This week we interviewed Barnsley born actor and writer Shaun Dooley. Dooley has starred in soaps Coronation Street and Eastenders and appeared in BBC dramas Exile and Great Expectations, and most recently the part of Sir Robert Brackenbury in The White Queen, and Kincaid in Wolfblood. Shaun is married to Polly Dooley and is a father to four children.
Was it always your dream to be an actor, and what inspired you to want to go into the world of acting?
No. I wanted originally to work with animals, the bigger and fiercer the better. A big game vet would have been ideal. I think in a lot of ways it still is. If I could step into the very large shoes of the inimitable David Attenborough I would give up acting tomorrow. After failing my exams, the drama youth group I was attending set up an audition for a drama course in Barnsley saying they thought I should give acting a go. Up until then it had never even occurred to me as a profession. It’s not what guys do where I’m from. I spoke to my dad and the antithesis of Billy Elliott happened, he told me to go for it. I was going to be unemployed anyway with the pits closing so I might as well pursue something I enjoyed doing.
You have been in many different dramas, TV shows and films, what has been your favourite acting role to-date, and why?
That’s tough as I’ve been so lucky over the years. I loved the character of Joe Gargery in the BBC’s Great Expectations. I took a very quick blacksmith course then whenever I could I stayed by the furnace and made things between takes. For me he was very much a man of his occupation and I felt it important to experience as much as possible of his life. In our version he was a good, honest man but also strong and commanding. A great, great role to play.
What are your tips for juggling such a successful career with family life – what are your favourite things as a family to do together to relax and unwind?
Marry an amazing partner. My wife Polly really is the reason it works. If I’m juggling career and home life well it’s because she is a great ringmaster, keeping the show on the tracks. She enables me to have an amazing family life and be able to work in this incredible occupation, whilst supporting me going out to write film scripts that may never get made. Trying to give myself some credit I’d say that my family come first for me, they are what’s important. My work provides for my family, the roof over our heads, the food; which in my opinion is how it should be.
Our favourite times are spent when we’re together as a family. We love to travel and explore new places in England and abroad. As a large family; hotels are very expensive and don’t cater for us. We’re very happy by our tent cooking on an open fire with no wifi or phone signal. Although the sea or a pool somewhere hot right now would be very nice.
What wisdom would you like to pass on to your children?
To my boy: Be a gentleman. There aren’t many left. They’re a dying breed. Be honest, brave, empathetic, work hard, stick to your principles and you will have a good life.
To my girls: Be bold. Be brave and never be told you can’t do something by anyone. Don’t be with anyone who doesn’t treat you kind and love you more than they do themselves. When in doubt: think of your mother.
You stared in the critically-acclaimed BBC drama, Exile, in which your co-star Jim Broadbent played a former journalist with Alzheimer’s disease. You then took part in the Bupa London 10,000 to raise awareness for the disease. Why does this cause strike such a chord with you? Tell us why it is so important.
The cause only strikes a chord with me in as much as all my charity work does… that we are all human, that we are all on this planet just trying to get on. I have no Alzheimer’s in my family (touch wood) but chances are there will be one day. I am also a patron of the Pink Ribbon foundation and there is no Breast Cancer in my family (touch wood) but I have a mum, two sisters, one wife and three daughters so chances are there could be one day. I have a blessed life but am acutely aware that many others don’t, that there is a lot of pain out there. If I can do a small amount to use that insipid word ‘celebrity’ to help, then I feel I should.
You are a Patron of the Pippa Jones Little Treasure Trust, tell us a bit about this important charity and what it means to you.
I can’t handle anything to do with kids in pain and suffering . I was asked to do “An evening with…” back in my home town of Barnsley. The idea of me sitting on a stage and talking about ME and how wonderful it is to be me, and get paid for it made me feel ill. Then I thought; what a great chance to raise money for a charity. I trawled the internet for a Barnsley charity and fell upon the Pippa Jones Trust. I was instantly moved by their story and what they were doing for others and so approached them, asking permission to give my fee and sell off autographs and pictures etc on the night. I never expected them to ask me to be a patron but I’m very proud to be so.
What’s the one children’s product you couldn’t have lived with out?
I’ve racked my brain about this and realised we don’t really use many “products” as such. I often think a lot of the products on sale are starting to get in the way of interaction with our children. Ipad holders on rockers? Ergonomically designed plastic holders for better cradling of your baby? Really?
Washable nappies are amazing. Having four children can be ethically frowned upon but we’ve managed to keep our contribution to land fill sites at a minimum.
Amber necklaces. I don’t really believe in all that but I have to say they have worked with teething for all our children so… I guess I’m wrong.
If you could play any role in any film, past or present who or what would it be?
One of my favourite films is “Angels with dirty faces.” If they remade it I’d love to play Rocky Sullivan originally made famous by James Cagney.
What’s in the pipeline for you next?
I have just finished a film called “Blood Moon” in which I play an American cowboy in a horror western. I managed to fulfil a childhood dream by playing a cowboy with guns and horses. I am currently writing a tv series that I’m hoping will be picked up and I am filming something at the moment which I am under a strict embargo not to disclose. I’ve had to sign legal documents and everything! If I’m allowed to tell you before this comes out I’ll let you know.
How would you sum yourself up in one sentence?
Father of four, husband to one, son of two, admirer of many.