The Shaun Williamson Interview File

Top Secret: 'Barry' Big In America

EastEnders Actor Married In NY; Life of the Party No Matter Where He Is; Doubles As Singer

By Tim Wilson

BOREHAMWOOD, ENGLAND--The term 'gregarious' must certainly have been coined with someone like Shaun Williamson, who plays Roy Evans' amusingly scrappy son Barry in EastEnders, a great guy to hang out with if my recent lunch with him at the BBC cafeteria is anything to go by.

During our interview several fellow cast members found themselves being politely shooshed away by Shaun only to happily return tio our table when the grilling session was completed. This guy is obviously the life of any party much less a lunchtime communal gathering. Shaun Williamson: So you're from America, no? I like America very very good.

WG: Do you intend to use that quirky foreign accent throughout our entire interview, Shaun?

SW: Uh, well, no, I don't think it's a good idea to torture journalists... It makes 'em kinda cranky.

WG: Not if it's taken in the right spirit. What is it I'm eating again?

SW: Lancashire Hotpot-a right old British traditional dish-really just a stew, innit?

WG: Just add noodles, and you've got goulash, I guess. Let's move the subject on to you.

SW: Ah, well, as for me I'm having bangers and mash-another right old traditional dish. You know for a canteen they feed us pretty well... (a mock scowl) Only problem is that they charge.

WG: Please don't be insulted but looking across to you and down to that plate of mashed potatoes I can't help but be reminded of that scene in Animal House where John Belushi stuffs some in his mouth and regurgitates it.

SW: One of the great canteen scenes of all time! And he says, "It's a zit... get it?" Classic comedy. I mind you of Belushi? I'm flattered. He was brilliant. Some of the antics that Barry gets up with his flatmates (not yet seen in U.S.) are easily reminiscent of Animal House. There are lots of whacky goings on in there, let me tell you.

WG: More about the show later. First, let's start with your America remark. Is it true or were you just being a tad smart alecky?

SW: You want visual proof I was sincere? (He whips out a photo from his bag). There! There's your stinking proof!

WG: Well, from what I can see it's a photo of you and a very nice looking young woman. Your sister?

SW: You know very well who it is, you pillock. I told you about this on the phone last week. I told you I'd bring it. This is my gorgeous wife Melanie I'm standing with. Wer had just gotten married amongst the boulders of Central Park (New York City) in October 1997.

WG: I guess I could think of something cutesy to respond but I'll mercifully restrain myself.

SW: You do that. Next to our daughter's birth, this was the happiest day of my life. We even went back there to renew our vows last October. You can print this picture in the Gazette if you like.

WG: Thank you very much. Why did you get married in New York?

SW: I love New York City and I managed to convince Mel that that's where we should tie the knot. It does have a reputation for being a particularly romantic wedding locale, you know.

WG: It sure beats Las Vegas in my opinion. Instead of an Elvis impersonator, who'd you get to officiate then?

SW: An interfaith minister who we found via the phone book. And she was terrific.

WG: What's in your wife's handbag?

SW: Mind your own business... I bet you'd ask the Queen what was in her handbag if you were ever lucky enough to meet her.

WG: I wouldn't, but Bette Midler has wondered aloud about what is the deal with that handbag.

SW: Bette Midler can do anything she wants because she's Bette Midler, and she's amazing.

WG: I gather that your wedding wasn't your first time in New York?

SW: Nah, I spent six weeks there back in '87. I was a summer camp counselor down in Pennsylvania and took advantage of some time left when the gig was done. Actually a bunch of us hitchhiked to New Orleans first It was one of those foreign exchange-type things... instead of a nubile Swedish girl, they got me. It was a camp in the Poconos that mostly catered to hyperactive kids. The whole lot of them was medicated to their gills on Ritalin. Ah yes. I remember it well. They were great kids, though. Our prime function was to keep 'em focused and engaged, and we succeeded in our mission. I enjoyed it a lot there. I'd alread worked in quite a few similar holiday camps in England so I knew what I was doing. In England there were just us hyperactive folk minus the medication.

WG: I've heard of a few of those places. Butlins, Pontins...

