Will Howard (Dan Hebden Lloyd)
Up to now, Dan Hebden Lloyd has been on track for a law degree and a career as a solicitor, like his father and grandfather. But tonight he announced that he wants to join the Army.
Will Howard has played the part of Dan for six months, since the character returned from working at a summer camp in America. Will has been doing some travelling of his own, having this morning returned from Thailand and Singapore. Despite not having slept for 40 hours, he gamely spoke to me about his career and playing Dan.
Will is no stranger to radio drama, having worked for eight months on the BBC Radio Drama Company (known as ‘the Rep’). He’s lost count of the number of radio plays he’s been in, although it’s north of 50.
“The great thing about being on the Rep is that you get to play parts you’d never play in the theatre or TV, because of how you look. So I’ve played big burly blokes, Asian characters, black characters, 13 year olds and 35 year olds... And you haven’t got any choice. You can’t ring your agent up and say I’m not sure if I’m right for this. So it’s an exciting way of developing your skills and building your confidence in your voice.”
Although born in Warrington, Will grew up in the Far East. In fact, his elder brother still lives in Singapore, hence the visit. So he hadn’t come across much radio drama until he decided to make a career as an actor. He took a long time to admit to himself that he wanted to do this professionally. “It was like, if I didn’t actually say I wanted to be an actor, then I couldn’t fail at it.”
But when he studied drama at Exeter University, he became strangely jealous as his peers started to apply to drama schools. In the end he sent four applications on the last possible day – and then had to race between London, Bristol, Guilford and Cardiff for four auditions in two days.
Cardiff won, and he trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, which fortunately for his future career has a strong radio drama programme. “I love radio drama. It’s a very intimate medium. It allows the audience to paint most of the visual picture themselves. I suppose each person has their own unique experience of it, like reading a novel.”
When Will took on the part of Dan, he was concerned that his own background in the Far East was so different from the rural English world of Ambridge. “But I soon realised that it’s much more about whether you can identify with the feelings of the character, and what motivates them.
“It’s fantastic working on The Archers, because you can build the character over a very long time. Something you’re performing now might be informed by something you did months ago. That’s very rare.”
In a strange way, Will’s own choice of career has helped him understand why Dan has made the choice he has. “I’d hate to be one of those blokes who sits in a pub at the age of 40 and says I could have done this or I could have done that, and I think Dan feels the same way. He’s had his life all mapped out for him – school, A-levels, degree, safe career as a solicitor – and it’s I think it’s actually quite brave to not do what everyone expects you to do. I think it was going to America that allowed him to look at his life in Ambridge a bit more objectively.
although I’d never have thought of joining the Army myself, reading the
background notes and researching army recruitment has made me realise why it
would appeal to someone like Dan. He’s very outdoor, with his riding and so on.
And let’s face it, most 19 year-olds want a bit of adventure in their lives.”
Keri Davies is an Archers scriptwriter and web producer.
Learn more about Will - and Dan - in our Who's Who
BBC Radio Drama Company
Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama