1883 Magazine
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It’s been a busy weekend for Greg Austin, who not only got married to his childhood sweetheart but also had the premier of the Doctor Who spin-off, Class, on the same day. No stranger to the television world, viewers may recognise Greg from ITV’s Mr. Selfridge: a role he was cast in before finishing his musical theatre degree at Arts Educational in 2013.

1883 got to sit down with Greg following his whirlwind weekend to talk about his latest project, Class the Spin-off which has begun airing on BBC Three. Set in Coal Hill Academy, a school that has featured on Doctor Who since its inception in 1963, the eight-part series will follow four students thrown together to deal with the creatures that crawl out of tears in time and space.

Congratulations on your wedding and your new TV show, Class, all happening on the same day! What were you most nervous about?

Well the wife wouldn’t let me go on my phone all day, so the marriage obviously! [laughs] The day after I had a thousand messages on my phone to go through and all my emails and Facebook messages, Twitter and everything but the fan response has been amazing and so lovely.

So what got you into acting?

I kind of fell into acting. I started off as a dancer, funnily enough.

Nice, any particular style? Contemporary, Ballet, Jazz?

Well, a bit of Modern, Ballet, Tap, a bit of Street…umm I saw you standing in a nice fifth earlier outside were you a dancer?

Yeah I was, I’m always standing weirdly because of it!

I’ve noticed that I do it on camera as well, I naturally have quite a turned out legs so I often see myself standing in a small second. So I’m like ‘close, turn in a little bit’ [laughs].

So I started off as a dancer and then I kind of just fell into musical theatre. Actually my wife got me into musical theatre, then I studied it at ArtsEd in London. Then my first job was in Mr. Selfridge and I hadn’t even finished third year.

That’s kind of a throw yourself in at the deep end moment.

Yeah, it’s kind of something I wanted to do. I was never one of these jazz hand type performers, I was always very naturalistic as a performer. So I was always felt that I’d be suitable for television, more sort of straight acting. It just kind of happened, I always wanted it to but I never really thought anything would kind of happen. I’m very grateful to be doing it.

What were your initial thoughts on Class when you got the script?

When I first got the script, we weren’t allowed to know anything. We weren’t allowed to know it was part of Doctor Who, so I just thought that my character was just a little bit socially awkward. A bit like me when I was that age, in sixth form, not quite understanding social cues and all that. So I saw a lot of myself in him, and then I eventually found out oh he’s actually an alien. That makes sense, that how I feel normally [laughs] in social situations feel a bit like an alien. So I could draw on that a lot, I really liked the script. I mean I’m such a geek anyway that sci-fi was always something I want to do.

How would you sum up your character Charlie in one sentence?

Charlie is…He’s a weird one with a lot on his shoulder.

You mentioned you can relate to Charlie a lot in social situation what other ways do you think you relate to him?

I think he’s observing a lot, I always thought of myself as an observer.

A people stalker or people watcher, which on would you describe yourself as?

[Laughing] A bit of both! People stalker, I like that! There’s something a little bit more intense about that, I kind of like that.

Yeah he definitely has to do a lot of observation because he’s still trying to learn a lot and I definitely need to as a teenager I never quite really got to grips with other people until I was late into my teens. So I take a lot from that when I’m trying to play Charlie and I try a put a little bit of my geekiness into him as well. He wasn’t necessarily geeky in the script but I was like oh chuck a few little things in there.

I think it noticeable adds a finer detail, dimension to his character.

Yeah I think so. Each of the characters in Class has their own stereotype. Fady who plays Ram is the Jock. Vivian who plays Tanya is the geek and I’m like the socially awkward one who doesn’t quite fit in. I think what’s nice about them that they do have their own layers to them. You see them first as stereotypes that very clearly defined and then everyone kind of says ‘oh no I’m not that person’. They also do a lot more to them which is really nice like I think that’s what’s part of what makes playing Charlie fun.

The show revolves around the four of you, how did you guys bond over the project to give a dynamic that plays so well on-screen? Is that the same off-screen, or do you just hate each other!?

