Andrew Ellis interview: it’s always an emotional roller-coaster

Ahead of his DJ set at Birmingham's Hare and Hounds - with co-star Thomas Turgoose who played Shaun - This is England star Andrew Ellis, better known by his lovable character's name Gadget, chats to Henry Boon.

Skiddle Staff

Last updated: 6th Apr 2017

Image: This is England '90

Shane Meadows' film This Is England and its consequent heart-wrenching TV series span over generations. The characters and the on-the-money representation of youth culture set across the 80s and 90s eras captured the hearts of viewers young and old.

A huge part of that is the music - a platform for discovery for younger fans and a nostalgic look back for those who remember listening at the time. It stands to reason then that eventually this passion would spill over into real life.

With the official This Is England club nights, that’s exactly what happened. We caught up with Andrew Ellis (better known by his the happy-go-lucky, lovable idiot character Gadget) to talk DJing, getting pissed on set and all things music…

How’s it going, what are you up to?

I’m just in Tenerife, nice family break. It’s nice, bit cloudy today but we’ve come to the beach for a paddle, it’s nice and warm. It’s nice to get away, I’m building sandcastles with the little ’un.

Nice! So, how did the This Is England club nights first come about?

Basically, Thomo (Thomas Turgoose, who plays Shaun) and Shimmy (Andrew Shim who plays Milky) had done a couple, they got asked through a DJ agent and then Shimmy couldn’t do one once so he asked if I could fill in. I’ve been doing it from there for about two years now! There’s still a little bit of hype around the series, it’s not died out yet!

Had you DJed before?

No I’d never done it, I’ve always had a big interest in music and then obviously the TV series and the film had a big musical influence, it kinda just made sense. John (at F-10 Management) got us in touch with a couple of DJs who showed us the ropes and then we kinda learnt as we went along. We started off going into places and just playing songs and now with a bit of experimentation and a bit of practice we’ve got into a little bit more and started mixing and stuff.

We started off going into places and just playing songs, and now with a bit of experimentation and a bit of practice we’ve got into a little bit more and started mixing and stuff.

Do you enjoy it?

Yeah I love it! It’s great fun, we have a laugh. If one of us is DJing, the other two will be in the crowd having a dance and a beer. We don’t see each other as much as we’d like to but with the DJing we’re able to get together every couple of weekends and have a drink and dance!

So you’re all still good friends?

Yeah, the whole cast really, we speak to each other every day on Whatsapp and we try to all get together at least once or twice a year. Obviously, everyone is busy doing bits and bobs so it’s not always easy but at least with this me, Shimmy and Thomo can get together at least twice a month, which can be annoying, maybe too much now (he laughs).

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I guess you all kind of grew up together in a way…

Yeah, me and Thomo were the youngest, he was thirteen and I was fifteen, still doing GCSEs and stuff. When we did (This Is England ‘90) my missus was pregnant so I was about to be a dad. It’s weird because you’ve been hanging around with these guys since you were in school yourself and then about to become a dad, it’s bonkers! I’m getting married in June and Thomo’s one of the groomsmen. It’s kind of like a holiday when we all get together!

How did it influence your upbringing working on the film so young?

When we did the film I was in my GCSE year and I kinda went back to school with a different attitude, I was never very good at school anyway! I’d been out of school working and the teachers would tell you one thing and I’d be like, "well no hang about, it’s actually like this".

Other than that, everyone was grown up and level headed because we had the right kind of people around us. I know when Thomo was thirteen, he went back home and his dad made him get a paper round, so he was filming a movie one week and then doing a paper round on his bike the next!

It must be hard to stay grounded when you go back to real life…

Yeah, you get so many people when you’re filming who you can ask for what you want and get it given on a plate so it’s good to stay grounded and not forget your roots.

Is that something you felt you had to make an effort with too?

Yeah kinda, because we did it so young, we did it in 2005 and it didn’t come out till 2007 which is quite a gap at that age because I left school and that. I've worked at ASDA and I worked in call centres, you’ve got to not have any airs of grace about you and just crack on with real life. 

