Interview with Paul Nicholls who plays Steve Bell in Ackley Bridge

Tell us about Ackley Bridge?

It's a new 6 part drama set in a school for Channel 4. There are so many different story lines and characters involved in it but the basic underlying theme is integration, not just of race but of people and relationships in general. It's about people becoming closer as human beings, in whatever form, whether it be romantically or the idea of different communities edging close to each other. There are many different strands to it. It reminds me of a play, the first professional play I did called 'Yoiks, Oiks!', it wasn't anything to do with racial division, it was to do with class division and it was about a private school and a low end state school and they both had to mix and when I read the scripts it reminded me of that and being ten years old!

You play Steve, what's he like?

Hmm... He's still very much a kid himself inside, even though he doesn't look like it! He has a bit of a temper on him but he's not a bad guy, I think he's got too many feelings going on inside him...

Is it fair to say he really goes out to bat for the kids, that he's really passionate about their future and their well-being?

Yeah, in that respect I think he's very good at his job and I think he doesn't care about public image, I think he came from a very working class background and can recognise kids that he can see himself in, or certain aspects of their life that he understands, and I think that's why he became a teacher. I loved working with the kids, for me that was the best thing about it. There's a scene where Steve gets the kids involved in a rugby match and I remember doing it and I saw Sam [who plays Jordan] running with the ball and I was like 'Go on! Go on, go on, go on, go on! And I got so into it I forgot I was acting until they shouted cut and that's not happened for years, it's a real pleasure working with younger actors.

Steve is married to Mandy, what's their relationship like?

Overall their relationship is very back and forth and there's lots issues and obstacles to overcome but primarily there is something there holding them together. 

He clearly loves her?

Yeah. Of course, of course, but love's a broad spectrum, obviously there's a physical attraction first and foremost and then you get to know someone and they make you laugh, or there's different things that keep people together, and I think Steve likes that she's a strong woman. He admires her very, very much and because he is such a child she takes him in hand sometimes. But I think primarily, physically, they're very, very attracted to each other and they make each other laugh a lot and they have fun and they've been through what they've been through and their relationship is not perfect, but no relationship is.

You first worked with Jo Joyner on Candy Cabs, what was it like to be reunited and work with her?

2010! I love Jo, I f*cking love her, it was quite weird 'cos in Candy Cabs she was quite a comical character. She SO good, she doesn't believe it but no decent actress does, I think, she can play anything. When I worked with her on Candy Cabs she was like this glammed up, blonde, busty party girl and it was a very comical character and she just blew me away, but to work with her on this, and to see her play a very different character and find so many nuances, it was just brilliant. I love Jo to bits, she's just lovely.

How was it being back in the north?

I was staying in Hebden Bridge and I didn't know the history of it, I didn't know it was an hour from my home town and in that respect it was lovely, it was such a lovely, beautiful little village, it was an hour's drive to my sister's where my nephews are which was ace.

You filmed in February- April, was it chilly having to wear your PE kit?!

Yeah!.. The last day of filming was just really, really, really cold, as soon as we cut and there was a minivan to get in everyone just piled in, everyone just wanted that day to end. 

What were you like at school?

Ha, I can't tell you that! I was never there…

Did you get a detention?

Er, I had a few detentions!.. I wasn't a bad kid, but there was a group of us, we're still good mates, there are 4 of us and they were the best thing about school for me. If it wasn't for them I would have probably left because I started coming on children's television and if you're at a stage school and you're doing well you're kind of cool, whereas if you're doing stuff like that at a normal school you're gonna have trouble, which I did! I remember there was one episode of The Biz where I sang a song and I was f*cking dreading it coming out and when I walked into assembly the day after it came out, and I'm not joking, the whole school started singing the song and everyone was pointing at me and I just wanted to die! It was never anyone in my year, it was just older kids and younger kids, kids just being kids. But I'm weird, I'm an actor but I don't really like attention!

Did you do any research for the part?

I bumped into my old music teacher when I was taking my nephews to school and I saw him and I was like, "Bloody hell, how are you?!" He's a really nice guy, he's done amazing things at the school I went to in Bolton and he's the director of the brass and strings band. They literally travel the world and people pay to see them and one of his old students is the lead horn in the San Francisco orchestra. So I asked him if I could come in and observe a teacher doing their job, teaching the year 11's, as that what I thought I'd be doing and so I went back there and it was so weird! It was a really nice thing for him to do though and I got a lot out of it.

May 24, 2017 12:31pm by Channel 4  

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