I’ve had to pinch myself a few times since I started writing for the Coronation Street Blog but never more so than last Friday when I met up with David Neilson in Westminster, London to talk about his life and career and 20 years spent on Britain’s most famous cobbled street.
I was 12 when Roy Cropper first arrived in Weatherfield, mithering Deirdre in that block of flats on Crimea Street. I’ve grown up with Roy and seen him become one of the most loved characters in Coronation Street history – a national treasure!
|David Neilson with Corrie Blogger, Martin Leay|
(Photo by David Doig)
David Neilson doesn’t do many interviews and so, it was an absolute pleasure and privilege to speak to him exclusively for the Coronation Street Blog. He was great company and only too happy to chat to the many people who recognised him during the hour and three quarters we spent together. I am very grateful to David for being so generous with his time – and on his birthday, no less!
There was so much to talk about that I have split the interview into three parts, the first of which you can read below. This part focuses on David Neilson - his background, his passion for acting and how he came to play Roy Cropper in Coronation Street.
The second part, in which David talks about playing Roy over the past 20 years, will be on the website tomorrow (Thursday 19th March).
And the final part of the interview, in which David talks about Roy’s relationship with Hayley, working with Julie Hesmondhalgh, and what the future may bring for Roy Cropper, will be up on the website on Friday 20th March.
So, here is part one of our exclusive interview with David Neilson…
Martin Leay (ML): What made you want to become an actor?
David Neilson (DN): I didn’t want the life that was offered me. I was a gas fitter when I left school - when I was 15. My brother had tried for drama school. I remember him telling me he’d done this audition and you didn’t need O-Levels - you could just go along. And I thought I’d like to go into the movies. I really like those old movies like ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’, ‘A Taste of Honey’, ‘Billy Liar’ – those movies were about escape – ‘get out, you don’t have to be in this thing’.
ML: How did you break into acting?
DN: I was dead lucky. I used to go to Technical College in Leicester – a day release thing opposite the Phoenix Theatre and I went to see ‘The Caretaker’. I didn’t know what it was but I went to see it and Anthony Hopkins was in it. It blew me away, the whole thing – I thought, wow, I understand that world. So I did a bit of that for my (drama school) audition and I did a bit of Shakespeare. I did one audition and they offered me a place and it changed my life in one afternoon. I came to London and I did a lot of theatre work but I had unemployment as well and picked my tools up again.
|"How's that old boyfriend then, Nat?"|
(David Neilson in Life Is Sweet)
ML: You were in two Mike Leigh films. How did that come about?
DN: I did a bit of plumbing for Mike! I’m in ‘Life Is Sweet’ and I’ve got one line. I’m the plumber - I’m working with Claire Skinner and I carry a radiator. Mike rang me up and said there’s this part. So I did it and the next one was ‘Secrets & Lies’. We filmed it on a Saturday in June 1995 and one of the actors in it was saying ‘it’s one of my ambitions to be in a Mike Leigh film’ and he said ‘my other ambition is to be in Coronation Street’. I said ‘that’s really weird because I’m doing both of your ambitions this weekend’. On the Saturday I was in the Mike Leigh film and Sunday was my first day on Coronation Street.
ML: How did you land the part of Roy Cropper?
DN: My friend Stephen Mallatratt was writing for the show… we were at drama school together. He’d written one of the 6 episodes. He got a call from the producers saying ‘this character’s got this facility with language – you’ve written him a bit more downmarket than the others - can you just adjust it?’ He was thinking about this guy and how completely inept he was and he thought of me! He rang casting and it was 5o’clock… and he said ‘have you cast this character?’ and they said ‘no, but we will tomorrow morning’. Now if he’d have been half an hour later it wouldn’t have happened because they’d all have gone home – if I’d have been doing a training film somewhere – or if he’d have written it right in the first place, this chance would never have come up. When I got there for this audition, or just an interview – there were all sorts of shapes and sizes – there were older people, fat ones, little ones and the one thing I realised was they didn’t know what they were looking for. So I got it and that was it.
ML: Were you a fan of Coronation Street before you joined the show?
DN: I liked the humour. There have been some great talents and there still are hugely talented people and I know the care that goes into it.
ML: Are there any characters you would like to do more scenes with?
DN: It depends what the scene is. There are some people you never get to speak to apart from serving them in the café. I enjoy watching other characters. I don’t do anything really with Steve McDonald and for me, he’s the centre of The Street – I think he’s got the spirit of Jack Duckworth. He’s got that humour. I love him – Simon and Craig Charles together – I think they’re great.
ML: So you watch Corrie?
DN: Yeah, you have to. I go through binges. When you’re not in the episode you can sit back and say ‘this is remarkable really’. Some of the things in it are fantastic. I can watch it and feel very proud to be part of it. And there are some really good people in it and some really good people have gone through it. I think it’s a good show.
ML: What is it that you like about it?
DN: The show is entertainment for people who graft all day. It is something they can switch on and go ‘I know where I am here, I’ll watch them have the problems’. And people are very sophisticated about it. Our viewers know what’s right and wrong. They have an instinct for it.
ML: Can you see yourself doing another 20 years at Corrie or are there other things you would like to try?
DN: I’m very fortunate – it’s been very good to me and I feel very valued by the company. I’m quite happy – there are things I might want to do, it depends what I’m offered. I’ll always be grateful to it, whatever happens. It’s a great show to be part of. I went in for 6 episodes and I’ve been in for 20 years so that’s quite immense really when I think about it. But I don’t normally think about it!
ML: Is it difficult to keep your day job and your private life separate?
DN: Yes… but you learn what to do. I was a plumber but when I finished work I didn’t go home and sit in the bathroom all night. It’s a job.
ML: Can it be difficult to switch off from certain storylines?
DN: I’ve lost more sleep about being a plumber than I have about being an actor because it really matters to people if there is water pouring through their ceiling. But because you are tapping into emotions and experiences that you’ve had, it must open up certain things within you so that if it’s a depressing storyline you can get depressed. You have to look after yourself.
ML: Do you think Roy could fit a boiler?
DN: I think he could, intellectually… but I wouldn’t let him!
Be sure to log on to the Coronation Street Blog tomorrow (Thursday 19th March) for the second part of our exclusive interview with David Neilson, which will focus on David’s role as Corrie’s Roy Cropper.
Interview by Martin Leay
You can follow Martin on Twitter @mpleay
You can listen to Martin on Croydon Radio
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