After the acting bug hits . . .
His first role was as a munchkin in a local production of the Wizard of Oz; his most recent was with Joan Collins and Julia McKenzie in Miss Marple. Sue Mason meets Hull-born actor Liam Garrigan . . .
Liam Garrigan in Pave on Princes Avenue, Hull
It was after he was a munchkin that the acting bug really bit, explains unmunchink-like Liam Garrigan. He is dark, unshaven, very handsome and sitting in a sunny room overlooking the garden of his parents’ Cottingham Road home in Hull. Eventually he finds where the coffee is kept and produces a cup for me while he tells his tale.
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Born in 1981 and the eldest of three children, he was, he says, sent to musical theatre classes by his mum to get him out of the house.
His sisters Lauren and Lesley, who started with dancing, later followed in their big brother’s footsteps and did musical theatre and Lesley has just completed her three-year course at Guildford School of Acting.
“When I was five I played a munchkin in Northern Theatre’s production of The Wizard of Oz,” says Liam, who started having one-to-one lessons with Northern Theatre founder Richard Green when he was just seven.
He loved working towards his performing arts exams, towards festival competitions and towards shows, which back then – 20 years ago – were put on in Northern Theatre’s Studio 2 at Madeley Street, Hull.
“I’m not a dancer and I’m not a singer, although I did a lot of musicals,” says Liam. “Acting was my thing.
“I could hold a note but I wouldn’t say I’m a singer and now it makes me incredibly nervous. Give me words to say and put me on a stage or in front of a camera and I might just about hold my own.”
Yes, as well as being very handsome, Liam Garrigan is also genuinely very modest, even though he’s worked with everyone from Art Malik and Richard E Grant to John Alderton and Sheila Hancock.
After Endsleigh Primary School and St Mary’s (he was raised as a Catholic but he doesn’t ever go to church and is against what he describes as “organised religion”) he went to Wyke Sixth Form College, where he took A-Levels in theatre studies, history and English literature. By now he was spending every one or two nights a week and all day Saturday at Northern Theatre, with whom he had already performed at the National Theatre and the Edinburgh Festival.
During his time at Wyke, he began to work on audition pieces for drama school and one of the places he was offered was at the renowned Guildhall School of Music and Drama. “I knew that was the place I wanted to be,” he says.
Most actors have long periods “resting” and can expect to have countless auditions before they win their first role. Not Liam. He was due to graduate from the Guildhall in the summer of 2003 but in the April he was given a professional contract with the BBC to play nursing assistant Nic Yorke in Holby City for 11 months.
Liam with Joan Collins
“I’d sent my photo and they must have come to one of the showcases,” he explains. “I went to the audition and came away thinking it hadn’t been too scary. That evening they called me to offer me the part, starting in 10 days.”
Because his work at the Guildhall had been stage-based, being in front of a TV camera seemed strange. “Everything I’d learned went out of the window. I felt like a fraud and I expected to be sacked, but you realise you are there because they believe you can do a specific job,” he says.
With two production teams each filming two episodes simultaneously, Nick was shocked at the amount of line-learning and filming he had to cram into this five or six-day working week.
His Holby colleague Denis Lawson then recruited him for a West End play called The Anniversary in which he played alongside Sheila Hancock. More theatre work followed when he won a role in Hull playwright Richard Bean’s The Honeymoon Suite at The Royal Court, in London. It was very much an East Yorkshire takeover, for the play, set in a hotel in Bridlington, also starred John Alderton.
Next up was a series of the SAS drama Ultimate Force with former EastEnders star Ross Kemp. “It was boys with toys. We filmed in a quarry in the south of England and it was meant to be Zimbabwe,” says Liam. “We also did Chechyna just outside London, and a Heathrow hijack episode was filmed at a very small airport with a big jumbo. It was a fun job.”
Back to the West End, he had a role in Otherwise Engaged alongside Richard E Grant at the Criterion Theatre before returning to Yorkshire to film the BBC series The Chase, about a vets practice. A second series followed, with all the programmes being screened at prime time in 2006 and 2007. “It was in Leeds so I was able to come back home and see my folks, but living in a hotel in Leeds for four months wasn’t much fun,” says Liam, whose parents, Brian and Liz, are both teachers.
As well as seeing family, he likes to catch up with his old Northern Theatre pals and can often be found socialising along the Avenues, in Hull, where his favourite venues are Pave, Zest and the Linnet and Lark.
Liam at the family home in Cottingam
The work of which he is most proud is a very dark, three-part TV series shown last year. “He Kills Coppers was a new piece with a fantastic cast, which included Rafe Spall,” he says. “The writing was second to none and it was a brilliant era. It was made with no concessions.
“Most of the time I can’t stand watching what I have done because all I see is mistakes, but you have to watch yourself back to see how you can improve. But with He Kills Coppers, I was pleased to be in something really good.”
A role as chef Bobby Breen in Irish TV series Raw meant Liam spent three months in Ireland last year filming the Dublin-based drama. “It was set in the kitchen of a restaurant but it was all about relationships,” he says. “I’ve always tended to be the youngest one but in this we were the same sort of age and we were in Dublin, so we couldn’t not go out.”
The period between filming He Kills Coppers and filming Raw was the longest Liam has ever been out of work. “The first two weeks are fine and you have a bit of money to go out, but after about a month you realise you are just killing time,” he says.
“I do little short films with a friend now just to keep focussed, otherwise you just sit at home watching daytime TV and going mad.
“I don’t worry about money in the sense that I think I am never going to work again, because if I had too, I would get a bar job. The worst thing is not having something to get up for.
“But money is a worry because of house prices in London. No-one will give a mortgage to an actor, but London is where I have to be because of work.”
The autumn saw him filming an episode of Blue Murder with Caroline Quentin and an Agatha Christie dramatisation, both of which will be shown on TV this spring. They Do It With Mirrors stars Julia McKenzie as the new Miss Marple and features Liam as Stephen Restarick, whose father Johnny is played by Ian Ogilvy.
“Stephen thinks he is going to produce a masterpiece for the West End stage,” says Liam. “He’s a bit smarmy and he pesters a girl who is already married. Hopefully he will come out as pompous but funny to watch.”
The programme also stars Joan Collins, a photo of whom is on display in the sitting room. It’s a rather strange photo though, showing the actress standing next to Liam holding a Hull City shirt.
She’s not a Tigers fan but Liam is and he now has a masterplan to photograph as many iconic co-stars as possible with the shirt. “I showed it to (Hull City chairman) Paul Duffen at the Tottenham match in London and he was amazed,” says Liam.
“I’m a huge fan of Hull City. I’ve always followed them, although when I was at Northern Theatre, that always clashed with the Saturday matches but I tried to get to the Tuesday night games.
“Once I was older and was earning my own money, I started to watch regularly.
“When I was filming The Chase, I was able to get to all the home games and I try to see all the London games.
“I have a season ticket now and I travel up for all the home games on Hull Trains, although I did miss the Everton one because of Miss Marple.
“Acting is my job and Hull City is my hobby, although I have to say at times it seems more than that.”