Will Mellor: ‘I cried playing a prisoner. It reminded me of my dad being in jail’

The heartbreak behind his new role, how he became TV’s most reliable actor – and how he owes it all to Two Pints Of Lager.

In The Club star Will Mellor
Heartbreak Playing armed robber Rick reminded Will Mellor of his dad's spell in prison. Image Picture Matt Squire/BBC

If any actor has had the last laugh against critics, it’s Will Mellor.

For years, Will Mellor was dismissed as a joke. He had a brief career as a pop star; his sitcom with Sheridan Smith, Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps, was deemed shorthand for “Why BBC3 is evil” by snobs and, of course, he started out in Hollyoaks.

By now, Mellor should be ekeing out a living on reality shows or at best fronting sub-Danny Dyer documentaries on the outer reaches of the channel guide.

Instead, think of a quality British drama of the last few years and Mellor is right there: Broadchurch as the possibly psychic Steve; No Offence as loveable murder detective Spike; Jimmy McGovern’s The Street as gay builder Tom and, most recently, doomed officer Rod Kennedy in Line Of Duty.

“Dad cut a few corners to make ends meet and went to prison. I’ve never blamed him”

Now, Mellor is back in the second series of BBC1 comedy-drama In The Club. Written by ladytelly veteran Kay Mellor (no relation) of Playing The Field and Fat Friends fame, it’s a mainstream show about women having babies. In The Club should be the polar opposite of Line Of Duty’s mayhem.

Will Mellor in Line Of Duty
Line of fire Will Mellor in his brief Line Of Duty role... Image Picture Steffan Hill/BBC

But, playing armed robber Rick, it’s given Mellor some of the most devastating scenes of his career. That’s in part because, when the Manchester actor was two, his dad Bill was sent to prison for a series of petty crimes.

Mellor tells Loaded of the impact of his dad’s imprisonment, his no-nonsense attitude to acting, his pop past… and why he knows he’s a lucky sod.

Your armed robber on In The Club sounds like a right idiot. How do you make him sympathetic?

It’s important the viewers like Rick. Rick is lying to his wife, he’s lost his job but pretending to go to work every day… and then he robs a bank, tries to kill himself and gets sent to prison while his wife Diane gives birth to twins. And they’ve already got two kids. So, yeah, Rick sounds like a nightmare. But everything he does is for Diane. He doesn’t want to stress her out because she’s lost babies before. He doesn’t know where to turn, and he chooses wrong. Rick is bad decisions, not bad person. In this new series, you see how he copes when he gets out of prison. Is he going to resent the fact his wife is the breadwinner now? Will they click straight away? Diane has stood on her own two feet for a year, so the dynamic has switched and that can be difficult for a man to take.

Did you draw on your father’s experiences in playing Rick?

Yeah, absolutely. I’ve never blamed my dad for what he did. Everything he did was for us. We were always happy as a family, but we didn’t have much at home. So dad cut a few corners to make ends meet and he went to prison for that. He’s very similar to Rick, because he made the wrong decisions and got caught.

Dad has told me how it felt when he was in prison, and it was exactly the same as how Rick feels. He felt like was leaving mum unprotected with us three children. Instead of being there to make money for us, dad was inside with his own thoughts every day and night, thinking ‘What’s going on out there? How is my wife coping with our children?’”

“I can’t stand egos on set, people making it difficult just to get attention. In my industry, there’s a lot of that”

Has your father seen In The Club?

He has. When Rick got sent to prison, the emotion poured out of me. As soon as I saw the picture of Rick’s children, I was crying. I said to the director ‘We need to shoot this now, because my emotions are ready to go.’ I was thinking about what dad went through and, more importantly, what mum went through. She went through hell, being at home on her own with the children. It all made me sympathise with what Rick is feeling. There wasn’t much acting needed.

In The Club is very different to the grittiness of Line Of Duty and No Offence…

I like doing lots of different types of drama. This is warm, well-rounded comedy/drama for the masses. It ticks a lot of boxes that aren’t ticked by other dramas, and it’s great being part of a big ensemble cast.

There’s no egos on In The Club – I’d tell you if there was. But it’s just the nicest cast, with no egos. I can’t stand egos on set. If people make it difficult just to get attention, I hate that. And in my industry, there’s a lot of it.

“I’m always on the phone to my agent going ‘What’s next?’ because I’m panicking”

What’s the appeal of playing someone who gets killed off early, like Rod Kennedy is in Line Of Duty?

I judge a part by what the character’s journey is. I knew Rod was going to catch audiences out and surprise people. It’s a stand-out drama, and the writer Jed Mercurio is a genius at being able to twist plots.

But I had to warn my mum, because she was watching it with me when Rod gets hung. I told her ‘Mum, brace yourself’, so she was watching from behind a pillow.  But she saw me hanging there and started screaming ‘Noooo!’ I was telling her ‘Mum, it’s not real, I’m sat right here.’

