He’s only 21 – but he’s been a professional actor for more than half his life. Jack McMullen talks to Chris Titley about life on Brookside, Grange Hill, Waterloo Road – and his role in a play which gets its premiere in York this week, The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner
You joined the cast of Brookside aged ten, playing Josh Dixon. Did you always want to act?
I was always obsessed with films. I loved Beauty and the Beast. It was Oliver Twist that got me acting – I watched Oliver Twist and thought I was the Artful Dodger when I was about five. My grandad made me a hat, so I was running round with a top hat on.
So what was it like joining a top soap?
I got a meeting for Brookside when I was ten. I was a bit young, but coincidentally I just started watching it a few weeks before my audition so I knew what it was about. It was the groundbreaking soap and it shaped what you see soap as today. I fell in love with it as soon as I got the job.
It was a unique atmosphere. Anybody who ever did a job on it always says they loved it. To be part of a special atmosphere like that at the start of your career – I feel blessed.
You won two soap awards – including Best Newcomer, beating Shane Ritchie!
Do you know, I play football with his sons now. So I’m always taking the mickey out of them for it! I didn’t expect to win. I thought it was nice of them to include me so I can have a weekend away. Then I won, and I was like, what do I say? My mum had said to me on the train on the way, “Just in case anything weird happens this is what you should say”.
Did the win help?
I don’t know if it’s changed much now but the GCSE drama course when I was in school was a joke – it was patronising, it had no depth to it, it didn’t really teach you much at all. It was just a bit gimmicky. So [the awards] kind of reassured people that, OK, he’s doing something serious here, not just messing about.
And from Brookside, straight into Grange Hill as Tigger Johnson…
Grange Hill was shot in the same place. With there not being very many young people on Brookside I used to go and chill with the Grange Hill kids. So when the producer learned of Brookside finishing and I was going to be out of work, they got me into Grange Hill.
I did Grange Hill for four series, which was amazing, a great experience again. But completely different because I was working with young people, and I was now one of the leads and had to hold my own. It was lucky I just fell into that.
A few years later you were in another TV school, but prime time as Finn Sharkey in Waterloo Road.
I had a great time on Waterloo Road. Waterloo Road was like a coming of age thing for me. All of a sudden I’d moved away to a different city, I was living with guys that were older than me, I was learning about cooking and working and managing money – things that my mum had sorted for me when I was younger.
I had a storyline when my girlfriend got cancer – it killed her in the end. I remember thinking it was quite controversial at the time, but it was very gently handled. They did it well.
And now you play Jase in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner at York Theatre Royal, adapted from Alan Sillitoe‘s book by Roy Williams. How does he interact with the lead character and runner Colin?
Jase is Colin’s best friend. They’ve been friends since they were younger, he’s the public’s view on a modern-day teenager. He doesn’t do anything, he’s lazy – but he’s funny, he offers a bit of comic relief to the play. He’s a fun part to play and he goes on a bit of a journey.
He ends up going to the young offenders’ institute. You see a change in him from when he’s not in prison to when he is in prison, and how it affects Colin differently when he’s outside to when they’re in jail together.
Jase often provides the comic relief in the play. Does comedy come naturally?
It’s in the writing and the directing. It’s hard to get it wrong. I’ve been blessed to have a script that’s so great, and a director I can trust who I’ve worked with before. I’m completely enjoying unlearning a lot of stuff I already knew and learning the new techniques that I need for the play.
Was it difficult to adjust to acting on the stage?
Yeah it is. For example, if I do a take and we want to go again I’ll do something new the next time, I’ll keep trying to find something new every time we do it. This is the opposite. We’re trying to find the perfect way to do it and now I have to learn to do it that way every time. It’s less instinct and more get it right, and get it right every time.
Who will the play appeal to?
It will appeal to young people more than they would think. It is about young people nowadays and some of the things that we face. There’s music in it, it’s dynamic, it’s fun. People look at it from the outside and say it’s a 1960s story, that will put younger people off. It’s not, it’s for younger people and it’s cool. It’s a cool play.
You worked with the play’s director Marcus Romer on The Knife That Killed Me, a movie out next year. How was that?
We shot the whole film in one green room. The whole story takes place in my character’s memory. He’s telling the story, much like the Long Distance Runner is – weirdly it’s a similar theme, it’s just pure coincidence.
Things that we would touch, like desks, they were real. If we were leaning on a wall, it would be a green wall. The other stuff is not real. In one scene I’m running through a field and it’s raining and I’m just running on a green treadmill in a green box, people spraying water on me. I’d think, what kind of a way to make a living is this?
You’re from Liverpool. What do you make of York?
We shot The Knife That Killed Me in Bubwith. We spent a lot of time in York because it was the closest city. I love York. Love it. There’s something in the air in York. It’s old fashioned, I love the City Walls, the Minster. But it’s got a surprisingly good nightlife too. I feel very at home here.
Tell us about your charity.
I’m a patron of a charity called Once Upon A Smile. We travel the country playing charity football matches, raising money for families of people who’ve been affected by terminal illnesses. Two friends of mine from Manchester set it up. One of them’s an actor – Danny Miller from Emmerdale and our friend Dan Jillings.
- The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner is a Pilot Theatre production at York Theatre Royal from Friday, September 14 to Saturday, September 29 at 7.30pm (2pm Thu and 2.30pm Sat matinees)
- For more details, and to book tickets, see the York Theatre Royal website