"Sometimes it overtakes my love of acting."
Best-known for playing Dot Cottan aka ‘The Caddy’ in Line of Duty, award-winning actor Craig Parkinson started The Two Shot Podcast in the summer of 2017 and as it reaches its 100th episode this Thursday (3rd October), I thought it only right that I caught up with him and 'Producer Griff' to discuss reaching such a milestone.
When something becomes part of your weekly routine, you know it's made an impact on you and that's certainly the case with The Two Shot Podcast. My Thursday morning commute from Essex to London has become a highlight of the week as I sit down and press play on the latest episode of Craig's incredible podcast.
The premise? An hour (often longer) of pure conversation. No set questions. No real format other than to have "a nice old chat" as Craig likes to put it in his infamous intros. His natural ability to make guests feel at ease - whether he knows them personally or not - allows them to open up in ways they'd rarely, if ever, done before.
Since July 2017, Craig has invited 74 actors, 10 musicians, 3 comedians, 2 poets, one DJ, one painter, one presenter, one writer and one anonymous guest on to The Two Shot Podcast. He's interviewed Joseph Gilgun and Steve Evets twice as well and of his many guests, two have been awarded MBEs, one has been awarded a CBE and one OBE.
I've been a fan of The Two Shot Podcast since day one and it's been wonderful to watch it grow into what it has become so it was a real honour and a privilege to spend an hour in Soho with Craig and Producer Griff. Here's what they had to say about the genesis of the podcast, the reasons why they run it the way they do and why they're planning a tour.
Let's start at the very beginning then. What first made you want to do the podcast?
Craig: I couldn't sleep one night and I love podcasts so I was trying to think of what isn't out there in a long form interview. I wanted to do something that looks at the human condition and human stories.
Then I thought - well I know a lot of actors, so maybe I could start off by doing that and then it slowly morphed into more creative people and everybody from the arts.
Luckily, I was talking to Vicky McClure about this idea that I had and she mentioned how Joe Gilgun was meant to do a podcast, but then he didn't.
One of his best pals, Thomas Griffin aka Producer Griff was wanting to do a podcast so we hooked up through mutual friends and met at the beautiful Briton's Protection pub in Manchester.
We came up with a list of about 20/30 guests that we wanted on and lots of different names of what we were going to call it. When we started, we didn't know exactly what we wanted to do but we knew what we didn't want to do - which is as much of a strength as anything. Then it just morphed and has grown into what it is, this very unstructured but structured podcast.
How did you settle on The Two Shot Podcast as a name?
Craig: We were in this pub in Manchester and whittled down this long list of names to three - called and texted a few mutual friends and they helped us pick the name.
We went with Two Shot because when you're filming the camera frames up on a two shot of two people. That's a close two shot scene and this was going to be the audio equivalent of that.
Were you always very keen for it not to be a traditional interview with questions?
Craig: Yeah absolutely. It's a conversation. How often do we have a one-to-one conversation that can sometimes go on for longer than two hours. Even a solid half-an-hour where the spotlight's turned just on one person. It doesn't really happen.
We say every day "How are ya?" but when do we ever really ask the question "How are ya" - that's what we try and do and nine times out of ten I've never met these people before until we get a cup of tea and hit record. That's when I'm fascinated and find out about these people.
The only two bits of criteria I had was that it would never be about jobs if it was actors but if they were musicians, I wanted to know everything about the recording etc. - it's different.
With actors, I didn't want it to be self-indulgent. When you're an actor doing press, that's the end of your job, that's part of your job. I don't want people to get here and feel like they're working, I want them to come and have a conversation.
Also, I never wanted it to be about me. I've heard a lot of interviewers who make it about themselves and I find it tiresome and self-indulgent.
As an actor, your career is often controlled by someone else, was starting The Two Shot Podcast a way to have control over something?
Craig: I think so. Also, I'm an absolute nightmare if I'm not working and I'm not being creative. I love learning so as much as I learn new scripts, that's the thing I've been working on for twenty years and I adore - but I wanted another string to my bow. Through working with Griff and creating what we've done it's been nothing short of magical. I adore it. Sometimes it overtakes my love of acting.
Griff: DIY products are so much fun to be a part of, you've got a website which I assume you've got full creative control over. Most podcasters are hobbyists, I don't think many people do it full time. It's not really there yet. There are a few and fair play to them because they're creating wicked content.
Do you have a criteria for who you will and won't invite on to the podcast?
