Gus Barry joined the cast of Hetty Feather – a CBBC series based on the Jacqueline Wilson novel – when it started in 2015 as Mathias, before leaving a few years later, and returned to the show this year for their final series. Also this year, Gus has been seen in an episode of Casualty as Aaron Johnson and in Shakespeare & Hathaway: Private Investigators as Charlie Duke. Since starting his screen career in 2013 as Jamie Burton in The Escape Artist, Gus has filmed for shows including Penny Dreadful and Almost Never, and in 2019, he played Mickey Rooney in the award-winning biographical drama Judy. Speaking with Gus, he talks to us about his time as Mathias in Hetty Feather, playing Mickey Rooney in Judy and his first screen role in The Escape Artist.
Do you remember how you felt booking your role as Mathias in Hetty Feather and what was the role like to play?
I was really excited when I was first offered the part. I’d been through a few rounds of auditions and really worked on building the character with our amazing director and casting director, so it was a privilege to be given the responsibility of bringing him to life.
Playing Mathias was just a joy. He was an incredibly well-rounded character with a great balance of lighter and darker moments, so there was always a challenge to keep me on my toes.
Did you have a favourite storyline to film and how was it returning for the final series?
I think if I had to choose one storyline, it would be Mathias’ escape and return from the Foundling Hospital in Series 1. It was really interesting to depict his journey from the confident leader of the gang to the broken boy that he became upon coming back.
Returning for the final series was so much fun and I loved every day of it. It was great to see everybody again and I think we all really enjoyed exploring the characters a few years down the line and seeing how they’d all grown up.
How was the experience filming your final scenes and what do you miss most about the show?
Filming those last scenes got quite emotional, especially because in the scenes the characters were saying their final goodbyes to each other. We’d been on this journey together for six years of our lives, some of us from as young as eleven or twelve, so it was a sad moment coming to the end of that.
I definitely miss the people the most. We’d shoot the series over the summer, so filming Hetty became this fun summer holiday where we’d spend a lot of our time hanging out both on and off set. I’d say I miss those moments more than anything else.
Can you tell us about your episode of Casualty and about your character Aaron Johnson?
In my episode of Casualty, titled Code Orange, a few patients suffering from some sort of chemical poisoning are admitted into the hospital. Aaron was one of those victims, having been found in a field with his mum.
It was quite a different role for me because I really had to focus on the physical side of my performance in order to display the symptoms properly – there was a lot of sweating and hyperventilating! Overall, it was a great, action-packed episode to be a part of, largely thanks to our awesome director Steve Hughes.
You’ve filmed an episode of Shakespeare & Hathaway: Private Investigators, how was this?
It was a great experience and I was fortunate to be surrounded by an exceptional cast from whom I learnt a lot – Mark Benton and Jo Joyner playing the leads, and Tamzin Outhwaite playing my character’s mum.
The series is shot in Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon, which is such a beautiful area. I was fortunate to have a couple of days off in between shooting, which was nice because it allowed me to get out and explore the town. I even managed to go to see a show at the RSC one evening!
How was it filming as Mickey Rooney for feature film Judy?
Where do I start…! I know this phrase is a cliché, but it was an absolute dream come true! Our amazing director Rupert Goold comes from a background directing theatre, so the process for filming was different to anything I’ve done before because there was a bigger focus on rehearsal. I only had three scenes in the film, but we rehearsed and discussed them a couple of weeks before we shot them, which in my experience is quite unusual. However, from an actor’s perspective, it’s so useful to get that time working with your castmates and the director beforehand, so I absolutely loved working that way.
When it came to filming, the set was always so relaxed and no one was ever stressed (at least not on the days I was working anyway!), which just made it such a good environment to work in.
How did you prepare for the role and what was it like being part of the cast/production?
Playing a real person, especially such an icon, puts a lot more pressure on you to get it right. I’d spend hours on YouTube watching old MGM footage of Mickey and Judy, as well as watching as many of his early films as I could find. I think I must’ve seen the Andy Hardy films more times than anyone!
It was an incredible production to be a part of, evident through Renée Zellweger’s wins for Best Actress at the Oscars, BAFTAs and Golden Globes. I had a great time working with the talented Darci Shaw, who played young Judy, and Lucy Russell, who played Judy’s icy publicist. Although I obviously didn’t get any scenes with the rest of the main cast because my scenes were all flashbacks, I did stay on set a few times to watch them all perform. I’m so glad I did because I learnt so much watching those scenes, particularly watching Renée’s process and performance!
Can you say about playing Toby in an episode of Almost Never?
Playing Toby was so much fun because he was so different to any other character I’ve played. He was a larger-than-life YouTuber who was really vain, shallow and ignorant, but those kinds of characters tend to be the most enjoyable parts. I had a lot of fun playing around with every scene and trying to make people laugh with the ridiculousness of his character.
You appeared in short film The Last Birthday, can you say more about it?
The Last Birthday was based on the final days of the Romanov family before they were assassinated by revolutionaries. I played the youngest of the family, Alexei, who suffered from a disease that meant he was in constant pain and was often restricted to a wheelchair. Despite the darker material, I had a really good time working on the film, mostly because there was a wonderful group of people to work alongside!
In 2013, you played Jamie Burton in the TV mini-series The Escape Artist, what was this like?
The Escape Artist was my first bigger acting job and I was so lucky to get such a good role at such a young age; I think I was around eleven or twelve. I apologise for the name drop, but David Tennant played the lead and I played his character’s son, so I had a lot of scenes with him. Now, this was only a few years after he’d finished with Doctor Who, which I was an enormous fan of, so you can only imagine my excitement about getting to work with such an idol of mine. It was so inspiring not only to be able to act with him, but to watch him on set and see his process and how he worked. There are still things that he used to do to prepare before a scene that I mimic when I work now!
Also, it was an incredible experience to work with the lovely Ashley Jensen, who played my mum, and the exceptionally talented Toby Kebbell, who played the villain of the series.
Over the years, you’ve been involved in a number of other screen roles, can you tell us about some of them?
Of course! I played the younger version of Victor Frankenstein in the Sky Atlantic series Penny Dreadful. Filming this was so fun because it’s a gory show and I had to get covered in blood in one of my scenes, which is more fun than it sounds! Again, all the people that I worked with were wonderful and it was great to meet some of the leads. I also had the fortune of meeting the exceptional writer John Logan, who was so kind to me, which means a lot when you’re thirteen years old and don’t really have much of an understanding of anything.
I’ve also had roles in Idris Elba’s In The Long Run, an independent horror called Deadly Intent and the feature film Black Sea starring Jude Law.
You played Jem Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, how did you find the experience?
To Kill A Mockingbird was my first experience of professional theatre and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I’d grown up doing lots of school shows, but they don’t quite compare to the nervousness you feel when you’re standing in the wings on your opening night about to perform to an audience of over 1000!
Fortunately, the cast were like a family. All the adults were so patient and caring with us kids, which really helped not only our nerves, but our performances too. Now, I can’t talk about Mockingbird without giving a special mention to Robert Sean Leonard, who played Atticus Finch. He is honestly the nicest person I have ever met and the reason that the whole experience was so special.
How did you get into acting and is it something you always wanted to do?
I have to give credit to my mum for my love of acting, as she and her friend started a drama club at my primary school. We’d put on shows every term and that’s really how my love of acting grew. I distinctly remember sitting down with her one day and telling her that I wanted to try and do professional work, so she took me along to audition for an agency and it just went from there!
What do you enjoy doing away from your career?
Pre-COVID, I spent most of my time going out and meeting up with people that I care about, but obviously the current situation has made that difficult! I’ve always been an active person so I enjoy playing football or going to the gym. When I’m not doing that, I’m watching lots and lots of films!
Recently, I’ve started to enjoy writing and I have the hope of using my spare time to try and make some short films of my own!
Are there any TV shows or films you’ve watched recently that you would recommend?
Is there a word limit on my answers? I have a notes page on my phone dedicated to recommendations, but it’s far too long!
Any films by Chris Nolan are amazing, particularly Memento if you haven’t seen it. I also love Denis Villeneuve’s films so I would definitely recommend those. I absolutely fell in love with Alejandro Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and subsequently all of his other work. Alfonso Cuarón is another incredible director and I recommend all of his work, but particularly Children of Men. Also, anything shot by cinematographer Roger Deakins is a masterpiece!
To make a very long list short, anything by Paul Thomas Anderson, Guillermo Del Toro, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola, David Fincher, Sam Mendes, the Coen brothers, Edgar Wright, Wes Anderson, Lynne Ramsay, Ridley Scott, Bong Joon-Ho, Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles… and, of course, Gus Barry!
Let me know when you get through all of those and I can suggest some more!
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