Wonderland talks to the actor about life beyond Skins and working with Richard Curtis in About Time
A mass of red hair and striking pale complexion, Will Merrick is hard to miss. Best known for his role as “farm boy” Alo in E4’s Skins, a chaotic party boy with a big heart, we’d more likely envisage the actor dancing in his underwear to Dragonette than turning up for an interview on time. Punctual, calm and reflective, it’s Will’s work schedule that’s a whirlwind rather than the man himself.
With the show four years behind him, Will has starred in Rick Edwards’s writing debut Burger Van Champion for Channel 4’s Coming Up series and most recently appeared in About Time, which is rumoured to be Richard Curtis’s last film as director – not many 21 year-olds can say they’ve been brought tray bakes on set by Emma Freud. Quite the professional, humble and a star student at the University of Life, the actor talks candidly about his lucky yet well-deserved streak.
So Alo is the life and soul of the party. Are you as hedonistic as him in real life?
I used to be, between the ages of 16 and 18. I was a lot louder and more of a showman: I went a bit wilder. I remember being more ‘round the room’ at parties. I think I’m more passive now, a bit quieter.
Do you think you have to be more responsible because of work?
I’m still putting off what I’m really going to commit to in life but I also think that’s quite dangerous because you can just float.
The characters in Skins are a bit crazy. Do you think the cast has to have a bit of insanity in them to fulfill their role?
Absolutely not. We all like to think that Philip Seymour Hoffman built his vast range and his incredible abilities, that he was a character creator and he wasn’t tortured and demented inside. I’ve always thought some of us are quite happy, go to bed, read a chapter of Dan Brown and go to sleep.
Has it ever crossed your mind, if you ever got to that level of success, how it would change you?
I’ve never thought about it…I definitely think it would. I think that most of us are not impenetrable and we’re so easily corrupted by lots of different things. I was promoting out on the Mile in Edinburgh and I got approached a lot which is great for the play I was in. Ninety nine out of a hundred times it’s still Skins because it’s so cult and that was four years ago now. They get to see my character in his quietest, deepest moments, but they’re definitely talking to Alo not me. I think I prefer that. I can play up the Alo but I don’t like the thought of giving them a part of myself, because that’s for you.
Skins provided a great platform for your co-stars to go on to do other projects. Do you still manage to keep in touch with them?
I live in Bethnal Green with Alex Arnold who played Rich and Rich Caine who did the publicity for Skins. He’s a very successful publicist and does things like Him and Her and Rev. I see Laya Lewis when she can fit me into her schedule. She’s a very busy woman both professionally and socially. She’ll be GQ woman of the year! She’s everywhere: in a club in Brixton, Shoreditch and Covent Garden on the same night.
Your character in Coming Up’s Burger Van Champion has grand ambitions and is the object of a girl’s affections. Do you prefer playing that kind of character because normally you play…
Normally I’m the guy who’s chasing. Tom’s a lovely guy to play. That film is all about whether you want more from life. It’s focused upon Jessie Cave’s character wanting to go somewhere else rather than working in a burger van and whether Tom’s just helping her because he wants her job. I think often in life people do things for mixed reasons. Rick Edwards: that was one of his first writing projects: he’s a lovely guy.
Having done the Edinburgh Film Festival several years running, can we expect to see you this year?
I don’t know if I’m going to be doing it this year. I know No Prophet will be up again. It’s a really wicked thing to have because we put it together ourselves: we produce, we direct, we publicise: we run the show and the festival’s a great place to do that. With two different companies I must have done it five or six years on the trot now.
Is working with the RSC something you want to do more of?
Absolutely. Wendy and Peter was my first experience of doing professional theatre and I’ve got a massive bug for it. I’m obsessed with doing something else now. You get to do classes whilst you’re in the show – there’s so much on offer for the actors.
What do you prefer about doing theatre as opposed to screen acting?
There’s nothing like a live performance. It’s the build up that you get with theatre. You get more into your character as you work through the piece. TV is so stop start. I love coming off stage after a scene and realising that you’ve been completely immersed for the last 20 minutes and your own emotions build.
What was your initial reaction when you found out you’d got the role in About Time?
Total elation. That was a really big one for me. I was pretty much fresh out of Skins and that was my third job.
I can imagine there was a lot of uncertainty around that time…
Yeah… where to go next from Skins. I was auditioning for drama schools. I was literally on my way to a RADA third or fourth round when I got the call.
And what was it like working with Richard Curtis?
Incredible. He’s such a lovely guy. We went down to Cornwall for most of it in this beautiful house on the beach and Richard was living with his family in the house next door. Emma Freud, his partner, was always on set bringing round flapjack bakes. He’s giving a note and she’s like “Flapjack!” and he’s like “One sec!” and his kids are running round asking him to come play with them. It’s all about the time you put into family and I suppose it did bring that happiness.
Was it daunting?
Absolutely terrifying, I don’t think I enjoyed a lot of it! Inside of my head was like “I’m so out of my depth” and to go into something with a cast with that level of experience. I’m just like holy shit, I need to do at least another couple of years in TV and maybe film. But that’s how I learnt how to keep calm and not to be in my head too much.
Words: Elinor Sigman