Friday 14 Mar 2014
Warren Brown has seen, at first hand, the difficulties young soldiers face in returning from war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I've got quite a few mates who are in the Forces and they all say that getting back to normal life can be difficult," he says. Brown was able to draw on that knowledge as he portrayed Lee "Hibbsy" Hibbs in Occupation.
"Hibbsy is definitely the youngest and least experienced of the three. Soldiering is all he's ever known, and that's what he loves," he explains.
"When he comes back and tries to fit into normal society he finds it difficult to talk to his parents and he realises that the Army is all he's got. He can also open up to Mike and Danny. I know that's something that happens when you come back from anywhere with the Forces."
Brown's empathy for the men and women who go to war on our behalf was deepened even further during the making of Occupation.
Whilst filming in Morocco, Brown met a group of RAF pilots on a training exercise in the nearby desert.
"They were so glad that this was being made. If you don't have any friends or family in the services it is so easy to forget about what is happening and it is so easy when it comes on the television to go, 'It's the war again', click, and turn over to something else. It's all too easy to forget. It is raising awareness of the fact that our boys are still out there and they are still being killed out there," he says.
To date, Brown's best known television roles have been in Shameless and Hollyoaks, where he was nominated for several awards for his portrayal of a psychopath. Occupation represents the biggest opportunity of his career so far.
"It's certainly the biggest thing I've done to date. It's been a fantastic experience for me working with Stephen Graham and James Nesbitt. It raises your game working with people like that," he says.
Filming Occupation was physically demanding, something Brown is more comfortable with than most actors. Before joining the profession in his mid-twenties he was a world champion Thai boxer.
Brown took up Thai boxing when he was a 15-year-old growing up in Warrington. He quickly prospered, becoming a British and Commonwealth champion. One day he got a phone call from a promoter asking him whether he'd be interested in travelling to Italy for a fight.
"He said the bloke's the current world champion and has been for years," he explains. The fight was in Turin in front of a hostile crowd, but Brown prevailed and returned to Warrington a world champion. "I defended it successfully a few times."
By the time he was 25, however, he decided he'd had enough of boxing. When he told friends he intended becoming an actor instead they were convinced he'd taken leave of his senses.
"People thought I was bloody mad when I said I was going to do acting. They said: 'But you've never done it before'. I knew it was a hard job so I gave up everything and went to university. It took a while, but I was doing little bits here and there. I was always realistic; I knew it would be hard work."
He got his break when a casting director spotted him and asked him to go along for a casting session for Shameless. He landed a role and went on to appear in Hollyoaks.
In contrast to well known martial arts fighters like Jean Claude van Damme, who used their fighting skills to carve a career in acting, Brown was determined to do things differently. "I don't want to be seen as an actor who used to do Thai boxing. I want it to be the other way round. I want to be taken seriously as an actor first," he says.
"I didn't get into acting thinking I want to do action stuff. I have done a couple of things where there has been fighting or there has been physical stuff so it has definitely helped, and I would love to do more action stuff eventually – but only when I've established myself as an actor."
There are distinct parallels between the two professions, not least the rejections that are so much a part of the life of an actor.
"I had fights which I did lose. A lot of it is about wanting to come back stronger. It's absolutely the same with acting. In acting you get rejections. It's something you do have to learn very early on, that it's not personal and you will get another job," he explains.
"The good news, though, is that it doesn't hurt as much!"