SW: I worked at Pontins as an entertainer. I sing, too, you know, so I was useful. I also worked as a holiday rep for a place called Club 18-30 but I was sent home after five months for trying to live the punter's holiday with them as opposed to just being staff. I did a bit more than call the Bingo numbers I'm afraid. At least I didn't screw up in Pennsylvania.

WG: And after Pennsylvania you hitched to New Orelans... a very good place to party hardy, I bet.

SW: (nods) A great time was had by all. the rest of the gang had to head on back to England but I stayed behind to travel a bit more. I figured hitchhiking to New York from Louisiana might not be a particularly wise thing to do, so I flew instead. I stayed there for six fantastic weeks, and had the time of my life.

WG: Where are you originally from, Shawn?

SW: Oh I see. This is the This Is Your Life portion of the interview. I grew up in a place called Maidstone in Southeast England on a decent council estate. Very working class and very happy. Mum's a cleaner, Dad's a postman. I tried to follow in his footsteps after school but I thought I'd go mad so I joined the Royal Navy. Big mistake. I tried desperately to get out.

WG: How? Pretend to be gay or something?

SW: Nah, everybody was all to aware how girl crazy I was, so that wouldn't have worked at all. I found this book in the library which actually spelled out how to get released from the service. Wetting the bed worked a whole lot for starters! (laughs) Let me just say that after awhile the powers-that-be realized I was a colossal waste of time and money and decided to cut their losses. They cut me loose and I couldn't have been happier or more relieved. So was the Navy laundry detail!

WG: Had you realized by then that you wanted to be an actor?

SW: I always knew I wanted to act but when you're young and in my environment you didn't have a clue as to how to actually make it happen. After the Navy fiasco and the holiday camp hijinks I learned about the Webber Douglass Academy For Acting in London. I enrolled there when I was 27 so I was a few years older than the others. Ross Kemp (Grant) went there as well but he'd left and was already on EastEnders. I got a lot out of Webber Douglass. By the time I completed my training there I really believed that I might have a shot at actually getting work.

WG: Your belief was very soon justified, that's for sure your belief was very soon justified, that's for sure. You were only six months out of graduating when you got the part of Barry Evans in EastEnders.

SW: I was a week out of there when I got my first part on EastEnders when I got my first part on EastEnders. Ah hah-didn't know I'd been on already, did you?

WG: My extensive research efforts failed me yet again, I'm afraid.

SW: I played a paramedic who tended to David Wicks in the Vic after Grant did him over for dancing with Sharon. My big line was "How many fingers am I holding up, David?" Actually there's an amusing story tied to this auspicious debut. I was up for two parts y' see. Paramedic #1 and Paramedic #2. Paramedic #2 had three lines of dialogue and Paramedic #1 had sixteen. No fool me-I wanted to play Paramedic #1. But I got Paramedic #2 instead. Well, at the time I couldn't drive and for some reason Paramedic #2 had to be the one to drive the ambulance in and out of the Square. I 'fessed up about the driving bit and so they switched our parts. I got sixteen lines!

WG: Why do I get the feeling that the actor wasn't thrilled?

SW: He was gutted! I did feel bad for him. Honest. Not least because he wasn't a very good driver so the ambulance screeched in and out of the Square at about two miles per hour.

WG: Another classic EastEnders moment.

SW: Absolutely. Anyway I did a bunch of stuff in TV real soon after that and yes, I did learn how to drive. It quickly dawned on me that my blue collar-type of looks might just lead to roles in which the character drove a lorry or whatever. I was in The Bill, a cop show, which is sort of a running joke among actors here because everybody gets on it sooner or later. The same is true of London's Burning, the firemen show. I worked on that, too.

WG: And EastEnders came a knocking five months after your auspicious debut as Paramedic #1?

SW: When I first read the script I noticed that Barry was referred to as "Blondie." I then found out before my audition that Barry was initially conceived to be this big blond bloke. I thought, "Well, that's it. That ain't me. Elevator shoes and a dye job won't cut it. The director said, "No, no, let's read this through-nothing is laid in cement." We read it through and it went okay. After that we spent a lot of time talking about. I got the job. It was just for four episodes at first. Barry came on just after Christmas to apologize to Pat for selling her a duff motor. He was really meant to be a vehicle, pardon the pun, to get Roy into the show. I found myself popping in and out over the next year-and-a-half, as you may have noticed.

