With the release of Northern Soul this Friday 17 October I am really proud to think how far we have come. When I look back to that first meeting with Elaine Constantine (the director) it was only my second job - I had just got an agent - and I was literally weeks into my career when I met her. I remember Elaine saying to me 'You look like John Clarke' and thinking ' what is she talking about?' Then she continued to explain that she had been writing a film, for the last 10 years about a coming of age story in which John Clarke was the lead. The film was called Northern Soul and focused on Elaine's own personal experiences growing up in the North of England with a dance movement based on American soul music brought over from Detroit to the UK in the 70s.
Obviously the actor she was looking for needed to be a great dancer - I had may have rather over exaggerated my gymnastic abilities for this job I was doing - and I think Elaine was under the impression that I had more experience than I had... At the end of the shoot Elaine told me she was going to send me the script. At the time I wasn't sure whether anything would come of it and a whole year went by before the script appeared.
The email with the script attached from Elaine arrived. She told me to print the scrip out, read it as quickly as I could and meet her at her house afterwards. I this she may have thought it would take an hour - but the script was just under a 100 pages, and being dyslexic this proved to be somewhat of a challenge... three hours later I emerged from a cafe in Islington having got several texts from Elaine asking if I had finished it yet.
However I loved the script and it felt almost too good to be true to be reading the part of John Clarke - I knew immediately this was something I had be involved with.
Over a period of several years I worked with Elaine on and off in between other projects - getting the accent right, growing my hair and most importantly learning to dance. Being from the South I hadn't had much exposure to the whole Northern Soul world so at the start of the project the music didn't really resonate with me. But then having learned the dance moves - and putting those to the music - it suddenly brought a whole new meaning to Northern Soul and I started to understand why people had such immense passion for it all.
Being a small British film it wasn't the easiest project to get off the ground - Elaine has even admitted to having to really fight my case and prove that I was good enough to take the lead over a big name. Thankfully for me she decided to cast the supporting roles with the likes of Steve Coogan, Ricky Tomlinson, Christian McKay and Lisa Stansfield which gave the film a bit more credibility whilst they were looking for funding.
I can honestly say this was one of the most physically and mentally demanding roles I have ever played - I went from eleven stone to just under nine which was required of the character who was dancing all night every weekend and dabbling in recreational drugs; I had to grow my hair into a 70s mullet and the dance training was gruelling- I broke both my wrist and my hand in rehearsals. The experience although hard work has been the most rewarding role I have done to date.
I will never forget the day I met Keb Darge, who primarily taught me among others Fran Franklin and Paul Sadot to dance. He simply said "Right stand in the middle of the room, and show me what you've got". There I was thinking oh god what have I got my self into, I began an awkward sort of dance. He swiftly told me I was dreadful (in some more choice words). "Not to worry have a cuppa tea we will get there in the end". That was the beginning of a great journey that I am very thankful I was a part of.