What attracted you to the series?
Russell – I’d do anything for him. His writing is up there with the best, and he and Nicola Shindler make a dream team. I think I said yes before even reading the scripts. Then when I read them I just wept, and at the readthrough with all these young kids, it was even worse. It’s the first readthrough I’ve ever cried at. It’s being a parent, reading something like this destroys you, but it’s important to make and important someone like Russell tackles this. He hasn’t just done a massive paintbrush of devastation and horror, he’s filled it with life and energy and joy and love.
There haven’t been many original TV dramas with AIDS at the heart of the narrative, have there?
No. I think people ask: do we really want to sit and watch a programme about people dying of AIDS? No, we want Downton Abbey, where the worst that happens is a paper cut or some jewellery going missing! It takes a writer of Russell’s calibre to go: this is not just an AIDS drama, it’s about people. He sets character at the heart of everything he writes. It’s not an AIDS drama, it’s a drama about people, with AIDS as the backdrop.
Tell us a little about your character, Clive.
He’s very much of his time. He’s scared. They live in the Isle of Wight and there’s a great line early on where Valerie says, be careful of the mainland, it’s different. Clive says, it is different on the mainland – it’s a lot more fun. He’s quite sad and down. If he’d been 20 years younger, he could have been Ritchie in terms of wanting fun, music and partying. Instead, he’s ended up with two kids, a car, a steady job, and drinks at the same pub with the same people. He’s stuck and resents it. Russell doesn’t pass judgment on Clive or Valerie, but I really didn’t like them in episode one. I wish he’d been a better man.
How is his relationship with Ritchie?
He’s a good man inside, a man who wishes he could open up and open his arms up to give his kid a hug, but he’s not very tactile. He’s very strait-laced and wishes he could be a bit braver. It’s easy to blame Valerie for how he’s turned out, and Clive would probably do that. The love has been gone in the marriage for a long time, but he does love his kids – he just doesn’t know how to show it.
The Tozers have quite a complicated relationship. What do you think the drama says about the notion of “family”?
Yeah, at the time families were devastated by this, pulled apart by it, so this drama shows how sometimes you have to find your family, whether at home or elsewhere.
How was it working with Keeley and Olly?
Amazing. I’ve been a fan of Keeley for ages and desperate to work with her. I was really chuffed and she’s so good, really open and lovely. I was excited about Olly because I’d got into his music beforehand, I saw him on Graham Norton and was bowled over by him, then I found out I was going to be his dad and realised how special he was at the readthrough. He’s so warm and innocent on screen, and very generous. The boys as a whole were so lovely to be with and go out on a night out with. They were perfectly cast, they had so much energy and vibrancy. They loved being on set and being in each other’s company. You can get jaded doing this job, but that was infectious.
What do you remember of the era?
I was 13 when the John Hurt advert came out and I remember being utterly petrified of this thing called AIDS. We were shown the adverts in class and told: if you see anyone with a cut or nosebleed, do not help them, do not touch them. This fear of blood was huge.
Why do you think this is an important story to tell, and why now?
It’s important that we don’t forget about it, that those memories aren’t lost. I was telling the boys those stories of growing up in the 80s and they were shocked. Lots of people died and lots of people mourned loved ones, so we mustn’t forget it happened, not that long ago. An epidemic that killed so many people and put the fear of god into so many people… It’s still very raw.
What’s your favourite 80s…Musician/Band – and song
The song is Come On Eileen – me and my sister Stephanie would dance and go crazy to that song. My favourite band was Madness.
The Empire Strikes Back, which is also my favourite film of all time!
I liked dungarees – the Come On Eileen look! If I could get away with wearing them again, I’d bring back my basketball pumps I used to wear.
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