In March, BBC premiered their new drama series Phoenix Rise on BBC iPlayer and BBC Three, in which Jayden Hanley can be seen playing Darcy, one of the lead characters, across all episodes. Darcy is one of six students returning to mainstream education after being in a Pupil Referral Unit, and the character marks Jayden’s first regular role on screen, which saw him film in the West Midlands (where Phoenix Rise is set) and attend the show’s premiere earlier this year. Previously, Jayden has worked on the 2021 feature film The Tale of the Fatherless as Reece, had his first filming experience with The Girl with All the Gifts, and he is currently studying acting at BOA. We caught up with Jayden about filming for BBC’s Phoenix Rise, having his character Darcy as his first regular role on screen and working on feature film The Tale of the Fatherless.
Can you tell us about the new BBC series Phoenix Rise and was there anything that drew you to the show?
Phoenix Rise is a show about the underdog, a show about second chances. It’s about six students taking their first steps back into mainstream education after being in a Pupil Referral Unit. The thing that instantly drew me to Phoenix Rise was the fact that it was being filmed and set in the West Midlands. Being a Brummie boy, not many opportunities present themselves to the Midlands. So, with Phoenix, I saw an opportunity to inspire, represent Birmingham and break the barrier of Midlands rep and opportunities.
How would you describe your character Darcy and what is he like to play?
Well, in one word, Darcy is an idiot. He’s a big old adrenaline junkie. He does a lot of stupid things but I feel it’s all a big desperate cry for help and attention. I don’t think he has ever really had any real friends. Darcy is very privileged and has never had anything to fight for or any responsibilities, much unlike Billy. Through his rivalry with Billy, he realises that not everyone has it as easy as he does, and this new understanding results in a lovely bromance with Billy. I loved playing Darcy and going on this journey with him as he goes from being an adrenaline junkie with no care for anyone, to a loyal friend to the boiler room six and someone that is willing to risk it all for his friends and it was really lovely to see.
Do you remember how you felt finding out you’d booked the role and how is it having Darcy as your first lead regular character?
I was in pure disbelief. The whole auditioning process was so long and finally I made it to the final three people going for the role, and at that point you never really know which way it’s going to go. I got a phone call from the executive producer Ali, who is literally the coolest person EVER, to tell me that I got the role and I remember going downstairs and pretending to my mom that I didn’t get it. And then she found out and we were both so, so happy. I love having Darcy as my first lead character as I think he’s a really cool character to play. He’s not perfect but when he gets his kind of ‘redemption arc’ it makes it all the more rewarding. I love having the opportunity to get to do what I love and want to do professionally and I loved that I got to put myself out there for everyone to see.
How do you find the experience on set of Phoenix Rise and working with the rest of the cast?
I loved the experience on set. Everybody was so welcoming and made us all feel so at home, which made the settling in so much easier. And the cast are PHENOMENAL. They are the best people ever. At this point, I would call everyone my family. We’re all so close and a proper unit. I feel genuinely a part of the boiler room six because we’re so close and I definitely feel that as the series progresses, our on-screen chemistry becomes so much better and it is really obvious. So, being this close obviously meant we could portray the stories more accurately.
You recently attended the show’s premiere, what was this like?
It was amazing. I loved every second of it. It was also so weird though, seeing that many people coming down to see the beautiful show that all of us cast and crew spent so much time and worked so hard to create and it was incredible. And I think that was the first time that every single member of the cast had been together since filming so it was really nice to see and catch up with everyone. But yeah, the whole night was incredible and I wish I could do it all over again.
How has it been seeing the fan response to the series so far?
It’s been so lovely to see. All the messages from people I know that have watched it and people that don’t know me and have just watched the show, it has been so heartwarming. We all put our all into it so to see it paying off and to see people really enjoying and loving our work, it’s just so surreal and amazing.
Why would you recommend watching Phoenix Rise and who do you think it will appeal to?
I would recommend watching Phoenix Rise because it is not afraid to show the issues that school children face and the reality and severity of said issues. Also, every single person, every supporting artist and all of the cast are insane in it so definitely give it a watch. To be totally honest, I genuinely think it appeals to pretty much everyone. I think everybody, no matter the age, can resonate and relate to something in the show. Whether that be that one of the characters is like yourself or your experience with teachers is the same as the experiences with teachers in the show. I know I relate and resonate with the boiler room six a lot as I found myself in sticky situations and trouble all the time in school. And my head of year was, to me, what Mr. Stewart is to the boiler room six. I just feel that it’s a very real show.
