Passed/Failed: An education in the life of the actor James Alexandrou

'I was a sheep in our school play'
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The Independent Online

James Alexandrou, 23, was 11 when he was given the part of Martin Fowler in 'EastEnders', which he left in 2007. He has the role of Romeo in the Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank production of 'Romeo and Juliet' at the Globe Theatre, London, which provides 10,000 schoolchildren with free tickets.

I originally wanted to be a swimmer. At 12, I was ranked ninth in the country – for the 50m backstroke – and I held the London records for freestyle and backstroke. But I was doing EastEnders and you had to go to school – so something had to give.

My mother and father were working-class parents in Hackney and their idea was to stick us in as many after-school clubs as possible to keep us occupied. From the age of eight, we went once a week to the Anna Scher Theatre, a drama club in Islington.

I was at Lauriston Primary in Hackney for only a couple of years before our family moved out to Chingford. I remember maths at Chingford C of E Infants and learning my multiplication tables. I was fascinated: "Twelve multiplied by 14 – wow!" (It didn't last.) I loved science. I was a geek, I suppose. My twin sister was the cool one; she still is. Until secondary school, when I didn't want anyone telling my parents what I was up to, it was nice to have her companionship and we were very close.

At Chingford C of E Junior school I had the time of my life. The productions we put on were magical. In my first year, the school play was about the temptation of Christ: very dark! It had two blond Year Six kids: one played Jesus and one played the Devil. I played a sheep. My big break came when I played Dr Watson. I think this was a made-up story, because my sister played Superman.

I have mixed feelings about Chingford Foundation School. I loved it, but for the first two years it was difficult. Going there coincided with getting a job in EastEnders. It was a massive school and suddenly I was the kid on the telly. I didn't want to be noticed; I wanted to be a normal kid. There was some teasing from older boys but at 13 I had my growth spurt of an inch a month for a year. No one picks on a kid who's 6ft 2in. I loved learning, growing up, being with boys and girls of my own age – and messing around and being naughty. I think that when I was under 13 I could work on EastEnders for only 40 days a year, then it was 80 days a year. The school was very supportive. I remember copying people's homework furiously.

I did well in my GCSEs, although I got Us in Spanish and graphic design. I got four A-stars, three As and one B. For six months I attempted to do A-levels but it wasn't going to happen. As soon as I turned 16, I was offered an adult contract and, working every day, I was falling behind in the sixth form. When I was 18, I took two months off from EastEnders and went to the New York Film Academy. After I left EastEnders I did an acting course at the Central School of Speech and Drama.

I'm always slightly resentful about my A-levels and I like to think that I'd be able to do them one day. The only Shakespeare I studied at school was Romeo and Juliet, with a lovely man with a guitar who made the text relevant and accessible.

Tickets for Romeo and Juliet are available to the public for the 13 March performance: phone 020-7401 9919.)