Joining 4 O’Clock Club on CBBC in series seven, which aired at the beginning of the year, Nathan Clarke could be seen playing the role of the new music teacher, Danny Boyd. Nathan is also involved in voiceover roles, including Thomas & Friends, and can regularly be seen on stage in a number of theatres, including London’s Trafalgar Studios where he played Saleem Khan in East is East alongside Ayub Khan-Din and Jane Horrocks. Sitting down with us recently, we talk about CBBC’s 4 O’Clock Club, stage work and his most challenging roles.
How did you enjoy playing a music teacher in 4 O’Clock Club?
It’s an honour to play a music teacher in 4 O’Clock Club. It’s a show that focusses heavily on the musical element so it felt like a huge responsibility but an opportunity I was really grateful for. They’re huge shoes to fill because Jason Callendar, the actor who played the previous music teacher, Dexter Harris, is fantastic, and I really respect and admire his work in the previous seasons. It felt like there was a huge weight on my shoulders to take that on but yeah I’m really lucky they chose me for the part.
How would you describe your character, Danny Boyd?
So, Danny is a very likeable young man, he has just come out of university doing a teachers degree. He’s bright-eyed and bushy tailed, he wants to do well and wants everyone to like him. He’s got his head screwed on and is just a genuinely nice bloke. That’s what really attracted me to the role – his innocence and likability. Amongst the chaos at Elmsmere Manor he remains a really sweet guy who’s just trying to do his best at keeping everything together.
Were you required to learn any musical instruments for the role?
Thankfully no! I made it very clear that I couldn’t play any instruments when I went in for my initial audition. The only musical requirement was being able to rap, because it’s such a massive part of the show. They said, ‘can you rap, Nathan?’ and I said, ‘well I am the UK’s answer to Eminem,’ after a chuckle they said ‘no but seriously… we can’t just take your word for it, haha, we need to actually hear you’. I went in and did a soundcheck with Mikis, who is our very talented composer, he recorded me rapping along to an instrumental from one of the previous seasons. Thankfully they liked what I did… maybe not the UK’s Eminem but decent enough for the part!
Can you tell us where the series is filmed?
We film in Manchester, which is really nice, I love Manchester, I’ve worked there before on a show called East Is East which was on at Trafalgar Studios in London’s West End. After our run at Trafalgar we went on a short tour, to Birmingham, Richmond and finally Manchester – I fell in love with it even though we were only there for a week. When I found out I got the part in this, and they said we film the show in Manchester, I was very excited. I really love the vibe there.
Has there been a favourite scene which you’ve filmed?
There was a scene in a café, which is deliciously awkward. Danny just gets the complete wrong end of the stick and thinks he needs to go and pretend to be Maddie’s boyfriend to scare off Mr Bell. Halfway through the scene we go into this rap, about the events that have just happened, it was just such a laugh. I get on really well with Genesis, who plays Maddie in the show, it was just an excuse for us to do some crazy stuff during the rap. That is the beauty of 4 O’Clock Club, our amazing directors always say, just show us what you’ve got and we’ll rein you in if you’re being too ridiculous, hahaha. Also there was a scene where it’s my first ever introduction to Mr Bell who is the new headteacher at Elmsmere Manor – Danny’s interview to become the schools new music teacher. It was the scene that the producers asked me to prepare for my first audition. As it was one of the last scenes we filmed (just because of filming schedules and stuff) it kind of made me look back and appreciate the journey I’d been on being a part of the show. From the very beginning at my audition, right to the very end of filming, performing that same scene. Hopefully I did the character and show justice! Haha.
What do you do in between filming scenes?
If you come to set you’ll probably see me wandering around searching for food, mucking about having a laugh with Genesis, Dan Wright (Mr Nunn) and Simon Lowe (Mr Bell) or trying to find the next person to prank. If there’s a long wait in between scenes, it can get kind of boring, so you have to keep yourself entertained! I do go over my lines, I must say, it’s not all fun and games, just mucking about doing nothing! So I’m either pacing up and down learning my lines, going over the scenes or getting up to mischief of some sort!
What was it like on the set of Harry Potter?
