Best known for his roles in Last Tango in Halifax and Benidorm, Josh Bolt’s first screen roles were in the films The Be All and End All playing lead character Robbie Wallace, and BAFTA nominated Nowhere Boy playing Pete Shotton, childhood friend of John Lennon portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. We can currently see Josh appearing on our TV screens as Rob Dawson in Series 10 of Benidorm, alongside his on-screen family and his love interest Cyd. Catching up with him recently in London, we talked to Josh about his TV shows Last Tango in Halifax and Benidorm, what it’s like working alongside Sir Derek Jacobi and what the future holds.
You play Rob Dawson in Benidorm, what’s it like being part of such a popular series?
It’s lovely, it’s an honour really. It is such a big group of people and we are all like a close knit of friends. I feel very privileged to be a part of the show. I’m very grateful to Derren (Litten), the writer, who is a brilliant writer and lovely man, I feel very lucky to be a part of that, especially something that’s ten years in. Some people love Benidorm, some people hate it, but I think when it’s finished, it will be treated as one of those sitcoms like Only Fools or Bottom, especially after ten years I think it’s earned its place, people will look back and go oh yes remember that, it was brilliant.
Did you watch the show before you were cast?
Yeah, it’s so funny, it was my mum and sister’s favourite programme, they adored it, totally adored it, so when I told them I’d got cast in it, it was like I’d just won them a million pounds, they were literally screaming, my mum was crying, it was like a scene from Holby City! They’re obviously very proud of everything else I’ve done, but I’ve never seen a reaction like that, it’s like I’d just won the lottery, they were so happy! I’d seen it, I’d seen bits of it anyway, because it had always been on in our house. It’s one of those things that I’d walk past and go ‘what’s this?’, much like Coronation Street or Emmerdale, my mum always has it on in the house. It’s weird now because I’m mates with most of them, because we’re all in the same group, so it’s like oh there’s Danny doing stuff in Emmerdale!
How was it filming with your on-screen family?
It’s bizarre because when we arrived we were petrified because the Garvey family were the original family and they were brilliant, then they chose to leave after seven years so we were all sort of thrown in together. I remember there was me, Steve (Edge), Julie (Graham), the late Bobby Knutt and Honor (Kneafsey). The five of us were in this room together, we all had a couple of castings each, then we all read together, and literally within a week, we were flown out and suddenly in Benidorm, I’ve never known anything like it where five people clicked so easily. We became so close knit, the guy who played my grandad, the late Bobby, was way into his seventies, and me, Steve and Julie would look after him, make sure he wasn’t on his own, and me and Steve would cook him steaks or things like that, well Steve would… I can’t cook!
It did feel like a family, you had Bobby who was the grandad, who would fill that role as a grandparent, who would tell stories and jokes like grandparents do, then you had Steve and Julie who were the responsible middle-aged parents, I was the sort of idiot twenty year old who was like ‘ah look, a bar’ and then we had little Honor, who was just this beautiful little girl who was happy go lucky. So yeah, it did feel like a really big family, and still does even though we’ve finished, hahaha!
Who would you say is the funniest cast member off screen?
Ohhhh Steve who plays my dad, he’s the driest man I’ve ever met but he’s just hysterical! His little comments are all the time, he’s always got an observation, he’s a writer as well and it shows, because the observations he makes… he doesn’t miss a trick, so there will constantly be little comments.
Do they close the filming area to the public?
Yes, they do, the hotel we film in is a working hotel, so you can go and stay there, a lot of families and couples turn up to just watch us. Basically, it’s a tiny pool area, they put a rope across it, and fake hedges, but you can still see us clearly. The green room is outside Morgan’s Tavern where we film Neptune’s Bar. There’s a big tent up and a walkway for us to get in and out, you can see people walk past and we’re just sat there drinking coffee and sweating in our evening wear at 30° in July! When we’re out in Benidorm in the evenings, we’re like creatures of habits on that job, we go to the same couple of bars and restaurants that we know, so a lot of people do see us and stop us.
