In 2015, Neil Reynolds started playing Matt in Secret Life of Boys on CBBC with their latest series being filmed during the pandemic and airing earlier this year. The show has won a number of awards including a BAFTA in 2016 and, during his time in the show, Neil was a guest on Saturday Mash-Up alongside his Secret Life of Boys co-star Charlie Hiscock and also guest presented on CBBC HQ. Neil plays Zigi in CBBC’s Hey You! What If?, an educational show of scientific facts featuring five-minute episodes which have no dialogue and sees Neil perform just physical actions and he has also worked on a number of educational videos helping to teach English in schools around the world. On stage, Neil played Robin Hood at the York Theatre Royal in 2017 for their production of Robin Hood: The Arrow of Destiny. Recently speaking to us, Neil talks about his time as Matt in Secret Life of Boys, guest presenting on CBBC HQ and playing Zigi in the educational show Hey You! What If?.
Can you tell us about your character Matt in Secret Life of Boys and was there anything that drew you to the role?
Matt in Secret Life of Boys was a man after my own heart, he loves food and inventing new types of snacks which I do myself on the regular. Besides that, he’s a really good brother to his siblings and cousin and he knows that they look up to him so he takes on a leadership role. He’s a charming character and I love the fact that he can have as much fun pulling pranks and making mischief with his younger brothers.
What do you enjoy most about playing Matt and how do you think the character has changed over time?
I really enjoyed Matt’s character development during the course of Secret Life of Boys. He started off with a personality trait of just liking food and eating constantly. But over time we got to explore a different side to him. You see his first relationship with his girlfriend Tabitha (shoutout to Ruby Kammer who played her), including make ups, break ups and even proposals. We also saw a more complex side to Matt, dealing with abandonment by his biological father to then failing university. He grew up a lot over the series and it was a pleasure to be with him every step of the way.
Have you had a favourite episode to film and what is it like on set?
My favourite episode to film was definitely Eager Vegan in Series 3. My brother Ethan challenges us to go vegan for a day but my stepdad (Uncle Bob) and I can’t handle it. There is a scene where we sneak off to the workshop and stuff our faces with pulled pork. That was easily my all-time favourite scene as Gene Gurie (Ethan) had to catch us in the act with a look of betrayal. Now, he could NOT keep a straight face and we were crying with laughter throughout. I’m pretty sure I laughed so hard I accidentally spat pulled pork in Uncle Bob’s face (sorry Grant, love you man!).
The vibe on set was pure love and laughter. Every day something funnier than the last would happen, we had an amazing crew, and the cast are pretty much my second family. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.
How is it seeing the fan response to the show and what was it like filming the latest series during the pandemic?
It’s really cool to see the fans’ response to the show, sometimes I forget that other people will be watching and it’s not just my family and friends. Then when you meet young fans on the street who recognise you from this wacky series is a great feeling. Filming the latest season during a pandemic was a challenge, but I’m proud of us for getting it done. The cast would usually travel home during the weekends, so having to stay together in Northern Ireland brought us even closer than we already were. Gene and Charlie Hiscock kept me sane with trips to the beach and movie nights, Grant Burgin kept me fed with his amazing cooking. I miss it (the cooking).
The show has won a number of awards including a BAFTA in 2016, how does it feel seeing the show be recognised and what were the BAFTAs like to attend?
It is an amazing feeling to see the show get recognised and the BAFTAs was a night to remember! This was my first high profile event so I was a little nervous, being there with the SloB team was great. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t lose my cool when Gordon Ramsay walked by my table. I guess winning the BAFTA and going on stage was pretty cool too, but it’s not Gordon Ramsay.
You play Zigi in Hey You! What If?, can you tell us about the show?
Hey You! What If? is a great educational show I filmed with CBBC. They are five-minute episode segments that answer the most bizarre questions with scientific facts like “What if the moon was made of cheese?” and “What if you could holiday on Mars?”. It’s very educational, I learnt a lot from it myself.
What is the show like to film and how is it being involved with a project like this?
This was a huge contrast to what I was used to with Secret Life of Boys. I would usually film big family scenes and there would be a lot of characters to interact with, with Hey You! What If? it was the complete opposite! I had to react to the craziest things going on like falling into a black hole or the world turning sideways all by myself! I channelled my inner Mr. Bean for most days of filming as my character has no dialogue so I had to express myself through physical actions.
Do you have a favourite aspect of working with CBBC and guest presenting on CBBC HQ?
Guest presenting on CBBC HQ was a blast! I had never done live TV before so having that red light come on with the countdown, knowing you’re about to go live on national television was pretty daunting. The main presenter Rhys (Stephenson) was really nice and made me feel comfortable so I eased into it thanks to him. My favourite aspect was probably the nerves, weirdly enough? There was a sense of adrenaline that I loved about it.
You’ve been a guest on Saturday Mash-Up, what is it like being invited onto the show?
Saturday Mash-Up was also amazing to be a part of. Another live show where the adrenaline was kicking in. I was a lot cooler from the get go as I was with my castmate Charlie, it was nice to be with a familiar face. The presenters Joe (Tasker) and Harpz (Kaur) were great to work with and very inviting. I had a fantastic time, from racing scooters around the studio to watching Charlie get slimed.
Can you tell us about some of the presenting and commercial work you’ve been involved with over the years?
Some of the presenting work I’ve done over the years have been for mainly educational purposes. This includes videos helping to teach English within schools. I tend to speak very fast so I had to really slow it down and annunciate each word clearly. I’ve done quite a few of those kind of roles over the years, it’s nice to know I’m helping someone learn English somewhere in the world!
In 2017, you played Robin Hood at York Theatre Royal in Robin Hood: The Arrow of Destiny, how did you find the experience?
This was the first role I booked with a theatre company and I learned a lot from it. I had done some pantomime when I was younger but the difference in scale was incomparable. Like live TV, there is something about performing to an audience that really gives you a rush and every night I would be so nervous at the start but then get straight into it. When you land a joke on stage and you hear the audience laugh it’s a great feeling. When it flops, not so much.
Where does your love of acting come from and is it something you always wanted to do?
My love of acting comes from my upbringing. My two older brothers started acting when they were younger, so, of course, I wanted to follow whatever they were up to and I instantly knew this is what I wanted to do. Comedy is a big thing in our family, we’re always cracking jokes and in laughing fits. I also believe I get the love for performing from my dad, who was the funniest person in my life and an all-round entertainer. I’m very grateful for being able to come this far with my passion and I hope to pursue it further.
Do you have any favourite TV shows or films to watch?
My all-time favourite TV show is probably The Simpsons. My brothers and I can speak fluent references when it comes to that show. It shaped my humour and is a show I can always go back and rewatch. A few more of my favourites include Curb Your Enthusiasm, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and New Girl I could honestly go on and on but those are my current faves. And of course Secret Life of Boys and Hey You! What If? (Shameless plug).
What are you hoping for your career over the coming months?
Other than acting, I am also a big fan of writing. Whilst filming SloB I was invited to the Writersroom for Series 4 and 5 and got to see the process of pitching jokes and punching up episodes. Over the next few months I would love to be able to get back in to another Writersroom and go on to become a staff writer on a new show.
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