Ah I loved working on Harry Potter, I was fourteen when I did my first Harry Potter audition for The Order of the Phoenix, I suppose it was just a huge learning curve for me. I started to really become interested in acting when I was eleven or twelve years old, possibly even younger. At fourteen it was really inspiring for me to be on set with the likes of Maggie Smith and the late Alan Rickman, and also learning set etiquette, paying attention and it really grounded me I suppose. It was huge fun, you’re there with your mates, and you’re at Hogwarts, which is mind-blowing. Watching and observing some of the country’s best actors on set, it kind of pushed me to want it more and I knew that it would take a lot of dedication and hard work.
Where do you record for Thomas & Friends?
We record in London, I can’t remember where exactly, but it’s in London, which is quite handy to get to. They call me in when my character Alfie has got a new storyline in the show.
How long have you been doing voiceovers?
I did my first voiceover job in 2014, so it’s been four years now. Luckily for me, my first voiceover gig was on Thomas & Friends, it was in a film called Sodor’s Legend of the Lost Treasure. I was always a massive fan of Thomas as a kid and so to fall into something as huge as that, on my first voiceover job, is a blessing. I’m very lucky that they chose me.
After Thomas & Friends, I was called up by my lovely voiceover agent, Becky, she said “I’ve passed your CV on to CBBC and they really like your work. They want to get you in to do some recording for something called Faves at 5 which is where people can call in and vote for their favourite programmes to be shown at five o’clock. They’d love to get you in”. When I went in to the BBC to record, the director said, “the producers have heard your stuff and said you’re great, are you in any CBBC shows? Because we usually get actors in that are in one of the shows to promote the channel” I said no I’ve never been in any of the shows, he then said “you should be, you could definitely be in a CBBC programme”. A week later I had the 4 O’Clock Club audition, and a week after that I got the part, it was meant to be!
Have you acted in anything like 4 O’Clock Club before?
No, I don’t think I have actually. That was what really drew me to the project, it was something I’d not done before, it was a new challenge – the musical element. I really loved the concept of it, even though it is a comedy like Plebs, which I’d been in before, it’s aimed at a slightly younger audience which is just a different experience for me. I’m really enjoying it so far.
Can you tell us about the episode you filmed for Plebs?
Plebs is set in ancient Rome and it focusses on three guys who work at a grain factory. I played a young ancient Egyptian lad called Ramases, whose father owns the grain factory and sends me there on work experience. Throughout the episode it’s complete chaos and Ramases almost destroys the company! I suppose it was my first real shot at doing comedy for television, the stuff I’d done before was a lot darker and more serious, so it was an opportunity for me to see if I could actually be funny I suppose haha. It was a really fun part to play though…he’d definitely be getting a detention or two from Mr Bell if he was in the 4 O’Clock Club hahaha!
What can you tell us about We Still Kill The Old Way?
We Still Kill The Old Way is a film that one should not watch unless they’re over the age of eighteen, it is very violent and has lots of bad words in it!! It was my first on screen credit and first experience of being on a major set as a lead character. It was an important moment in my career and a huge opportunity for me to prove myself on the big screen I suppose. It’s about a group of young lads from Bethnal Green that are running riot, getting up to mischief, doing a lot of awful things to people in the area. They do something very naughty that involves one of the older members of this gang… I’m not explaining this very well – I’m really trying not to be graphic! Hahaha, ok, it’s about a group of mischievous young lads that end up killing this old retired gang member’s brother. The older gang member played by the brilliant Ian Ogilvy, then comes out of hiding and starts to take retribution on the youths in some really nasty ways… I’m really sorry about that, that was the worst description of that film you will ever hear, ask everyone else in the cast and they’ll explain it beautifully!
What character did you play?
I played a character called Dean who was a lovely young lad that had found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, that’s what really drew me to the role and the project. The complexity of the character’s inner struggle. He’s a young kid that’s become involved in a gang called the E2 alongside the film’s main villain, Aaron, played by Danny-Boy Hatchard. Even though Dean is part of this gang he’s got bigger dreams and wants to do well in life. He knows that if he carries on, down this path, he’s just going to end up in prison or dead. For my first ever film, I was very lucky to have been trusted with such a complex part.
