Steve Speirs spoke to The Cardiffian's Emily Davies.
When did you realise you wanted to be an actor?
I don’t think people actually decide they want to become actors, I don’t think it’s a career anyone would choose. I think if I’d done better at school or college I’d be managing a company by now. I think the difference between those of us who do go into acting and those of us who don’t is that there’s just something inside of you.
In the 1970s, when I was a kid growing up in south Wales, I literally did think I was the six million dollar man or the incredible hulk or something like that. I grew up in the atmosphere of a lot of social clubs and when I was waiting there I remember thinking that was very glamorous, I suppose I just wanted to be Bruce Forsyth really, that entertainer. That whole feeling of wanting to be in show business has been with me as long as I can remember. Even from a young age, my grandfather bought me a puppet box, and I became so adept at that I used to go round kids parties when I was about 10 and do a Punch and Judy show.
What part do you think of as being your big break?
My first television role was in a series called We Are Seven, which was in the eighties, and was written by Robert Pugh. It was a really big, successful TV series. That was my first role on TV and it was terrific. Apart from that I had a lot of critical acclaim for a role I did for a production about Tommy Cooper whom I was fascinated with for a long time as a kid. That has won various awards and it was a great opportunity.
Theatrically the high point was productions like Under Milkwood and Guys and Dolls at the Royal National Theatre. I think any time you work at such a centre of excellence, that’s a real milestone.
Have you always been interested in writing as well as acting?
I was commissioned to write an episode for Stella via Tidy Productions, which is Ruth Jones and David Peet’s company. They were aware of my writing because years ago David Peet was a producer at the BBC and he wanted to try and do some comedy for BBC Wales. He got a team of unknowns together to write a sketch show comedy. The people he got together were Rob Brydon, Ruth Jones, and me. This was about 15 years ago, and it was the first time we’d all got together to write. So they knew of my writing from that. When I got the chance to write for Stella it was great.
I’d also written a feature film before then called Caught in the Act which was directed by Matt Lipsey, who’s also worked on Little Britain. I’d written film stuff, and I’d written sketch stuff but I’d never written a TV episode. It’s gone down well though so they’ve asked me back to do another one for the second series.
What’s it like building a career as an actor in Wales? Is it quite a close-knit community?
There were three of us who worked on Hunky Dory who were also in Stella. When I was starting out in 1984 I was with the National Youth Theatre and I remember people coming in to ask who could speak Welsh. The Welsh speakers were taken off and started straight away with S4C. I knew then that it’d be very difficult to create a career for myself in Wales because I didn’t speak the language. So I just felt that going to London would make the playing field a bit flatter.
It’s funny because until Stella came along I rarely got asked to work in Wales, but then there was Hunky Dory as well. It’d be easy to think from looking at that, that there’s only about 10 actors in Wales, but it was a bit of a coincidence. I’ve been asked to work in Wales twice in the last year and I probably won’t get asked again for another 20 years.
Was it good to be back in the homeland?
I really enjoyed being back. It was tough in lots of ways because my partner had a new baby during the filming of Stella so there was that to cope with. The film I wrote I specifically set in the area of Wales where I come from, in the Taf Valleys. It was a sort of homage to that area really.
Who have you most enjoyed working with?
I’ve enjoyed working with everyone really, there’s no one I’ve worked with that I’ve come away from it thinking ‘I don’t want to work with them again’. Directorially I loved working with George Lucas on Star Wars, that was a great experience.
As a kid I watched all those films so to be driving the golf buggy around the studio was really exciting. I got to work with Catherine Deneuve on The Musketeer and that was a treat because she was a bit of a pin-up of mine when I was younger.
The episode of Extras I did with Ricky Gervais became quite an iconic episode among the fans of the programme. That did a lot of good for me because Ricky specifically wrote a part for me in Cemetary Junction. Working with Ricky was good because we’re usually on the same wavelength and there’s a lot of laughter and he creates a brilliant environment for comedy to come out.
I also got to work with somebody I’m a huge fan of which is a director called John Landis, who directed the Animal House films, Trading Places, the Blues Brothers, and Michael Jackson’s video for Thriller. All the comedy films that I absolutely adore from the mid eighties. I worked with him on a film in Scotland called Burke and Hare. I’ve been very fortunate really in that I been able to work with some good people.
What’s next on the agenda for you in 2012?
I’m in the middle of writing an episode of Stella, so I’m busy working on that. I’ve just finished working on a pilot for a new sitcom for the BBC, which I can’t say anything about yet. I’m also busy writing a sitcom myself for NBC Universal with a view to be used for the BBC so it’s = pretty full on, but that’s the way I’d rather it be.