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I TALK TO Leah Brotherhead

"It was really lovely to channel all the people that I know from Hull."

Launching this week on Channel 4 is a brand new comedy called Hullraisers about the lives of Toni, Rana and Paula, three native Hullians juggling kids, family, work, demanding friends and frustrating playground parents - all while trying to squeeze in a bit of mucking about.

Created by Lucy Beaumont and co-written with Anne-Marie O'Connor and Caroline Moran it stars Taj Atwal as powerhouse policewoman Rana, Sinead Matthews as Paula who married her childhood sweetheart Dane, Rana's big brother, and had two kids and Leah Brotherhead as Paula's younger sister, Toni.

Toni's an impulsive but big-hearted tornado of chaos. A self-described actress, who has no acting jobs, she adores her four-year-old daughter Grace and soulmate Craig, but still dreams of escaping Hull and craves her pre-parenthood life.

As Leah Brotherhead takes on her biggest TV role to date - the first of many, I'm sure if her performance in Hullraisers is anything to go by - I caught up with her to discuss getting into acting, taking on the role of Toni and what she hopes Hull will make of the series.

How did you first get into acting?

I don't know really. I guess I always did it. I don't think when I was little, I particularly was standing in front of the mirror practising my Oscar speech or anything but I just always loved it. I loved performing.

My mum always worked in community theatre, so she's always had drama groups with people with learning disabilities and dementia. She used to run an arts centre in Bridlington and I always used to go. I was just surrounded by it really and never thought of doing anything else. So I probably was quite intense about it but in a chill way.

How have you found the industry to get into?

There is just an element of luck that is undeniable within this industry. I think plugging away and talent are also very important, but you can't deny that that does exist.

I went to drama school and won the Carleton Hobbs Bursary Award where you get a contract to work on the BBC Radio Drama rep company for like five or six months, so I graduated into a job. I didn't have an agent when I first left but met a lot of amazing people working on the radio - Bill Nighy would come in and do things, Derek Jacobi.

There used to be a thing called The 24 Hour Plays at The Old Vic which was amazing because you'd meet other people in your industry that were your age and wannabe producers, directors, writers which always helped. Finding your generation and doing little projects.

That's how I got an agent, through knowing directors who were my age who were also putting things on. That all definitely helped.

And then a script like Hullraisers comes along...

Being from Hull, I just wanted to be in it. I didn't necessarily think that I'd land Toni, I just thought I could do the accent so surely I can get a role. It was such a joy to do and lovely to be in something that celebrates Hull.

Lucy Beaumont is at the forefront of it and she's so lovely. It was such a lovely project because there were so many lovely women involved on all sides. Fable Pictures is a heavily female production company, Lucy adapted it as the lead writer with Caroline Moran and Anne-Marie O'Connor and the three main parts were also women. So many great women involved.

When the show was announced, Channel 4 made a point of the fact this is female-led and female-made. Do you ever wish that didn't have to be pointed out as an exception?

Yeah. It does still feel a bit novel really. It should just be a no-brainer that that is happening all over the place and I do think a lot of things are happening and we are making progress in that direction.

We had an amazing First AD who was a woman running the set and I've not done a huge amount of TV, but that's the first set I've been on where the First AD has been a woman. It was great, it was such a nice vibe, I have to say.

What's Hullraisers about?

I just think it's about the chaos of everyday life really. Of juggling kids, work and wanting to go out and have a drink. Which is just harder than it seems!

What was it about Toni, that attracted you to the role?

Well, Lucy Beaumont and I both did the BTEC in Performing Arts at Wyke Sixth Form College and I suspect Toni did that same exact course as well.

Also, as a woman in my thirties, I am very aware of that societal pressure that Toni really feels in the show, of having all these things sorted in your life. You should be settled in some way. Or reach certain milestones. But of course, most people haven't and life is a continuation of not knowing what you're doing from one month to the next.

And she's not a bad mother, is she? That's a stereotype I know Lucy Beaumont was keen to avoid.

Absolutely. She's definitely not a bad mother. There's a protectiveness about showing working-class women - particularly from Hull as me and Lucy (Beaumont) are - in that light. There is chaos and perhaps you're not making as much money as you'd like to be, but that doesn't mean you're shit at life.

You've still got lovely relationships with your kids, a strong community feel and your mates are brilliant. I also really loved building that relationship between Toni and Craig - played by Perry Fitzpatrick - and we really wanted to make sure that it wasn't a dead-in-the-water relationship and they'd only stuck together because they've got a kid. It's not that.

Toni is just at a place where she's rediscovering herself after having a kid and figuring out who she wants to be. Maybe she gets caught up too much in her own headspace!

I think that really comes across actually, in the way you and Perry play Toni and Craig. They're a lovely couple to watch.

Aw brilliant. We worked really hard on that. In some of the original drafts, Craig was a bit of a miser and someone holding Toni back so we worked hard to change that.