Griff: It's pretty loose. Generally it's people who have interesting life stories but sometimes you roll the dice and it really pays off and you end up getting incredible stories from people you weren't expecting. That's what excites me most about the podcast, when you don't know anything about that person and unearth those unexpected stories. I love your (Craig's) natural reactions and the shock you sometimes get.
Craig: It's pretty much unedited. We don't really like to edit them because we want the audience to go through it exactly how I went through it. You're there in the conversation and if you're listening wherever you are, I want you to feel exactly what I'm feeling. I'm as much of the audience as they are. I'm not an interviewer, I'm guiding the conversation.
Do you find that guests surprise themselves afterwards at how open they've been?
Craig: Fucking loads! Loads! Near enough every one. In fact, I was on the phone to Julie Hesmondhalgh on Sunday and we were talking about her episode because we hadn't really talked about it since we did it - and she shocked herself. She didn't realise she was going to talk about all that stuff.
I was saying to the last guest we had on today, even when people are nervous, after about ten minutes, the mics that are in front of us kind of disappear and it just becomes this conversation because there's so much eye contact there. We're really invested in what they have to say.
Griff: It's remarkable the similarities between the reactions post-interview. So many people have said it's like therapy, probably around half the people we've had on. I think that's apparent in the content.
Some of your episodes carry trigger warnings. Do you think that's an important thing to do?
Craig: Absolutely. We give all our guests full editorial control which is vitally important to what we do. They're not talking about a job, or an album, or a piece of poetry, or a piece of art that they didn't like - they're talking about real life stuff that could have a lasting effect, not just on them but on members of their family.
You never know what's going on in people's lives. From day-to-day we all have good days and bad days and our listeners are very candid with us. Some of the emails and messages we get privately say how much certain episodes have helped them.
In fact, Jill Halfpenny's episode dealt a lot with grief and loss and self-preservation and trauma. It was extraordinary and there were quite a few people who went - "Thanks for that. I'm not in a good place to listen to it now, but I will do." And inevitably they have come back and listened to it and were really pleased that they had and thanked me for the warning.
I think it's important. Because we create such a safe space to talk honestly where we record, it's only right and fair that we let people know, not exactly what the content is, but that the content could contain sensitive material if you're not in the best possible space. Because it is like therapy, we feel it is our duty to look after people like that.
Griff: We've recorded a few episodes where we've pulled the entire thing. Initially we're gutted because it was a wicked story, but then two or three weeks down the line you think it's their story, so if they're not happy with that being out there then fair enough.
Craig: You have to be respectful of those people.
And one of the things you both do so well is respond to your listeners...
Craig: We really make a concerted effort to do that. I'm more-or-less in charge of the Twitter, I'd say 90%. Griff's over on the Instagram and the Facebook and we try and share the emails as much as we can. I think it's important.
Griff: It's a lot though. Some people share deeply with you, there are deep emotional layers there and sometimes the responsibility that comes with offering a response or condolences is a lot. When we started doing the podcast, I didn't think about that side of it at all. People are spilling their innermost feelings because they feel this kinship with the guest and you're like "Shit. I don't know what to say to these people. I'm not a Psychotherapist."
Craig: It's really hard. You have to first and foremost reach out to them and say how pleased you are that it helped in any way, but you have to let them know that we're podcasters. We're not trained and would never ever dream of giving any advice in any way.
Griff: The community thing that surrounds podcasts - not just ours - the self-supporting that other people do to each other is a positive thing.
Craig: Yeah because at the end of the day it gets people talking. The support is overwhelming at times. These people don't know each other, they're social media friends.
There was one woman last year who was going through an awful time and she'd email me about the episodes that really helped her and still help her to this day. She'll put something up to us publicly and everyone piles on saying "Glad you're OK", "Glad this helped", "Have a great day" and "Keep looking after yourself."
It's rare to hear of such positivity on social media these days...
Craig: This comes up a lot. I've found nothing but positivity.
Griff: We live in a pretty charming little bubble on Twitter. There is some dark shit out there and people talk about how dark it is, but our little 10,000 followers are just a bubble of positivity. When something negative does go down, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Craig: We spoke about it in Nicola Coughlan's episode the other week, she got an infinite amount of abuse for looking stunning at the BAFTAs this year and she dealt with it with such grace and humility and humour that they don't have a leg to stand on. That's the way to deal with it.
After 100 episodes, what's been the biggest surprise?
Craig: What it's become. I remember saying to Griff early on - we're doing this for us and if one person listens and says they really enjoyed it, I'd be really chuffed. Now it's turned into quite a big thing.
A big thing without sponsors...
Craig: Well, it's about finding the right sponsor. If the right sponsor came along it would be fine but as we are respectful of our guests and respectful of our listeners, we ain't gonna be flogging things that we don't believe in. I like nice headphones. I like Bose headphones... I'm more than happy for them to come on board because it's something I believe in and trust.
Griff: I think the audience are generally understanding that podcasts need to do certain things to survive and advertising's one of them. If it's a toss up between that and a subscription service it's met with a pretty big backlash.
Craig: Also, they've got to understand that they're getting all this content for absolutely nothing. And the more sponsors that come on board for podcasts - and I'm not just talking about ours - in general, the better it is for them. If all the sponsors dropped off, they'd end up having to pay 99p or whatever for an episode and they wouldn't do it.
Who's been your most memorable guest?
Griff: The last one we've recorded generally. (Laughs)
Craig: It's very difficult to say because everybody's journey is so different. Most times at the end of the year we cut together a best of the year with little snatches of people's stories which gives new listeners a taste of what to expect and also episodes that they've missed.
I'm constantly surprised by every guest who comes on so they're all memorable. I'm really grateful that we're hitting 100 episodes two years in.
Someone tweeted the other day to say they'd never heard the Michael Balogun episode and got in touch to say "I've never heard of this actor but what a story, and he's still so young."
Griff: That's the most memorable one for me man. It was immediately jaw-dropping.
Craig: Yeah it was. I knew a little bit about Michael, but I didn't know the ins and outs and certainly wasn't prepared for the rollercoaster of emotions. I remember saying "Oh Michael, not again!" about four or five times because I was as shocked as the audience are listening to it. I agree with Griff, things like that are truly memorable.
Are you finding that guests are now coming to you?
Craig: That's changed quite a lot. We do get approached by certain companies, agents and PRs. I was asked last year to have on an OSCAR-winning actress but I could only have twenty minutes so I went "No, there's no point. She needs to go on a different podcast to do that."
Everybody has to get bookings where they can, I don't particularly doing the press trail because you're getting an actor who has just been speaking in a hotel room and they do not want to talk. So I'm not going to get anything out of them about their personal life. I might get something out of them about their awful film that they can't stand but they have to promote. But that's not going to do any good for me or my listeners.
Is there anyone that you've really wanted on but haven't managed to secure yet?
Craig: Yeah, there's been quite a few. It's all about timing. I was speaking to Scroobius Pip not long ago about timing. He does the majority of his bookings himself and I do all of our bookings which is time consuming.
We had two bookings in for today and I emailed my contact for one of them saying "Really looking forward to tomorrow, I've got the venue now, we're going to be here." and they wrote back and went "You're four weeks too early, it's October the 10th!" - so I completely messed up but I thought after however many episodes I can afford to make a mistake like that.
Griff: We've got a massive list of people who have said they'd come on and we're slowly ticking them off - even people that we came up with in the first few weeks of doing the podcast, a year or two down the line I've got ticked off and that's wicked.
Craig: Sometimes we record it in Maison Bertaux in Greek Street which my friend Tania Wade owns and I was just getting a coffee for our guest and a very famous actress was in there, walked past me and went "Hey, I love your podcast!" and I said "Well you should come on" and she said "I'd love to." so I went downstairs and told Griff that we've just had another booking. It just happens like that.
(And almost as if on cue, actor Art Malik walks into the room, greets Craig and asks him why he hasn't been on his podcast yet. To which Craig responds that he absolutely should be on and that he'll sort it. So that's one to look forward to!)
If people get in touch and say "My client has something to promote" nine times out of ten I don't really want them on. I'm not in the game for pedalling wares. It's all about human stories. If you're open enough and honest enough to come on, that's the type of person I want. We take great pride and care in making sure that the guests we have on aren't doing the rounds and aren't on loads of other podcasts.
When Jodie Whittaker was just about to come on as Doctor Who, I know she wasn't doing any more podcasts because she wanted to come on here.
Even though I was dealing with the BBC who were absolutely great, at first they would only give me a small slot and I had to say "I can't do anything with that. You've got to give me more." So then it expanded but I went, "No I need a bit more" and they were amazing.
So if I'm dealing with someone like the BBC who I have a great history with and have worked with loads we can make it work.
Griff: We're lucky enough now to have developed an audience who trust your (Craig's) judgement in guest picking as well. Some podcasts are reliant on having someone that will push that particular episode because of their star quality and the kudos that they'll get. We can afford to talk to people that don't necessarily have that but that we know the listeners will relate to on a personal level.
Do you meet the guests beforehand?
