Last year, Anthony Welsh had a busy year.
The British actor is currently appearing in the TV mini-series The Trial of Christine Keeler, portraying Aloysius ‘Lucky’ Gordon, Keeler’s Jazz-playing, Jamaican ex-lover. Armando Ianucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield will be released later this month, with Welsh playing the role of Ham in this playful, satirical whirlwind of a production.
Since Welsh’s television debut on The Bill at the beginning of the decade, not only has he appeared in a variety of film and TV roles, he has appeared in some of the most talked-about and progressive programming of the past few years, including Black Mirror and Fleabag. In 2019 he was a recurring character in the British TV series Brassic – a loosely-based autobiographical comedy-drama about living with bi-polar, set in the north of England; and in the TV series Pure, based on the Rose Cartwright book about living with the intrusive thoughts caused by OCD. When we met, Welsh had only recently returned from filming Hanna, the TV series about an extraordinary girl raised in the forest; part psychological thriller/part coming-of-age story. Then there was the small (but memorable for Welsh) role that took him to Ireland.
Trisha D’Hoker: I have just watched The Personal History of David Copperfield. With the director Armando Iannucci you know you are in for something different. I loved The Death of Stalin, so I had high hopes for this one and it did not disappoint. It’s beautifully done. He has taken such a big, well-known story, and made it fresh.
Anthony Welsh: I think it’s a really hard thing to do, to take a story that has so many associations to it. It’s so ingrained in British culture and we’re used to seeing it one way or a certain kind of way. He’s come with a really fresh take on it. And it’s colourful and bright.
I’m glad you liked it. It’s the kind of film I always wanted to be in when I was young.
TDH: Did you always want to be an actor?
TDH: What did you want to be? The classic boy thing of being a footballer?
AW: It was a sport to begin with, but it was basketball. From when I was 9 years old, basketball non-stop. I played until I was about 17 or 18. I was good at it, but I wasn’t as good as the ones who went on and did it professionally. And I wasn’t as tall. I did music and stuff, but after I didn’t do so well in my studies I tried a part-time acting course and it just made sense. It’s funny, because I grew up doing stuff I don’t do now, apart from basketball. I play basketball every week and yes, it’s good physically, but I find it quite meditative, it really puts me in a place. And I think that’s because I did it when I was younger. There’s something to be said that if you do something when you’re younger, like if you’re a dancer, and you come back to it later, there’s muscle memory and it puts you in a place where you feel peaceful. So as aggressive and physical as basketball is, I find it peaceful.
TDH: Music was a big part of your life at one point. Tell me about that.
AW: I used to be in a rap group.
TDH: You’re good with words then.
AW: I used to think so! I used to do spoken word and write poetry and sometimes I still do write poems. At the time, there were a lot of people around me making music, making beats and stuff; in our social group, that was the thing to do. I was in a band and we performed in Notting Hill. We did a couple of pubs, and some bars. There was this club called the Arts Club, I think it’s still there actually. And my friend used to be a manager there and he was also a producer as well, so we set up this band and every couple of weeks we’d go there and perform. It was crazy, a lot of fun, but then I slowly realised, well at least for me, I wasn’t making any money. So then I needed to pursue some efforts to sort of help me make a living. And that’s when I found acting, while I was still doing music.
TDH: You have done so many roles over your career, and last year it seems like you have gone from one project straight to another. Are there any little things you do to get into character?
AW: Yes, there are little things, and they’re always different. It’s always like, for one character it’s the shoes, and for another, it’s the voice. Or the physicality. Sometimes it’s just figuring out that one thing, or a couple of things, that connect me, that tap in. It can be quite small, it can be quite big, it can be quite gradual, it can be quite quick. And it’s just figuring out on each job what it is and what the demands of the job are. Like I might get a job and I start in a week, so I have to be very efficient as to how I tap in. Or another job I might have a couple of months, so I can take my time more. It’s always different. The thing that always does stay the same – I have to read the script and I have to learn the lines.
TDH: That’s the constant.
AW: That’s the constant. Then the rest of it – the director processes will be different, is it stage, screen, and I have to figure out what taps me in. Have you seen Inception? It’s like having your own token, and going, this is the thing that I know brings me into the place.
TDH: I’ve also been able to see the first two episodes of The Trial of Christine Keeler – it’s fantastic, I can’t wait to see the rest. Was it shot in London? It really looks like Notting Hill.
AW: No, actually it’s set in Notting Hill but we shot in and around Bristol, and a bit in Wales, because the architecture there is older, it’s been better preserved and that’s what they needed. They did a great job getting the Notting Hill vibe, with the locations. It was a tricky one filming because it was so cold. We filmed it from late December to March, so some of our days got moved around and cancelled because it was snowing, and we were outside; it was freezing. It’s the kind of thing you watch on tv and you take it for granted that it’s fine, it’s whatever. But it’s freezing and you got the crew out there for hours, with all the equipment and all kinds of stuff. You know as actors we get treated quite well; we turn up, we do it, then we pretty much can go back into the warmth. But the crew have got a really tough job. So there were some tough days filming.
