Beginning his TV career as Ralph Selfridge in Mr Selfridge, Billy Barratt has continued his screen work, including as Prince Arthur in TV mini-series The White Princess. Billy, more recently, had a role in Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns and has filmed for this summer’s release of Blinded by the Light playing Young Matt, the younger version of Dean-Charles Chapman’s character. We talked to Billy earlier this month about playing the role of Ralph Selfridge, his West End debut in Big Fish and filming for Blinded by the Light.
What was it like playing Young Matt in the upcoming release of Blinded by the Light?
Oh, this film is SOOOOO good, everyone will LOVE it. I only did a day on set but working with Gurinder Chadha and her team was amazing. She is really fun and super hands on. She’s a mum and I am actually in a scene with her real-life son, so she really made sure we had a fun day out as well as getting the serious acting stuff done too!
Watching the final version in the cinema was epic, you never really know what the end film will be like in filming stages but it’s just incredible. I learnt so much from it as well as it being really entertaining. Get ready to laugh, cry, scream and sing along to a whole lot of Bruce Springsteen!
You’ve worked alongside James Cosmo in The Islander, can you say what this was like to film?
Oh, James is a proper legend! I can’t say too much as we are only in post-production stages at the moment but he plays my grandfather and we have a special bond. We had to do some really emotional scenes together and he made it so easy and natural. It was my first shared lead (I play the younger version of Marco Illso’s character, Neb) but James said some really nice things about my performance. He also gave me some amazing tips for a career in acting too 😀.
1) Never be too proud to take on a job that isn’t acting – if you are a bartender or a bricky in between roles, use that as experience for a character!
2) Always be humble and respect EVERYBODY on set.
3) Never think a drink will improve your performance – it won’t!
He is such a great actor and pretty good at magic too!
The whole cast and crew on The Islander became a little family too, in fact the way we changed locations (filming all over Croatia and Serbia) I think it was more like being in a travelling circus than a movie at times, but I had the BEST time!
How different was Mary Poppins Returns to film to your previous roles?
Ha, well it’s a tiny role so I guess that’s what’s most different. To be honest, the role came about after a really, really long audition process where they kept seeing me to play both Banks boys roles but couldn’t make up their mind. I think they saw me like eight or nine times! After the final decision was made, Rob Marshall, the director, wrote a lovely letter to my agent with some really kind words and offered to give me a little role so I didn’t feel like I had lost out altogether. That was SOOO nice. I wasn’t expecting it and he really didn’t have to do that. I got a full credit and got to go to the cast premiere too. He is a lovely guy and I was so impressed with the final movie. The Banks kids are all brilliant and deserve all the success!
How long were you filming for your role of Ted Roosevelt Jr. in The Alienist?
I was actually filming this role for about a month or two on and off in Budapest. Funnily enough, I went straight from The White Princess with Jamie Payne as director, to The Alienist, which he was also directing. So that was nice to have a face I already knew in amongst all these massive Hollywood stars.
Unfortunately, most of the scenes with the Roosevelt family got cut but it was a great experience to be a part of – I met loads of new friends as there were lots of kids and young actors all staying in the same (amazing!) hotel. It’s SUCH a huge production. The set was the biggest I have ever seen!
Can you tell us about your role of Prince Arthur in The White Princess?
Oh wow, that was like every young actor’s dream role! Sword fighting, archery, horse riding… it was such a fun and active role to play.
My character, Prince Arthur, was quite shy and didn’t really share the same bloodthirsty nature of the rest of his family so I felt he was quite a sad character but I think he also liked to have fun with his brother Prince Harry, who was completely opposite and a complete terror! He was played by Woody Norman, who is now one of my best friends – we had sooo much fun on and off set but I think we probably drove everyone crazy! We were obsessed with Pokémon GO at that time, and it was quite funny to be on set and find that Pikachu had popped up in the middle of a banquet!
We filmed that over six months in locations all over England and Wales. The cast and crew was HUGE but, because we were shooting for so long, we really became a little family.
Jodie Comer, who played our mum, was really fun to work with, I think we all knew she was going to blow up – she was AMAZING. She has the strongest Scouse accent but then when they call action, you can’t even hear the tiniest bit of it! Me and Woody taught her how to DAB in between takes – she was fun!
Michelle Fairley played our granny and she was sooo lovely – I had some nice chats in the trailer with her. Her role was so mean but in real life she is the nicest lady.
What was the experience like on set of this show?
