For his first lead character in a TV series, Samuel Ireland plays Itch in the screen adaptation of Simon Mayo’s books ITCH, which is aired worldwide including on CBBC in the UK with Series 1 currently available on BBC iPlayer. Samuel trained sporadically from 2016 to 2021, with the majority of the time at the Hayman Theatre at Curtin University, and whilst training, he wrote and directed two plays as well as performing in shows including The Importance of Being Earnest as Algernon. Previously, Samuel played Wes Broaden in the 2019 release of The Light, which marked his feature film debut, and he also has professional theatre experience. We caught up with Samuel, who chatted about playing Itch in the TV series ITCH, having the role as his leading character debut and his training.
You play the lead role of Itch in the TV series ITCH, can you tell us about the character and what is he like to play?
Itch is a high school student and passionate chemistry enthusiast. His hobby is collecting elements, chasing the illusive goal of gathering every element in the periodic table – and he’s pretty good at it. So good in fact, that he buys a rock at a market which turns out to be an entirely new element! In his journey protecting the element from corrupt hands and using his deep knowledge of chemistry to MacGyver his way out of scrapes, he shows exactly the type of character he is. He’s intelligent, brave, a little misguided and a joy to play.
The role definitely demands research. I want the audience to be able to believe that I know what I’m talking about when I’m delivering Itch’s lines, so I research all the elements he talks about. I also try to get a real scientific understanding of any experiments or wild chemical reactions that take place in the show, so that all keeps me on my toes. On top of all the science, Itch experiences the insecurities and awkwardness that so many of us battle through as teenagers, but he makes his way through it with good humour and a unique, steadfast sense of self. I feel like I can play such a massive range of emotions and situations as Itch. I still have fun every time we film a scene!
How do you find the experience on set of the show and what’s it like working with the rest of the cast?
Being on set is an absolute joy. There are so many people who are so skilled doing their jobs around you at all times – it’s pretty awe-inspiring. You can see how crucial every single person who makes up the entire crew and cast are. And, luckily for me, everyone behind the camera on ITCH is an absolutely wonderful person as well!
As for the cast, I count them among some of my closest friendships, for sure. I love all of those guys so much – Harry (Popple), Mel (Wozniak), Charles (Russell), Kylah (Day), Henry (Mendez), Keala (Kern) – I have so much appreciation for all of them. We’ve pretty much all done some interstate visiting to one another at some point by now! And that’s just the cast of the kids on the show. The cast who play the adults are equally as fabulous, and I learn multitudes from them every time we shoot together. Special shoutout to Catherine Moore, who plays my mother but also doubles as our acting coach. It’s one of the great privileges of my career to act against her!
Do you remember how you felt booking your role and how is it having Itch as your first leading character in a series?
I remember it unbelievably vividly! I was apartment-sitting for a friend when I got the call. We had been told at the final cast chemistry test that we wouldn’t be hearing anything for about two weeks, and it had only been a few days, so it took me completely by surprise. I was stuck in this little apartment completely by myself, losing it! I called my girlfriend, my parents, and my sister, if I recall correctly. I remember not sleeping ’til 4am that night, it was like my whole body was vibrating with hype. It’s one of the most exciting moments of my life so far!
The character is very dear to me, and it’s been an amazing experience playing him: made particularly special by the opportunity to play him twice. Itch champions science, and self-acceptance. Itch is unapologetically Itch. He’s unstoppably Itchy. I think I can learn so much about authenticity in my own life from the way Itch conducts himself, and the way he wears his passions on his sleeve. He has incredible heart and courage, and has put his life on the line for the greater good quite a few times now! I can’t envision a better character to be my first series lead.
The series is based on the books by Simon Mayo, how much did you know about the books before auditioning and was there anything that drew you to the show?
I think on the audition form for the show they referenced that it was adapted from Simon’s books, so it was certainly on my radar early on. I did some light research on the books prior to my audition, and then when I got the role I bought the first book and read the whole thing. I remember so precisely the strange feeling that I was actually going to become the television version of the character I was reading about. It was absolutely insane to me. But it’s one of my favourite parts of playing the character, he and I are linked now! What an amazing thing!
In terms of what drew me to the show, I was pretty excited by the age range the show was targeting, coupled with the tone it was going for. Australia has a pretty fantastic history of producing top-notch television for young people, and these shows stay in the cultural consciousness. People my age still talk about shows like Blue Water High or Parallax or Silversun. The thought of being able to be a part of someone’s life like that – for ITCH to be something they’d be nostalgic about one day, was a massive draw for me.
What’s it like seeing the viewers’ response to ITCH and having the show aired worldwide?
It’s really amazing. One of the main things that drew me to the show was that notion that the show could be special to people, so when I get messages or see comments from people who have enjoyed watching it, it’s a wonderful thing. Especially with ITCH being my first widely broadcast acting gig, you get a lot of self doubt about whether people will really like the show, and your part in it. So it’s really pretty special. When people actually are able to recognise me just from having seen the show, it blows my mind.
