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Actor Ben Batt relishes his new role in Shameless

 

SHAMELESS? Young actor Ben Batt couldn’t be more proud of his latest, and most high-profile, acting role.

As a viewer, the 22-year-old, who plays Joe Pritchard, the new kid on the Chatsworth estate, came to the show late – but he immediately fell hook, line and sinker for Channel 4’s in-your-face drama.

“I missed the McAvoy Years,” he says, referring to the first two series which featured Hollywood star James McAvoy (Atonement, The Last King of Scotland).

But Wigan-raised Ben, whose Dad is a Scouser, stresses: “From series three onwards I’ve watched it and been a massive fan.

“It’s just brilliant, and then I came into it having all these expectations of how it was going to be – and then all of a sudden I was going ‘Oh my God, I’m standing in The Jockey!’”

Ben made his bow in the current series – series six – as the new love interest of Mandy Maguire (daughter of Mimi, played by Mersey mouth almighty Tina Malone).

And his character really made his mark last week, when he proved to Mandy that he was a trustworthy bloke after being left in charge of The Jockey – not the easiest boozer to manage.

A seemingly pleasant Jack-the-lad hiding a dark streak, there is the promise of plenty more to come from his character.

Ben explains: “There are a few surprises . . . My story goes from one thing to another and progresses all the way through.”

And the actor can’t hide his delight at landing such a part so early in his career.

“I’m very lucky to have the part,” he says.

“Shameless has such a great reputation, and there’s a brilliant cast, too. I can’t stress how friendly everyone was to me when I came in.

“I thought I was really going to have to prove myself, but there was none of that, they all said ‘Take your time, find out about the character and the storyline’.

“Everyone’s really, really, nice. It’s so weird speaking to people like Sean Gilder (Paddy Maguire) who looks really hard on screen. But in person he’s so friendly – you know ‘Come and have a beer, we’ll talk, any questions. . .’ and all that business.”

And yet things might have been so different for Ben, who could have instead become a Rugby Union or Rugby League star. A promising youth player, he was on the books at Division Two Union side Orrell, before a damaged ankle put paid to his sporting ambitions.

He recalls: “Talent scouts from Wigan Warriors’ academy came to watch me play, and I had the game of my life.

“I scored four tries, and then in the last minute of the game, I went under the post and some guy came in and took my leg out. My ankle just went snap and after that the doctors told me they didn’t think I could play again.”

Faced with having to rethink his plans, Ben went to college and decided to give acting a go as he “wasn’t the best, academically” and couldn’t think what else to do. But things didn’t start well and Ben felt less than comfortable when he walked into a studio for his first drama class – and found his fellow students on stage singing Grease.

“It was terrible and I remember thinking ‘This is really not where I want to be’.

“But I got up there too, and I ended up loving it.

“I realised it was for me, so I carried on and ended up getting into Guildhall School Of Music And Drama in London.

“I had a great time there, and had to leave about a month early because I had a small part in a film.”

That film was The Edge Of Love, starring Keira Knightley, Sienna Miller, Matthew Rhys and one of Ben’s favourite actors, Cillian Murphy.

“I absolutely love 28 Days Later and he was in Batman Begins as well, which is also amazing.

“I was really nervous on set, but I thought ‘I’ve only got four or five days filming, I can do it’.

“One day I had to get over to the set and a car pulled up to pick me up, the door opened and Cillian was sat right there!

“He was ever so friendly. I’m not talking about Cillian here, but you hear stories about actors who’ve made it big being a bit funny, especially as I was the young guy who’d never really been on camera before, but he was the loveliest guy. We went for a few beers in the hotel that night, he was great.”

Ben adds: “I speak to a lot of other actors, and they all say things like ‘This has been my dream since I was five years old’ but I’ve only wanted to do it seriously since rugby finished when I was 16 or 17.

“The best thing I can do is be like a sponge and listen to what people tell me.”

Other work for Ben has included an episode of Lewis with Kevin Whately, Casualty and two episodes of Wire In The Blood with Robson Green, in which he played a serial killer.

“The ‘aggressive Northerner’!” he says, smiling.

“That’s the thing I’m starting to learn. If you have a Northern accent, they love it if you go aggressive.

“The problem with that is that half way through doing it, you think ‘I’m enjoying this too much’!”

“Robson Green is the nicest guy ever,” Ben adds. “Each day he was giving me advice and telling me things to try.

“I’ve been really lucky. The thing is you don’t know from half year to half year what you’re going to be doing next.”

And he adds: “The thing I love about acting is that you can be 80 years old and still not have any of the answers.

“There’s no one who can say this is what good actors are and that’s bad acting, it’s all opinion there’s no exam you can take to prove you’re a good actor.

“I love the fact you might go all the way through an amazing career and still think at the end of it: ‘I had a bloody good time, but I still don’t know anything’.”

Shameless, tonight 10pm on Channel 4.




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