Craig: No. What I do nine times out of ten is ask them what they want to drink, go and get them the drink whilst they sit down with Griff. He then has a chat with them, they do a little mic test and I come down, give them the drink, say "We ready?" and we go, we're in.
Griff: And I normally press record three minutes before I've told them that I've pressed record in case we get any preroll gold-dust.
You don't really worry about episode length do you?
Craig: No I don't. I'm an actor first and foremost so what Im good at is listening and what I'm learning is knowing when to end it or knowing when there's more. We've just recorded one now which ended with a really sweet story about a policeman and I went "There's more to talk about, but that's a really nice place to end it on." It's the old thing innit? Always leave them wanting more.
And sometimes you do give them more. You've done a couple of part twos...
Craig: Yeah! Steve Evets and Joe Gilgun. There'll definitely be more part twos with people but they'll be completely different.
I think Steve Evets was a continuation of that story because there was definitely more there.
With Joe Gilgun's part two, it had a very very different tone. It was equally as brilliant and much needed.
Griff: You could speak to him on separate days and get a completely different side of him.
Craig: That's true. There might even be a third in the pipeline with Joe. He's one of our regular guests!
Let's talk about guest 100... Martin Compston!
Craig: We've been trying to get him since episode one. Because Martin is one of my best friends anyway - I've worked so closely with him over the years in all sorts of stuff, but obviously Line of Duty being the most famous.
It seemed right that Vicky (McClure) was episode one and having Martin as episode 100 felt like a nice bookend to the first 100 episodes.
We'd been trying since episode one but had been seriously trying for the last twelve months, but we've both been in and out of the country.
We even went for a drink and thought "Could we do it now?" but Griff wasn't there.
Then luckily we were both filming in Manchester for the last four months and living in the same block of flats.
So we sat down, had a glass of wine, and it was all meant to be. It's a brilliant episode and I'm thrilled.
Beyond 100 episodes then, you're going on tour. How did that come about?
Griff: Just wanting to live that rock and roll lifestyle and live out my childhood fantasy.
Craig: All actors and producers want to be rockstars!
Griff: I'm only joking, I've done my touring. It's going to be bed by half past nine.
Craig: We've been very lucky over the last few years to be invited to different festivals - music, literary and podcast. We spoke to Ingrid Oliver first in Liverpool which was very lovely, but a very intimate affair.
Then we went to a festival in Bath with Charlie Cooper from This Country and I wasn't prepared for the response. Waterstones in Bath didn't know what had hit it. It was massively sold out and quite raucous.
And to do Kendall Calling twice was amazing - especially this year because we had Nile Rodgers from Chic.
So Griff came up with the idea that because the live shows and the festivals had been so successful, and people had been asking us to come to Glasgow, or Bristol etc. - we should put it out to the listening community and see where there want us to go and then we'll do a mini tour in 2020.
We've already got big festival bookings in place for next year including some new podcast festivals which are opening in 2020 which we've been asked to headline.
Griff: It's early days on the tour planning, we don't really know what shape it's going to take yet. We could do it in a pub. It's not hard for me to set up two mics in a pub and that's nice isn't it? Doing something in an interesting space rather than a traditional theatre.
Craig: It'll be really really good to have a little audience in The Briton's Protection in Manchester where we first came up with the idea for The Two Shot Podcast. Manchester is so close to both our hearts, we've recorded there loads, so things like that are really good.
It's not about packing out massive places, it's about doing things in a nice intimate setting. If there's 30 people there, they want to be there.
Is there anyone who's sadly no longer with us who you would have loved to have on the podcast?
Craig: Personally, I would have loved to interview Jimmy Stewart because he's one of my favourite actors. I've never thought about this... most people ask "Who is your dream guest?". This is off the top of my head but Burt Reynolds would be really interesting.
And finally, Craig - would you ever do The Two Shot Podcast?
Craig: (Laughs) I've said that I would only be interviewed by one person. I can only say who it is now because it's on record and that's Joan Wasser who is Joan As Police Woman.
Griff: You only said it because you thought she'd say no.
Craig: (Laughs) Yeah I did! She said "I want to know about you" and I said "I tell you what, you interview me..." and she went "Yeah, alright." And I thought - I'm in now. I think it's on record so I can't go back on that can I? I have to follow my word.
The Two Shot Podcast is available on Acast, Apple Podcasts, Podbean and Spotify with new episodes every Thursday, continuing with Martin Compston on Thursday 3rd October. Links here.
If you'd like to donate and support the podcast, you can do so here via Patreon.