Has your acting career taken you to act in other countries?
Yeah, it has. I’ve been really lucky actually, I spent four months in Budapest filming on a TV show called Tyrant, which is on an American channel called FX, it was amazing! It was a city I wouldn’t have ever thought to visit beforehand but I’m very glad I was able to work there. It really is a beautiful place. What’s better is you can essentially experience it all free of charge, which is nice! I filmed Plebs in Bulgaria too which was another lovely place I’ve been able to see and explore through work.
What and when was the last stage show you appeared in?
I think that would have been a show called The Revenger’s Tragedy, which was on at the Nottingham Playhouse in Nottingham. It was very different to a lot of stuff that I’d done before. It’s a Jacobean play so was a big challenge getting to grips with the language and rhythm. I’d just come straight out of doing a play called The Suicide at the National Theatre in London. I was playing another young fifteen-year-old who was up to no good in that. I’ve just got one of those faces hahaha I just look like I should be up to mischief! The Suicide was very current and contemporary, so when the audition came up for The Revenger’s Tragedy and they asked me if I would like to play the character Hippolito, brother and right-hand man to the lead guy in the play, I felt like it would be a huge challenge for me because I hadn’t done any period pieces since training at East 15 many moons ago hahaha. It was indeed a massive challenge but good fun. I made some great friends on that show and the Playhouse is a really nice theatre. Nottingham is lovely too!
Which theatre have you enjoyed performing in the most?
I loved working at Trafalgar Studios doing East is East. East is East is a show that’s really personal to me, I auditioned for drama school using one of the speeches from the play. I used to watch the film when I was a kid all the time! The dad in East is East is very much like my late grandfather. I grew up watching it and did all the impressions from the film, so when the audition for the stage play came up, I thought, I’ve got to get this part, and luckily I did! An added bonus was the writer of the film and the play, Ayub Khan-Din, had now grown old enough to play the father in the show and was cast to play my dad. It was amazing! It’s an autobiographical piece, it was based on his experiences as a kid. There’s a character in the show, called Sajid, who basically lives in his parka coat and that was Ayub as a kid, the story is kind of told through his eyes, it was the writer’s experiences of growing up in Salford at the time. It was great being in the rehearsal room with him as you’d get all these kind of nuggets of information about your character in the show as they were all based on Ayub’s family. I played a character called Saleem, who is an art student living a double life pretending that he is studying engineering instead. His father would never approve of him studying art. Speaking to Ayub in rehearsals I was like, what was going through your brother’s head at the time, and he’d say, ‘my brother, he was going through a really tough time, trying to keep this secret from my father. It was his dream but he just couldn’t tell my dad. There was a lot at stake for him’, it was really special. I even met his real life brother – the one that Saleem is based on, at the press night of our show – it gave me goosebumps I’m telling ya! Jane Horrocks, who played Ella Khan – my mother in the show, is one of our country’s finest actors, you don’t get any better than that, so again it was huge being cast alongside her. I felt like it was a big responsibility for me to do the play justice, as it’s a story that I’ve grown up with. That’s one I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.
Do you watch back all of your projects?
Yeah, I do actually, I think I just enjoy seeing how it’s all turned out. Depending on the director that you work with, sometimes in between shots, they let you see what you’ve just done in the previous shot, which I like. By watching myself back, I pick up bad habits, like if I’m blinking too much haha, or if I’m not favouring the camera as much as I’d like. There are times however when I do look back and I just think, ah I could have done better or tried it that way, but I suppose every actor’s going be like that. We’re perfectionists!
Which role has been the most challenging to prepare for?