Funnily enough, I hate them. [Laughs] No I’m only joking! I love them to pieces. It was weird really, were each so unique, so different to one another: I’m like a posh, English boy from down South; Fady is like the London lad; Sophie is the Northern lass; and Vivian is just sass on legs, she’s great. We’re all so different but we just clicked as soon as we went into our rehearsals. We all just started having a great time and laughing and that just continued throughout the shoot. Even with Jordan who plays my boyfriend I just get on so well with him which is so nice. Boyfriend on the show obviously! I keep introducing him as my boyfriend as well, my wife gets really annoyed with that! [laughs] we all get on super well it’s just so lovely to have a job where you get on so well your other actors, it makes a job a lot easier and a lot more fun.

How does it feel going back to school for you and how does it compare to your time at school?

Obviously it’s not as dramatic as Class. You’re not flying off around the world fighting off aliens but it’s trying to find that headspace of being 17, 18. You feel invincible but you also feel incredibly vulnerable at the same time. As a teenager, whenever you’re feeling something that’s all you feel it’s the extreme of that emotion. So when you feel invincible, you feel invincible. When you feel upset you feel like the worlds going to end. OS it’s finding some of that and putting into the character.

Is there any pressure to stand up to the other spins: Torchwood; the Sarah Jane Adventures; and the main show?

There definitely was pressure and there was a lot of doubt around the show, from what I had seen from fans. They weren’t sure what it would be like or if it would be more like Torchwood or Sarah Jane Adventures because the shows have done so well and are so successful in their own right. The fans are so dedicated, it’s like giving a bit of their heart away and if we mess this up I could see a lot of people being quite upset. I think that added pressure gave us a kick up the backside!

Where do you think Class sits in regards to Sarah Jane and Torchwood?

I think the tone takes from both. I don’t think it’s as adult as Torchwood, it’s not trying to be as edgy or explicit I suppose. I think that’s quite nice that it’s not taking itself too seriously, I don’t think its necessarily between the two I think it forms a triangle. It’s off to the side somewhere it doesn’t quite form a continuum it’s just a little bit off to the side, is how I would describe it.

You cover a lot of issue that 16-18 year olds and older would related to or deal with. Gritty issues like gore, bereavement, sex, sexuality those kind of things. How was it to include them in the show?

I think it’s trying to be accurate to that time in your life. Sex is obviously a part of being a teenager, I know it was all that was on my mind at that age! [laughs] So coming to terms with more adult themes like gore, I couldn’t watch horror movies until I was about 18! It was actually my wife who got me into them [laughs]. Hopefully that level gore isn’t going to happen to someone but being able to deal with it on the show and the perverse nature of certain things is quite fun and introducing that to doctor who is quite cool.

What are you most excited for us to see from this series?

My favourite episodes are six and eight. The season finale is super cool, it’s pretty epic and that’s all I’ll say about that! So six is very unique it’s err…again I won’t say why it’s unique but it was a very unique acting challenge and it’s not something I expect to do ever again.

How very cryptic! How was working with Patrick Ness?

Patrick has been such a nurturing presence on show. He texts us all every week: gives us updates on how we’re doing; his thoughts; little teasers on what’s about to come up. So he’s been a fatherly figure to us all, I couldn’t ask for someone better to work with. He’s so talented and he knows his craft so well and from making the leap over from novels to television you’d think it would be quite a big one but he’s really hit the ground running. Hopefully I get to work with him in the future.

Okay I can ask you this without spoiling it for anyone now that the first episode has aired, but how was working with Peter Capaldi?

It was really cool; I didn’t know quite what to expect everyone said he’s lovely. So when he came on to set he didn’t make much of a fuss, he just turned up. ‘oh it’s Peter! It’s Peter Capaldi’. I see him as like a genius madman: he turns up takes the script, twists it and what comes out is just beautiful to watch. He plays around with the text in way I don’t often see and every take is different but not so much that it ruins the continuity. I don’t know how he does it and the continuity people still love him, even though he finds a beat to change things. It’s just really inspiring to watch.

So you’ve confessed you’re a massive geek, were you a Doctor Who fan growing up?