Broadchurch, Line Of Duty, No Offence… Your career is on a hell of a role right now. What’s the secret?

There isn’t one. I can be the best actor in the world, but if a casting director says no, then I won’t get the job. All I can do is stay grounded, keep my good work ethic the same and don’t get carried away with myself.  I never want to get complacent or expect to get work. Every job I finish, within two weeks I’m on the phone to my agent going ‘What’s next?’, because I’m panicking. You never know when your shelf life will be up and audiences go ‘God, I’ve had enough of him.’

“I’m a kid from a council estate who’s got the chance to live his dreams”

Your cover of Leo Sayer’s When I Need You reached No 5 in 1997. Does your pop career feel a lifetime ago?

I still play the piano and music is a big part of my life.  Obviously the pop days are gone, but at least I can look back and say that I did it. I was on Top Of The Pops, and I’d have bitten someone’s hand off as a kid if someone had said I’d get to do Top Of The Pops. I got out of music before my career was so damaged that I wouldn’t have been able to get any acting jobs. In Britain, we put people in a box. As soon as you do music, people go ‘No more acting for you!’ even if you’ve acted loads already. But if I did music now, it’d jeopardise my acting career. It’s different in the States. Look at Will Smith, Jennifer Lopez, Jamie Foxx… you can present, you can act, you can sing.

Is that frustrating?

No, because I’m very lucky. I’m a kid from a council estate who’s got the chance to live his dreams. So I can’t say I’m pissed off that I don’t get to do this or that, because I’m so lucky that I get to do this in the first place. But I’d like to do a musical, because then I could do both, singing and acting.

How do you feel about Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps these days?

Comedy doesn’t get enough respect. People think comedy is easy and that you’re just pissing about. But any ability I have, I put down to that show and even further back to Hollyoaks. Comedy is all about timing, and if you can get that right then drama is easier. In any part I play, I play it straight. Even with Gaz in Two Pints Of Lager, you play him straight and then the comedy comes out. You don’t pull a face to try to make it funny, because it just comes over as OTT. The funny thing is, I did Two Pints Of Lager for years, but I haven’t done any comedy jobs for about six years now. I never get asked to do comedy, and I think people have forgotten I can do it.

Jimmy McGovern, Kay Mellor, Paul Abbott, Jed Mercurio, Chris Chibnall… You’ve worked with some of the best writers on TV. Do you have any writing ambitions yourself?

Mate, I wish I’d paid more attention at school so that I could write properly. I’m full of energy, passion and drive. But the one thing I’m not is someone who can sit at a computer and write. I wish I could, and my wife says all the time that I should write. But I am an ideas person. I’d like to come up with an idea, then sit with a writer who can spell properly and put together a professional script. I’m looking to maybe direct at some point. I got a camcorder for Christmas, even before I got into acting aged 12, and made three short films. So I was into it from a very young age. Those films are lost, which is a shame as they’d be hilarious to see now.

Would you be interested in appearing in Broadchurch again? Steve just disappeared and we never did find out if he was psychic or not…

I’d love Steve to come back. I don’t want to sound bitter, but Steve offered something that unbalanced the audience. We never did find out if he really had this ability or if he was just messed up. Every time Steve appeared, there was a little question mark for the audience. He offered something different, something else, and Broadchurch didn’t have that in the second series. Steve’s story never was finished off, and I think that’s a shame.

“One minute No Offence is funny, the next I’m dragging a girl who’s been raped out of a river”

Broadchurch’s writer Chris Chibnall is taking over Doctor Who. Maybe Steve could appear in that…

Ha! I must admit, I’ve never been a Doctor Who fan. Sci-fi just isn’t for me. But I wouldn’t say no to being in it, because that’d be a massive learning curve for me as an actor.

No Offence is up for a BAFTA on Sunday. What can we expect from the next series?

I haven’t seen the scripts. But within five minutes of the first series, a coach runs over someone’s head. That’s the writer Paul Abbott saying ‘If you weren’t paying attention, you are now.’ You’ve got to grab the audience early. And I’m expecting the same type of start to series two, something powerful and explosive. And nobody will be safe, the same as the first series.

No Offence star Will Mellor
No offence taken No Offence is up for a BAFTA this weekend. Image Picture Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Having a comedy about murder detectives must have seemed weird when you first saw the scripts?

Yeah. When I read it, I didn’t know what I was reading. One minute it’s funny, the next I’m dragging a Down’s Syndrome girl who’s been raped out of a river. But the reality works. The CID special detectives see murder on a daily basis and they need light in their day, so they’re going to make jokes about death. It’s a new genre, and I’m really proud of it. Actually, my brother-in-law’s brother was a copper, and he helped Paul Abbott get the police facts right as the show’s police expert. But I didn’t know that until I got the job, so he hadn’t put a good word in for me, promise.

In The Club starts on BBC1 on Tuesday at 9pm. The BAFTAs are on BBC1 on Sunday at 8pm. Line Of Duty series 3 is on DVD now.

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