Beaver Falls: Sam Robertson interview
You had a pretty unconventional route into acting, didn't you?
Yes, absolutely. I came via the model-turned-actor route. I was at University in Manchester, studying English and drama - drama was very much the subsidiary part of the course - and I was doing a bit of modelling part-time to help fund my studies. And through that I got asked to audition for a part in Coronation Street. I was 18, and I'd not done any acting whatsoever. But they were casting a Scottish character who was 18 years old and very like me. I went along to the audition, and after a couple of call-backs I got it. So that was me, going from being a student with no acting experience to suddenly being on the set of Coronation Street within six weeks.
Did you jack in the course?
I did, unfortunately, yes. I juggled both for about two months, but Coronation Street took priority, and I was missing lectures and all sorts over the course of the first two months. My tutor said 'You can carry on, but you're best probably taking a year out and seeing how things go on Coronation Street.' A year down the line I was sat in the middle of a two-year contract, and things were looking good there, so I never finished my course. That's always a bit of a bee in my bonnet, but hopefully that was the right move.
It must have been a weird experience going from being a complete unknown to starring in Britain's biggest soap.
It was such a massive thing, I don't think I fully comprehended it until about three or four months into the job. It's a monster of a show, and I just didn't get to grips with that at first, especially in the first few months, when I started to get recognised by people, and being deemed 'a celebrity' of sorts. Going from being a student to being in a show watched by 10 million people every time, it was a bit of a culture shock. That was probably the hardest part of all, to be honest.
Is it true that one of the reasons you left The Street was because you'd had enough of being recognised everywhere you went?
Yeah, it was the main reason, really. I'd not had my mind set on being an actor as a career, I did it as a bit of a jolly. Then I had to decide, after two-and-a-half years, if it was something I wanted to stick with. Being recognised really wasn't something I'd taken to. Since then I've done more acting work and I've matured and it's something I'm fine with, but back then I found it really tough. Some people love it. To be honest, most of the time people were really lovely, but I felt like I was public property.
Do you think it all happened too young for you?
Definitely. Not only too young, but too quickly, in terms of where I was as an actor, what I knew and what I was capable of, and how confident I felt about being an actor. A big part of my problem about being recognised was that I didn't feel I was worthy enough in the show. If people asked me what I did, I felt really strange telling people I was an actor, because I didn't feel like I was an actor. I didn't feel like I knew what I was doing for the first six months or year. Looking back on it, looking at some of the old footage, the difference between me now as an actor and back then is palpable.
So do you cringe when you look back at your early work?
Yeah, definitely. And I think that was another reason I decided to leave - I wanted to cut my teeth somewhere with a little less profile and scrutiny. When I left I had a year-and-a-half out and decided to travel and figure out what I wanted to do. I weighed up my options and came back to the UK with a different mindset. Since then things have slowly-but-surely taken off, and I feel like I've been working on some great stuff. Beaver Falls is very definitely part of that. It's been a real vindication that I made the right decision.
Explain a little bit about what Beaver Falls is all about?
It's about three young guys who graduate from university, and as opposed to going into the big bad world of jobs and mortgages, they decide to prolong their freedom for a little bit, and sign up for summer camp in America. My character has pretty much initiated all this and convinced his two mates to come and join him. He's sold it to them as six weeks in the sunshine, a bit of fun, with sex, drugs and rock'n'roll thrown in. But when they get there, they realise it's going to be somewhat different. They're counsellors for young kids, and the kids they've ended up with....well, let's just say they weren't quite what they were expecting. So this dream summer becomes a summer full of responsibilities, and looking after five kids they think they have nothing in common with. So it's all about how things evolve from there. It's a story about friendship as much as anything else.
It's a drama, but it's also very funny, isn't it?
Yeah, it's very funny, but it's also got some tender, heartfelt moments, and moments of real drama mixed in. It's like Shameless and Skins in that it mixes moments of comedy with serious drama as well.
Where did you film?
We filmed in South Africa, and the shoot lasted two-and-a-half months. We were there from January to April. It was their summer, and it was obviously one of Britain's worst winters, so it was fantastic. It's an amazing country, and I think I speak for the rest of the cast when I say it was the best location I've worked in.
What, even better than Manchester and Glasgow?
[Laughs] Waking up every morning with the sun beating down on you, and going to work on a beautiful game reserve, surrounded by zebra, wildebeest, springboks, and with phenomenal weather, it was just a bit more fun that getting on the train to go to work in Glasgow or Manchester in November.
Did you have any encounters with dangerous wildlife out there?
There wasn't any of that, actually. There was one day a few of us went to Cape Point National Park, and it was full of baboons. And there were signs everywhere warning that the baboons might attack you, and that was a bit scary. We pulled up in a car park, opened our doors and got out, and before we knew it, a baboon had bounced into the back of our car, and was scrambling about one of the girls bags. Me and the other guy with us, Jon, who plays Jake, said to the girls 'Don't worry about it, it'll be fine,' being the big men, until this baboon scowled at us, and we jumped back about 10 yards, petrified. But the animals on the reserve where we were filming were just beautiful and so peaceful.
Being away for so long with a young international cast must have been great fun.
It was. It was a little daunting at first - when you go to work on location, you're just hoping you'll get on with everybody. There were about eight or nine principal cast who were all from the UK, Canada and South Africa, and none of us had ever met each other before. I think we were all a bit wary - we basically had to get on, otherwise it would have been a really horrible few months. But we all ended up getting on like a house on fire and became really good friends.
You were working with some kids as well. Did you have a good relationship with them as well?
Yeah, the kids were great. They were really heavily involved. John, Asher and I probably did more work with the kids than anybody, and we became really close. They were, really funny and very talented. I'd never really worked with child actors before, I've always been a little bit wary. You hear stories of them being a bit difficult, but these kids were amazing. They worked so hard, and were so easy to work with.
You play Flynn. What's he like?
He's a great character, he's good fun, really joyful to play. But the longer the series goes on, the more you realise he's also hiding some stuff, he's got a lot of demons. He's intent on having a really good time over the summer and living in the moment, but as time goes on you realise there's more to him than that. And there's a tender side to him as well.
Have you ever been to a summer camp yourself?
I've not, actually. I've got a few friends who have done, and everyone always comes back saying they've had a great time. Working with the kids was the first time I've ever had that adult-child relationship in terms of work - I've never taught or anything - but I can sense it would be really satisfying. I found working with them really fulfilling. I guess that's what teachers get a lot of the time. So I can see why the idea of working on a summer camp would be tempting - the idea of working with kids really appeals to me, actually.
What would you teach if you went to work on a camp?
I don't know. Flynn teaches drama in the show, and I quite liked pretending to be a drama teacher. I'd probably say drama, but I also know a few guys who have taught football at summer camps, and I know that's meant to be fun.
You're quite a handy footballer yourself, aren't you?
I'm not really that good. What happened when I was in Coronation Street is we used to play charity football a lot, and a lot of people would come down, and occasionally I'd score a great goal or have a really good game - I think it was more luck than anything. And there's a story that I went to play for FC United, and I did go for a trial with them, and things went okay, but the story seemed to grow arms and legs. I just went for a trial, and it ended up not working out. I think I wasn't good enough, first and foremost, but I wouldn't have been able to do it with my schedule on Coronation Street anyway - I was missing games and training sessions. But I think the press in Manchester ran with the story that I was some sort of an ex-professional - that's not really true. When I was a kid I trained with local teams, but that was it. But I'm happy for people to run with that story all day long, saying I'm a fantastic footballer.