Well, for me and Woody, mainly fun. For everyone else; hard work, long hours and a lot of being very cold! I think that’s the great thing about being a kid on set, it’s still all new and fun to us. We do know when it’s time to work and get serious. We don’t mess around at all when we are on set – we wouldn’t dare, they might behead us!
Jokes aside, Alex Kalymnios and Jamie Payne, the directors, really made sure that we were looked after and enjoying the experience. They both have kids and I think that really helped because they made sure they broke everything down for us so we really understood what was going on and what was needed from the scene, especially when it was quite dark. It makes a big difference having directors who really care about the kids understanding the process.
I went pretty much straight from filming The White Princess to playing Gill in Sharknado 5, which is a totally crazy and weird Syfy movie about Sharks in Tornado attacking the world!!! It was so strange to go from being a Tudor Prince to being sucked into a tornado full of killer sharks who are taking over the planet, but I love that about acting, it’s always different!!! I also loved that I got to do stunts in that film… I spent a lot of time being thrown around in a rig – that was a lot more fun that it sounds!
How was it playing Ralph Selfridge in TV series Mr Selfridge?
Ralph Selfridge was the first TV role I ever had. I was only seven and the first day on set was terrifying but I was so lucky that everyone really went out of their way to make sure I was ok. It was such a massive production and I remember being completely amazed by how real everything looked. The set design was insane, they literally built a whole Selfridges store in an old warehouse in North West London! It was like being in a time machine. We also filmed a lot on location but often we were filming winter scenes in summer, which happens a lot in TV. It meant we were all filming on the hottest day of the year wearing four layers of woollen costume.
Jeremy Piven was really cool, he spent a lot of time with me and my mum off set so that our relationship as grandfather and grandson was realistic. He is a really natural actor and it was cool to watch him bring the script to life.
I also got my first on-screen brother, Dominic, who I have stayed in contact with and it’s really nice to see him coming up and getting bigger roles too.
The only thing I won’t miss about Mr Selfridge was the ‘fake’ ice cream. In one scene, Grandad Selfridge tells us we can have as much ice cream as we want. The art department people said ‘boys, don’t eat the ice cream’… but, of course, we did… it was made of mashed potato and really thick Angel Delight. For continuity, we have to make sure we do exactly the same actions in every scene. I am sure you can imagine how sick we were after six or seven takes, right?
Who did you act alongside in the London production of Big Fish?
Loads of lovely people… George Ure, Dean Nolan, Tanisha Spring, Forbes Mason… and, of course, the main man, Kelsey Grammer. I was a bit scared of what he would be like on day one because he’s such a massive star, but he couldn’t have been more cool! I really miss working with the Fishes!
What did you enjoy about this role?
Well, theatre is really intense. I had never really done any before I did the West End, so, for me, it was pretty scary! But I loved the adrenaline rush of waiting to go on.
There’s nothing scarier or more exciting than your five minute call! I also loved the camaraderie that you get with theatre – we are all in it together and every night is different even if you have done the play a thousand times. Things go wrong too, one night I was supposed to disappear behind a screen that never came out, so I had to sit on the stage and act like I was crying for twenty minutes! Also, one night, Dean (who played the giant) did the splits and ripped his trousers front to back and had to do the rest of his song with his pants showing!! HA HA.
It’s a great learning experience for any actor. TV and film is really fun but I think maybe you learn the most from a live audience!
Have you done other stage work or would you like to?
Nope but yes, I would love to… at some point.
How long did it take you to learn the Heinz Beans Can Song for the commercial you filmed?
Ages! Literally we did like a whole eight-hour day banging that can around!
What’s the furthest you’ve filmed away from home?
Well, in two weeks I go to Georgia for a really exciting new movie, so I think that will be the furthest away?
What inspired you to become an actor?
I don’t know really. I have always been a bit of a show-off… at nursery I would stand on a table and make the kids listen to me whilst I put on a concert! I am from a family of performer types, maybe it is in my blood!
Is there anything you like to do away from acting?
Yes, loads of stuff. Obviously I go to a theatre school so I sing and dance but outside of school I am really into sports. I love skateboarding SOOOO much and I go to skateparks as often as I can. I can do quite a lot of tricks but I have a lot more to learn!
I play guitar – though I can’t read music AT ALL! And I love playing PlayStation!!
What are your career plans for the next few months?
Well, Blinded by the Light will be in cinemas on August 14th. I have two movies I am filming at the moment, then a new TV show that will be out at Christmas – it is a re-make of a classic and I start filming next week… It’s VERY exciting and the cast is CRAZY, but I have been sworn to secrecy I am afraid!
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