Yeah now that’s the thing, I’d expect I should be but I just never really had any friends or family that watched it so I never really had an in to Doctor Who. I wasn’t a necessarily a Doctor Who fan before but since getting the job and having to do research into the show and the ‘Who-niverse’ I’ve started making my way through Doctor Who and I’m really enjoying it! I’d defiantly call myself a fan!

Who is your favourite Doctor/Companion pairing, combination?

My favourite duo would probably be Christopher Ecclestone and Billie Piper. I think they just set it up so well, bringing it from classics into the 21st Century I think they just hit the nail on the head and set up the franchise again.

How important is it that Class champions diversity with it characters?

I think for diversity and sexuality in television it is always great to have, as long as its truthful to the situation, the show is set in Shoreditch in 2016 it’s going to be diverse so yeah it’s integral. As long as it makes sense within the story and within the truth of what we’re trying to tell then absolutely it’s 100% necessary and for this show absolutely it needs to be there. It’s great to have that diversity on-screen. It gives people something to see themselves in, from every walk of life.

I think it refreshing that the show deals with it in such a nonchalant way that it there and it doesn’t matter.

That’s the thing it doesn’t matter, it is that’s how the gravity of the world is. What’s that quote, Patrick says it a lot, it’s a variation of ‘be the change you want to see’. It’s kind of if you want to see change in the world, act like it’s already happened and that’s what he’s trying to do with this show. That’s what being shown with my character being gay. The fact that no-one makes a big deal of it in the show is part of my character, great I’m gay but there’s all this other stuff going on that’s more important than that, it’s just there my character isn’t defined by his sexuality its part of it’s not really making a big deal out of it.

How is Class compared to Mr. Selfridge?

It’s definitely more me, in the sense that I’m a big geek I love sci-fi. So this is very me, not to say that Mr. Selfridge wasn’t fantastic because it was it was such an amazing show to work on. Doing CGI is interesting, green screen isn’t something I’ve done before. In episode two that big dragon is there, it looks incredible far beyond anything I could have imagined [laughs] when we were acting to it was either a guy in a green morphe-suit waving his arms. [Laughs] It was like three o’clock in the morning and we were having to react to this guy doing this! Or it was like a little tennis ball on a stick. So it’s unique acting challenge to do green screen, CGI stuff, it took a bit of getting used to! I think I’ve gotten bit better at it by the end of the series, it’s really good fun it’s just a lot more action a lot more intense.

What do you enjoy more: your gaming channel on YouTube or acting?

[Big sigh] Oh deary me. [Laughs]

Is this like Sophie’s choice for you?

Yeah [laughs] a little bit! Umm I’ve got to say I enjoy acting more? Because my gaming channel is a hobby but the one part I don’t enjoy doing as much is the editing. My form of editing that I’ve just got into a routine with is just, it’s quite intensive and I have to put a lot of effort in. I mean don’t get me wrong I love doing my gaming channel. I started it off because I wanted to share my love of gaming but I think acting is just it’s infinite there’s no end to it. I love them both! That’s difficult question!

Okay I’ll finish with some simple ones. What album are you listening to at the moment?

See now I’m not a big music listener…Ohh no I’m listening to, oh what’s it called, Chicane, The Sum of Its Parts.

Tea or Coffee?

If you’d ask me this six months ago I would have said tea. Now it’s coffee. I’ve just started liking coffee.

Brunch or roast?

Oh, brunch

Which game are you most looking forward to in the coming year?

The Last Guardian on PS4.

Finally, where or when would you go in the Tardis if you were just left in charge of it?

[Slightly evil laughter] I’d go probably a thousand years in the future, just to see how far we’ve advanced and see what humanity is like now, I think that would be really cool.

 

Catch Greg in ’Class’ on BBC 3 here or via the BBC iplayer.

Words by Robyn Stanton-Humphreys
@robynhumphreys

Photography Joupin Ghamsari
www.joupinghamsari.com

Grooming Chantelle Phillips
www.chantellemakeupartist.com

Production Assistant Tamara Borodaneva
@tamaraborodaneva

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