BLACKBURN actor-turned-director Paul Simpson on his mission to de-segregate his home town, his life on the farm, and his latest play at The Lowry.
ANYONE who thought being an actor was easy ought to spend a day in the life of Paul Simpson.
For the past two weeks he’s been the lead male in a role he took on just days before the play was due to make its North West premiere.
And on his days off the 37-year-old workaholic has been collecting data for his new creation with Little Big Man Films, his new company which he runs from home, a farm on the outskirts of Blackburn.
“It’s fair to say it’s been a bit of tense time,” laughs Paul. “But what’s the fun in being bored?
“One day I was at home working on ideas for my next film and I got a phone call saying someone had to drop out of a play at The Lowry and would I do it.
“I ended up accepting before I’d even seen the script.”
Paul is one half of new play Fireflies which tells the stories of Leigh and Nelson, two lonely hearts in crisis. Directed by Noreen Kershaw, of Shameless fame, the production is a multi-media performance which combines text with film, computer graphics and live theatre — and a cast of characters all named after Lancashire town’s including Darwen, and Pendle.
“I know Noreen Kershaw so well so I kind of thought it’d be okay,” said Paul, of taking on the role at the last minute after Brian McCardie had to drop out.
“I went to Noreen’s house a lot until stupid o’clock at night to get ready for it.
“I had been quite happy being sort of self employed,” he laughed. “And then suddenly I’m reading scripts and rehearsing for every hour in the day that I’m awake.
“It’s a real challenge, and it’s been a tight affair, but it’s going really really well.
“It’s not easy because I’m talking to a 20 ft buzzard at one point on a screen and then to a recording of a voice so if you mess up its hard to get back on track, because you’re not just working with live actors.
“I think of it like riding a tiger, you’ve got to hold on very tight and ride with it, if you let go it’ll eat you.
“It keeps you on your toes, and you feel a real buzz when you nail it.
“I’m quite enjoying the extra pressure of being a late comer.”
And it was Paul’s wife Donna — a teacher at St Anthony’s Primary School, Blackburn — who helped him learn his lines in record time.
The father of two said: “I did get stressed.
“I would be sat there with my coat on at 10.30pm at the kitchen table saying to myself these lines must go in!
“My wife really sorted me out to help me stop panicking and just prioritise. She was great and it worked.
“So long as I’ve got my chickens, ducks, dogs and cats, and it’s like an animal sanctuary around me while I'm working, then I’m happy.
“I always said I wanted to make my home in the country whatever I did in life.”
Paul fell into acting aged just 14, when he auditioned for a part to get out of school. He was picked out of obscurity to play the lead child in 1990s film Nature Of The Beast, set in and around Oswaldtwistle, where Paul was born.
He has since gone on to play parts in Coronation Street, Heartbeat and new drama series The Street, as well as a string of stage roles, becoming a regular face at Bolton Octagon.
But it’s behind the camera where Paul has always dreamed of making a career.
“It’s long been an aim of mine at some stage to do some directing, I’ve done a few small scale touring productions before, but film is what I really love.
“So just recently I set my film company up called Little Big Man Films. I made a short film with Blackburn with Darwen Youth Offending Team using young people who had fallen foul of the law with some actors from the area and some professional actors, including Graeme Hawley, better known as John Stape from Corrie.”
And when Paul saw the report by Ted Cantle (a leading authority on community cohesion) which listed Blackburn as the second most ethnically divided town in Britain, he felt it his duty to help.
“I read the report and decided there was concept for a film in there. Segregation is apparently increasing and I thought I want to give Blackburn an indication of the way forward to any problems we might have.”
“I’m a Blackburn lad and I feel very passionately about the town,” said Paul, who left London after drama school to return to his Lancashire roots. “I want to challenge people’s perceptions about where we live and to try to understand why we are segregated and find ways of how we can coexist instead of this.
“I just thought a 126 page report, which people would rather watch paint dry than read, might not cut it. So let’s do something more entertaining that might actually help.”
The film, which Paul hopes will be ready for filming to start in January, and has yet to be named, will tell a mythological story of cohesion, set in Blackburn.
“I’m working with a writer called Chris O’Connell, he’s done some Holby City and theatre,” He said.
“We’re in Blackburn at the moment doing some community forums with the people to collect findings.
“We’re aiming to create a 20 minute drama, with professional actors and Blackburn youngsters. I hope to take it to a film festival and maybe get it on telly.
“And its a bit of a two pronged approach because whatever happens with the broadcasting of the film we’ve got the making of it that will help in itself.
“We’ll be working with children from different ethnical backgrounds which is adding to the cohesion of the area before the film is ever even seen.”
• See Paul in Fireflies on now at The Lowry, Salford Quays. Box Office 0843 2086005.