I think a lot of people think that once you’re on the telly or in a film you’re driving round in Rolls Royce’s and dining with Tom Cruise every night but in reality, you’re sat around waiting for your next job to come in.

So, did the show have any influence on your music taste growing up?

Yeah definitely. For me growing up, my dad sort of doesn’t listen to anything post 1990! He loves The Stone Roses and stuff. I’d always heard that kind of music, the cheesy ‘80s music that my dad likes but the ska and reggae vibes of the film, I definitely got into that more after the film. I started listening to Toots and the Maytals and things like that.

Then the same thing happened with the series. With 86, Gadget was into hip-hop and stuff, which is a reflection of me because when I auditioned originally I went in with a big Chicago Bulls t-shirt on and stuff like that.

Shane always remembered that I was into my hip-hop and when we went into ‘86 he asked me if I wanted to stay with the gang in terms of dressing a bit skin-heady, a bit new romantic or if I’d like to do the hip-hop side and I was like, definitely that! But especially going into the ‘90s, the Roses and that, that’s the kind of music I was brought up on really, being a Manc.

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Wasn’t Ian Brown in an episode?

Yeah! He was in an episode on the first TV series, which for me was crazy! I remember getting to set in the morning and just seeing Ian Brown just kind of half dressed as a copper, smoking a fag outside the make-up trolley and I just went over to him and told him who he was!

I just went over and went, “you’re Ian Brown” and he was like, “yeah, I know”! But yeah, he was a lovely bloke and he played a copper and someone had the fucking brilliant idea of giving him a truncheon which he thoroughly enjoyed using.

Did he hit you with it?

A fair few times yeah! He said something along the lines of, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!”

So is that the kind of music you’ll be playing at the club night?

I mean, since the series has stretched over such a long period, the music changed throughout. In the DJ set we’ll normally play a bit of ska and stuff at the beginning, maybe dip into a little hip-hop and then a bit of brit pop and ‘90s tunes, bit of Manchester and stuff and then just see where the night’s going, you can normally judge it by the crowd.

The student crowds are a lot more forgiving and will listen to a lot more diverse music, the Spotify generation! The older crowds though, you’ve always got to appease, they keep you on your toes. They just come for a few hours for the nostalgia. Whereas the students you can be playing a bit of Toots one minute and a bit of Snoop Dogg the next, they love it!

Sounds good! How are the crowds?

Amazing! Everyone is always really nice, it’s a compliment to the show, the kind of fans that are all genuinely nice people. The older crowd watch it because they’ve grown up living it and the younger crowd love it because of the kind of group dynamic, the gang aspect. That that reflects when you’re out, everyone’s really polite and stuff. I’ve had a few mates who’ve done soaps and they always get a bit of grief but I’ve never had that with the This Is England fans.

It’s a really hardcore following because people have grown up with it…

Exactly, the students would’ve been not quite the right age to watch it when it first came out, but that’s when people always watch stuff isn’t it! A lot of people who watch it have said they watched it with their mums and dads because everyone in the room can relate.

Yeah, I actually studied it in school.

A few people have said that! It’s bonkers. I went and did a film and media course at collage when I was younger and they actually brought it out and I was like, can I not be in this class! I’d kinda got away with people not recognising me and then they brought that out and I was like, oh shit! Everyone was like, "isn’t that the fat one there!?"

Which era of Gadget do you most identify with? ‘86 with the hip-hop?

Yeah I think so. That’s kinda the only trait of Gadget that’s me really, the idiotic dress sense and the music taste in ’86. It’s what I grew up what I listening to so ‘86 Gadget is my guy, apart from the haircut!

I guess Gadget was always the most outlandish style-wise?

When my missus was delivering my little girl and I was there with my stupid bowl cut in 2013, it looked a bit odd! The thing is, Shane lets you put a lot into the character, a lot of them are people he knows from his past to so there is a Gadget out there.

