Currently starring in the Channel 4 show Ackley Bridge, Sam Retford has just finished filming his third series as Cory Wilson and has been given the opportunity of many challenging storylines. This year saw Sam perform on stage at London’s Vault Festival in The King of Idle Lands alongside Shiv Rabheru and led to great reviews. Talking with Sam recently, he tells us more about Closets the Musical, performing at the Vault Festival and appearing in Ackley Bridge.
How would you describe your character, Cory Wilson in Ackley Bridge?
I’d say he is the jock of the school, or at least he certainly started out like that. He was the popular guy and very promiscuous in his sexual endeavours throughout the series. I think he’s now grown into himself and we’ve seen that he’s a little bit more human now than what he was in Series 1.
What’s it like being part of the show?
It’s amazing. I love shooting up there, it’s great as we get to immerse ourselves in a completely different culture because we shoot up around Leeds and Bradford, near where it’s set. It’s great being part of it and it’s such a lovely team, we’ve been together for three years now so you really get to know each other and become a bit of a family.
Has there been a storyline for your character which you’ve found challenging to film?
I found the domestic abuse scenes quite challenging. We’re exploring the sexuality storyline further in Series 3 because we didn’t want it to be the stereotypical story of the jock getting confused with his emotions and then becoming violent. It was quite challenging to find a more nuanced way of finding that narrative which is that he was struggling to find any sort of identity, whether he was bi or gay. I think we found a really nice and natural pathway that he will, in the future, realise that he just falls in love with people.
Your brother in the show is played by Samuel Bottomley, how was it building up the relationship with him?
It was great. As soon as I met him after the first read-through, we stayed brothers off-screen as well, it was really great casting. We’re still friends and we see each other outside of work and it’s lovely building up the relationship. He’s fab to work with and great to learn from as well. He’s a super, intelligent, fantastic actor.
How different was this role to anything you’ve done previously?
Very different, partly because it’s screen work. I’ve mainly done theatre-based work and this has been huge, spanning over three years, so that has made it completely different to anything else because I’ve had so much time to work on it. It’s also been really different to watch Cory grow. When you do a theatre job, you get the scripts and you read point A to point B and that’s how it is for the rest of the run and the character doesn’t really grow much. With this, every month we’d receive more scripts and more pieces to the character’s puzzle, so that was really cool.
How did the The King of Idle Lands go at the Vault Festival?
It ran really well, it was really fun. It was the first time I’d done theatre in London and the audiences were great. We had a bit of apprehension about bringing a Northern story down to London but it fit in so well and was really well-received. The Vault is such a cool stage and I’d never been to the festival before, so it was great being able to finish the show and then go and see more shows that night.
What was Michael like to portray?
Michael was really good fun to portray. I know the writer really well so we got a lot of chance to sit down until the early hours of the morning just chatting and really bringing the character to life. I think Michael was one of the most in-depth characters I’ve ever had the privilege of bringing to life because we got so much time to work on him. He was really interesting and very irrational in his thoughts. It was really good fun being able to see his journey through how the play was written from start to finish. He was a great character.
How was it performing a show with just two cast members?
I really enjoyed it. I’d wanted to do a two-hander like that for a long time. It was cool being able to sit down and chat through things and really develop the duologue throughout the entire piece. We had Philippe, our movement director, work on us and he put a movement piece into the middle of it to break it up. Shiv (Rabheru), who I was working opposite, is fantastic with movement, he’s a really good dancer and we bounced off each other well. There’s a lot more trust in a two-hander because you get to learn each other’s movements and each other’s way of working a lot more than you would with an ensemble piece.
Was there anything that drew you to this role?
I’d wanted to work with Conor Hunt, the writer, producer and director, for a while. I was going to work with him on a show a few years ago but it never materialised. We had this piece and we were chatting about bringing it to life and then it came to fruition that we could put it on at The Vault. There was a huge draw to it because I was shooting Series 3 of Ackley Bridge at the same time, so I was filming in the day and then I’d go down to London for rehearsals and do the show – that was like living the dream, being on a TV show in the daytime and then doing theatre at night! I’d never done a two-hander either so that was something I was drawn to. I love historical pieces so the story of the Manchester race riot was something I really wanted to tell.
Can you tell us about the musical, Closets at Hope Mill Theatre?
Closets was something super different. It was about Henry, who grew up in the 80s and was struggling with his sexuality. He’d found a kinship in Dan, who was from the future and he went on this time travelling adventure with him. By the end of the musical, he’s grown, seen things and gained an insight into who he is. That was really good fun to get my teeth into as it was super different.
What was it like recording the demo cast album?
Terrifying. I’m not a singer at all so it was pretty terrifying when they asked us to go into the recording studio. I hadn’t sung in front of people with a microphone before so that was quite daunting. It was great as well as I learnt so much from doing it. Ashley Walsh, the Musical Director, took many hours to get me up to scratch. Lloyd (Daniels), who I played opposite, is a fantastic singer so I wanted to at least be somewhere close to where he was. It was good fun and very interesting.
Had you done musical theatre previously?
Only when I was a kid, but I’d never been taught it, it was just for fun. I would never say that I was skilled at that at all and I’m still not. It was definitely something out of my comfort zone but it was a massive achievement for the guys that brought it to life.
What did you learn from being part of this production?
I learnt that I probably shouldn’t sing in front of live audiences, haha! I learnt loads. I’d always wanted to perform at Hope Mill Theatre, so I learnt about the playing stage there. I learnt from all the different actors, I learnt patience and I learnt about my strengths and weaknesses, which was really nice.
What was your first professional acting role and what do you remember from it?
My first professional acting role was probably an online Hollyoaks spin-off series on All 4 where I played a bully. I think that was when I learnt that it was more of a viable career option than I had previously thought. I think everyone told me to have a backup plan and do something academic. I remember everyone on set being super helpful and teaching me loads and I remember the feeling of knowing I could definitely see myself doing that for as long as possible.
Have you always wanted to be a screen and stage actor?
Probably, in the back of my mind. I’d always wanted to do it on the side but I never saw it as a viable career option, and neither did the people around me. Everyone just thought I was really loud so I was pushed to the front at school plays. I wanted to be a marine biologist and I think that was my main career choice. I then started doing this a lot more and decided to give the rest of it up and not have a backup. Fortunately, so far, it’s paid off, but we’ll see how long that lasts!
What are your career plans for the next few months?
We’ve just wrapped up Series 3 of Ackley Bridge, so I’m back to auditioning at the moment. I signed to my new agents last year so we’re working hard to find the next project to work on. I’ve been away for quite a while so it’s nice to be back home with the family. I am ready to go back out there though and start doing some acting things again.
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