Do you have any favourite highlights from filming as Darcy in Series 1 of Phoenix Rise?
I think definitely the roof stunt in Episode 3. That was so cool and fun to film. We filmed part of it on a cherry picker up in the sky, and then the other part of it I was on a platform about six feet in the air in front of a green screen, which no one knows. The amount of times people have asked me how I filmed the roof stunt, or if it was actually me up on that roof or my stunt double. Nope, green screen and a cherry picker is all you need.
In 2021, you played Reece in the feature film The Tale of the Fatherless, can you tell us about this?
So, The Tale of the Fatherless was an independent film that looked at the issue of fatherlessness in the black community. It was a really fun experience and, because it was an independent feature film, it meant that it was completely different from my experience on Phoenix and other things. I think the theme of this film is a very strong topic and a very hot topic. I have my father in my life which I’m very grateful for, so to go into a film to play a character who has lost his dad was quite hard but very interesting to get my head around as a 14 year old. But I am very grateful for my time on set.
How was your time on set of The Girl with All the Gifts as your first filming experience?
It was CRAZY. This was my first time on set, first time doing professional acting, first auditioning process, first everything. It was all so surreal. It was a dystopian zombie apocalypse type film so when I walked onto the set and I saw “dead” zombie bodies, it was all so cool. Seeing all of this as a nine year old, already knowing that acting was what I wanted to do, it just further made up my mind. I was like, ‘yeah, this is a bit of me’.
Have you been given any advice over your acting career so far that has stuck with you and can you tell us about your acting training?
I don’t know about advice, I think more just things I have learnt as I’ve done more and more auditions. I think the biggest thing I’ve learnt is to literally throw yourself at any opportunity that you see. My friend sent me the open casting call for Phoenix, and I just looked at it and thought nah, I can’t be bothered. And then one night after the football, I was sat there bored and I just thought, let me send something in, what’s the worst that could happen. And over a year later here, I am with the role that myself and thousands of other people auditioned for.
I started off at an acting academy called the Pauline Quirke Academy and I was there from eight/nine until I was about 13. Whilst we did study screen acting, all of the shows we did were musical theatre. Which I LOVE, but it’s not what I wanted to do for my career. And then I went to BOA, which is a creative and performing arts school in Birmingham, and I study acting there.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you start in the industry?
My love of acting comes from my love of superheroes. As a kid, and most definitely still now, I loved superheroes. I watched the X-MEN, Spider-Man and Batman films, all of the superhero films on repeat non-stop. I had all of the costumes and those costumes were my daily attire. Some people wear suits or tracksuits, I wore superhero costumes. I grew up on the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies (I’d like to clarify that Andrew Garfield is the best and my personal favourite Spider-Man) and I always remember watching and thinking I wish that was me behind that mask swinging through the city. I got asked by someone at the premiere where I see myself in a few years, and I said I anticipate that I’ll be playing Spider-Man, and everyone laughed. I think everyone thought that I was joking but I was dead serious. I think that if I could book the role of Spider-Man or Batman then I could retire a happy cub.
What are some of your favourite films and TV shows to watch?
I’m huge nerd and I love collecting comic books, figures and LEGO. So, any DC or Marvel film. The original Star Wars films and the prequels, I love Harry Potter so all of them films (The Order of the Phoenix is my favourite book and film). I love Peaky Blinders and Marvel’s The Punisher and Daredevil. The Office (US version), Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Family Guy are all my comfort TV shows. I also always used to watch White Chicks as a kid (I probably shouldn’t have), but I loved that film. I had it on record and watched it non-stop.
Do you have any projects coming up that you can tell us about and what are you hoping 2023 brings for your career?
No projects at the minute but I’m back auditioning and putting myself out there. I just hope that 2023 presents more opportunities for me. I’ve worked really hard and I think that Phoenix was my first real opportunity to showcase myself and to put myself out there and I’m very, very grateful for that opportunity. I took the Phoenix opportunity and ran with it and I’m striving to work harder and continue bettering myself and I hope that 2023 presents opportunities as a result of hard work and dedication. PHOENIX RISE BABY!!!!!
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