Joe Gilgun: 'It chokes me up thinking about what This is England means to me'
Former Emmerdale star Joe Gilgun returns for This Is England '90 (opens in new tab) on Channel 4 on Sunday and, with this billed as the final instalment of Shane Meadows' classic drama, we asked him if he'll miss the world of Woody and his mates...
Where do we find Woody at the start of this series?
"You find Woody knee deep in children! Woody’s got two kids, a beard, and he looks like someone out of Trainspotting. He’s completely let himself go and has turned into an official industry standard trampy dad. He’s got his own gang this time. This series it’s about Shaun’s journey again especially getting into the rave scene and all those things Shane was experiencing at the time."
Do Woody and Lol feel left out?
" Woody and Lol are – for the first time – happy. It’s time for them to be happy. They’ve still got problems, of course they have. It’s This Is England!"
Does it feel nice being able to do happier, even comedic, scenes?
"Yeah, this particular series has been without a doubt my favourite shooting experience. There’s a lot of tension on the build up to big scenes, a lot of tension. I don’t process my feelings very well around that time because I’m making myself feel certain way and you can get very irritable! The lines become blurred because of how personal it is to you and how close you are to those people and the storylines and the characters, so you can come out of it the other end a bit damaged from things you’ve shot."
Which scenes do you mean?
"The hospital scene in ‘88 was really demanding for everyone, including Shane, it took a lot out of everyone. Things like the rape scene from ’86 was ruthless to film. So when we got to the 90s and I’ve got scenes with the kids and I’m dicking around in the swimming pool and I’ve got scenes with Milky – it’s just been wonderful and I’ve really enjoyed it."
Woody and Lol’s relationship has been through a lot of ups and downs. Why do they work together?
"It’s cliched but it’s true that what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, and if you can do that together in a relationship then it solidifies. I think there are a lot of people who have been through a lot of adversity and it brings them together, it makes them so incredibly close. And simply they just adore one another – she loves him and he loves her – they’re all they’ve ever known. During that period where they were apart they were both deeply lost without each other. For Lol and Woody to have found one another in this big world is very special – I wonder if I’ll ever find it, it’s so rare."
So what about Woody – you’ve played him for almost 10 years now – what do you make of him and what are your feelings towards him?
"I think he’s been though the mill, without a doubt, as far as suffering’s concerned, but I don’t think he’s helped himself previously. I think he’s had to toughen up an awful lot and gain a bit of integrity when Lol was going through what she was going through. Woody’s had to learn that he’s a wonderful dad who adores Lol and there’s nothing else that matters."
Shane is known for the unique way he works with his cast to get really authentic performances – was there any of that during the filming of this series; were Lol and Woody separated from the rest of the cast off set, for example?
"Well we’re a family anyway, really. The show has documented my twenties which is a huge part of your life and development as a man, and the industry is a very unusual place to develop into an adult, but because of how close we are we’ve been there for each other. So when we get on set we know each other, warts and all. Shane knows that and the man is a genius, he’s doing what he needs to do to get the results and you’re always grateful when you see the results."
Is Shane a special director in that respect?
"Definitely. Shane works out who you are and what will make you function to the best of your ability. This particular shoot Shane and myself were in a much happier place and at the risk of sounding a bit corny, we understood ourselves a little bit more. So when it got stressful on set and we were trying to analyse and process what we were trying to do, it didn’t feel as bad."
Does that make it harder when you go onto other jobs because there is such a unique environment on This Is England?
"Without a doubt. Honestly there is nobody like Shane – to be lucky enough to work with that man is so rare and we are all so incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity. Without the man my career wouldn’t be where it is. He trusts you so much he doesn’t even give you bloody lines! So when you walk onto that set not even knowing what scene you’re going to shoot, you know you’ll absolutely smash it cause Shane’s there."
So how does it feel that this has been billed as the last series?
"The end of an era! There’s that thing where you don’t want to keep pressing it. Shane has said this himself, that if the story isn’t there then you leave it be – let sleeping dogs lie, it’s done well and is a show we can all be proud of. When I’m lying on my deathbed I can say I worked with that man and I was a part of that movement – it’s a very special thing.
"If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, but at the same time I keep in mind Fawlty Towers – an incredible series that is remembered very fondly because they left it where it was. But the idea of not seeing those people again and not being all together on set again absolutely breaks my heart it’s so so special."
What has it meant to you?
"Oh god, everything! It's made my career, it’s a really difficult question – it means everything to me, it chokes me up a bit. I was a kid that couldn’t read, couldn’t write, was struggling socially. I was lost thinking, ‘Is this the rest of my life now?’ Then Shane and This Is England gave me the opportunity to live a life that I enjoy, I am so lucky every day I think about it. The job doesn’t come without its anxiety and worries, but I know how lucky I truly am, and I owe it all to Shane and This Is England and those people I worked alongside without a shadow of doubt."
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Sean has been writing about all things telly for over 10 years and in that time he's been lucky enough to interview stars like Ian McKellen, Tom Hardy and Kate Winslet. His favourite shows are The Great British Bake-Off, People Just Do Nothing and Succession and in his spare time he enjoys drinking tea, doing crosswords and watching football.