Without giving away too much, can you tell us what the new series is about?
We have a new set of students at Ackley Bridge and the series shows them settling down to school life. As we know well, everyone has their own unique set of challenges and problems that life presents them and we get to see how each different personality cope, which can be a really tricky part of growing up.
For Martin, personally as well as home-life and drama at work we see him initially knock heads with one of the new students who is a Romany Gypsy, it’s about how there can be certain misconceptions about different communities and cultures. Martin is not immune to this unconscious bias, even though he’s a good man at heart, we see that, like with communities in Ackley before, Johnny and his family arrive to a set of ill-informed and incorrect judgements and only by getting to know people within this community i.e. Johnny’s Grandad - does Martin quickly realise his initial prejudices were completely false.
Your character Martin goes through some momentous changes in series four! How did you prepare for his character development?
(Jokes) I did some light stretching and a functional core-based work out followed by a fair trade, organic, plastic free tea-bags cup of tea every morning with some cacao-based porridge. This stood me in good stead! In short, I just try and say the words in the script as naturally as possible.
You started filming last year pre-Covid restrictions and wrapped in the middle of the pandemic. What can you tell us about the atmosphere like on set? What were some of the biggest challenges as an actor?
I try to have fun on any set. There are days with certain scenes – particularly melancholy scenes – where you have to focus and be serious for a bit, but other than that I’m going to have a laugh, if I can. People had lost jobs – and are still losing jobs now. We were in a privileged position - in that we could work during the pandemic, so that was something to celebrate and be grateful of – which I showed by carrying on as normally as possible and having a laugh – always focus on the positive and life will be easier, I find.
What is the best thing about working on Ackley Bridge? Does it remind you of when you were a student?
The best thing about working on Ackley Bridge is the spirit – young people bring a certain energy that perhaps we allow life to get in the way of. I love tapping into that energy and remembering the fearlessness of youth – I am a child at heart. Most of my friends and family would say I am a child. But again, there is enough seriousness going on in the world and in my profession people are guilty of taking themselves way too seriously – why would I want to add to that when I can break dance in the middle of a scene just because…? My back has never been the same since.
Did you have a favourite scene to film or a most memorable line?
Any scenes that involves shouting at students fills my heart with an inexplicable joy – it’s a great stress relief.
What was your funniest moment on set?
Challenging Ryan - who plays Johnny to jump up and touch the ceiling in the fictional school canteen. He couldn’t do it but watching him try and try again and get increasingly frustrated was a joy to behold. He may be younger, more talented, and better looking than me, but can he touch the ceiling in the fictional school canteen? No, but I can! …
What was it like to work with the new cast who were joining an already established series?
They were all spot on and fitted in seamlessly with great energy and humour – top marks all round. You could say they were grade A students. See what I did there…?!
Mr Evershed has a special paternal relationship with newcomer Johnny. What was it like to work with Ryan and the new cast? Were there any words of wisdom and advice that you gave?
Ryan was a top lad. Really gave it his all – made me feel a bit guilty for how lazy I am, to be fair. I think he has the right attitude to have a great career if he wants it – he can dance and sing as well - how annoying is that?! My words of wisdom to him were – and this is true – don’t do what I do.
If you could play any other character in Ackley Bridge, who would you choose and why?
Sue Carp because she’s the loose cannon and a professional nightmare!
What should viewers expect from Ackley’s earlier time slot, will there still be drama?
There’s always drama in a school – there might be less swearing and sexual references but there will always be drama!
How do you think Martin would find running a secondary school during lockdown? Do you think there would be any similarities between your own experience and his?
I think Martin’s primary motivation would be to make it as normal as possible for the children – he would have an empathy with their mental health and social well-being – he wouldn’t just follow contradictory rules just because he was told to – he would put the well-being of students first and the rules second.