From Cannes to Walford for Clifton's Finn
EastEnders' fans will have noticed a strangely misplaced Nottingham accent in Walford throughout January. Clifton-based Finn Atkins, 19, told Jo Roberts what it was like guest-starring as teen runaway Marissa and appearing in her mum's favourite show
THE ears of local viewers must have pricked up when they heard Marissa?
"A lot of people have said that! I've had a lot of nice feedback. When I went for the casting I'd prepared a London accent, but they were like, 'You know what, we prefer your Nottingham accent,' and I was like 'Get in!' A lot of people had assumed I would be giving it the Cockney slang and I said, 'No – I'm doing it with my Nottingham accent.' I kind of felt like I was representing the city."
Did you feel like a bit of an outsider amongst the cast?
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"Not at all, everyone was so friendly. But it can be daunting to go to a set where everyone knows each other and is already friends; it's almost like a nine-to-five for them, whereas I was really star-struck. It was surreal. I've done previous projects that were big for me, but Mum's always watched EastEnders, so it's always been on my telly. Being there and meeting those people just blows you away."
How long did you spend filming?
"It was over about three or four weeks. It was strange seeing it on telly last week when I filmed it about three months ago!
Who did you become friendly with?
"My character, Marissa, was in a lot of scenes with Jamie Borthwick, who plays Jay Brown. He's a really talented young boy – he's 14 going on 40! We got on really well. I had a couple of scenes with Barbara Windsor, who was absolutely amazing. She's only about as big as me! She had loads of stories to tell, giving me her experiences from when she was my age. Perry Fenwick, the guy who plays Billy Mitchell, is really nice as well."
Re-cap on the storyline.
"Marissa was a runaway who had been let down by people. She arrived in London to stay with a friend, but found the friend wasn't there, so she'd been on her own and the hardship had forced her into prostitution. Obviously that wasn't something that EastEnders could delve too much into, but you got the idea that she was going through hard times. She could seem quite hard but she did have a softer side. I don't know if they'll return to the storyline or not."
Did you commute to the Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire?
"No, I was just staying round the corner. The character, Marissa, was only 16. Because I'm quite small I can play anything from 15 up to my age or even a bit older."
You attend the Television Workshop in Nottingham. Is that how you got this part?
"No, I got this part through my agent. The casting director at the audition remembered me from the Shane Meadows' film Once Upon A Time In The Midlands (2002). I think that, because of Shane, the Nottingham accent – and Nottingham itself – has been put back on the map. A lot of people are liking the Nottingham accent. At the moment I'm filming something else for the BBC in Liverpool and a lot of the cast have a Scouse accent, but I'm using my Nottingham accent. It will be nice for me to do accents sometimes, but it's nice for people to know I'm from Nottingham and see the Nottingham accent represented."
You often seem to play quite troubled teens – is that your own experience?
"No, I've had a wicked life! But I grew up in Clifton and I'm quite street-wise. I'm quite socially aware; it does help with those sort of parts. I think, because of where I come from and grew up, I've not been wrapped in cotton wool. Mum and Dad have never sugar-coated anything. It makes it easier to play those characters because I can really go for it, whereas other young people who go for those roles might not.
Do you search out different roles?
"Straight after EastEnders I did a documentary-style film called To Die For (a working title) by the people who made Donkey Punch. That character is more like myself; quite soft and likeable. As some of my roles have been hard-faced, I'm trying to do roles that are a little bit different."
How does attending The Workshop help?
"The director, Ian Smith, tries to stretch us. In We Happy Few at the Nottingham Arts Theatre from February 25-28, I'm playing a German Jewish refugee called Gertrude. It's only a fiver for a ticket but all the money goes towards keeping the Workshop running. Ian is good at giving us roles that test our weaknesses and strengths. I never want to stop learning."
How did you get involved with the Workshop?
"I went to Greencroft Primary School and the workshop was handing out letters. My dad's friend's daughter – Lauren Richardson – went and I saw her in a kids' programme called Out Of Sight. It blew me away that someone I knew was on the telly, so I wanted to get into it. I joined when I was eight. You can stay in the workshop up to 21, so I've got two years left and I'm making the most of it. When I go to auditions in London and say I'm from the Television Workshop people always know it, either through Ian or through Shane's work."
Have your parents been supportive?
"Yes, but it was something I brought to them – they have never been pushy. They've let me do what I wanted to do, and have encouraged it. My Mum, Coleen, used to come home from work early to take me to drama group, and they both had to drive me to auditions. My Dad, Roger, went to Cannes Film Festival with me for Once Upon A Time In The Midlands. But Mum can't believe it that I'm in EastEnders! I've also got two older brothers, Luke and Ben. They're very proud."
Do you live at home?
"Yes, I live with my mum and dad. My boyfriend, Adam Kay, is at Leeds Met University so I stay with him quite a bit. I split my time between Nottingham, Leeds and London really. Acting's not really Adam's thing, he is a DJ who runs his own clubnight in Nottingham called MISST. It's nice that we've both got a variety of interests."
It sounds like you're becoming very well-connected.
"Yes, I did a film recently from Eden Lake with Jack O'Connell who's in Skins and came out of the workshop. I'm filming a BBC programme called Moving On. The title tells you a lot – it's a series but in literally each episode it's completely moved on; it's a new cast in every single one. It's quite a new idea – they're trying to reinvent daytime TV and put something fresh on. The episode I'm doing is with Lesley Sharpe (The Full Monty) and my boyfriend is played by Elliott Tittensor, who played Carl Gallagher in Shameless. It's really well-written."
Is it hard to make a full-time career as an actress?
"It is difficult, I'll be honest. I've had a really good six months and done some amazing things that I've been really proud of, but I still work sometimes at my friend's bar in Nottingham. I can't say which one because it's easier to do the job anonymously, although I love being recognised! People think you're raking it in and they admire the lifestyle, but when I get home I just have to get back to reality."
Do you still see old friends in Nottingham?
"Yes. I went to Farnborough School in Clifton and then High Pavement College and still see some of those friends. I have always loved London and I would like to live there one day. Although you don't have to live in London as an actor any more – there's a lot going on in Manchester direction, too, these days. But I will always keep my roots. Everybody knows Samantha Morton's from Nottingham. I'd love to emulate her career, but I can only wish. There are so many young people from the Workshop who are doing well; it's really nice that Shane's work has cleared the way for that talent, and I'm riding the crest of that wave at the moment."