With the release of the new BBC series Phoenix Rise in March, Alex Draper plays Billy Hopkins, which marks his first lead regular character on TV, and he is set to reprise his role in the upcoming Series 2, due for release later this year. Phoenix Rise features a number of important themes and storylines, such as Billy looking after his 11-year-old sister Rihanna (played by Orla McDonagh) after their father leaves them home alone. Alex attended the show’s red carpet premiere earlier this year alongside the rest of the cast, and it has been announced that Phoenix Rise has been recommissioned for a third and fourth series. Also in March, Alex could be seen playing Kieran Archer in an episode of Doctors, and he has previously worked on short films, commercials, and music videos for David Lindmer and Sam Fender, and he has trained at the Television Workshop Nottingham. Recently, Alex spoke to us about playing lead character Billy Hopkins in BBC’s Phoenix Rise, attending the red carpet premiere and the experience on set.
In the new BBC series Phoenix Rise, you play lead regular character Billy Hopkins, what is he like to play?
Enjoyable, as he’s similar to what I was like when I was 15 – he’s quite rebellious, but he’s got a lot on his shoulders.
Can you tell us about the show and your character, and how has it been seeing the fan response to the release?
Phoenix Rise is powerful but fun. Billy has to balance being a kid with his adult responsibilities, which is an interesting dynamic to play.
In terms of the fan response – it’s always nice to receive love.
What is it like telling Billy’s story and how important do you think it is for the Phoenix Rise themes to be shown on screen?
It’s great playing him because it’s interesting to revisit certain emotions that I may have felt personally but be able to show them on screen as Billy.
It’s very important to show these themes on screen because the themes are going to relate to a lot of different people watching and there’s going to be someone in the TV show that people will be able to relate to in some way or another.
How did you feel finding out you’d booked the role of Billy and what do you remember from your first day on set of the project?
Felt amazing! Ecstatic. It felt like my big break and that finally my hard work had paid off. As soon as I got the call, my entire mindset changed as it just filled me with loads of hope.
We’d already been having rehearsals for three or four weeks before the first day of filming so everyone was comfortable around each other already. The “crew show” (where the whole crew watches the scene before it’s recorded, which happens before every scene) was an intense experience as I didn’t know that’s what happened. I’ve got a bit more used to that now!
What is it like working alongside the rest of the cast and have you had a favourite scene to film?
I felt blessed. It’s a very talented bunch and I’m constantly either laughing or in a deep conversation – which is how I want to spend every day! Yeah, it’s great. I can’t tell you right now what my favourite scene was to film, because I can’t give out any spoilers! But let’s just say it’s an emotional one. You’ll just have to watch the next series…
You attended the Phoenix Rise premiere, how did you find the experience?
It was very humbling because it’s all very grand and people tried to make me feel as famous as possible! It was hard to keep my feet on the ground but it was a great experience.
How was it hearing the show had been recommissioned for a third and fourth series and what are you looking forward to for the release of Series 2 later this year?
It was great to know I can get filming again. The second series is a lot more emotional and I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out.
Is there anything you enjoy most about being part of Phoenix Rise and what are some of your stand-out highlights from playing Billy so far?
Feeling like part of the whole cast and crew because, as you’re working with these people so much, it becomes like being sort of a family.
Playing the Billy and Darcy rivalry scenes were stand-out as they were fun to play.
You played guest character Kieran Archer in Doctors in March, can you tell us about your episode and what was it like to work on?
It was good – only one day’s filming so it was very fast-paced but I met some great people and, again, I was playing a rebellious student!
What are short films like to be involved with and can you tell us about some of the ones you’ve filmed?
Short films are fantastic to be involved with, especially grassroots projects, because you learn your craft and they’re always exciting little projects. One that sticks out is Shagbands because of the people involved. The director was fantastic and down to earth, as were the rest of the cast and crew – I still keep in touch with some of them.
How was it filming music videos for David Lindmer (Omen) and Sam Fender (The Borders)?
Omen was done on a very small budget which meant that the majority of the people working on it were in it for the love of it. The Borders video was also great to film as acting always takes you out of the norm and gets you doing some crazy stuff, which The Borders certainly did.
You’ve worked on a number of commercials including for Co-op and Lloyds, what do you enjoy about commercials?
I definitely enjoy the financial aspect of them!
I had an interesting time when we filmed one during the very first lockdown. As production sent all of the equipment to our house to film it, so I had to be a camera operator as well as an actor. Plus, that was one of the times I’ve worked with my mum – as she’s a professional actor too.
Where does your love of acting come from and how was your time training at the Television Workshop Nottingham?
I’ve been around acting since I was very small as my mum does the same thing. I’d say my love for it first sparked when I started going to Friday sessions at the TV Workshop Nottingham, which I feel shaped a lot of other aspects of my life as well, including my confidence and ability to improvise. Another aspect of the TV Workshop that I’m grateful for is having the chance to meet so many incredible people who helped me grow as an actor and as a person. My time there was invaluable.
Do you have any favourite films and TV shows to watch and how do you like to spend your time away from your career?
Favourite films are Scarface, Training Day, Forrest Gump, The Wolf of Wall Street and many, many more. I’m really into my films!
Some of the TV shows I like include Breaking Bad, Black Mirror, The Simpsons and Peaky Blinders – which is crazy because Orla (McDonagh), who plays Tommy Shelby’s daughter, also plays my little sister in Phoenix Rise (on the chemistry test audition I was semi starstruck!).
Away from my career, I like to stay as busy as possible, I’m always doing something or other…
What are you hoping 2023 brings for you?
Love, prosperity and good times!
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