I’ll be really interested to see how it is received because it is such a part of British modern history.
TDH: But a lot of people may not know the story, even if they’ve heard of Christine Keeler.
AW: I didn’t know about it. I was reading the script, and after I got about half-way through the first episode, I’m thinking, this feels…there’s something about this that feels familiar. So I googled my character’s name.
TDH: Lucky Gordon! Who I think was quite a dodgy character?
AW: There were a lot of troubles in his life I think for sure.
TDH: We are so quick to judge or just accept the narratives we’re given, despite knowing little if anything about someone’s life.
AW: And particularly with him, he wasn’t one to…he did speak to the press, but I feel like he was probably untrusting of the press, if untrusting is the word, because he never got his own story out. And not to say he didn’t do some terrible things and not to say he wasn’t aggressive. But there had to have been more to the story than what the press put out about him, which was very one-sided and about one thing only. Especially for a black man in that era, it would have been skewed. And essentially that’s what happened with Christine too. The press very much chose to present her as one thing. And she was a young woman who was misguided.
TDH: She was only 19, a teenager.
AW: A really young woman. She would have been so conflicted. I guess that’s the reason for the telling of it now, to give some kind of light, or context from her point of view. And I would have loved to have been able to have Lucky’s own story and reasonings.
He was a very particular man. He was very into his style. He was very particular with the clothes he wore. His handwriting – I got to read a letter he’d written to the judge, requesting some of the items that had been taken from him when he’d been arrested. And he was very particular about what items he needed back. And his handwriting was really neat. So he had all of these thuggish tendencies, and was intimidating when he wanted to be, but then he had another side to him that was quite cultivated. He was very intelligent. He represented himself in court. He declines to have a lawyer, and he does it himself. Not to say that he does it amazingly well, but the confidence to be like, look, I’m going to do it. He’s a very interesting character who I would have loved to explore more. There wasn’t a lot of information on him so ultimately some of it is down to interpretation and giving a feeling of what he was like.
TDH: I’ve also really enjoyed watching you in Pure. That’s quite a series, so unexpected.
AW: I didn’t even know it was a real condition, even when I joined, I just thought it was really cool, and I liked the team behind it and thought it would be a good thing to be a part of. Then I found out it was based on this woman Rosie’s condition, that it was a real thing, and since then we’ve had a lot of people reach out to us because they now have a reference to what it is. Because trying to explain that to people…
TDH: It would be very difficult to communicate something like this for sure.
AW: And by not understanding, people can belittle these feelings others are having. But people have told me that they can now tell people to watch Pure because that is what they have or their son has.
TDH: I see you are also in the upcoming film Calm With Horses.
AW: Yes, I had a small supporting role in that but I had to work with a horse and a child. And you know what they say about working with animals and kids…
TDH: At the same time? And how did that go?
AW: There were some tricky days, but we got it. And I feel like I look like I know what I’m doing! But it was a bit daunting, because it’s like I’m getting to grips with controlling the horse and having to look like I’m very confident. They did get a tame horse, very friendly, a horse named Silver – but still, you’ve got a kid on the horse! But it went well. And the kid was great too.
TDH: Are you going to have a bit of a break now?
AW: I’m leaving for Vancouver in a couple of days actually.
TDH: Why Vancouver?
AW: It’s a good place to go and chill until the holidays and I’ve been there a couple of times before. It’s quite far away and the landscape is beautiful, it feels fresh, and the people are nice. I really liked my time there so I’m going to go and spend a couple of weeks. It’s been such a busy year. I’ve just wrapped on Hanna, and after that I was in LA for a couple of weeks. I’ve been travelling quite a bit for work, so I just want to go somewhere and spend a bit of time not working. I want to catch up on films and books – I’ve got a year’s list of stuff I want to read and watch, I’m so behind.
TDH: Have you tried audiobooks? I’m hooked on them, and podcasts. And they really help get the chores done. For me it’s when I’m ironing.
AW: I have to say, I just got a steamer recently, so … but yeah, definitely the best time to listen to a podcast is when you’re doing chores. And actually I quite like doing chores. You’re doing something productive, that needs to be done, and if you can listen to a podcast or book at the same time…
TDH: Do you usually try to get away at Christmas?
AW: Last Christmas I went to Grenada with my mum. I hadn’t been back to Grenada for so long. I’ve got loads of family there, my family is from there. My mum was really keen to go back and she wanted to go back with me. We went and she took me around where she grew up and the school she went to. And she was showing me the areas where she used to like hide out and it was at the main airport which is not the main airport anymore, but it’s full of disused planes and stuff. And then when we went into the old town where she used to live, there’s loads of our cousins and aunties still there so they were all stopping by the car and ‘this is such and such, and this is …’ My mum’s still really in touch with everyone there so it was nice to see everyone. And I should say, I used to visit all the time when I was younger, but when I got to my late teens and started to be more rebellious and wanting to do my own thing, I stopped going as much. Now I realise that I want to make sure I keep one foot in that part of my culture. I’m really glad I got to do that.