In July, Jack Ryder will be releasing his second book of his children’s book series, Jack’s Secret World, with the secret summer gang heading for a new adventure, and the story follows on from last year’s debut book release Jack’s Secret Summer. As a theatre director, Jack most recently worked on the new production of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys in Wolverhampton and had previously directed The Band, a jukebox musical featuring Take That’s biggest hits, which toured for a number of years and included a West End run at Theatre Royal Haymarket. Jack started his career in acting having played Jamie Mitchell in EastEnders from 1998 to 2002 and he joined the cast of Holby City in 2019 as regular character Evan Crowhurst. We talked to Jack about his upcoming release of Jack’s Secret World, directing The History Boys and The Band and playing Evan Crowhurst in Holby City.
You are releasing your second book – Jack’s Secret World – later this year, what can you tell us about it?
Jack’s Secret World is the sequel to Jack’s Secret Summer which came out last May. This story picks up from where the first book ended so the readers are catapulted straight into the adventure. The secret summer gang are entering into new territory and with that comes gripping plot twists, humour and my favourite addition… brand new characters!
Your debut book – Jack’s Secret Summer – was released last year, how did you find the experience writing your first book?
I thoroughly enjoyed writing Jack’s Secret Summer. The creative freedom that comes with writing brings me a lot of joy and excitement. With the help of everyone involved, I have learned a lot in a relatively short period of time such as; how to create a story arch, the art of simplification and consistent character point of view. Approaching the sequel I felt a little more confident in the process which meant I could enjoy it even more!
How long have you been working on your upcoming release and how was it revisiting the characters for a new adventure?
I started drafting the sequel when I wrote the first book, so a few years ago now! However, the editing process for this book was truly underway from March until late summer last year. Having a deadline for this project was a real anchor for me and I relished the opportunity to escape (in some form) to a distant land that felt fun, colourful and adventurous! I love these characters and so getting to know more about them and developing other elements to their personalities has been a wonderful experience.
Was there anything that inspired you to write a children’s book series and what was it like releasing during the pandemic?
My own childhood was a huge influence in my wanting to become a children’s author. I absolutely loved being a kid and I was very fortunate to be surrounded by great characters! I had some extremely fun neighbours and good friends that made me laugh and so creativity, exploration and a sense of freedom were at the heart of it all. I wanted to write children’s books to recapture some of those moments and memories I have treasured into adulthood.
The book was released during the first lockdown, at a time of great uncertainty for many, including myself. I took comfort knowing that now, more than ever, children needed to absorb stories that centre around friendship, care-free days and exploration. I felt it my duty to provide another opportunity to feel hopeful and excited for the future.
What was it like directing The History Boys, which opened at Wolverhampton Grand early last year?
The play is one of my favourites so it was a very exciting call with my agent. I have such admiration and respect for Alan Bennett’s work so the pressure was on to try to do it justice! I was extremely fortunate to have a fantastic team of creatives around me who were all very trusting of me and my vision. The actors were so dedicated to making the show a success and I think I can speak on behalf of all involved when I say the end result was something to be proud of.
Prior to The History Boys, you had been directing The Band Musical, how was this?
Directing The Band Musical was a new type of experience for me. The team were comprised of theatre creatives and those behind Take That’s live shows. It was a unique blend and we found a productive balance that resulted in a very entertaining show – I have never witnessed an audience reaction like it! There wasn’t a single performance that ended without a standing ovation and people singing and dancing in the auditorium. To be a part of something so electrifying was certainly worth all of the hard work that went into it.
You’ve directed other theatre shows including Calendar Girls and The Full Monty, what do you enjoy most about directing theatre?
The process of directing theatre is an intimate one. There is a lot of time getting to know one another during the rehearsal process and this often results in trust which ultimately enhances the performance and the overall result. Also, the cast get to know one another very well. By the end of the run there is a real sense of family and that feels rewarding to have been a part of.
Was there anything that encouraged you to become a director?
Firstly, my love of films. Ever since I was young I would watch films in great detail. The plot, musical score, lighting design, costumes and props, camera angles and character development – I was always intrigued in all of the ingredients. When I was eight years old I was given a Dictaphone for my birthday – a superb gift and one that I cherished. I used to record scenes from films and then write and rerecord my own interpretations. I would also write, perform and record plays with sound effects with my siblings.
Secondly, the voice of two great theatre producers David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers, their belief in my ability as a director gave me the confidence to keep going.
How was it playing Evan Crowhurst in Holby City and seeing the viewers’ response to the character?
It was an unusual role for me to play, a true ‘villain’. He was a dangerous and extremely manipulative character and most of the time I would read the new script and feel deeply uncomfortable by his actions. It was the first time I had to ‘transition’ out of my work. As an actor I did relish the opportunity to move past my own judgements and moral compass in order to portray him as an authentic ‘bad guy’ but it was a real challenge. I have become used to playing a ‘nice guy’ who attracted fans that wanted to connect, however, fans of Holby were telling me how scary I am and not sticking around long enough for me to change their perception!
What was it like working on the series and how much did you know about the storyline before filming?
The Holby set is a really positive place to work. There is a real family feel on set and everyone was extremely welcoming. It was nice to be back at Elstree Studios where I had filmed EastEnders all those years ago! I knew very little about the storyline in truth. All of the essential information about who I was playing alongside was given to me by my agent but the storyline and where my character’s journey went was really only received once I arrived on set and began filming. Not having all of the information, I believe, served my performance and kept me present within the arch of the story.
You joined EastEnders in 1998 as Jamie Mitchell before leaving in 2002, what are some of your favourite memories from your time in the cast?
I loved the people I was working with and being on set most days with various members of the cast and the crew was a wonderful experience. I have a fond memory of Ross Kemp taking me to the local McDonald’s drive thru in his Porsche on my first day, I remember thinking ‘yeh, I could work here’.
Steve McFadden was also a wonderful mentor to me and a huge support throughout those years. I am grateful to have had him around a fair amount of the time.
Can you say about some of the other acting roles you’ve had?
One of the most challenging roles was when I performed as Romeo in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Michael Bogdanov was directing the production and was considered one of the best directors of Shakespeare so I felt huge pressure! To be completely honest, at that stage in my life I had never actually read any of Shakespeare’s plays. This job ended up being one of my favourites as I learned so much.
Had you always wanted a screen and theatre career and how did you start?
No, not particularly. I always wanted to play football when I was growing up. That changed for me when I was sixteen and a friend of mine asked me to join him at a workshop for the BBC. I accompanied him and got spotted by Matthew Robinson who, at the time, was the executive producer of EastEnders. He approached me and asked what my name was. I told him and he said, ‘that’s a great stage name’ and I then responded ‘what’s a stage name?’. I had no idea about the inner workings of the acting profession. After I auditioned and got the role of Jamie Mitchell I soon discovered that this line of work was more exciting than I had imagined and I have been loving the career I’ve chosen for myself ever since.
Have you seen any TV shows or films recently you would recommend?
I watched The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix recently which I thought was brilliant and superbly well made. I think the original, Danish version of The Killing has to be one of the best things I’ve seen on TV so I would definitely recommend that. In terms of films, where do I begin! Check out Chef, Green Book and Untouchable.
What are you looking forward to most for when the industry can return fully?
Seeing my friends and colleagues is going to be such a wonderful feeling. Developing live shows feels very exciting as well as going to see performances in the theatre. I imagine I will be emotional seeing an audience on a journey together again, it’s been a long time.
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