When Chorley’s Joseph Gilgun was sent to drama school as a ‘sort of punishment for a acting like a prat’, little did he realise it would be the boost he needed to kickstart a hugely successful acting career.
Battling through school and college as he struggled with dyslexia, Joe craved a more creative outlet – while also trying to keep his mum and dad happy.
And it was his infectiously cheeky and confident nature which went on to land him well known roles such as the part of Eli Dingle in ITV’s Emmerdale, Rudy in E4’s Misfits (about a group of community payback youths who have supernatural powers), and more famously, Woody in cult British film, This Is England, which centres around the story of a troubled young boy who befriends a group of skinheads in the 1980s.
“I was eight when I was sent to acting school” Joe says. “I think it was a sort of punishment really, because I was always acting like a prat!
“That really disciplined me though. I remember once I was sectioned off into a group of kids and I really thought we were in trouble, but they wanted to put us with an agency.
“Without Laine Management, I wouldn’t be doing this interview now. They really believed in me, and it all started to come together.”
Joe soon learnt that the key to getting the best jobs for him, was to stop worrying about being so polite.
“I used to always mind my ‘please’ and ‘thank yous’ in auditions,” Joe explains. “But I wasn’t really getting anywhere.
“So I started to show my personality a bit more, giving a bit more cheek, and that’s what they wanted to see.
“I realised that you have to expose yourself, and give a bit of your own character away, because they want to see if you’re right for the part.
“Suddenly, I started getting jobs.”
Trained at the Laine Johnson Theatre School and Oldham Theatre Workshop, Joe landed his first role at age 10, as youngster Jamie Armstrong in ITV’s Coronation Street, which he played until he was 13.
Joe, now 30, grew up in Rivington and went to Rivington Primary School, with his parents Judith and Andrew, and sisters Jennie and Rosie, before moving on to Southlands High School.
He recalls: “My mum and dad were like a lot of families and didn’t have a lot of money really, but it wasn’t cool to live in the country!
“We lived in a cottage and my dad cycled to Baxi and mum worked in Boots.
“It was only when I hit my teens that we moved to Chorley and I realised there was a world outside of the woods.”
In fact, Joe enjoyed life in Chorley so much, that the bright lights of London or even Hollywood haven’t been able to lure him away from his hometown.
“I still live in Chorley, with a few friends,” he explains. “Chorley had a big influence on me growing up.
“I owe a lot to Chorley and the people who supported me, and I’ll always come back here. I like that people say hello on the street. I’m not interested in living in a big city.”
“I did struggle at school though,” he added. “I’m dyslexic so I struggled to read and write.
“I don’t consider myself to be academic, but socially I enjoyed school. I tried to fit in and I had a good set of friends.
“Like everyone though, I had my ups and downs. Being a kid on TV was difficult, and kids can be cruel.
“As a kid you don’t know how to handle that kind of pressure, but looking back I think it did me a world of good; it made me toughen up.”
Joe took a break from acting in his later teens, and went to Runshaw College to study art ‘to please mum’, but said ‘it wasn’t really my thing’.
“Five years of high school is long enough,” he laughs. “I’d had a taste of freedom by then.”
The acting tailed off for a while and Joe started work as a plasterer, but was still connected to Laine Management.
Once he learnt the ropes of ‘showing a bit of his own character’ in auditions, he soon got back into the game and landed the parts in Emmerdale and This is England.
“I struggled reading scripts, so concentrated on improvising and throwing caution to the wind,” Joe says. “I wasn’t reliant on the script, I wasn’t frightened of doing my own thing, but then Emmerdale came along, and that was a culture shock.
“It’s very fast-paced and you really have to be on the money. I had to learn that discipline then, and it was an incredible experience for me.
“With This is England, well, that’s where my loyalties lie. They really believed in me and I feel like I owe my career to them.
“Misfits is also something that I’m very proud of – I was so lucky to do that.
“Rudy was an awesome character.
“I loved the job, but each job is special in its own way, so I can’t pick a favourite.”
Perhaps his newest role, as a gay man called Mike in British comedy/drama Pride, will also top his list.
It’s about gay and lesbian activists working to help Welsh miners during their strike of the National Union of Mineworkers in 1984 – a serious subject which really opened Joe’s eyes.
“This film has been a massive education for me,” he confesses. “I really knew nothing about this kind of thing before.
“It’s an incredible story, broaches serious subjects and it’s about two communities coming together.
“It reminded me of when they shut the mills in Chorley and nobody had jobs anymore.
“It’s a very proud past for both mill workers and miners, and I would really urge everyone to see it, especially people my age who don’t know much social history.
The film, out in cinemas this weekend, also stars acclaimed British actors Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton and Dominic West, who Joe says were a ‘privilege’ to work with.
Next on his busy agenda is another This is England spin-off, and a small part in a Blockbuster featuring American stunt actor, Vin Diesel.
“I’m nervous about that,” Joe admits. “It’s called The Last Witch Hunter and I play a heroin addict.
“I want to test the waters on a big film set; it’s in Pennsylvania and I want to see how it compares to filming in England.
“It’s not a massive part, but it’s enough for me. If it was anything more I’d probably have a massive meltdown!”