Jude Coward Nicoll voices The Boy, one of the lead roles in the hugely-popular animated short film The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, which was adapted from Charlie Mackesy’s best-selling illustrated book of the same name, starring opposite Tom Hollander as The Mole, Idris Elba as The Fox and Gabriel Byrne as The Horse. With Jude recording his role in Edinburgh during the COVID lockdown, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse was released on BBC iPlayer in the UK last year, and the film has won awards including Best Animated Short Film at the Oscars and Best British Short Animation at the BAFTAs, which saw Jude attend the BAFTA Awards ceremony. At the start of his career, Jude voiced Bradley in the TV series Bradley and Bee, and he filmed for the 2021 release of Tom and Jerry: The Movie. It has recently been announced that Jude will make his professional stage debut in The Enfield Haunting in the West End alongside a cast including Catherine Tate and David Threlfall, with rehearsals underway and performances starting in London next month, and he currently trains at Strange Town Youth Theatre. Answering our questions, Jude talks about voicing The Boy in The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, what it was like working on the Charlie Mackesy screen adaptation opposite Tom Hollander, Idris Elba and Gabriel Byrne and his upcoming run in The Enfield Haunting.
How did you find the experience voicing the lead role of The Boy in the animated screen adaptation of The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse and working on a Charlie Mackesy production?
The whole journey on The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse was fantastic right from my casting to the Oscars ceremony in LA! Of course, it had a star-studded cast (apart from me!) so I was a little nervous going into the recording studio in Edinburgh. It was during the COVID lockdown – quite a strange situation. There was just me, my dad and the sound engineer. The creator and writer, Charlie Mackesy (and his dog Barney), director Peter Baynton, producer Cara Speller and a few others were on screen giving me guidance and a lot of encouragement. It was quite an intense, but strangely enjoyable experience. Everyone seemed to like what I was doing and Charlie must be the world’s most enthusiastic person.
What was it like getting into character and how did you prepare for recording?
The Boy is a thoughtful and soulful character and I knew I had to play the role with a bit of calm and sensitivity. Getting into character was just a matter of familiarising myself with Charlie’s wise and wonderful words and finding the right mood. Looking at the beautiful winter landscapes in the book helped to set the tone too.
Do you remember what it was like finding out you’d booked the role of The Boy and how much did you know about Charlie Mackesy’s book before auditioning?
To be honest, I didn’t know too much about the book before I auditioned for the role. I looked it up before recording the audition tape and was amazed to see how it has touched so many people and how popular it had become. It was even Oprah Winfrey’s book of the year. When my agent called me to say I had got the part, I was really excited. There was a lot of screaming and running up and down the stairs – especially when she told me who else was in the voiceover cast. I suddenly realised this was a big project and quite a lot of responsibility.
How did you feel watching the completed animation for the first time and hearing your character come together with Gabriel Byrne, Idris Elba and Tom Hollander’s characters on screen?
I first saw the film at a launch event on the big screen at the BFI in London surrounded by all the talented people who made it happen. What an amazing experience! I was entranced by the film – the beautiful hand-drawn animation and Charlie’s wise words were the real stars, but hearing those other famous voices with mine was a magical and slightly surreal experience. I thought the different voices worked together really well and suited their characters nicely. It is always a bit strange hearing your own recorded voice though.
How was it having The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse win awards including Best Animated Short Film at the Oscars and Best British Short Animation at the BAFTAs, and what were the BAFTAs like to attend?
If watching the completed film was slightly surreal, the BAFTA and Oscar nominations were totally off the scale. I could never have imagined that I would be involved in such an amazing project with so much worldwide recognition. When I found out about the nominations I just shrieked in disbelief!
The BAFTA Awards ceremony was one of the best nights of my whole life. I was there with my mum, and we had a fantastic time. I got to speak to quite a few famous people who were all really kind and didn’t mind me taking selfies with them. Some of them, like Rami Malek, even helped me get the best angle for the photo! I have got a fantastic Instagram story with pictures of Michelle Yeoh, Richard E. Grant, Cate Blanchett, Florence Pugh, Angela Bassett and more.
Who do you think will enjoy The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse and why would you recommend watching it?
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse has real cross-generational appeal. A lot of children will like it for the amazing animation, the lovely score by Isobel Waller-Bridge (sister of Phoebe), the simple story and elements of drama. Looking at the social media reaction to the film, adults also love the look and sound of the film, but they also relate to its warm and comforting messages of hope too. Everyone likes its stirring emotional themes – especially at Christmas time.