WG: Did you worry that might not return to the show after they sent Barry off to prison for the car lot incident?

SW: Nobody ever went to great lengths to reassure me that I'd be returning. I'm not sure that I knew what would be happening. That was fine with me. I just went off and did a lot of other things. Singing in cabarets, theatre work, other television work. In a way, I was glad I wasn't on a long-term contract from the beginning. I got the opportunity to work in all sorts of venues, and if I was tied to the show that just wouldn't have been possible. I got the chance to sow my wild oats in a professional sense.

WG: You and Michael French (David) had great personal chemistry as actors.

SW: Thank you. Yes, we did. Michael's such a terrific actor and we always worked well. Barry and David's relationship was a brilliant thing to play. Each regarded the other not only as a best mate but as a brother. Barry was an only child and David hadn't been around Wicksy in many years so they treated each other as the brother they hadn't had.

WG: Was it me, or did you play Barry's friendship with Cindy as an unrequited crush as well?

SW: I see you've got a good eye for dramatic subtext. yes, of course, I played it that well. Barry did have a thing for Cindy but he'd never dare make a move. There was David to think about and besides, Cindy was too fast for him. She'd have eaten him alive!

WG: Without giving away plot information, what's next for Barry?

SW: There's something really horrendous coming up over there in the states over the next year which affects Roy and Pat in ways they (and the audience) could never have imagined. Barry becomes an unwitting pawn in a nightmarish situation. Barry loves his Dad and is actually fond of and respects Pat. The troubles he gets in severely tests everybody's love and respect. He remains unlucky in love for quite a while. Barry's love life does brighten up soon, I think.

WG: Last week I saw you on a television show over here called Vanessa and you sang "I Feel Good." You were good!

SW: That was fun. I only hope James Brown wasn't in the country.

WG: You were obviously having a good time with it. Now that you've told me about your camp counselor days I can imagine you entertaining the punters with a song or two.

SW: I certainly did (sings) "You're just to good to be true... 'Why thank you ladies in gentlemen'" I sang stuff like that all the time. "Her name was Lola/She was a show girl..." Barry Manilow songs always went down well. "I Write The Songs" was a particular crowd-pleaser. It slayed 'em in the aisles every night, especially when there was a full moon.

WG: I also saw you over Christmas on a karaoke show called Night Fever.

SW: Yeah, I guess you can say I'm a hemi-demi-semi-regular on that. That show's really a silly cheesy sort of thing but there's a place for it in the light entertainment sector on TV. I'm happy being on it occasionally but not much more that because the old credibility factor might get eaten away a bit.

WG: Have you sung on EastEnders?

SW: No, I haven't. Barry recently did a mean Boy George imitation in the Vic after a particularly teary funeral. It was meant as comic relief, no doubt. He wore beer mats for earrings. I began to think I was back at Pontins.

WG: How about doing an album some day?

SW: It's a childhood ambition of mine. Unfortunately, it hasn't quite worked out yet because the deal hasn't been quite right. I don't want to make some crap novelty record. If people are going to shell out their heard-earned money on a CD of mine it's got to be bit more...substantial. I'd be happy to creep in a rendition of "You're Just Too Good To Be True" somewhere in there, though!

WG: Why don't we end this with a few words about your lovely wife and child. Where did you two meet?

SW: I met Mel in an amateur theatrics group. We did a play called Habeas Corpus and in one scene our characters kissed. That scene needed a lot of rehearsal, in my opinion. The rest is history. We've got a beautiful one-year-old named Sophie May. I'm a good Dad^ÎI give the first feeding in the morning. Barry wouldn't have a clue, would he? Mel and I just like to relax and do what everybody else does, like conk out in front of the telly. We love to watch sports of any kind... We used to cross over the road to a friend of ours who had satellite TV to watch stuff like American Gladiators and World Professional Wrestling. We've got a satellite now. We've certainly moved up in the world!

WG: Thanks for the interview, Shaun. Come back to America soon. Central Park beckons. You could throw an anniversary party on the Great Lawn. I'd come.

SW: There goes three months of my EastEnders salary!

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