Q&A with Nick Preston
From My Mad Fat Diary to Grime Kids, this actor with an unconventional start is forging his own path.
Over the past few years there has been a clear assault on the arts. From the proposed 50% cut in arts funding to universities, to the Prime Minister (then chancellor) telling artists they ought to retrain due to the pandemic starving them of opportunities. Recent nepo baby discourse has further highlighted the institutional barriers put in budding creatives' way and acting is perhaps the most pertinent example. This only makes Nick Preston's ascent since playing Mansfield Mike in 2013's BBC drama Our Girl more intriguing. Hailing from Allenton, Derby (a far cry from the Etonian upbringing of some of Britain's most renowned actors) Nick has taken on a variety of roles showcasing everything from improvisational comedy as Rupert in hit Yorkshire based coming of age comedy Ladhood to introspective grief in short film Chinaski. So why hasn't being excluded from a life of extreme privilege stopped Nick from making it in one of Britain's most exclusionary industries? "I don't know if it has yet, I won't know until I'm older" Nick tells me as we drive back from the interview's accompanying photoshoot. "I still don't think you'd see my playing a superhero, not that I want to". He goes on to explain that whilst he has had notable success in his career so far, he feels he's often played similar roles "My characters are often on the front foot sort of people". An element of typecasting? Maybe that's inevitable in an industry that's fixated on how you look. "When I was 17 I was playing school kids. I can't do that now I'm 27. I've got a bit of a belly and have 5 o' clock shadow by midday!"
Nick is doing himself a disservice as his career has shown great variety. But even amidst roles which have linear elements (the rough white-working class mouthy type) Nick has a knack for bringing an individuality to each role. His portrayal of Mansfield Mike in Our Girl perfectly displays the bravado necessary for young men to convince themselves they aren't absolutely petrified of war. The sheer petulance of some of Rupert's funniest scenes in Ladhood (like booting the flowers in someone's front garden, or demanding the victims of his bullying walk the long way round the park home) are bits of improvised genius. Duplicity is something that intrigues Nick and inspired him early on. "Al Pacino's performance in "Dog Day Afternoon" as Sonny Wortzik is probably up there as one of my favourite performances. A nuanced performance that treads the line of criminality and heroism very well. I loved the conflicting narratives. True story too, worth the watch". Characters who fit into neat pockets do nothing for Nick.
He has a real insistence on making sure the roles he takes on are fulfilling and meaningful. Speaking to him you feel a real sense of duty to play characters that showcase the complexity of people. Creative license and fulfilment is something he wants younger actors who look up to him to internalise "Do it for yourself, not for others. It can be a misleading industry full of twists, turns and broken promises so doing it for your own creative license is key".
In captivating short Judas Nick stars opposite Lawrence Walker as two young men from rival gangs play a seemingly innocuous game of basketball. The subtlety and tension in their performances is scintillating. "When I was growing up in Allenton words like f****t or b***y b*y were used as standard disses. If there's 60 of us lads on the park there's no way there wasn't at least one gay lad hearing that" Nick says reflecting on how the film made him reflect on his own adolescence. Judas evokes a heartbreak as viewers watch two young men forced to perform masculinity how society demands. Something that is relatable to all male viewers regardless of sexuality.
Just pursuing the arts is somewhat taboo when you come from an environment Nick describes as being about survival."The arts are usually scoffed at, and I get it, it's hard to see a career being paved when you're coming from a background in which others haven't attempted it. Daunting even, but that's no reason to end your pursuit. The "working class" tag shouldn't define us, it's part of the fabric we're built on, but to use it as an excuse is like starting the race with a limp. Working class stories should be told and adored for their rough edges".
Some of the most critically acclaimed and beloved films and TV shows of recent years have done so well by virtue of showcasing swathes of society previous deemed unappealing to mainstream audiences. From Top Boy to Coda our screens are richer for the experience of seeing a wider tapestry of life reflected. This summer we'll see Nick in Grime Kids based on the book by DJ Target and written by Rocks writer Theresa Ikoko. Grime music's ascent to the mainstream from pirate radio stations and bedroom sets is perhaps Britain's greatest example of creativity facilitating social mobility. Something Nick's own life exemplifies. He's keen to weave this life experience into his own narratives when the time is right. "As we move forward, I hope to direct and write my own projects littered with characters from my past and present to have these stories and people etched in history to some degree".
Nick's ability to be part of telling these stories was honed at Nottingham's The Television Workshop. "I got kicked out of school in year 11 so my drama teacher recommended I apply for the workshop" he chuckles. "The Television Workshop, no finer place in the midlands to cut your teeth. Acting with the best young talent and working with the likes of Ian Smith. I look back on my time there fondly. It's amazing seeing people I worked with over the years scattered all over TV and film coming from the same stomping ground". The registered charity is a training ground for multiple BAFTA winners including fellow Derbarians Lauren Socha and Jack O' Connell, Golden Globe Winner Samantha Morton and BAFTA winning Line of Duty star Vicky McClure. After his time plying his trade in Nottingham, London was the next stop. "I moved to London as I turned 20, it's alright... a cool city, nothing to write home about though... nowt on Derby. My time there was great. Met some strangely wonderful people that enlightened me in all sorts of creative ways. I just quickly realised we have all the exact same back at home but less of a culture surrounding and pushing it. I see it getting larger in the Derby/Nottingham areas now though".
As earlier alluded to, Nick does see an element of classism in the sort of roles different actors are afforded. But that hasn't stopped him having lofty aspirations. "I'd really like to play Hades" he tells me "...as in Hades, lord of the underworld" he clarifies, seeing my bemused reaction. The challenge of depicting an entity of "pure malevolence" as he puts it, would be an exciting challenge. "I'd also love to do a Western. On a horse, proper gun toting. That's probably one for my late 30's though".
With so much on the bucket list I wonder what Nick would like viewers to have taken from his performances so far. "An amalgamation of giggles and "F@#% that guy!" Where my characters are concerned. I'd like to think that projects like Chinaski and Judas are roles that serve a deeper more thought provoking purpose for audiences. As for my close ones, I hope that they'd watch my work and feel proud at how far I've come and how persistent I've been to tell and be part of stories not so far from home for me". Casting directors look alive, there's a plethora of roles Nick Preston is ready to tackle. We wouldn't bet against him following in the footsteps of fellow Television Workshop alumni and bagging some honours along the way.
See more from Nick here
Creative direction, photography and article by Martyn Ewoma
Styling by Ell Cheatle
Shot at Boxed Studios
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