Young James Herriot

A new three-part drama series based on the early life of James Herriot

Interview with Ben Lloyd Hughes

Category: BBC One; Drama

Tell us a bit about Rob McAloon

He may appear to be a bit of a cad but there is more to him than that. He’s very independent. I was very keen that he not be a stereotype and wanted to create a complex character. On the surface McAloon looks like he likes a good time, he gambles and drinks but there is lots going on underneath. There is a heart. We all do fall into the trap of playing a role the way people expect, I know I’ve done it myself, but I want to suggest that there is more to him than we see on the surface but he is not sure how to show it. I think that especially applies to his relationship with Whirly.

What sort of effect does James have on McAloon?

James and Rob are completely different. James is very open-hearted and very generous. Rob looks laid back and doesn’t care whereas James has this love for people and for life in general. Rob is actually very fond of James and I think James brings that side out in him

McAloon isn’t quite the uncaring playboy he might appear to be. He can be relied on to do the right thing, how interesting is that to play as an actor?

One of the most interesting things to me is that these are young people who are not quite defined yet. Even if you have seen James Herriot on TV or in the books you may not know what James Herriot had been. All three of us are trying to find out who we are. Rob in particular doesn’t want to be pinned down. I think Rob has found himself in Glasgow because he’s not really that interested in animals and university has given him the freedom to reinvent himself. I think at different times he is either very popular or very unpopular. He has lots of friends but no good friends and that’s what James provides.

Did you feel you had something to live up to considering the legacy of the show?

There was absolutely no pressure on me, not like there must have been on Iain. I felt no expectation levels because my character didn’t exist. I made a decision not to read the books or watch the show. When I told people I was in this they always asked ‘Which one are you?’ because their frame of reference is the original show. But I’m not playing a young Tristan or a version of Siegfried so I really got to make it all up which is why I ultimately decided to base my characterisation on the script.

You don’t have too much to do with the animals here, is that by design?

It’s an interesting process because Rob really wants to have as little to do with animals as possible. My interaction was limited and it was mostly with a sheep called Lillian who was in fact played by a male sheep called Rocky. I was driving around in this lovely 1930s runabout which was very cool for Iain and I. But I did spend a large part of one episode stuck in this car eye to eye with Lillian who, despite her name, was very obviously and demonstrable male. The only note I got from the director was ‘When you get out of the car make sure you stand in front of his bits’, which I managed to do. I have to say Rocky was absolutely great as were all of the animals. I know they say you should never work with animals but I can’t recall there being a moment on the set when there was any disruption caused by the animals. They were great.