Sunderland 1917 star Jonny Lavelle on meeting his heroes, hopes for the future - and being stalked by his mam while filming Vera

Sunderland actor Jonny Lavelle has been catching the eye on the big screen with a role in the latest blockbuster 1917.

Saturday, 25th January 2020, 8:00 am
Updated Monday, 27th January 2020, 6:05 pm
Jonny Lavelle (centre) as Orderly Byrne with George MacKay (left) as Lance Corporal Schofield. Picture: Entertainment One UK

Jonny, from Houghton, swapped his callcentre job for a three-year acting MA at the Guildhall School of Musice and Dance in London in 2015, after becoming one of just 25 students selected from 2,500 applicants.

He took time out from his busy schedule for an exclusive catch-up with the Echo.

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Jonny Lavelle. Picture: Danann Breathnach

You've landed roles in some very high profile productions - are you surprised they've come along so quickly?

Yeah I am! You never really know how it’s going to go when you leave the safety of drama school to go into this industry, but I worked hard while I was there, and I’ve been very lucky.

If you told me five years ago the stuff I’d be doing I’d have probably sworn at you.

I think ‘proper buzzing’ is the correct term.

You filmed the 'obligatory for a North East actor' episode of Vera - what was it like being back on home turf?

That was my first job after Guildhall and I had such a good time on it.

We were filming in Amble, so instead of going back to London I went home to my family over the weekend, which was really nice to be able to do.

My mam actually drove up to Amble to watch the shoot. I didn't know until I spotted them standing in a field in the distance, giving me a little wave!

It was very sweet and very funny.

She knew she shouldn't really have been there but she was just as excited as myself, if not more.

1917 is a big budget Hollywood production - what was your first experience of such a production like?

It was another level.

We were filming in Salisbury, on the army training ground, and they’d dug a real trench that covered this massive area.

Next thing, I’m down in this trench, with hundreds of other men, all in full kit, stained and muddied etc, and then we film it and there’s smoke everywhere, explosions, dust and dirt raining down on us - it was insane.

Very good for getting into character.

You've done a fair bit of theatre work as well as film and TV - do you prefer one to the other? What are your least/most favourite things about the different media?

I’ve been very lucky, and had the chance to play some amazing theatre roles, and as many will know when you’re up there in front of a live audience it’s a feeling like no other.

There’s obviously similarities with that and acting for the screen but I feel like for every aspect it shares with theatre, there’s half a dozen things you need to think about differently.

It’s a different beast, and I’ve had such an amazing time gaining experience and learning from actors and directors who’ve been in the industry for years and have perfected their techniques.

I’ve learnt so much just from watching them and seeing how they work.

I think the key is relaxation... for anyone who’s interested!

You've already worked with some household names. Were you starstruck and how was it?

I was a little bit yes, but I’m quite chuffed with how well I kept it inside!

Working with actors like Tim Roth, Genevieve O’Reilly, Martin Freeman, and being into acting myself from a such a young age, these people are idols of mine. It blows my mind I had the chance to work with them and it probably always will.

But when you’re on set it’s not the time or place to start gushing about Reservoir Dogs or The Office!

It’s obviously a working environment, and you want to be professional.

So I gush to the crew instead, tell them all about it so I can keep cool around the stars!

What are your ambitions for the future? Are there any roles/shows you’d particularly like to be part of?

I spent a lot of time not being able to do this.

As most people know it’s a tough industry, and if you’re working at all as a creative, it’s a really good thing. I think it’s important to remind yourself of that.

I’m grateful for any opportunity I get; any audition, any chance I get to do this.

So whatever happens, I’m just having a blast.