Thomas Turgoose: ‘I had the actual Hulk singing Grimsby football chants!’

The ‘This Is England’ star talks to Jacob Stolworthy about the new BBC2 drama, looking up to Shane Meadows and his friendship with Mark Ruffalo

Wednesday 31 May 2023 06:30 BST
Thomas Turgoose: ‘I remember my first time on set – I had no idea what I was doing ... But now it’s the reverse’
Thomas Turgoose: ‘I remember my first time on set – I had no idea what I was doing ... But now it’s the reverse’ (Shutterstock)

Thomas Turgoose recently came to a striking realisation: his career had come full circle. In 2005, the actor was just 13 when Shane Meadows plucked him from a Grimsby youth club to play This Is England’s mouthy upstart Shaun. Naturally, there were concerns that Turgoose, who had no previous acting experience, might be left behind once the excitement had died down – but his co-stars assured him this would not be the case. “I was made a promise by Stephen Graham and Vicky [McClure] that when This Is England was released, it wasn’t just gonna be ‘That’s it.’ They promised to stick by me and support me.” They did. Eighteen years later, Turgoose found the situation reversed, and himself in the role of elder statesman.

Meadows has enlisted the actor once again for The Gallows Pole, a new three-part series that ranks as one of the best BBC shows in years. For the project, which also features a bearded Michael Socha (who played This Is England’s Harvey) and Sophie McShera (Downton Abbey), Meadows and casting director Shaheen Baig assembled a selection of unknowns for many of the supporting roles. They found Charlotte Ockelton, Soraya Jane Nabipour, and standout Stevie Binns. “I remember my first time on set – I had no idea what I was doing and looked to people like Stephen,” Turgoose recalls. “But now it’s the reverse; they were asking me questions because I’ve been doing it for almost 20 years. It was nice to be able to help and support them.”

Turgoose is a welcoming presence, with a gregariousness that could put the most anxious person at ease. He drinks tea from a mug as he chats. He’s 31 now, but has a wisdom that suggests someone older, perhaps accentuated by the fact that he’s married and has a two-year-old son. In his original audition for Shaun, he talked of doing “nowt” but “going on bike rides and playing football”. These days, he loves the contemplative sport of golf. There are still shades of Shaun, though, whom Turgoose went on to play in three This Is England TV projects from 2010 to 2015. He’s had several roles since – a meth-taking yob in Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017), an obedient guard in sci-fi series Intergalactic (2021) – but he was particularly happy after receiving the call from Meadows.

“I met Shane for lunch, and he said he’d found this book and that there was a part he’d love me to play,” Turgoose says. “You hear that so often from directors you meet at events, but when Shane said it, I believed him, and when he called me it was like the best Christmas present ever.”

The Gallows Pole, a prequel to Benjamin Myers’s 2017 novel of the same name, tells the true story of 18th-century Yorkshire villagers who launch a coin-forging operation to combat their poverty. Turgoose plays William Hartley, the younger brother of Socha’s criminal leader, and for the actor, his professional reunion with Meadows afforded him a chance to show his mentor how he’d evolved since his early years as an actor.

“I think Shane saw a lot of himself in me when he was a kid, which is a great compliment,” he says. The role was semi-autobiographical, with Shaun based on Meadows himself. “I look up to him, not only as the greatest director I’ll ever work with, but also who he is as a father and a husband – that’s who I want to be. So, on a personal level, I wanted to show him I’ve worked my arse off. I wanted to show him the man I’ve become, and what I can do with a character.”

Meadows came into Turgoose’s life just before a tumultuous adjustment period. In December 2005, the actor was living with his mum, Sharon, when she died of cancer. He immediately moved in with his dad, who he says “lived a totally different life” to how he’d been raised until that point.

“I was so far off the rails when I was a kid – there was almost no escape to where I was gonna end up,” he recalls. “I won’t go into it too heavily, but there were things that I experienced when I was a kid that I will make sure my son never has to go through. When my mum passed away, that had such an effect on my life. The first thing my dad did was install a routine, and he got me into school. He taught me the values of money and respect.”

