Joel Beckett interview
PUBLISHED: 11:46 24 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:13 20 February 2013
From EastEnders to Burnham Market, Joel Beckett moves to Norfolk
Joel Beckett couldnt be happier this Christmas. He may rub shoulders with the likes of Shane Ritchie, Ricky Gervais and Tom Hanks, but the star of Norwich Theatre Royals panto tells Sarah Cassells why Norfolk is the best stage of his life.
Pictures: Matthew Usher
Hes played a dubious East End gangster, an aggressive boyfriend and now, in his Norfolk stage debut, a festive menace, but actor Joel Beckett couldnt be more different to his on-screen alter egos.
Its a credit to his talent that hes so convincing in these villainous roles, because in real life hes irresistibly likeable.
Joel only moved to his new pad outside Burnham Market two months ago, but hes already on first-name terms with the staff at his local, the Hoste Arms, and in the middle of praising the areas friendliness for convincing him to relocate, says in a gently self-deprecating way: You know, theres a time when you walk into a pub and think: Ah great, its busy. But then you get to a certain age where you think: Ah great, there are seats!
Theres a time when you walk into a pub and think: Ah great, its busy. But then you get to a certain age where you think: Ah great, there are seats!
At 37, sitting down is still a novelty. Since leaving drama school Joel has packed an awful lot into his CV and believes Norfolk is an ideal location for the next stage of his career.
His breakthrough role was undoubtedly that of Lee, the controlling fianc of sweet receptionist Dawn, in Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchants hugely successful comedy series The Office.
But Joel is probably best known for his role as unlucky gangster Jake Moon in popular BBC soap EastEnders. He was an Albert Square resident for the best part of two years and was involved in a ratings-grabbing storyline that saw his character accidentally kill his brother before leaving in mysterious circumstances.
Since then hes had parts in Holby City and Band of Brothers, the HBO mini-series produced by Tom Hanks, and several big screen projects, but theres one role hes particularly pleased to make his own and thats Flesh Creep, henchman to the giant in Norwich Theatre Royals pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk.
Im really excited about being part of that whole traditional Christmas feeling, he says. When I left EastEnders I was offered loads of panto work and eventually decided to do The Wizard of Oz at Weymouth Pavilion.
I had such a brilliant time, but it was tough being away from family at that time of year. This time I get to live at home for two months which is great.
Moving to Norfolk is a home-coming for Joel, whose family is originally from Brancaster. Hes held a great affection for the area after spending the summer of 1990 driving his grandfather around the coast.
I was at university when my grandfather had a heart attack and was told he wouldnt be able to drive anymore, he recalls. He told me hed pay me to drive him around for the summer. I was a bit reluctant at first, but we had a great time visiting just about every pub and beach. From that moment, Norfolk has always been a favourite place of mine.
While working in London, hed find excuses to spend weekends in Norfolk and earlier this year decided to make his visits more permanent, buying a property near Burnham Market.
Now hes thoroughly immersed in local life, fishing for mackerel off Thornham, learning to kite-surf at Hunstanton and indulging his love of photography by decorating his new place with his own large-scale prints of the marshes and beaches.
However his favourite activities take a backburner this month as he prepares to bust out my jazz shoes at rehearsals. And it turns out when it came to casting Jack and the Beanstalk, Joel had his own fairy godmother wielding her magic behind the scenes.
Id wanted to do something nearer to home and had a chat with Helen McDermott, who is a fantastic, lovely lady. She spoke to someone at the Theatre Royal who called me in for a meeting. So really shes my Norfolk agent, he says.
While Helen will be appearing in The Wizard of Oz at Gorleston Pavilion Theatre, Joel will be treading the boards alongside Hollyoaks actor Stephen Uppal, Norwich panto stalwart Richard Gauntlett, popular comic Andre Vincent and Norwich-born theatre favourite Charlotte Scott.
Despite a successful TV career, Joel began learning his craft on the stage. He says he knew he wanted to be an actor from the age of seven after performing Stanley Holloways The Lion and Albert for a school poetry competition. Numerous school plays followed and after studying public relations at Leeds University, he completed a post-graduate acting course.
Shortly after graduating, Joel auditioned for The Office. Nobody knew what it was going to be like until the read-through, but then we all knew it was going to be something special, he says.
The Office Christmas special had just wrapped when he was called to audition for EastEnders and was cast as the sensitive dodgy dealer Jake Moon, cousin to Shane Ritchies Alfie Moon.
My most enjoyable scenes were working with Shane and the whole Moon family, he says. My exit, killing my brother and going a bit mental was good it was a really juicy story.
A career highlight has been the chance to hang out with Tom Hanks while filming for HBOs world war two series Band of Brothers.
Working with Tom Hanks was incredible. He was such a nice guy, he says. Tom wrote all the actors a personal letter after filming and Joel remembers sharing a joke with the famous actor over a cup of tea and thinking: Ive just made Tom Hanks laugh!
These days, alongside stage work, Joel also runs his own production company Twisted Productions and is involved in a BBC2 film adaptation of his friend Tig Hagues experiences in a Russian prison camp. Joel will also be starring in a French world war two film called Grace and Danger, which begins filming next year.
Thoughts of Norfolk, though, are never far from his mind. Hes written a short film and would love to set it in the county: The lighting, he says, is just incredible.
We dont get much time off, so after the Christmas Eve show Ill probably hot-foot it back to Burnham Market to join everyone for some proper festive cheer.
For now hes preparing for an invasion of friends from London and family from Bedfordshire, who will be taking over his house during panto season. We dont get much time off, so after the Christmas Eve show Ill probably hot-foot it back to Burnham Market to join everyone for some proper festive cheer, he says.
And what Norfolk-themed Christmas presents will he spoil them with? Everyones getting mussels and crabs, he says with a cheeky glint in his eye.
Maybe hes not such a nice guy after all.
Jack and the Beanstalk is at Norwich Theatre Royal from December 14 to January 16. Tickets are priced 5 to 19 (under-threes free). To book, telephone 01603 630000 or visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk