing.

I have to ask you about the on screen relationship between you and Rosamund Hanson (Smell). Viewers love the chemistry between you…
Yeah, we’re good friends, me and Ros. She’s mental in real life too, batty as a box of frogs and that’s why people love her. As far as the characters go, I think Shaun knows she’s mental but I think he fancies that about her.

Tell us about working with Steven Graham. You’ve done a few things with him outside of Shane’s World too…
Yeah we did a TV series called The Innocence Project, which was directed by Morag McKinnon.  I call Stephen my granddad because he’s always looking out for me. I spoke to him this morning on the phone and if I ever need anything he’s the most  supportive person in the world. Even if he’s in America working on Boardwalk Empire, he’ll ring me and be on the phone for hours. It must cost him a bomb, but he’s one of those people who
doesn’t care as long as he’s helping his friends out.

Do you ever stop to think how much that random choice of going to an audition as a twelve-year-old has changed your life?
I know I’m lucky and that many people would give their right arm for the opportunity. That’s why I’ve never let it get to my head, because I know it all happened by chance. 

You must have some great stories. I saw a photo of you with Johnny Depp. How did you meet him?
Stephen rang me, he was doing press for Public Enemies, and my ex-girlfriend was obsessed with Johnny.  Stephen knew this and rang me and invited me down to Leicester Square for the premiere. I was skint at the time, so he even paid our train fare. We were on the red carpet and we heard this massive roar of girls screaming, then we turned round and Johnny Depp was just walking down the carpet. For me I’m not bothered, he’s just
a normal person. But yeah, my ex loved it, we said hello and went to a party with him after.

Tell us about the event you’re doing at The Approach?
Basically it’s going to be a night with us lot from This Is England. I think only a couple of the gang can’t make it. Vicky McClure can’t as she’s really busy. But it’s nearly a full house. It’s a Q&A and we’re going to open up the questions to the audience and be as honest as we can. People should come along to watch us banter and then have a drink with us after.

What are your aims career-wise for the next year?
I’ve spoken to my agent and told him that I know I’ve wasted a lot of his time, as I’ve just been going out when I should have been auditioning. But he’s said, “That’s fine, you’re twenty years old and with the opportunities you’ve had you’re going to enjoy yourself.” So this year I’m going to knuckle down, do a few short films, get some money in the bank and then get on with some bigger auditions. I’ve got a few meetings coming up soon, so
hopefully see what comes up with them.

Thomas Turgoose (and a dozen other This Is England Cast members) will be live in conversation at The Approach on Thursday 28 February 2013. Tickets are £10 and available from the venue or online.

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