Turgoose and his co-stars in BBC Two masterpiece ‘The Gallows Pole’, which tells the story of 18th-century Yorkshire villagers who launch a coin-forging operation to combat their poverty (BBC/Element Pictures (GP) Limited/Objective Feedback LLC/Dean Rogers)

Then, in 2007, This Is England was released to universal acclaim. The film is considered one of Meadows’s best, and was a regular fixture on that year’s “Best of...” lists. For his performance, Turgoose won the Most Promising Newcomer award at the British Independent Film Awards (BIFA). It wasn’t until the actor turned 18, though, that his newfound fame began to affect his life in ways that were not entirely welcome.

Apple TV+ logo

Watch Apple TV+ free for 7 days

New subscribers only. £8.99/mo. after free trial. Plan auto-renews until cancelled

Try for free
Apple TV+ logo

Watch Apple TV+ free for 7 days

New subscribers only. £8.99/mo. after free trial. Plan auto-renews until cancelled

Try for free

“When I was old enough to go out and drink, there were times I was out with my friends, and people were coming over all the time and asking for photos, which is lovely – I don’t mind that, and I’d never want it to stop – but sometimes, it got a bit tough,” the actor says. “I went through a stage where I felt guilty for not being able to enjoy my night as much as I could.”

More recently, he’s come across people who, rather than approaching him for a chat, merely take his photo and walk away. That’s acceptable when he’s alone, Turgoose says, but not when he’s with his son. “If someone asks me for one, it’s OK, but I’ve had it when I’m in a play area with my little boy and people are taking photos. It’s borderline if you wanna take one of me without asking – I still think that’s rude – but don’t bring a baby into it.”

Turgoose acknowledges that it “comes with the territory”, but was still left surprised when he was recognised by fans on his honeymoon in Mexico – not for This Is England, but for Game of Thrones. The reason for his confusion? He was in just one scene. The actor appeared opposite Maisie Williams’s Arya Stark in the season seven premiere, playing one of three Lannister soldiers alongside Sean McGillicuddy and a man named Ed Sheeran. (Yes, that one.) Turgoose laughs at the memory.

“My agent rang me and said, ‘Great news – they’ve offered you the role.’ I was in the car, and I’ve gone, ‘I’m buying a f***ing helicopter. That’s it – we are set for life!’ I asked when they were gonna send the rest of the script, and my agent went, ‘No, it’s just that one bit.’ I was like, ‘OK... I’m not buying a helicopter.’”

A young Turgoose on the set of ‘This Is England’ in 2006 (Adrian Rogers/Filmfour/UK Film Council/Kobal/Shutterstock)

While the chopper might be on hold, Turgoose did recently get to experience his first taste of Hollywood: he scored a role in Mickey 17, Bong Joon-ho’s first film since Best Picture winner Parasite, alongside Robert Pattinson and Toni Collette. But it was another of his co-stars, Mark Ruffalo, who particularly impressed him; in fact, he’s gained a friend in the Marvel actor.

“He’ll text me at weekends about the Grimsby Town results,” Turgoose says, incredulously. “I had the actual Hulk singing Grimsby football chants! He’s one of the biggest stars in the world – but he wanted to go to Wagamama every night.”

Turgoose wrapped the film in January, and plans to enjoy a relaxed summer playing golf as well as watching – and rewatching – Toy Story with his young son. I ask, somewhat hopefully, if a new This Is England series has been mooted. Turgoose himself says he’d “love to” return, but has concerns that an onscreen reunion might not “pan out” so well.

“We’re all so different,” he says of his cast mates, whom he still speaks to regularly. “We all used to love going out and getting wasted – and that was part of the magic of the show. But I can’t do it any more. I don’t enjoy getting up to mischief in Sheffield like I did. It’d just be a series of us all sat doing yoga.”

‘The Gallows Pole’ premieres on 31 May on BBC Two

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in