How much did you enjoy filming Last Tango in Halifax as Raff?
I hold that job really dearly. It’s weird because I’ve grown up in stages over different jobs, and my life is sort of in different chapters of what jobs I’m doing. I started Last Tango when I was seventeen, we did the first series and instantly fell in love with it. My first day was me and Nicola Walker, who played my mum, just us two in a Land Rover in the middle of Sheffield, on a moor. We were on a low loader truck pretending to drive, me and Nic all day were just sat in a car together. I remember, we got picked up together in the morning and it was all very professional, and by the end of the day we were in the hotel bar eating sausage rolls, just crying laughing! She’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, not just as an actor but as a woman. Nicola Walker I hold very dearly because of that job.
Sir Derek Jacobi, Anne Reid and Sarah Lancashire, for me, the scenes I’ve shared with them, and watching them work alone is invaluable. I couldn’t have got any better training, watching them work, they make it look so easy and at seventeen/eighteen/nineteen I sat watching them and listening, just taking little things away from them. You can’t really, at seventeen, get any better than Derek Jacobi to listen to and learn from. I love that job a lot!
Who in the cast is most like their on-screen character?
Oooh that’s a good one, it’s difficult because they’re all such fabulous actors! That’s a really tough one because they’re all cast so well. Gillian does a lot of questionable things, and Nicola’s not like that at all, but she sort of has this energy about her that she shares with Gillian, sort of erratic, really enthusiastic inspiring energy that she shares with Gillian, whereas Sarah Lancashire shares the same traits as Caroline, who can be quite reserved, open and loving, but has a sort of stillness to her. Then there’s my uncle Deano in it as well, who plays Robbie, he’s played my uncle about three times now, he’s probably quite similar to him because he’s a big gruff northern bloke and plays that really well. So yeah, I think that’s the answer, hahaha!
What’s it like playing Derek Jacobi’s grandson?
He’s probably the nicest man I’ve ever met, he is just so open and warm and lovely and supportive and just really wants you to do well. He’s just marvellous to watch because he’s the lead, it’s his show, he’s number one on the cast list and that’s how I think every leading man should aspire to be. He leads from the front, he’s always on time, he knows his lines, nothing is ever too much trouble for him, and he’s just lovely. It’s how I would like to be or be thought of.
While filming the first series, did you know it would be renewed?
No, we had no idea. Obviously Sally Wainwright is probably the country’s best writer, I would go out there and say, she’s just amazing, she makes it look so easy. You know it’s a brilliant script because the lines come so easily, it just comes naturally and so we knew we had something special. Just to be a part of Sally’s work was amazing, and then obviously the cast that came with it, but I don’t think we realised when we were doing it how much of a hit it would become. We all said goodbye and got really upset on the last day. I said goodbye to Nicola and Derek and gave them a big hug, and was like, ‘hopefully we’ll see each other again’, then four years later we’re still going, so no, we didn’t know at all.
If they were to film another series, would you like to be involved?
1000%, yeah! The special we did in 2016, which was a two-part Christmas special, was brilliant, but it felt like the opening of another series, it just started going and then finished, because obviously Sally’s so busy, I think she’s doing another Happy Valley. I know for a fact that a lot of us would do it, it’s just a case of when Sally can write it. I’d love to do another one of those definitely, it’s just so lovely.
How different is it filming as a series regular opposed to a one-off project like Grantchester?
You know what, it’s so nerve-racking because you can do the lead in something or be part of a regular cast and then you get these jobs like Grantchester or Scott & Bailey and it’s so different. You don’t know anyone, you just turn up for three or four days and have to stand looking at James Norton being all beautiful and brilliant! Luckily, on that particular job, James and Robson Green were so welcoming and they made it so easy. Weirdly on that job, the director I’d worked with before, the cameraman I’d worked with before, the lighting guys I’d worked with before… it was really lovely but a weird coincidence, where I did actually know a lot of people. One of my close mates, Lorne MacFadyen, who plays Phil Wilkinson, Robson Green’s policeman friend, also played Bobby Moore in Tina and Bobby on TV and he was there as well, and it was his first job after drama school. It is really nerve-racking because you just have to turn up and be really good, hahaha! Not that you don’t have to do that when you’re in something like Last Tango or Benidorm, but there’s definitely a pressure off.
I think the most nerve-racking thing was a thing I did called Ghost Hunters, it was literally one day with Rafe Spall. There’s a brilliant opening scene where I just turn up and then shoot myself in the head on Rafe Spall’s doorstep, but obviously trying to get that emotional pitch right while stood looking at Rafe Spall was really difficult, and again you don’t know anyone. Also, how nice do you be, because you don’t want to look like a weirdo, haha. Do you go around saying hello to people and shaking people’s hands or do you just keep yourself to yourself? But then you don’t want to look like a ‘oh he’s full of himself’ so it’s a tough one. Yeah, I’ve sort of answered that, hahaha!
What do you remember most from your time on set of Nowhere Boy as Pete?
Being totally in love and in awe of Aaron Taylor-Johnson! He’s just amazing, hahahaha! He’s just so dreamy, hahahaha! I was fourteen and he had been cast as John Lennon. Sam Taylor-Wood, the director, called me in, I think I’d had about eight recalls at this point, and I went to Ealing Studios and sat with her and Nina, the casting director. Aaron and I did a couple of scenes, and I remember watching him and, it’s going to sound so cliché, but you know when people have just got (I hate using this word) The X Factor, they’ve got “it”, whatever “it” is, he’s got it, he’s just so good and so charismatic. I remember pretty much all of my scenes were with him as I was his best mate, so I was able to spend a lot of time with him. I really admired him because he was, at the time, so focused on being this A-list superstar, and obviously we all want to be that, but he was blinkered to do it and he’s done it. I’m still a bit in awe of him, I just think he’s brilliant.
Also, that job was just great as well because Sam’s a brilliant director, Kristin Scott Thomas was wonderful, Anne-Marie Duff was wonderful, David Morrissey was wonderful… it was just really nice. To be in Ealing Studios as well, turning up for work every morning and looking at these pictures of Sir Alec Guinness and Laurence Olivier, and on set, it was like wow. Being thrown on the side of a bus with Aaron, that was my first day of filming, it was me and Aaron strapped on to this double decker bus, and we were driven from Liverpool city centre to Woolton village, which is about fifty minutes away. Sam kept the cameras rolling. There was one of us either side and we were just gripping on. I was petrified but Aaron, of course, sat there with a rollie, being all cool, but I was fourteen and like a cat just gripping on!
Out of all the characters you have played so far, which has been the most fun to play?
That’s a brilliant question. I did a two-part drama about five/six years ago called The Crash. There was a lovely group of people – James Burrows, who’s just joined Coronation Street as Kym Marsh’s son, Sacha Parkinson, who was in Coronation Street, and Lily Loveless, who was in Skins. There were seven of us all under the age of twenty-five in a massive flat in the west end of Glasgow for two months. We all gelled so quickly, it was just such a laugh because we were all so young and so passionate and hungry to do well. It was a really supportive cast of people and I had really great fun playing this guy called Brian who was a little brother. Sadly I went through the windscreen of a car! I spent four days filming in a field on the side of a road in Glasgow, covered in mud, cinnamon blood and sugar glass all over me, so that was quite fun to do. I don’t know why that’s fun to do but it was quite cathartic to go through a windscreen and then just be covered in mud! Yeah, probably that, I think.
What is the biggest challenge of having an acting career?
I think consistency is really difficult. I have been very lucky in ten years to do loads of wonderful things. I think it’s happened about three times now in my career where I’ve gone from job to job to job, and then have had nothing for like a year-and-a-half sometimes two years, and that is a real struggle. I’ve learnt not be complacent and to continue to want to strive to do it because I’ve seen so many brilliant people who have just given in because it’s just so difficult.
