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Joe Dempsie

March 2015

HAD his family not moved to Nottingham when he was four months old, Joe Dempsie wouldn’t have been an actor.

“There’s no doubt about that,” says the 27-year-old, best known for his roles in teen drama Skins and epic HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones.

He was born in Liverpool but due to his parents’ work, grew up in West Bridgford.

By the age of 13, on his mother’s suggestion, he was a member of The Television Workshop, the Nottingham acting school that has produced numerous stars of TV, film and stage.

Although Dempsie wasn’t harbouring dreams of becoming an actor.

“I went because it was a laugh” he admits, talking to Confetti students as part of their ninth annual Industry Week, a series of events over five days and nights designed to inspire students of film, TV, music and games.

“It wasn’t something I’d considered before joining the Workshop. It wasn’t something I considered the first few years of being a member of the Workshop either.

“I just enjoyed messing around there twice a week. Every now again you’d go for an audition for a part in a TV show or a film but that was just a bonus.

“It was only when I’d been told by the guys who ran the Workshop that it was maybe something I could do, that I started to take it seriously.”

After finishing A-levels at West Bridgford School, where he admits to being “a frustrating student to teach”, Dempsie took a year off to “mull over” the idea of becoming an actor.

“I got a job at Cineworld in the Cornerhouse, thinking I’d be watching loads of films but at the end of a ten-hour shift the last thing you wanted to do was to spend another two hours there.

“By the end of that gap year not a lot was really happening auditions-wise so I applied to do history at university in Birmingham.”

But then he got the part in Skins, the E4 series about partying teenagers in which he played loveable hedonist Chris Miles.

“Skins was nuts,” says Dempsie, who was a regular at Media and Stealth nightclubs as a teenager.

“We shot series one and had no idea what would happen. It was a low-budget show for E4. But then the ad campaign for it started. The trailer seemed to be on every ad break on Channel 4, there were posters on buses, on the Tube... so the build-up for it was huge.

“When people talk about things changing overnight, that’s what happened for us. The night after it was shown, life was different. It was a bit like being in One Direction, I imagine.”

Dempsie, who recalls his first acting role as the ox in a school nativity play (“crouched with a Cornflakes box on my head”), was in the series for two years before being killed off.

“I think the success of it was that out of this motley crew of friends there was one that everyone could identify with.”

As a result of Skins he was being recognised in the street wherever he went.

“Skins started informing some of my career decisions; I didn’t really know if that level of attention was for me.”

He turned down a lot of Skins-style parts offered to him and took on small roles in Doctor Who, Merlin, Shane Meadows’ This Is England ‘86 and The Damned United, before his next major success came along: big budget US fantasy series Game of Thrones.

“I felt like I’d reclaimed my anonymity but then I had to readjust again when Game of Thrones came along,” he says.

“But it doesn’t affect my day to day in the same way that Skins did.”

Since 2011, he’s been playing Gendry in the internationally successful series based on the novels of George R R Martin.

A movie has been rumoured but he doesn’t know if it will happen.

“I think it’s a really good idea but I think the proposal is to do a couple more seasons and then a series of three films, like the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I hope it does happen, as long as I’m in it,” he laughs.

Other TV hits he’s appeared in include The Fades, Moving On, Accused, Southcliffe, New Worlds and Murder: Joint Enterprise, a one-off drama set in Nottingham that won a BAFTA.

“I don’t get back to Nottingham as much as I’d like,” says Dempsie, who lives in South London.

“My parents are still based here but they’ve been in Surrey for the past five months helping my younger sister, who has cerebral palsy, settle into her new house.

“We’ve got to get a care team in place, which is quite a long process.”

He adds: “When I do get back here it’ll be to see Forest or catch up with friends, although most of them are either engaged or have babies, so no-one wants to go into town anymore.”

Dempsie, who is single, stays in touch with numerous Workshoppers, including Mr Selfridge actress Aisling Loftus and recent BAFTA winner Jack O’Connell, plus Perry Fitzpatrick, his co-star in This Is England 90.

“It’s the most fun I’ve had on a set in a long, long time,” he says of the four-part drama, due to air on Channel 4 in the autumn. “Half the cast I grew up with at the Workshop,” he adds; among them were Vicky McClure, Andrew Shim, Rosamund Hanson, Michael Socha and Chanel Cresswell.

“For everyone it’s a safe environment.”

The BAFTA-winning series recently completed filming in Sheffield, with Nottingham-based director Shane Meadows, who he describes as “the master puppeteer.”

He adds: “We were reminiscing about the Workshop days.

“We’re in the golden age of Workshoppers being professional actors. When I joined it was only Samantha Morton and Chris Gascoyne, who was in Coronation Street, that we looked up to.

“Now we’re everywhere.”

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