You voiced Bradley in the TV series Bradley and Bee, what was this like to do?
That was a lo-ong time ago. It was fun to do. It was the first time I heard my voice in an animation, which was really cool. It gave me confidence to do more voiceover work.
What do you enjoy most about being a voiceover actor?
Voiceover acting is great fun and has lots of big advantages. Firstly, I don’t have to remember my lines, which is a big bonus. Secondly, it is not such a big deal if I don’t get it right first time. There is also an opportunity to record the lines in several different ways so the director can choose the best version.
I enjoy getting inside the characters and trying to communicate their personality and feelings without any gestures, facial expressions or movement. It can be quite a challenge.
How was it working on set of Tom and Jerry: The Movie?
I had a really small part in the Tom and Jerry movie, but the filming experience was brilliant. The production team looked after me and my mum very well and we got to see how a big budget movie is put together. We filmed my scene in Battersea Park in London, which was standing in for Central Park, New York. There were 80 cast and crew involved and a whole load of trailers, cameras, catering facilities etc. That was my first experience of having my own trailer!
Doing a live-action animation film was really different. I had to react to puppets at my feet, which were supposed to represent Tom and Jerry. It seemed weird at first, but I got the hang of it quite quickly.
Can you tell us about your acting training and about some of the theatre shows you’ve performed in with Strange Town?
Most of my training for acting has been quite informal. In the early days it was all about having fun in my after school drama sessions and expressing myself. It’s still all about having fun but, now I am with Strange Town Youth Theatre in Edinburgh, there is a bit more structure to the way in which we learn techniques and develop our skills. I have learned about the important differences between acting for screen and stage, and I am getting into some of the more technical aspects of performance.
Strange Town Youth Theatre has been brilliant. I think I joined it when I was about 12 and we have performed quite a few plays now. My favourite was Love Bites – a really funny play about young love and how awkward it can be. I played a young boy who really fancied a girl but was so embarrassed I could hardly speak to her. I ended up throwing a ball in her face by accident.
How did you get into acting and voiceover and was it something you always wanted to do?
The acting thing has crept up on me by stealth really. I enjoyed performing from a really early age at primary school and always did well in the annual Burns poetry recitals. From there, it was about messing about with my pals at the after school drama club and then more focused weekly drama sessions with Strange Town. When I was asked to join the Strange Town Agency and audition for professional roles I just gave it a go. I got lots of encouragement and support from the Strange Town agency director, Ruth Hollyman, and I just took it from there. She is still the best agent!
Voiceover is something I really enjoy, but I didn’t set out to specialise as a voice artist. I have experienced lots of different acting roles from theatre, to musicals, adverts, film and presenting. They are all great in their different ways and I hope to continue with as many acting jobs as I can. I am definitely thinking about acting as my future career.
What are some of your favourite films and TV shows to watch?
There’s too many great films and TV shows to mention. I love all sorts of stuff. The Truman Show was a movie that really stands out as a really interesting idea. My dad tried to force feed us classic movies for a while. To be fair, some of them were pretty good. We liked Groundhog Day and The Magnificent Seven.
My guilty secret is anime TV. I’m currently watching a series called One Piece. I’m up to episode 10 of 1000 – seriously!
How do you like to spend your free time?
I enjoy most of the things that other teenage boys do with their spare time. I love sport – especially football – and watch and play it whenever I can. Of course, I am also a big fan of films (see above) and get to the cinema with friends quite often. Unfortunately, I don’t share the same taste in movies as my mum and dad, so we don’t go to the cinema together as often as we used to. But we all enjoyed watching Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City together – so funny and original.
Quite a lot of my free time is spent playing video games; often with my friends online. My favourites at the moment are FIFA and NBA.
My other great love is my faithful spaniel Juno. He is a smart and playful doggy, but needs a lot of walking every day!
Do you have any upcoming projects that you can tell us about and what are you hoping the rest of the year brings you?
I have just started rehearsals on an exciting new play in London’s West End. It’s called The Enfield Haunting and stars the amazing Catherine Tate and David Threlfall. It’s going to be a really creepy ghost story, which is based on real events that happened in the 1970s in a normal semi-detached house in north London. I play a member of the family who is affected by a whole load of supernatural happenings! Although I am sharing a role with another young actor, this job will be keeping me very busy for the next few months. I can’t wait to be performing it live on stage.
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