An Interview With… Stephen Walters

Hi everyone, this evening I’m honoured to welcome Liverpool acting royalty Stephen Walters. Stephen joined me for a chat to discuss his journey into the industry, his career highlights and his favourite roles to date.

Over to you, Stephen…

1) How did you first become involved in the industry? Was it something that you always wanted to do? Did you have any other career plans?

It’s a cliche but I don’t know if I found acting or it found me. All I know is that your blessed in life, if you find a passion or something you’re good at.

The seeds were sown at high school. Watching ‘children’s drama’ on television I thought I could give it a go. There was one actor from Liverpool called George Christopher. He was on a show called Grange Hill and in the back of my mind I thought “I could do that”. Years later he approached me at Lime street station and I thanked him for being one of my initial inspirations.

There was a local agency “ART” run by the Liverpool actor Ricky Tomlinson. A childhood friend and I kept going into the office asking for an audition!! It just so happened there was one going at Granada studios. There were hundreds of kids there, a few recalls and eventually I got the part. It was called “Ghost Story” part of what was then a popular kids series called “Dramarama”. Gary Oldman appeared in one who I have just worked with Gary on a new Apple + series Slow Horses.

The director Julian Jarrold I also worked with again on Touching Evil with the actor Robson Green. I also ended up playing Ricky Tomlinson in a sky arts drama called Ragged directed by Johnny Vegas. It was about the time he served 2 years in solitary confinement for an offence he was only just recently cleared of. It was known as the Shrewsbury 2.

I couldn’t have known any of this at the time but it’s startling to me when I think about all the subsequent co-incidences. As from then on there was no plan B. My time at Southport collage doing a performing arts course also solidified my thinking – there was nothing else I wanted to do.

2) Did you enjoy drama school? Are there any fond or particular favourite memories that stand out?

Drama school was like an important chapter to my journey. It was more a life experience really. We had a Russian acting teacher named Rudi Shelley, a lovely Jewish man who fled the perils of nazism whilst most of his family sadly perished in the Holocaust. He had wonderful words of wisdom like “find out for yourself”, “Acting is the art of reacting”, “go and watch bad drama’s-learn what not to do”!! A wonderful man.

It was a very middle class establishment. There was a lot of privilege there and prima Donna attitude. I was from a working class estate and I believe it meant more to me than most – I had a hunger and desire to be an actor. There was also no security of a safe job to fall back on. That’s nobody’s fault by the way, but more of an intellectual hindsight.

Thankfully at that time there was a discretionary award by the local council for people who got into a drama school – they don’t exist anymore. One of my earth angels, the Liverpool writer Alan Bleasdale wrote me a glowing reference and I got in. The irony of ironies is because I left early as I had booked a television show.

3) Your career has varied between television, film and theatre. Which of the three would you say is your favourite and why?

I prefer TV and film. I always felt the theatre to be over rated in terms of how hard it is. Michael Caine put it more succinctly. “Theatre is an operation with a scalpel, film is an operation with a laser”.

If anything the process of filming is harder and more complex in many ways. There are lots of breaks, set ups, turn around etc…whereas theatre is done in “one go”. Is as much about conserving energy as it is using it. It’s a discipline of concentration whilst at the same time being relaxed. I think the lense also see’s the eyes, the “truth of a performance” and there’s no place to hide. An actor can be believable on stage but not on camera. I’ve always found that dichotomy interesting. There’s a certain artifice of false projection and “ham/ over the top acting” on stage(not always)that I also don’t appreciate. If I had to choose, I like mistakes, a warts and all approach to performance, as opposed to any form of technical precision.

4) When you read a script, what do you pay attention to in particular? Does the character leap off the page for you? What makes you think ‘Yes, I want to play this role!’?

I think there has to be a reaction, or an instinct to want to play a part. Sometimes you do get a strong feeling for it – it is a sense you can play it or bring something unique to it. It’s mostly a visceral reaction and it’s often a composite of things really. Whether it be your real life experience, your imagination, the writing or the another actors and even the location. It’s a mix of all of these things, to a large or small degree have an impact on any part I play.

But everyone has a different approach and it’s subjective.

5) How much research, typically, would you do for a role? For example, when you played Thomas Malone in Shetland? How did you find the experience of the character?

We filmed in a Scottish prison for Shetland and I picked the brains of any prison in mate I could find. You’re always looking for clues as a actor. These can range from ideas, it could be a physical look or a physical demeanour or an accent etc. I had done a show called “Outlander” were I was well versed in the Scottish brogue via a brilliant voice coach called Carol Anne Crawford.

Making Shetland an actor/director named Ronnie Goodwin assisted me throughout, mostly on the phone and recording lines etc. Just phrasing, syllables, inflections, tone etc. Once you nail the accent, you can forget about it and focus on the rest of the performance. Funnily enough people are always impressed by accents but I’m not. It’s find it a prerequisite to playing any part. What’s the point of a perfect accent alongside an average or uninspired performance? You might as well hire an impersonator otherwise.

6) Are there any projects that you have particularly enjoyed working on? What specific projects have been a career highlight for you?

The next part is always the best one.😂.  It’s lovely if people remind me of a part I’ve played or if it’s effected them in some way but honestly once it’s over it’s done for me when it’s finished.

Of recent times “Anne”. This really resonated with the audience and it’s a part I’m proud of. The challenge of that role was primarily how to play “silent grief” and Maxine Peake was a lovely screen partner to have.

I did a drama called “Blood on the Dole” over 25 years ago. It was when I saw that film that I thought I had half a chance of making a career out of this. Alan Bleasdale opened my eyes to the possibility of this profession and he was one of my greatest early influences. As recent as this year people still mention that job so the work can have a life of its own.

7) Do you have any advice to offer actors wanting to start out in the industry?

To actors starting out I say follow your heart and don’t listen to negativity. I say remember it’s a long road and it’s not a race. If there is something “inside of you” that you need to express, you will find a way of doing it. It’s a difficult path with many set backs but it’s also rewarding beyond words. I think it all comes down to “the need” to do a certain thing.

8) Coming from Liverpool, would you like to see more television programmes set and based here?

Coming from anywhere really I just want to see good drama. There been good and bad dramas made in Liverpool. I’ve been in both versions of that description.😂. It’s all subjective. If the story and characters are “good” I would love to see it in Liverpool.

9) How have you been coping during lockdown? As an actor, how has lockdown affected you?

Lockdown was difficult for a lot of people, especially those who lost loved ones, contracted Corona or were isolated in general. Personally speaking it was a time to reflect. I taught my son at home alot and enjoyed home schooling him. I also write a lot which is cathartic in many ways. I have numerous tv/film scripts and novels on the go.

10) What is a typical weekend for you, and what do you enjoy doing away from work?

Life away from work is way more important than the work. It never used to be but it’s important to have balance. Without it there is nothing to impact or infuse the craft. It’s why I don’t have many actor friends!!😂.  Actors can tend to be very self involved. When I work it’s my total world and focus. When I don’t it’s not and I hardly think about it.

I love to be with my boy, to write, swim, play music, compose, see my dad, go the cinema, go the beach, take long car drives, laugh hard. I’m always in some form consciously creating I like to think.

Thank you for your time this evening Stephen, it has been a pleasure to interview you.

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