In regards to how worldwide the show has gone, it’s difficult to wrap my head around. It’s utterly surreal. I saw an actor named Laurent Quentier’s voice reel on Instagram a little while ago: he dubs over me in the French version of the show. It’s difficult to express how bizarre it is to see yourself dubbed in a different language, but it will never stop being cool to me. People in other countries have watched my face! I was especially stoked to see the show go to the BBC. I have a bunch of family in England and I’m also a massive sucker for Britain’s television industry (I’m a long-time fan of Doctor Who, and can list plenty of classic British shows that had a huge impact on me growing up), so having the show airing there was pretty wicked.
Why would you recommend watching the series and who do you think it will appeal to?
I’d recommend the series to just about anyone! It’s punchy, exciting and full of energy. Everyone working on it really believes in it and works hard, and I think it shows in a product that is genuinely fun and is constantly upping the ante. The show gets really dramatic, all while basing its events in science. I think anyone could be able to get swept up in it. If you’re into science, or action, or thrillers, or just some classic Aussie high school TV, then ITCH is perfect for you!
What are some of your favourite memories from working on ITCH so far?
There are so many amazing memories that I know will stick with me for a very long time. Some of my favourites have to be:
The scene we shot where Itch says goodbye to Element 126 in Episode 10 of Series 1. We shot it at the bottom of a 25-ish metre deep hole that connects to underneath Fremantle Prison. It was almost the last scene we shot on Series 1, as well as being the emotional high point of Itch’s journey. That whole day was really special, and wrapped up the series in an amazing way. We had a cast and crew photo that day so everyone was around on set at some point. It was beautiful!
Seeing the first glimpses of footage at the wrap party afterwards was especially cool – a real goosebump-inducing experience.
On Series 2, we all had gained confidence, and one of the directors Nick Verso would occasionally let us improvise. There’s a montage in the first episode of Series 2 as Itch and Lucy both get ready to meet each other. I’m basically just playing around in the mirror for a few minutes, and Nick gave me a rough idea of what he wanted and let me go for it. It was pretty ridiculous and I think I came out with plenty of lines that rightfully will stay on the cutting room floor. I managed to get “Who’s on the periodic table? You’re on the periodic table. Loftium, baby!” into the episode, which is a tiny moment that always makes me smile – it’s my own little mark on the show.
The crew were definitely laughing at me for a while after we got that scene.
In 2019, you appeared as Wes Broaden in the feature film The Light, how was this?
It was a crazy experience! It was our first feature film for pretty much the entire cast and crew. It was also the first on screen acting I had really done at all – I even took some specific classes before I did it because I had no idea what I was doing in front of a camera. But (SPOILER ALERT) the movie is essentially riffing on the slasher genre, and I got to play the slasher – which was awesome. I think a lot of actors love to play the bad guy, and I’m no exception. I got to be an absolute drama queen of a character, and acted against some of my best friends, so it was always fun! It was definitely a much-needed learning experience though, and helped me attack the role of Itch with a little more confidence than I would have had. But you really don’t realise how much time as an actor is spent on set just waiting! I certainly learnt that quickly.
We understand you’ve also worked on stage, is there anything you enjoy most about performing in theatre?
Yes, I absolutely love acting on stage! For me, there are a couple of things in particular I really love about it. The first is playing a character’s whole journey through the piece from start to end. In screen, we shoot completely out of order, and it’s still incredibly satisfying when you have a scene locked down, but you miss out on getting to experience the whole thing in one go. Going on that ride with a character from start to finish and playing how they change in real time is an exhilarating thing.
The second aspect I love is the immediate connection with the audience: they are right there with you in the room. It is an intimate, intimidating thing. But when an audience is enjoying themselves and are lost in the piece with you – when you both completely forget about the world outside the theatre – that is a singular thing. The energy and excitement of it is unbelievable, I struggle to articulate exactly how it feels. For me, it’s one of the best feelings in the entire world.
Can you tell us about your training and some of the shows you performed in whilst there?
Of course! I completed my training sporadically from 2016-2021 while juggling being in shows and just trying to get my life together. The majority of those years were spent at the Hayman Theatre at Curtin University, except when I studied the Diploma of Acting at WAAPA in 2018. Both institutions focused on theatre: at Curtin, I received some technical acting training as well as a lot of knowledge on theatre roles and theatre making as a whole – I wrote and directed two plays at Curtin, and also worked semi-regularly on shows as a lighting designer – but most crucially, I had the opportunity to audition for and act in many, many shows, both student and professionally directed. These had an enormous impact on my growth as an actor, and allowed me to play a pretty outrageously wide range of colourful characters: something I’ll always be grateful for. At WAAPA, I had a lot of theatre performance training, and a bunch of voice and movement training as well. It was a very important year for me in really building up a thorough process and confidence as an actor, and it was at the end of that year that I managed to book Itch!