Shane said my character was always the butt of the joke and everyone would go and pay £20 for a hair cut down the high street and he’d get his aunt or his sister to do it ‘cause they were studying hair and make-up so that was the angle we went for, Shane actually cut my hair a few times. 

Gadget was the butt of the joke for a lot of the shows, but especially in the last series there was a lot more focus on the younger group, were you pleased to be seeing more sides to him?

Yeah, with my character, I was always lucky to be the comic relief, I had the nice funny story lines but then when we got the script for ’90, it was amazing to see the characters we’ve grown up with growing up too. You could do another ‘Gadget gets with an old lady’ storyline again but it’s nice to see a nice caring bloke for Kelly.

A lot of it’s kind of improvised and a lot of came from the fact that I was on the cusp of being a father really, Shane just used that and went down the line of - imagine this is your daughter. I think that added a realism and a grown-up air about Gadget. 

Was it harder to do the more serious and dark story lines?

Yeah, a lot of it was a challenge. I remember saying to someone when we were filming, I think there were like two or three scenes in the whole of 90 where I wasn’t crying! So yeah that’s the challenge, making that side of it believable. Working with Chanel Cresswell who plays Kelly and Michael Socha who plays Harvey, they’re phenomenal actors. As long as you’ve got someone you can get to that level with it makes it less of a challenge. 

Something that I’ve always enjoyed about This Is England is that it gives a very fair representation of drug culture, was it difficult to make those scenes look authentic?

Oh, we were all smacked off our tits! …Nah I’m only joking. 

Yeah again because it’s sort of improvised, the scene where we all first take ecstasy was shot through the night and Shane was quite lenient and said, look if you wanna have a couple of drinks we’ve sorted you out with a few cans. We knew we were filming all night so we’d snuck a couple of bottles of vodka in anyway!

So yeah we were having a drink and the way he shot it was, he had about fifteen cameras set up around the camp that we were in and he had a couple of people dressed up in those ‘90s hippy costumes roaming around with cameras so he basically just said go and have a good time, we had eye-drops in our eyes that made us look like we were on ecstasy and he just let us have a party! 

We started filming at nine and finished at four in morning so we were just having a drink and having a laugh with some tunes playing, a big bonfire, ass naked ladies, it was one of those nights where everyone just got in the party mood and I think that shows on screen, I don’t think you can mimic that. Obviously he wasn’t gonna give us ecstasy but a couple of pints and you just mellow into it, and have a good time! 

You’re trying to represent a time in history when that kind of stuff was rife, there’s a lot of people who will remember it, some fondly and some obviously not so fondly, so you’ve got to hit the right notes.

The ecstasy scene is amazing and everyone’s having a great time and that’s a direct link to parties that Shane’s had in the past, when ecstasy first hit the shores of the UK, I’m sure he’s said before it was like something from space. It was like the ‘60s again because everyone was trying these new things, and then unfortunately the dark side of that was that one of the new things was heroin.

It very quickly goes from having a great time to really dark, which is a common theme of the show!

Yeah, it’s always an emotional roller-coaster with This Is England, right from the film. It was subtle racism, subtle racism, subtle racism, then suddenly Milky is getting his head kicked in! It just grows and grows and then jumps out. 

Anyway, back to music! What was your first album?

The Marshal Mathers LP, I was ten so I was well too young to have it, my mum didn’t have a clue what it was!

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That must be horrifying as a parent, hearing that album.

Yeah in one respect, but also I remember me and my mates just sitting in a room listening to it day-in, day-out we just had it memorised. In that respect, we weren’t on the streets causing trouble, we were listing to Eminem talking about murdering his wife and stuff! He’s a poetic genius.

Andrew Ellis is joined by Thomas Turgoose who played Shaun in This is England for a club night celebrating the 10th anniversary of the seminal film.

They come to Birmingham's Hare and Hounds on Bank Holiday Sunday 16th April.

You can get your This is England club night tickets via the box below. 

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