Tell us a little about your character, Ash, and how he fits within the group.
When Ritchie first comes to London, Ash is the first guy to grab his attention at university. Through Ash, Ritchie is introduced to Jill, then Roscoe and Colin come along. Ash is the cool, quiet, confident one of the group who, as the years go by, becomes one of the caring, sensitive ones. Unlike Roscoe or Ritchie, he doesn’t have to speak loudly or a lot to be heard. Or that’s what he thinks!
Can you see any of yourself in your character?
He’s a lot cooler than I am, that’s for sure, but he has this fierce loyalty which anyone can relate to. It’s strange – on paper he felt very different to me but when I started playing him, we became each other by osmosis. It was really lovely.
Would you have held your own in the Pink Palace?
As Nathaniel, no question. If I was living there, that place would be a lot cleaner!
All the characters respond very differently to the AIDS epidemic. What’s Ash’s reaction?
I can’t say that he takes it very seriously. He kind of knows what’s going on, but he isn’t willing to give up sex and he’s a bit blasé about it. As he sees it hitting home with people, he springs into action and starts helping. It’s the making of him, really. When he’s younger he’s happy sleeping around with whoever he likes, but this gives him a sense of purpose.
Were you already familiar with the period and what happened?
Prior to being cast I knew about the epidemic, but things like Section 28, which I’d heard about but didn’t know in detail… I wasn’t taught about AIDS in school, really, it wasn’t talked about in my family, but researching this I was horrified that it’s not taught in schools as part of basic sex education. I saw something on World AIDS Day saying that part of the reason the older generation might have more conservative views about sexuality is because so many of those that lived that happy, liberal, high life of being queer, died. The research gave me more knowledge, definitely.
It’s not just a story about death, is it?
It is an incredibly sad story, all the more so for being true, but when we were making the show it wasn’t about death, it was about a group of people that loved each other. I will always carry the love I felt doing that show with me.
Why do you think this is an important story to tell?
We lost an entire generation of queer people – it was a great blow to mankind. Russell lived in the real Pink Palace, he was in the thick of it and he’s such a beautiful writer, so having it told by him makes it that bit more heartfelt.
What has it been like working with Russell?
I was quite nervous meeting him, he’s such a big name in British TV, but he’s one of the most lovely, down to earth, funny people. He lights up a room, he’s so caring and bubbly, a wonderful man. It’s been a lovely first job in television.
There’s a real “gang” at the heart of the drama – did you become as tight-knit with your co-stars off-camera too?
When I was cast, the only people I knew had been cast were Omari and Callum, then I found out about Lydia and Olly at my second costume fitting, so we’d all been texting quick hellos to each other. Then at the readthrough, it was just electric. I think we managed to stay professional on set, or at least I hope so!
What about off-set – did you have any big nights out?
We were filming quite late most nights, but there was one night with David Carlyle [Gregory]. Lydia, Omari, me and one of my friends from home went for a drink and ended up in Canal Street at silly o’clock in the morning. That was so fun, to really let loose. But it was very unusual – normally we’d go back to our apartments, cook for each other, have a drink… Very domestic.
Is there a Pink Palace WhatsApp group?
Yeah, and Callum did a really good lockdown quiz. And I don’t want to rub people’s faces in it, but I absolutely, definitely, 100% won. It was great to catch up over Zoom because everyone’s been quite busy over lockdown.
How did you immerse yourself in the 80s during filming?
We listened to 80s music every morning and had a dance. The music was a big part of finding Ash, for me, along with costumes and big hair. Ash had loads of high-waisted trousers and braces and I really got into it. I’m incredibly tall so I struggle to find trousers to fit, but those trousers made me feel really confident and sexy, which helped with Ash.
What’s your favourite 80s…
…Musician/Band – and song
The song that always had me dancing was Hey Mickey. Also Phil Collins is another classic for me – he’s got that voice that makes you feel something.
Die Hard. I love that film.
High-waisted jeans. I’m a very jeans and t-shirt person, but one pair of black silk trousers Ash had… Oh, lord. I put those on and was like: daddy’s home.
Cheers. I know it’s not very British, but for me it reminds me of being a kid. That warmth – and it’s aged so well.