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10Qs: Andrew Hayden-Smith

10Qs: Andrew Hayden-Smith

Photography by ©Snooty Fox Images

With the exception of a dedicated breed of Doctor Who fans, Andrew Hayden-Smith’s easy smile is largely unknown in an American context. Across the pond, he’s long been a familiar face, beginning his acting career on a popular kids show, Byker Grove, at the age of 12 and continuing to act and present on screen and stage. But now that he’s a star in Russell T. Davie’s new drama, Banana, that disparity is set to change.

Banana is a series of 30-minute episodes that revolve around the younger generation seen in Cucumber, the interconnected hour-long show that follows middle-aged gay men in Manchester, England. Produced in conjunction with Logo TV and Channel 4, Davies’s return -- via a Doctor Who interlude -- to gay writing, so celebrated in his original Queer as Folk, has been hugely anticipated.

Banana and Cucumber air this week in the U.K., and in anticipation for the March release here in the U.S., we asked Hayden-Smith our 10 most burning questions. From coming out, to cock-socks, and why he'd kill Captain Jack (sorry, John Barrowman) and sleep with Russell Tovey (naturally), Hayden-Smith offered insight into his personal life and as well as what it's like on the set of the shows that gave him “the bug” to dive back into acting.

Out: You’ve been on the British scene for a long time, starring in Byker Grove and Doctor Who, presenting for CBBC, and gracing the West End stage as Shakespeare’s Romeo. For our American readers, do you want to briefly talk about how you got into acting, and what it was liking growing up in the public gaze?

Andrew Hayden-Smith: It all happened by chance really. I consider myself very lucky, the opportunities that have come my way since I joined Byker Grove when I was 12. I was just a regular kid at a regular school with no acting or drama school training. I went along to visit the set and to be an extra in the back of shot and I was spotted by the Executive Producer who asked me if I’d like to read for a part in the show. I got it and stayed there for seven series, going through all of the usual traumas and dilemmas all teenagers do, but doing it on screen! It was a great learning ground for me. I never felt any kind of pressure, growing up in the public eye. I just felt incredibly lucky to be doing something I loved.

Doctor Who is finally beginning to get the attention it deserves in the US. What was it like getting to play Jake Simmonds alongside David Tennant’s Doctor?

It was about as much fun as it looks and then some. It’s great that popularity for the show is growing across the pond. I’ve been over to the US a few times now to comic con-type events to meet fans of the show. Doctor Who has the most loyal fan base, so it’s great that it’s finally being celebrated not just here in the UK, but around the world too. David’s a great guy. He’d pretty much just taken on the role of The Doctor when I joined the show. I’d been a fan of his work previously, so being able to work alongside him was a dream.

Of course, Russell T. Davies, the creator of Banana and Cucumber, was the head writer for Doctor Who at that time. Did you have a good deal of interaction with him then?

Russell told me he’d seen me on Byker Grove, so knew of me before I auditioned for the role of Jake. I first met him on a very cold December evening in Cardiff in-between takes of firing off shots at a group of Cybermen. We chatted about Queer As Folk as I was such a big fan of the show growing up. I still am!

So this was in 2006 -- had you kept in contact with him? Was it that connection that led to your being cast in Banana and Cucumber?

We’ve kept in touch since then. I was over in Los Angeles on holiday while he was there working on Torchwood. We went for lunch one day, and he mentioned this new gay drama series he was working on. He didn’t say too much more about it, but then, about four years later, I get the call to come in and read for a part in Banana. It was nice that he’d kept me in mind. He does that though. There are quite a few actors in these shows that he’d worked with previously.

It’s being produced in conjunction with Logo TV, which will bring the series more decidedly to an American audience. Do you get the sense that Americans were taken into account in the writing process, or has it retained purely British sensibilities?

Cucumber was originally being made for Showtime and was going to be filmed in Seattle, but Russell ended up making the move back to the U.K., and it was made by Red Productions for Channel 4. So yes, I’m pretty sure an American audience was kept in mind during the writing process. It doesn’t matter where you are when you watch it -- it works, and American viewers will be able to appreciate it too.

 

You came out publicly in 2006 in Attitude. If I’m not mistaken, this will be your first time playing a gay character. Did that influence your decision to join the cast?

Jake was originally a gay character when I shot Doctor Who, but the line that suggested it was cut at the last minute. It’s still there on the DVD extras if you want to take a look! Billy, my character in Banana, is definitely gay. No question about that, as you’ll see. It wasn’t something I gave much thought to. Regardless of my character’s sexuality, I just knew I wanted to be involved in the show.

What is it about the shows that you think will most whet gay appetites around the world?

It’s about sex, so as you might expect, there are some pretty racy scenes. I watched the first episode of each quite recently, and even I was a little shocked. In Cucumber, the story focuses on a middle-aged gay guy named Henry and his long-term relationship with his boyfriend Lance. Banana tells a different story each episode and focuses on some of the younger characters seen in Cucumber, so the shows cover all areas and ages of gay life. Not just gay either, but straight, bi, lesbian and transgender too. There’s something for everybody.

Any crazy stories from the set that you can share?

My first day on Banana involved being strapped into a very unflattering "cock-sock." It’s a good ice-breaker. Fisayo, who plays Dean, and I did some warm-up exercises with the director that involved us rolling over one another on the floor. There’s not much you can be embarrassed about after something like that!

Now, we like to play a game of Marry/Fuck/Kill. I thought in honor of your past, we’d put a gay little Doctor Who spin on it. So: John Barrowman (openly gay), Russell Tovey (openly gay), and Matt Smith (the Doctor we all wish were gay).

OK. I’d sleep with Russell. He looks like he’d give you a good hug in the morning. I’d marry Matt and -- sorry John, I’m just not sure I could deal with all the singing -- kill John.

And if you had a choose a spirit animal, what would it be?

A bear. Strong and confident. I like to think I’m quite grounded. I like my sleep, too!

And for a little extra fun, check out a shirtless photo of Andrew via Attitude magazine

Andrewhaydensmith Attitude

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