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Darren Boyd: “I always felt like an imposter in the comedy world”

Bafta-award winning actor Darren Boyd on how discovering drama changed his life and re-living his Les Mis debut with his family

I went through a metamorphosis when I was 16. I was terribly shy as a kid. Lacking in self-confidence. I never excelled at anything at school, sport or academic. Then one night I went along to the town hall to wait for my best friend while he was doing a rehearsal for this musical, Carousel. I stood at the back watching people with regular nine-to-five jobs throw themselves into this thing with great passion. Then someone asked if I was interested in joining and I heard myself saying yes.

A few weeks later I was asked to stand up, hold hands with this very attractive girl and walk from up stage left to down stage right. Everyone else was sat round the edge watching. I almost convinced myself that I couldn’t do it. But I did it, and by the time I reached the other end of the stage, I know it sounds laughable, but I was a different person. Over the next few weeks that discovery of drama absolutely, fundamentally changed my life, and gave me a confidence and self-belief I’d never had before.

It must have been kind of weird for my parents – this kid who barely spoke and spent most of his time in his room drawing and sculpting monsters suddenly walks into the living room and bursts into You’ll Never Walk Alone. But I’d gone through a lot of phases by then. I was kind of lost. I’d come home and say, “This is it, I definitely want to work with animals,” and I’d get nothing but support. The next month I’d come home and say, “I’ve got to get into movie special effects. One life, one chance, that’s who I am.” And I’d get nothing but support. Then a few weeks later; “But the animals!” So I guess my parents just saw my passion for drama as the next thing. They never preached to me, they told me to go for everything. And for every show I ever did, I got a massive family turn out; aunts, uncles, cousins. All I remember from them is happiness and pride.

Comedy acting was never an interest or a strength. I was 24, 25 and I’d moved to London because I got a gig in the ensemble in Les Misérables. Chris Langham, at that time a very successful comic actor, was one of the stars, and he liked me and wrote a part for me in his new sitcom, Kiss Me Kate, with Caroline Quentin. I left Les Mis and within a few days I was at ITV studios filming this TV sitcom.

After that I did Smack the Pony and Hippies, with Simon Pegg and Sally Phillips. I did pause then actually. I was playing this big, dim character again. I didn’t want to be stuck doing the same shtick over and over. But it was work, and at that stage I wasn’t going to turn it down. But I always felt like an imposter in the comedy world. I’m not a comedian, I don’t write comedy, I don’t have comedy in my bones. I felt this pressure in press interviews to be extrovert, full of hilarious anecdotes. And that just wasn’t me.

I’m not someone who always wanted to have kids. I don’t know if I considered myself father material. This business – it’s a huge commitment. It gives you these massive highs and terrible lows. It’s not sanity-inducing. It’s a selfish, single-minded pursuit. And it doesn’t offer security. So it doesn’t add up naturally with having a family.

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My kids are three and four now, and I’m still figuring out where those two worlds meet. How do I draw from both of them, not let either down and not go completely nuts in the process. I always told myself I’d have kids late and I was okay with the idea I might not have them at all. I had my first child when I was 41. So I suppose it worked out how I told the universe it would.

All I remember from my parents is happiness and pride

I’ve been doing a lot of work recently, for personal reasons, really tuning into my own sense of gratitude. It’s easy to take things for granted. And I’ve realised it all comes down to one letter of the alphabet. All my issues – being anxious or pissed off or not dealing with things or making bad decisions – have come down to allowing myself to keep asking ‘What if?’ That starts a whole carousel of brain farts. But if you change that to ‘What is’, the brain is made almost redundant. If you tune into ‘what is’, you are filled with gratitude.

Look out there – the sun’s in the sky, the birds are singing. You can change your whole landscape. And instead of driving yourself mad worrying, for instance, about if your daughter is picking up all the bad things about you and that’s going to make her turn out like the worst version of you, you think of what is, and just go right now and give her a big old hug.

We fill a lot of lives, especially actors, with this bullshit about competition. When you think about it, it’s laughable. I’ve won awards and don’t get me wrong, it’s fantastic to be recognised and rewarded. But, ultimately, there’s no best anything. Who’s the best actor? It doesn’t make sense, it’s not even a thing. My friend and I were riffing on this recently. ‘Who’s the best person? Come on, who’s the best one? It’s a big old world, lots of people in it – who’s the best one?’ ‘What do you mean – the most successful, the richest, the most spiritually fulfilled?’ ‘No, just the best one. That’s what I want to be.’ There’s no such thing as the best one, there’s only the best you.

If I could go back and relive one moment in my life… You asked me earlier about family coming to my shows and what their reaction was. I’d just moved to London. It was the opening night of Les Misérables at the Palace Theatre in the West End. My family came, and at the curtain call at the end of the show my little group came forward and cheered as loud as you can imagine. It was almost embarrassing and deeply moving. Then I got changed and walked out of the stage door to be greeted by about 20 members of my family, and they all started whooping and shouting and slapping me on the back.

And then I caught my dad’s eye. Phew… okay… hang on… And he wasn’t whooping or shouting. He was just standing there and his eyes were red, and he just gave me this look. And then he gave me a little nod. Whew, wait… Just this quiet little nod. And I knew I’d done that thing I’d wanted to do for so long, and that was break away. And there was something in that moment – it was the end of my hometown and my life there. It was the end of something and the beginning of something else. And the old man was just standing there, and he knew. And he was waving me off.

Darren Boyd appears in the new series of Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, starting February 24 on Sky 1

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