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Stuart Wolfenden The Extraordinary Tale of Rosie and Gill

The Greater Manchester actor, singer and songwriter talks to Now Then about guinea pigs, his lockdown album, and filming with Shane Meadows and Paddy Considine.

Photograph of Stuart Wolfenden taken by Paul Husband

Stuart Wolfenden

Photo by Paul Husband

“Anyway, how are you doing, mate?”

Those were the first words out of actor Stuart Wolfenden’s mouth on the start of our conversation. This is gonna be good talking stuff; honest, no bullshit conversation with a true gent of the acting world.

I’ve already told a lie in the title; there’s nothing to see here, but that’s just me. For the purposes of self-aggrandisement, say that in a French accent; it sounds much better.

The actual tale begins with Stuart’s recent acquisition of his children’s guinea pigs, Rosie and Gill, which the children named irrespective of gender. Gill is a wonderful name reminiscent of an American TV news weatherman out of Minnesota: “Over to you, Gill…” “Ya, that’s a real doozie of a snowstorm, fella.”

But Rosie and Gill have some good advice for the humans: “Don’t blame each other and fight about fuel shortages – the big humans go: squeak, squeak.”

You can tell he’s a good guy. “On a Sunday, my gran used to say to my granddad: ‘feel the weight of this chicken, Jim’.” Switch off if you want; protein will ensue. Suffice to say, in Stuart’s childhood meat was our chosen protein and we still both hear ya.

Now we’re moving; it’s not all about me. I say, where are you from, Stuart, speak forth? “Royton, then went to school at North Chadderton, which produced four or five of us going on to make a career in acting, mate.” Mate is such a casual word, but means so much. Carry on Stuart…

“So, my first role would have been Billy Casper in a production of Kes…” [Nice one] “…then onto Oldham theatre workshop and getting work on Corrie.”

Stuart has skills, besides the acting, songwriting and singing. The music, Stu? Always?

“Yep, even through Coronation Street, which got serious around the age of 19, the music, man, the music and early acting days; the two always went together.”

At times - get this, young actors - you will be unemployed. That’s a fact. So if, like Stuart, you have other arrows or bows or strings, use them.

“Throughout my career I always had something to fall back on for even a small income. At that time, I had mates in acting who gave it up due to lack of work because they didn’t have something like music to fall back on.”

Stuart embodies creativity and the dignity of labour. No acting work? Lockdown? Let’s make an album and do it right here. This spawned an album of Songs From A Common Man.

“Done with a multi-instrumentalist mate of mine, Daz, who I’ve known for 30 years, and guess what? Even though we love the songs and we loved the process, as in every band that ever existed, we fell out and we won’t be doing that again soon!”

If I can interject and speak from personal bitter experience, the optimal number of human beings to agree on anything is eight to ten, so to come up with something beautiful with four to five? The odds are stacked against, so bravo to Stu and Daz.

So, as a dad, would you encourage your children into acting? “I honestly don’t know. If I could see a talent there, of course I’d back them, but it’s tough and has been tough for me at times. I can’t think of any other industry where you’ve done so much good work over many years and it can count for nothing on a new project. Can you?”

Nope. Tell you what, I love these interviews with these actors; their honesty is worth the time it takes me to write them.

Digging holes in the road, van driving, care work; Stuart has the CV of an everyman who has been brought up right. If I was casting a role? Fuck yes, he’s proper.

We get into a ‘six degrees of separation’ that involves Julian Cope, Stewart Lee, and Mark E Smith, and never giving up till you become a legend. Listen, it’s a great conversation, if nothing else.

Stuart never went along with the move South school of acting, film awards red carpet schmarpet bullshit. Within weeks, an audition for a big Danny Boyle production, Millions, which went well, was followed by an audition for Shane Meadows. “Which one did I get? Which one would I rather have? I think you know the answer to that one, Brian.”

Fuckin’ brilliant, Stuart; the interview writes itself. “But if I could sing and act for the rest of my life I’d be happy, Brian.”

Noted my name, never met the guy, no agenda. I believe what Stuart is saying.

“So if you believe what Ken Loach or Shane Meadows is saying? And us as the actors? Job done.”

Matlock, Derbyshire. A group of creatives come together to create chaos in its perfect form.

“Shane… Yeah, Shane knew. Him and Paddy knew what the film was. We went down and rehearsed it but with no idea what the end was, kind of Mike Leigh style. Know your character, not the script.” Improvise for my eyes, guys.

Can’t believe I’m nearly done and… Dead Man’s Shoes!

“Gary Stretch [professional boxer and one time beau of Chrissie Hynde] wasn’t gonna play the part of Sonny, our leader. The lad who was cast was a big brute of a guy; didn’t do anything wrong, maybe a rugby type. Then a few days before, Shane changed it; perfect casting, genius to cast Gary.”

Yep, when sinister met even more sinisterer. Hey, forgive me making up words; the juices are flowing.

First scene, first day: “Err, Stu, can you do one of the most iconic scenes in British cinema?”

Yep, Stu dealt with it in the only way he knew how - as a professional, and not in the way you or I might have, i.e. “You’re that Paddy Considine, aren’t ya?”

Reaction. Stuff that you never talk about on screen.

I will tell you one thing about these actors I’m talking to: nice people. Maybe they’re Northern?

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