Exclusive Interview: Ian Conningham
The actor kindly gave us an exclusive insight into how he landed the part, his memories of sharing the screen with Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman and Maisie Williams, and what it was like to take on the guise of a Viking.
You can read our full Q&A with Ian below and don’t forget to follow him on Twitter, @IanConningham.
Q. Hi there, Ian! When did you first realise that you were interested in acting?
A. I became interested during GSCE Drama, so I decided to take it as an A level subject. I was incredibly lucky to have a brilliant and inspiring teacher on that course who suggested that I thought about applying to Drama Schools and consider acting as a realistic career option, instead of it being out of reach, or something that other people did.
Q. And how did your role as Chuckles in The Girl Who Died come about?
A. It was via my agent. Usually if the director or producers haven’t made a direct offer to a particular actor they have in mind, the casting director puts out a breakdown of what they’re looking for. Agents then submit clients they think are right for the parts. In this instance they felt I was right, so I went along for a meeting with the director Ed Bazelgette, producer Derek Ritchie and the casting department. We had a lovely chat and read a few scenes which were filmed. There was a really friendly atmosphere in the room, which helps massively. Not long after that my agent called to say is been offered the part.
Q. Were you already a fan of Doctor Who before you landed the part?
A. Absolutely, yes. Like a lot of people I may have taken refuge behind a sofa every now and then over the years (I’m not saying how recently, though). I can vaguely remember Tom Baker at various points running round, being charismatic and wonderfully mysterious. But it was his regeneration into Peter Davison that really mesmerised me. I can remember thinking it was one of most amazing thing I’d ever seen.
Q. When did you film the episode and how long did filming last?
A. It was around the end of April. I was filming on and off over a three week period.
Q. Did you do any research into the Viking era before you began filming?
A. A little bit, yes. Nothing too strenuous, though. Kept growing my beard. Had a little Google browse. Practised shouting. What I find so brilliant about Doctor Who, is that no matter where the episode in question is set, it’s the relationships between characters that are always most important, and so well written. Also, the big heroes of programmes like Doctor Who are the Art Department and Wardrobe. They create incredible worlds for us to tell our story in. So for me, the majority of my preparation was to look for clues in the script to establish Chuckles’ attitude towards, for example, being a Father of a teenage daughter, a member of a working community, and what he wanted when faced with strangers like the Doctor and Clara telling him what to do in his environment given the circumstances and threat.
Q. What are your favourite memories from your time on set?
A. I’ve got lots of great memories, from when the cameras were rolling to in between set ups and takes. Actors and crew on the whole are a social bunch, so it’s great to sit and chat, swap stories and discover mutual friends. But I do have to say that taking the TARDIS for a spin one lunch time, as suggested by the Doctor himself, was off the scale… and I promise that isn’t a lie!
Q. Speaking of the Doctor, what was it like to work alongside Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman?
A. It was fantastic. They both shoulder the responsibility of the show with huge care and love, and are superb to work with. Maisie Williams was also brilliant and great fun, as were our fellow Vikings. It’s so apparent that everybody working on the show in all departments really care about it. It’s so engrained in our popular culture. I don’t think I was the only one on set thinking, “Blimey, I’m definitely working on Doctor Who”. It’s a great place to work.
Q. Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give to any aspiring actors reading this?
A. Follow your heart. Work hard. Read. Grow some thick skin. Trust your instincts. Have a sense of humour. Read. Listen. Work hard. Go to the theatre. Try to surround yourself with positive people. Don’t be late. Work hard. Take direction. Be kind. Ignore the bullies. Be brave. Read. Show respect. Take risks. Don’t forget to breathe. And enjoy it.
Q. Finally, have you got any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
A. There are various things that are coming up next year. An episode of “Musketeers” for BBC1. “Grantchester” for ITV. A comedy called “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret”. And I’ve just spent a couple of days shooting a part in a feature film, with a brilliant script by Alice Birch, called “Lady Macbeth”.