What was your first ever audition like?
It was Much Ado About Nothing in the Liverpool Playhouse. It was me and about twenty other guys who were my age, which was about nine to eleven. We all had to go in and it was a workshop style thing, we all had to play games because we were so young. It was a simple memory test, we were paired up and the director would take us away and make us learn things about each other, so it was, ‘what’s your name?’, ‘Connor,’ ‘where are you from?’ ‘Huyton,’ then you’d have to go and speak in front of everyone. We were given a really small piece to read, which was actually quite relaxing, obviously at the time you didn’t know any different.
Had you always wanted an acting career and what do you think you would be doing now if you weren’t acting?
I sort of just fell into it totally when I was eleven. I got sent to an open audition for a play and doing that play for two months just totally inspired me to become an actor. I just fell in love with the idea of it and I was totally mesmerised by the grown-ups that were in the show. It’s got to a point where I don’t know what else I’d do, hahaha. This has just been my life for the last ten years. I actually wanted to be a chef when I was about six or seven, which is hysterical because I can’t cook… I literally can’t even boil pasta!
I would have loved to have been in a band I think. I used to be really good at playing guitar and now I still play it a little bit, but nowhere near as good as I was, so probably play guitar. I could never see myself doing a normal job or a sort of mature job, haha. So probably in a band maybe, yeah, hahaha!
How do you spend your time in breaks from filming?
Try and get another job, hahahaha! A lot of time is spent just auditioning, sometimes it’s really busy, sometimes it’s not, it’s quite bizarre, and I don’t think people realise that. As an actor, you’re on the television, you’re on a film or you’re on stage, brilliant, but, for example, Benidorm started last night, I filmed last May finished in June, I’ve done bits since but I haven’t had a full job since. This industry is so brutal, it is literally just, ‘here’s your sides, you’ve got a day or two days max, your meeting’s at such and such, go and do it’. Fortunately, I live with one of my best mates who’s also with my agent, so we’ve got each other’s backs in the sense that we both sort of just sit and work on each other’s scripts. The rest of my downtime is spent seeing family and friends because I don’t get to see them that often, listening to a lot of music as well and watching films.
Are there any projects you’ve got coming out this year or that you’re currently working on that you can tell us about?
There’s a film I finished the end of last year called A Good Woman Is Hard To Find by a brilliant director called Abner Pastoll, this is his second feature film. I’ve got a really small part in it but it’s such a good part. The lead lady in it is called Sarah Bolger who’s about to become massive, she’s an Irish actress who’s about twenty-six. She’s done so many American things and she’s just finished the Sons of Anarchy prequel, so I think she’s about to become massive. I’ve got a really nice scene in that where I play an Irish drug dealer and quite rightly meets the consequences of that. It’s really quite a graphic scene of me getting… well, I can’t really give it away but I think you know where I’m going, hahaha!
Also, I’m a massive Doctor Who fan, huge, and Nicola Walker, from Last Tango, played my favourite doctor Paul McGann’s companion in the online audiobooks. She put me in touch with the team who do that, so I did a Tom Baker one a couple of years ago and, really luckily, I did a John Hurt one at the end of 2015 just before he died, playing his companion and that was amazing to be part of. I mean, regardless of being a Doctor Who fan, just sitting in the booth with John Hurt for two weeks was great. I’ve just done another one of them with Alex Kingston which is the River Song Diaries so I think that’s out in summer.
Now I’m just back to the grind, it’s bizarre, it’s been really quiet in the last year but January picked up a bit because it’s pilot season. It’s really difficult, there’s a lot of American stuff going but the American stuff is even worse than trying to get a job in the UK because there are a hundred young lads going for a part. Pilot season there are hundreds and thousands, it’s not just the UK. It’s funny because me and all my mates are all going for the same pilots, so I’m just waiting and seeing what comes up next.
Follow Josh on: