Since joining Hollyoaks in 2015 as Alfie Nightingale, Richard Linnell continued in the show for a number of years where his storylines included his battle with cancer, which saw him win Best On-Screen Partnership and Scene of the Year at the British Soap Awards alongside his co-star Kassius Nelson, before leaving the soap in 2019 when Alfie moved to America. After leaving Hollyoaks, Richard filmed his first foreign production, playing Sam in the remake of Pan Tau, and he has most recently worked on the future release of short film Piggies. Also having appeared on stage, Richard has previously been in shows such as The Merry Wives of Windsor at Shakespeare’s Globe and The Sound of Music, where he performed as Kurt at the London Palladium. Richard spoke to us about playing Alfie Nightingale in Hollyoaks, his wins at the British Soap Awards and working on the remake of Pan Tau.
Do you remember how you felt when you booked the role of Alfie Nightingale in Hollyoaks, and was there anything that drew you to the role?
I remember really distinctly the day I got the job, It was about ten past four in the afternoon, and I’d just got home when the house phone appears through the door. It’s my agent letting me know that after weeks of recalls, I got the part!… And that they’d like me in Liverpool tonight to start at 9am tomorrow for character meetings… I live just outside London, and that was the day of the tube strikes. So, it quickly became apparent that I had precisely twenty-five minutes to pack an overnight bag and get to my local station to have any chance of making it to Liverpool that night!
Cut to eleven that evening, and I’m sat on a bed in the Jurys Inn on Albert Dock with a pizza my dad ordered to the hotel as I didn’t get a chance to grab any food. Only now does it actually hit me what’s happened? Which was not a bad thing as that pace didn’t really stop for the next three years!
What was the character like to play, and do you have any highlights from your time on set over the years?
Alfie was such a joy to play. As an actor, you rarely have creative input into a character’s makeup, the script almost always being finished by the time you are involved. To be part of a continuous show such as Hollyoaks offers the chance to see the character grow and change as you inhabit them. I have so many great memories of the show, most of them being goofs as I was lucky to be a comedic character at times. From abseiling down the school in a terrible rocket racoon costume to getting mango smoothie thrown up my nose. It was never a quiet day for Alfie.
Your portrayal of Alfie saw you win Best On-Screen Partnership and Scene of the Year, both with your co-star Kassius Nelson, how did you find the experience at the British Soap Awards?
It did indeed! I am still profoundly honoured that we were given a chance to tell such compelling and needed stories with the show, and I am so proud that our hard work paid off. The Soap Awards are such a bizarre and wonderful night! I’m really glad I got the chance to attend both as a nominee and just as a member of the cast. You remember much more of it when you’re not bricking it about the possibility of giving a speech live! Being able to celebrate all your colleagues’ hard work together is such a privilege, and the atmosphere of those nights is indescribable.
Did you have a favourite storyline to film from your time on the show, and what do you miss most about being in the soap?
I couldn’t possibly pick one! That’s like picking your favourite child. I was so lucky to get loads of great storylines in the short time I was there, and each of them had something different. The cancer storyline gave me the chance to work with the absolutely fantastic Kassius, where we got to show some of the unknown parts of something that so many people have been at least partly affected by in their lives. Whereas with my Schizoaffective storyline, I had the chance to explore a topic most people know very little about and use that platform to dispel harmful misinformation about mental health and spark a productive conversation. And, of course, there were the wild bits like the school explosion and filming in Ibiza for a week which were just pure, unadulterated fun! When your character has as many hard sense as Alfie did, those little breaks were a godsend!
What I miss most is really simple, the people. There is not a single person in that building, from the cast to the crew, right upstairs that I wouldn’t consider family. That’s the real reason you get up at six on a Saturday in the pouring rain to film in a T-shirt in December.
Can you tell us about playing Sam in Pan Tau and what was it like working on the remake?
Sure! Working on Pan Tau was such a blast. It was my first time filming for a foreign production, so it was a real learning experience, and I couldn’t have asked for a friendlier crew! It was fascinating to work on a remake as you already have a base to work off while at the same time keeping what you’re doing distinct. It brings a whole new set of challenges that are always fun to tackle.
What was it like reading the script for the first time and working with the rest of the cast?
It was fascinating! Being my first job out of Hollyoaks, it was amazing to read something that wasn’t Alfie. Exploring parts of acting that I hadn’t done in years and asking all kinds of new questions. The cast was an absolute joy. Matt Edwards was absolutely hilarious and an excellent touchstone in an entirely new environment.
Is there anything you can say about the short film Piggies?
Yeah! An old friend makes short films, and I’ve helped him out working behind the camera mainly for years. He came to me and asked if I’d be interested in being in this short, and I jumped at the chance. It was a lot of fun to do something entirely different to Hollyoaks and play someone utterly different from Alfie, even if their names are the same. It’s a classic, gritty English horror movie, a la Dog Soldiers. It was just a hell of a lot of fun to be with a bunch of old mates on a farm out in Kent, working like madmen to get it shot in two days.
Your early roles have included The Merry Wives of Windsor, Life of Riley and Magic Grandad, can you tell us about them?
I’ve been so lucky to work on so many different things from a young age. I’ve done a little bit of everything, from Shakespeare like Merry Wives at the Globe to a sitcom like Life of Riley. Each is very different while at the same time being just familiar enough to feel like home while giving you a significant challenge.
You’ve had stage experience, which has seen you in shows such as Guys and Dolls, Love Never Dies and The Sound of Music; what are some of your favourite memories from your stage performances?
I have! Theatre is unlike anything else in the arts. You rehearse for months to perform the same two hours for possibly years, so it involves an entirely different set of skills to TV and screen work. Being able to play with a text each night and see the other places you can find with an audience is always an incredible experience. Walking out onto the Palladium stage for the first time in The Sound of Music and seeing the scale of the stunning sets that filled that enormous stage will always stay with me.
Having worked on a number of radio shows, what do you enjoy most about radio work?
Trackies not just being allowed but encouraged! Just kidding, though comfort is king. I think it’s doing incredibly unnatural and strange things to create something that sounds perfectly normal. Having only sound to convey the story, you become much more inventive, such as the sound of grass is often done by walking on old cassette tape! There are literal bins of the stuff in the BBC Radio studios from when they used to have everything on tape.
Where does your love of acting come from, and is it something you always wanted to do?
That’s a tricky question. Both my parents met through playing instruments. My sister is an infuriatingly talented artist, and I can’t draw to save my life. So, I guess it was the natural outlet of all the pent-up arty nonsense that seems prevalent in my family!
I actually started through dance, an afterschool club that turned into private lessons. The teacher encouraged me to audition for The Royal Ballet School. But at the age of nine, I was a little apprehensive, which is when she suggested the local stage school. Which is where the singing and acting came in. Had I been a bit braver as a kid, this could have all turned out very differently!
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
My adulthood has been full of rekindling hobbies that I didn’t have time for as a kid with work, training, and school. Golf is a great pastime which has the bonus of getting you out in the fresh air in some beautiful countryside. I’m also an absolute nerd, so video gaming has become an ever-increasing part of my free time! Before lockdown, I’d gotten into a great routine with the gym, which I hope to get back. I’m full of excess energy, so I always feel better when I’ve exercised.
How have you been keeping busy during the pandemic?
Some things from above have carried over, such as gaming. I dread to look at my logged hours on steam. As well as making sure I’m looking after my mental health. I discovered meditation while in Hollyoaks, and it’s been incredibly helpful to me ever since. Particularly in these challenging times. I’ve also found some new things to do. I started volunteering at Tiggywinkles, a local wildlife hospital, as a rescuer and ambulance driver. Which has meant I can still get out of the house every now and again while helping injured wildlife! It’s really helped fill the productivity hole the pandemic has left, particularly for those in the arts.
What are you hoping 2021 brings for your career?
Work! Haha, I’ve never been one to set firm goals as this industry is often an exercise in accepting how little control you have. So, if I’m getting to tell stories for a living and enjoying myself while I do it. I’m happy.
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