There’s been a couple… as an actor, I really try to immerse myself into each character I play, that’s the training that East 15 has given me, you kind of embody the character, and really work from the inside out. The two that spring to mind are the show I did at the National Theatre – The Suicide, and Tyrant on FX. In The Suicide I was playing a fifteen-year-old kid called Demetri. Around that time I had previously prepared for a part that I wanted to be bigger for. I’d been going to the gym and lifting weights, just trying to pack on a bit of muscle and then when I got the part in The Suicide I thought, this kid, a little teenager from the hood part of East London, probably spends his time running around his estate, playing football with mates and definitely won’t be lifting weights at the gym. I know at that age I definitely didn’t have the cash for a gym membership! Haha. I thought I’ve got to slim down for this! I stepped up my cardio and cut out the junk food, hashtag sad times! I think I started rehearsals at twelve stone, and I got my weight down to like ten and a half stone by our first show. It had to be done, I wouldn’t have looked like a believable teenager otherwise. Physically, that was the most challenging for me. When I did start performing that part, loads of people did think that I’d just come out from college hahaha, I was getting ID’d at every bar I went to hahaha.
Tyrant really pushed me mentally. I played a dream of a character called Munir – another young lad but this time living in a village in the Middle East. The show at the time was really tackling current issues that were happening over in that part of the world and still happening today in fact. It took a lot of research and character preparation, before I even got to set, as soon as I’d been cast in it, I thought I need to educate myself more on what’s going on over there, because I feel like I owe it to, not only the character, but the people the character is based on. It took a lot of preparation, a lot of research, and as the show went on – the way the show worked was, they wrote episodes as it went along, so I’d never know if I was going to be killed off – I was constantly on edge haha. As the show was developing, I was finding out that my characters storylines were getting a lot more intense and he was finding himself in some really tricky situations. So, much like Dean in WSKTOW, there was that real inner struggle that I had to keep working on. Towards the end of the show, I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but at the end of the show, my character finds himself becoming an inside man in an organisation, and gets found out, he’s tortured, and eventually killed. Hashtag more sad times! In the script, as I’m being tortured, other characters around me say that my character hasn’t had any food or drink for the past, I think it was thirty-six hours, so stupidly… hahaha, this is just me being a silly method actor – something I was taught at East 15, I didn’t eat or drink for that amount of time – don’t try this at home kids!! Haha. Actually I think I did have some water at various points throughout the thirty-six hours, bit of an exaggeration! Hahaha. I told my fellow cast mates, they said, you’re an idiot, what are you doing, you’re getting loads of free food from this company?! But I gave it a go, and to be fair it did work, it really did, it put me in the headspace of Munir in that situation. Tired, cold and hungry. However, even though I was obviously quite hungry and under energised, I still had a sharp level of focus on set, remaining in the moment and listening to the directors instructions. I think hunger does that to you. Keeps you on your toes – taking note of all the snacks lying around that you’ll devour once the scene’s complete!! When I watched the scene back there’s definitely a look on my face that no amount of make up would be able to create. I’m definitely glad I did it, I wanted to go out with a BANG and I think I did – at least that’s what people told me it sounded like when I fainted to floor as the directed shouted cut. Haha kidding.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
So, at the minute I’m doing a lot of writing myself, knocking up some ideas that I’ve got for various things. My personal life’s kind of taken over at the minute, not majorly, but because I’ve just bought my own place it’s all been a bit hectic. So yeah, just writing and trying to pay my mortgage on time!
How did you get into acting?
I first wanted to be an actor when I was about seven years old, I was cast in a school assembly by my school teacher. We were doing a performance based on this book by a writer called George Layton, the book was called the Balaclava Story, and I was cast as the main character. I absolutely loved it. When we did rehearsals, I’d kind of break off into a monologue that the teacher hadn’t written into the script, she was like, that’s great Nathan but can you stick to the script hahaha! I just wanted to do it more and more, I remember going home telling my mum that I really enjoyed it, and she enrolled me in a Saturday acting school called Italia Conti, where I did Saturday classes to sharpen my tools and learn more about the craft and the industry. Luckily for me, my mum worked in media – my mum’s played a huge part in the success of my career, she worked alongside my agent who I’m still with today. She mentioned to her that I was into acting, and I was extremely lucky to get in an interview before being taken on at the agency. I owe everything to my agent, Charlene, from the moment I signed with her as a young lad she’s believed in me – more than I believe in myself at times. I thank the universe every day for allowing our paths to cross!
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Continuing being creative, writing my own work, and just auditioning for other projects. So yeah, oh and also definitely trying to pay my mortgage on time. I must remember to do that haha!
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