At 16 I hadn’t even stumbled across acting. Drama was not something I did at school, I was just so focused on sport. I wanted to work in sports rehabilitation. I would have loved to be a professional footballer but there were kids who were just so much better than me at school. But I still wanted that kind of adulation of running on to the pitch. So sport was very much my focus. But then I kind of stumbled across theatre studies – my teacher said to me, we need boys for drama. I’ve got 12 girls and one boy. And as a 16-year-old with other interests, girls being one of the main ones, I quite enjoyed the maths of that. So I probably didn’t join theatre studies for the right reasons. But I absolutely fell in love with it – I don’t think I’d really ever felt like that, outside of sport. It seemed to just really appeal to something inside of me.
I can say this now ’cause I won’t get arrested… at 16 I spent a lot of time in pubs. I felt like I was a bit older than a 16-year-old. I was always taller than everybody and I hung out with people who were older than me and I had jobs outside of school, at Tesco and in various restaurants. And I went to the pub all the time. We would drink and we would smoke and that was the Nineties for me. I had zero responsibility outside of my education. I had nothing continually playing on my mind like I do as an adult now. I was confident, outgoing, very social. I was a social butterfly, I loved being around people. My dad always said to me he thought my love for acting and my love for people probably started the moment I was born. My twin sister and I were born in Cardiff at the University of Wales hospital, and word got out that these enormous twins were being born – we were basically the heaviest newborn twins on record in South Wales at that time. So there were about 25 medical students surrounding my mum’s nether regions when I popped out. I came out to an audience. And that’s where it all started.
If I could go back and talk to the 16-year-old me now I’d say look at what you can achieve if you really believe in yourself. Just cut all the shit out. Because there were a few times in my teenage years when my social life felt more important to me than anything else. I actually missed a few classes in my first year of drama school, which is a big no-no. I was out drinking and I couldn’t get up in the morning. I was like, I’ve suddenly got money in my bank from a student loan – I’m gonna spend it all on beer. I got a stern talking to at the end of my first year; they said look, you need to work out what you want to do, because we believe you’ve got talent but you need to apply yourself. Part of me thinks that if I’d worked harder in the early part of my career, I might have achieved what I’ve achieved now earlier. Because I’ve certainly had moments in my career where I’ve had to check in with myself and say, you can do better. And that means staying up all night and learning those lines and being much more prepared than other people going into the process. My self-discipline has changed a lot in 20 years. I now feel like I reap the benefits of being a really hard worker.
There are parts of my character I’d work on harderif I could go back in time. I’m good with people – part of that is down to growing up in the church and being the son of the pastor and having to say hello to everybody. But I think sometimes my wanting to be diplomatic and not ruffle feathers gets in the way of standing up for something that I believe in, having the strength to do that. Because I’m scared about someone else’s reaction. That’s something I’m working on a lot at the moment. Though I’ve often thought it’s good to bring people together, I now think with real, personal things it’s much more important that people know the truth. How you genuinely feel. It took me a long time as an adult to check into how I genuinely feel, because I was so used to saying, I’m fine, and I just want anyone else to be fine. My biggest fear growing up was people not liking me. But I’ve realised now that it’s inevitable that some people are just not going to like you. And I have to expect that and be strong about that, and own my own truth and my own mistakes and try to learn from them.
I don’t like bullies, I’ve always stood up when I’ve seen other people being bullied. But actually I’ve allowed myself to be bullied sometimes, in my personal and professional life. Coming to work in America, it’s been really strange. It’s been a really amazing hunting ground on the work front. I’ve got on really well here. But one of the things I’ve had to get to grips with is self-promotion, because people do that unashamedly over here. You have to walk into a room and talk positively about yourself. The UK, I feel, is culturally different. If someone goes into a room and bigs themselves up, they’re seen as arrogant. I don’t know necessarily if it’s about arrogance. It’s about backing yourself. That’s OK in America. In the UK it’s like you need other people to affirm you.