Francis Magee

"Liam Taylor"

Sour Liam: Francis Magee Brings Depth to a Thug

By A.S. Berman

"I suppose with a face like mine, I'm never going to present children's TV, am I?" So says EastEnders' Liam, Francis Magee , explaining why he so often "gets to play the heavy."

The writer of this article is quick to disagree, and would surely interrupt with a polite "nonsense old man," if the following was not an interview-by-fax machine.

Truth be told, for many years EastEnders just wasn't the haven for young, gorgeous humanity that it has recently become. A series that once prided itself on its depiction of working-class folk, warts and all, has metamorphisized into Melrose Place UK. Which, it would seem, has left actors such as Francis Magee "playing the heavy" ever since.

There is something refreshing in Magee's responses to the Gazette's questions -- a real "Look, a job's a job" lack of pretension to the Isle of Mann native. One suspects the actor's varied work background might have something to do with this.

"I was a fisherman for eight years or so. I loved it, and still miss the sea. Next on the career agenda was a spell as a singer with a Ceilidh band ." Francis Magee began his pursuit of the musical muse (forgive this writer's pretension on the gentleman's behalf) long before his stint as Liam Taylor, drifting into acting while "in London and Europe trying to be a pop star." Not too long ago he was with a band called Namoza, which -- NamWHATSA?!

"As far as I know, there is no meaning to the dreadful name," says Magee. "This was the name of the band before I joined as their singer. Namoza's style of music was given a number of descriptions by music critics including 'steel mill reggae,' 'tribal rock,' and 'a traveling circus of stomp, pomp, and poetic groove.' Namoza released four singles and an album. I am currently singing with a new band: Disco D'Oro (DDO)."

From the music stage to the TV limelight, Magee made his debut as Liam at a critical time in EastEnders' history. With the "now you see me, now you don't" semi-presence of Nasty Nick Cotton, and the virtual emasculation of the Mitchell Brothers, Albert Square was in dire need of a genuine figure of menace. Of course, like all of Walford's denizens, it became clear that even Liam was a bit more complex than he, at first, appeared.

"Poor Liam! I think he had a terrible childhood, and has had to be self-sufficient since he was very young. He is unable to talk about his problems or his feelings because this makes him feel vulnerable. Therefore he carries around much pent-up anger and frustration, most of it directed at himself. He seeks reconciliation with Debbie and Clare because he craves the kind of family life he never had. Unfortunately, because of his past, he would probably never be able to keep it together."

The actor recalls auditioning for the role of this dysfunctional soul very well.

"I read from a script, and within two hours I was told I had the job. It was somewhat daunting to join such an established cast, but fortunately they were all extremely new-member-friendly."

But if the cast were accommodating, there were a few members of the EastEnders audience who took Liam's treatment of Nigel and Debs much too seriously.

"I have been chastised on the street," confides Magee, echoing a complaint many British soap actors have made. "I've also been spat at, and have had a black eye."

God love the British EastEnders fan.

"It is somewhat disturbing that there are people who seem to be unable to distinguish between a TV show and reality. The phrase 'Get a life' springs to mind."

Of course Magee does have a pretty imposing presence on camera. Did he call upon his years as a fisherman -- a traditionally tough sort of bloke -- for the role?

"I don't think I've brought a great deal of my time at sea into Liam's character. I was somewhat different to many of my salty colleagues in that I would indulge in strange practices, such as writing and reciting poetry, singing, playing musical instruments, etc. Such 'strangeness' was treated with great suspicion, and I guess they thought I was not worth thumping. Although there was the time that I was fired at through the window of a bar in Whitehaven...but that's another story."

[Fired at through the window of a -- now this is precisely why I dislike faxed interviews! Have to call him back about that one...]

Since his time in Albert Square, Magee has noticed some differences between acting in a soap, versus more conventional forms of drama.

"The main one, I think, being lack of time. Because there are three-episodes-a-week to get out, there is no time for luxuries -- like rehearsals."

That said, the actor speaks highly of the show that earned him the black eye and verbal abuse.

"I definitely think EastEnders is a cut above the run-of-the-mill soap. It constantly tackles important social issues in a convincing manner that doesn't leave you feeling that you've had a sermon preached at you."

Now that has to be worth a black eye or two.

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