Expelled from school for getting into trouble, Thomas "Tomo" Turgoose was so devil-may-care that, offered the chance of stardom, he demanded a fiver before agreeing to audition for a film about 1980s skinheads.
But having got the part ahead of hundreds of others, the teenager has turned in a performance deemed so compelling that This Is England by Shane Meadows' is now the buzz of the British movie industry. On Wednesday, Tomo will see his work for the first time when he walks down the red carpet at the Rome Film Festival for the European premiere.
And in an echo of the redemptive ending to Meadows' hard-hitting tale of disaffected youth, Tomo, now 14, has put his troubled period behind him, returned to school and is auditioning for other parts. He has rebuilt his life despite being hit by the sudden death from cancer of his mother, Sharon, only months after the shoot finished. In the film, his character, Shaun, loses his father in the Falklands War.
"You only have to tell people about the last 12 months and it melts people's hearts," Meadows said yesterday. "The whole course of Tomo's life changing was inspirational."
Tomo is now living with his father, Robert Eggleston, an oil refinery supervisor, and his stepmother, Jo. He has filmed a BBC1 drama which is due out this autumn and is now back at school full-time. "I thought if I went to school, my mum would be proud of me," the youngster said.
He is not sure how he feels about seeing the film in Rome. "I don't think I'll like it because of my own voice. But I'm really happy that I've done it. It's exciting that I've done something like that and all my mates say, 'When's your film coming out?'"
Meadows, whose previous films include Dead Man's Shoes, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands with Robert Carlyle, and Twenty Four Seven with Bob Hoskins, had already seen hundreds of children without success before he turned to a specialist casting agent who works on the streets. The agent visited the special project for expelled youngsters in Tomo's home town of Grimsby and caught him on an audition tape. Tomo cheekily demanded a fiver to return for a screen test with Meadows. The director had reservations because the child seemed so unstable, but he knew he had found his star.
Tomo got his fiver and the final results astonished Meadows. "He's absolutely flawless. I don't think there was a frame he shot that we couldn't use," he said. "As a director, I want people to see that he is as good as the kid in [the 1969 Ken Loach film] Kes. I think he has a chance of being remembered like that."
Sharon Turgoose saw footage before she died. "She wept," Meadows said. "From her point of view, along came somebody who had seen something in him as she had. I think she saw some real hope for him, this kid who had been in and out of trouble for the last couple of years."
This is England is being screened at the London Film Festival on 31 October and 1 November and will be released in the spring.