With the new BBC mini-series The Nest airing recently, Samuel Small was cast in the thriller as Jack across all five episodes, and in 2017, he joined the CBBC comedy So Awkward as Rob Edwards which he continued in for three series. Samuel has also worked in theatre, which included making his West End debut at the age of thirteen in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda the Musical as Tommy, and trained for four years at Sylvia Young before heading to Arts Educational Schools. Talking with us, Samuel tells us about playing Jack in The Nest, his time as Rob in So Awkward and his previous stage roles.
Can you tell us about the new BBC mini-series The Nest?
The Nest is a thriller, set in Glasgow, that focuses in on family dynamics and how far people are willing to go to start a family. The couple in question, Dan and Emily, unfortunately can’t carry a child themselves due to Emily’s unexplained infertility. Desperate to start a family, the couple seek surrogacy and take a chance on eighteen-year-old Kaya who Emily meets one night. But at the point of no return, Dan and Emily realise Kaya hasn’t told them the truth as she puts them, their relationship and their unborn child at risk.
The show is written by BAFTA Award-winning writer Nicole Taylor, what was it like to film?
I found that every second I was working on this job, on and offset, I was constantly learning. I was sharing the space constantly with creatives and artists working their absolute hardest to deliver the best work they could, and I found this so refreshing to work with. As a young man, fresh out of sixth form, it can be quite intimidating to be sharing the screen with people you were writing essays on only six months ago but there was constant support when I needed it whether that was a coat when we were filming in the cold December in Glasgow, or some advice on the accent. Everyone on and off the set was so incredibly hardworking and it made me incredibly proud to be a part of something as special as this project.
What was it like playing Jack and how would you describe the character?
Jack was a super sweet character to play. I felt I could really relate to his beliefs and his journey throughout the series. I found his struggle of wanting to be a man when people around him still saw him as a child really interesting to explore and is something all young men and women face and it was nice for that to be shown on screen without coming across as stereotypical teen angst. Jack is a very passionate young man who is full of life and always strives to brighten things up when they seem dark. Andy De Emmony (one of the directors) and I compared him to a golden retriever, and I think that perfectly sums Jack up! He is caring for Kaya, his family, and his passion for music which he intends to pursue a career in.
How did you spend your time in between filming scenes?
A lot of the time, me and my castmates spent a lot of time talking about our characters’ relationships to try and make them as authentic as possible which I felt definitely worked and made the world feel more real to me. I also spent a lot of time listening to the Scottish cast members talk so I could absorb the rhythms and patterns in which they spoke to help strengthen my accent. When working with Leo Tetteh, who played my younger brother Sammy, I spent time trying to make him feel comfortable and to build that brotherly relationship to make his job easier. He was only eight and it was his first ever acting job, so I tried to make him as comfortable as possible.
How different was it filming this show to your previous work?
I think what was a key difference, is that I landed this job almost as soon as I finished my two years studying acting in college and it was a real opportunity for me to put to work all of my skills I had learnt over that period. With all of the knowledge I had gained from my education, I felt I approached the character in a completely different way. This job is also for a completely different demographic than what I am used to performing to so tackling a more mature character with completely different themes than anyone I’ve ever played before was an exciting challenge. And, of course, the accent! It’s the first time I’ve had to play a character with a completely different accent to mine and that was a massive challenge that I accepted with open arms.
Can you say about playing Rob Edwards in So Awkward for CBBC?
I played Rob for three seasons of So Awkward and it was a joy from start to finish. Rob Edwards was so far from who I was when I was at school so that was interesting to explore. He is sporty, cool and incredibly stupid so I loved playing this kind of character. Rob was the classic captain of the football team kind of character which I enjoyed playing because that was never me. I was trained in classical ballet and hadn’t played football at school since I was about twelve so this was great fun to do. As a cast, we became like a little family and it almost didn’t seem like work, it felt like I was just messing about with my mates.
How is it being part of the cast and joining in Series Three?
As I mentioned, we all got along like a little family. It was incredibly daunting to be joining a series when everyone else had done two series prior, but thankfully, I was in the same school as Archie Lyndhurst (who plays Ollie) so he was there to make me feel welcome. But then as I got introduced to everyone, I felt right at home and they were super accepting of me. We all instantly became best friends and we remain that way now.
Do you have a favourite aspect of playing Rob?
I think my favourite aspect of Rob is his likeability. He is so naïve and literally friends with everyone which I think is really good fun to portray. He literally walks through life without a single care in the world and he cares so much for his best friends and his girlfriend which was super easy to show due to how much I cared for the actors playing these roles.
Do you remember how you felt booking this role?
I remember the day so clearly. A lot of the work I had done leading up to this point was theatre work and television was an aspect of the arts I had only briefly touched upon. So, to book my first television job as a series regular was a dream come true. I literally remember dropping to my knees when my agent told me. I then ran and found Archie in the canteen where we both screamed and he lifted me practically over his head.
You filmed for an episode of Game of Thrones in 2014, what was it like on set of the show?
I don’t really remember too much from this job as I filmed it when I was twelve, however, I remember being made to feel super comfortable. As a twelve-year-old, being on top of a mountain in freezing Croatia could sound like hell, but for me it was the most awesome thing ever. I think it’s because I was seeing for the first time how things on the TV get made. I remember one of the extras playing a dead body giving me a wink before we went to film my scene and I found it super funny and it will always stick with me.
We understand you’ve previously performed in stage shows such as the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda the Musical, can you say more about your theatre career?
I did a six-month contract in Matilda playing Tommy when I was thirteen, which is when I made my West End debut. This is a massive achievement of mine and this show holds a special place in my heart. It’s a super demanding show for the kids in it and I remember being so exhausted after every show but then waking up the next day shaking off the aches and feeling ready to go again. And then when I was fourteen, I was cast as Nigel in the original cast of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 and ¾ at the Curve Theatre in Leicester. This was a completely different experience to Matilda but one I loved just as much. As we were the original cast, we were practically moulding the show as each rehearsal went on and even after we opened, the show changed. And then finally, at the same time as I was sitting my GCSEs, I was performing in Carousel the Musical at the London Coliseum alongside Alfie Boe and Katherine Jenkins. This show was a challenge as whenever I wasn’t on stage, I had to be revising for my exams which commenced the week after we closed this show.
Have you been watching any TV shows recently that you would recommend?
Surprisingly, I am not really a massive TV show fan. I am such a little film buff and watch at least one a day. But currently, alongside my daily movie, I am watching Ozark on Netflix and Killing Eve on BBC. I also highly recommend Tiger King as it is one of the craziest docu-series I’ve seen in a long while.
What do you enjoy doing away from acting?
Currently, I really enjoy going to the gym and training as staying fit is super important to me. I also collect and read comic books new and old. I am a huge Marvel fan and have piles of them in my wardrobe. My favourite comic book hero is probably Miles Morales who is the mixed-race Spider-Man. I love reading about his journey to become Spider-Man and the artwork in the series is INCREDIBLE. I often get compared to him and it’s a huge compliment.
How did you get into acting and what training have you had?
I started performing at the age of around six. My big sister went to a drama class on a Saturday called Best Theatre Arts and I admire my sister massively, so I followed along and just fell in love with it from day one. I went to Best Theatre Arts for around six years where they taught me the basics and gave me the love for performing I have today. I decided it was seriously what I wanted to do at around eleven and then I flipped between Saturday drama classes for around a year until I auditioned for Sylvia Young Theatre School where I was then offered a scholarship. I trained full time there for four years. I loved every second of my schooling there and owe a huge part of my successes to them. When it was time to move on from there and go to sixth form, I studied at Arts Educational for two years completing my A levels and a BTEC. I am nineteen years old currently and have decided not to attend university or any further education as I just want to do what I love professionally.
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