Interview: Paul Nicholls on Channel 4's school drama Ackley Bridge

Channel 4's soap-style drama Ackley Bridge continues to win loyal fans for it's gritty storylines as series 2 unfolds.

Here, Paul Nicholls tells us more about his character, Steve.

paul nicholls ackley  bridge.jpg

Can you tell us a little bit about Steve?

Steve is I have to say a very kind of old school PE teacher, almost 1990s, he’s stuck in the 1990s. I based him a bit on my PE teacher who was a bit tough. But I also think that Steve comes from a bit of a rough background and is working class. When he was a kid he got into a few fights, got into a bit of trouble, and that’s why he gets on so well with the kids that have got a few troubles in their lives in the school.

What was it that attracted you to the part?

That it always makes you laugh, it was a good script. I mean sometimes you can pick and choose what you do and sometimes you can’t, and at that point I was lucky because I hadn’t worked for two years and I’d stopped. I read the script and I thought it was… it was really strange at first because the school that I went to school it was very much an integrated school and I read the first episode I was like “When did we start having separate education in schools?” I didn’t realise that had happened. I did a bit of research and there are four or five schools around Oldham and Blackburn and Burnley that have done that and it really shocked me. So I really wanted to be a part of it for just that really.

What do you think of Steve?

I personally wouldn’t have him as a friend. He’s not kind of my cup of tea really. He’s a bit rough and ready, a bit of a lad’s lad. I’m certainly not a lad’s lad!

When we left them at the end of series one Steve and Mandy weren’t in a very good place. Can you talk about where they are at the top of series two? I can say we’ve announced Kimberley Walsh yesterday so it’s fine to talk about her character as well.

They’re still separated but there’s such a kind of physical attraction between the two and an emotional connection that they just can’t keep away from each other. They’re just drawn to each other, they literally can’t keep their hands off each other. There’s such an attraction there, so we will have to see how long they can stay apart for and if they can make it work…

Do you think that Steve feels emasculated by Mandy being his boss?

Yeah, I mean, obviously it crops up. I wouldn’t say it is a kind of constant thing in his in his mind, that he feels resentful. But in certain situations when she has to override him or give him a telling off then obviously he feels quite emasculated… he is very old school in his ways, that’s the way I planned him anyway. I don’t know if he comes across like that. I’m sure if another PE teacher walked in there and was his age and stuff I’m sure he’s a bit of an alpha male and would be jealous. He definitely does in certain situations feel emasculated by Mandy being his boss.

ackley bridge.jpg

You’ve had lots of scenes with Jo. What’s it like working with her again?

Jo is just so funny. She’s so lovely and she is so modest. She’s just one of the finest actresses I’ve ever worked with and very funny and very lovely and makes everything very very easy. Because if you’re working with someone that good all you have to do is watch them and respond to them. I love working with Jo. She’s so good. Working with someone that good, and she’s got a real comedy bone as well, she’s a funny funny girl.

There are obviously lots of kids in the show as well. What’s it like working with them?

There’s a few I get to work with quite a lot and they are just hilarious. It’s good fun, it’s good fun. I forget I’m in my thirties now in many ways. I still feel like a 16 year old kid!

Can you tell us a little about Steve’s relationship with the Wilson brothers this series?

A few things happen in this series Steve spent a lot of time with Jordan last series. This series Steve gets to work with Cory, his older brother. He’s brought up in the same household and has witnessed violence and his dad being drunk and Steve has got a real empathy I suppose, a real empathy for both brothers. Steve just wants to steer them on a good path, to let them know that they don’t have to go down the road they’re heading down.

What was it like working with Kimberley Walsh?

She was lovely. She was so good as well. It’s so difficult coming on to a series, a new drama, where people have been working with each other before. It’s really hard because everyone has got a different momentum and friendships going, and you come into it and, talking from past experience, you come into it and it’s quite daunting, it’s quite scary. It’s really hard. But she was brilliant, she was absolutely brilliant. A real pro as well. She was great. But I didn’t know she had actually been acting since she was a kid, before she was in a band. So it wasn’t her first rodeo. She was great. Such a lovely person as well. A real sweetheart. She was absolutely lovely.

What were you like at school? Were you in detention, or were you getting distinctions?

Me and my friends at school were hardly there! We did all right at school, but I did get into some trouble. I wasn’t the best boy in the world at school.

Catch Ackley Bridge on demand via All4.