If we’re talking about specific shows I did, there are so many highlights it’s hard to know where to start. In 2018, I got the opportunity to do a play called Sea Wall at the Hayman. The piece was a 30-ish minute monologue, which was a wild experience, but one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever had the privilege to perform. I got to play Algernon in 2019 in a suitably sharp and wacky production of The Importance of Being Earnest with one of my best friends in the entire world playing opposite me as Jack, and an unbelievably talented cast surrounding us. That’s probably the funniest show I’ve ever been a part of!
At WAAPA, the highlight had to be playing John Proctor for half of an abridged performance of The Crucible. That role is AWESOME. Playing the full thing is absolutely on my bucket list.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you get into it?
Initially, it was something I slowly got into, guided by the example of my older sister who was topping her drama class and was pretty certain that I was going to love it – it seems she might have been onto something. But if we’re talking about a specific moment, then there’s a story I always tell when I talk about what made me want to be a professional actor. In Year 11, my drama class put on a production of Twelfth Night, and I was cast as Duke Orsino, who is the love interest of the protagonist Viola. Orsino isn’t even in the play that much, to be honest, but he has some cracking moments, particularly right at the end of the play, so I still managed to get a few laughs from the audience of our friends, which made me feel pretty great. When we went out to bow, we did it in pairs: so, of course, our teacher had me bow with Magan, the actress playing Viola, who had worked much harder than me, acting in way more scenes. Consequently, the audience, which I believe included plenty of family there supporting her, absolutely exploded when we went out to bow. And although, of course, I knew that really the applause was for Magan, the moment that scream came up from the crowd and I stood there soaking it in, it was like I was struck by lightning. It’s one of the most intense feelings of euphoria I’ve ever felt. I could hear plainly how the production had connected with our friends and family. It was spine-tingling. From that point onwards, there was pretty much no going back!
Do you have any favourite films and TV shows to watch?
Plenty! Recently I rewatch stuff less because I want to try and watch as many different things as I can, but there’s stuff that still sucks me in. Doctor Who is a big comfort rewatch for me, I’ve done The Lord of the Rings plenty of times, particularly The Fellowship of the Ring. I love a crazy world! There’s so much I love though. In terms of television shows, I thought Fleabag was incredible, I’ve been loving The Boys, and I was super into the grungey moodiness of Mindhunter. On the film front, I’m very fond of the exceedingly dark but hilarious In Bruges, the hilarity and insane energy of Hot Fuzz, and I recently finally got around to watching Arrival and boy oh boy did I have a cry at the end. These are just a tiny few of so many amazing projects I’d love to mention!
How do you like to spend your time away from acting?
I love to be active, so a while back I started a social indoor volleyball team with some of my university mates. I LOVE volleyball. Volleyball doesn’t always love me back, but that’s beside the point. When I’m relaxing, I’m always interested in watching a film or an episode of something: because on top of being entertaining, I feel like I always learn a lot from watching. But when I’m not doing that, I’m a pretty avid gamer. I play with some of the ITCH cast fairly frequently! You can occasionally catch myself and Harrison Popple streaming our co-op playthrough of the entire Halo series on Legendary difficulty on Twitch!
I’m still only halfway through Elden Ring. I’ll get there eventually.
Have you been given any advice over your career so far that has stuck with you and what advice would you give a new actor starting out?
I’ve had the privilege to work with a lot of really insightful artists over the years, and I’ve been generously given so many lessons from them that it’s hard to think of particular pieces of advice to recall!
One of the most universal lessons I was taught, that had one of the biggest impacts on me, came from the head of the course I studied at WAAPA at the time – Trudy Dunn. She noticed I was afraid to stand at my full height and use my body to actually take up space when I acted. At the time, I was experiencing some really deep insecurities about things to do with my appearance and other things out of my control that might affect my acting career, and my height was a big part of that. I’m 5’10, which is an awesome height by the way, as all heights are, but I was in my head saying I’d be more castable if I was 6′. Trudy simply challenged me with the information that I was shrinking myself, and that I seemed to be scared to stand up straight, which was robbing me of power on stage. This helped me eventually realise that the way I was judging myself was terrible, and that I needed to focus on working through that. This led to one of my main priorities when acting being physically precise and aware, and always taking up the space I should. I consequently became a much more confident performer, and gained deeper self-acceptance as a person. It sounds simple, but it’s true: you HAVE to be willing to take up space. How your body is doesn’t matter – when you act, you are powerful if you believe you are! Stand tall!
What are you hoping the rest of 2022 brings for your career?
I’m not fussy! One of those things you have to accept as an actor is that you can’t control what sort of auditions or opportunities are going to present themselves. I’m really just hoping to continue honing my technique and improving, and learning as much as I can! That way, when the auditions come around (hopefully plenty), I can give myself the best possible chance of success.
Although, Marvel, if you’re reading this, my DMs are open.
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