How I hope Hullraisers comes across, and what I feel like we've achieved, is that it has such a big heart. Everyone is taking the piss out of each other and telling each other how it is - no one mollycoddles anyone - but they're never nasty, that's just how they are.

And what's Toni's relationship like with sister Paula and best friend Rana?

Well, I think what's great is that they have a huge amount of history. All three of them might as well be sisters. But they've all got their own identities. Paula is very much the queen of her castle. She's very content with her life and her family and I think Rana is as well in a really brilliant way. She doesn't feel the need to do all this soul searching, she absolutely loves her job, loves going out, loves meeting guys and having a good time.

Toni - I feel - may have at times tried to branch out and make new friends and hang out with other people and go to a party or something, but I bet in the end she would end up in a corner with those two having the best time of her life.

What was it like for you filming in Hull?

My mum and dad still live there so I go back quite a bit. I actually got stuck there during the first lockdown for three months! Which was really fun actually. We just got up and drank a lot of wine!

We filmed literally around the corner from my mum and dad's house. That newsagent that I go into at the start is down Newland Ave and I used to go in that newsagent to get sweets when I was little. So it's all my neck of the woods, completely, which was great. What's not to like about that? Going home and getting paid to go home!

And was it nice to keep your own accent for this role?

It was great. I must admit, shamefully my Hull accent is not as strong as it used to be at all. If I get drunk obviously, it comes straight back. It was really lovely to channel all the people that I know from Hull. All the girls, all my friends from college and school - there were so many elements of them I used to create Toni. I thought about my friends who are mums and how they are and it was really lovely. A homecoming.

Felicity Montagu plays your mother-in-law. What was it like working with her?

Oh, well I mean she's comedy royalty isn't she? We were absolutely delighted to have her on board. She's just amazing. I know if we do get a second series, they want to obviously bring her in as much as they possibly can.

She's just amazing. She's such a force of nature and gives everything in every take. There were moments where you have to really concentrate to do acting when you're acting with her and not just watch her. You have to remember that you're also in the scene.

Was there a lot of corpsing on set?

Sinead (Matthews). She'd always make me go. I don't know what it is. I think it's because Paula is so forceful. In that second episode, when she's on about rustling a bin bag - it took us a fair few takes to get through that.

It feels like you, Taj Atwal and Sinead Matthews all really got on.

We did! We all saw each other the other day actually. They're just great. Such a great gang. You get close as a cast anyway when you're filming something because you're a gang and don't really have time to see other people. So doing it during Covid was like that but 100 times more because we really couldn't see anyone else.

Perry (Fitzpatrick) and Yanick (Ghanty) as well - Craig and Dane, Shobna (Gulati) as well. We're all really tight. It really was a joy. There is a general rule that in a company if you don't know who the dickhead is, it's probably you. I couldn't see any dickheads so it must have been me!

What are some of your favourite scenes to film?

I don't know if I can pin that down. For me, I always do like it when Ian (Fitzgibbon) our great director would open it up a bit and let us do bits of improvisation. I can think of bits that I did with all the characters and there's just that freedom and it's always really really fun. You're in character and you can just go and do what you want.

Any memorable moments on set?

There's an episode where we're in a paddling pool and supposed to be lounging around in the garden... it was one of the coldest days ever! We were absolutely freezing. And it had literally been 30 degrees the week before and then we got to that scene the next week and it was freezing.

You're on straight after the final series of Derry Girls and it's being made available as a boxset. That's not bad scheduling, is it?

I know! I just hope everyone leaves the TV on. I feel like it's a win-win either way because we're after Derry Girls, so if it was going to be week by week, people would be tuning in. It's Celebrity Bake Off before that as well, I think! A great night of TV.

So many people binge-watch things and the episodes are half an hour long so it is a very binge-worthy series. Perfect viewing for a hungover Sunday!

What are you hoping people from Hull are going to make of Hullraisers?

I showed it to my mum and dad - and actually, disclaimer, they're not from Hull, they're from Bradford and Newcastle, but they've lived in Hull a very long time - and they loved it. I hope people from Hull will love it.

We had such a good time making it and as someone from Hull, you're always so aware of any time anything about Hull pops up on the TV and we've made a whole programme that's that!

I really remember an episode of EastEnders where Kat and Alfie were being forced to move to Hull because that was the council flat they'd been given - and it was like it was a fate worse than death! And at the last minute, they were saved from it. Kirsty and Phil or whatever named it the worst place to live.

It's always that kind of mention and we don't have any of that in Hullraisers at all. I really like this series because it's not all "Ooh it's grim up north", it is a pure celebration of that city. And yes, it can be grim up north, but we still have a good time, and we still love each other and it doesn't have to get nasty.

Whilst it is very much based in Hull, I do think there is stuff in there for everyone. Raising kids and falling out with family members is universal, isn't it? But I do like the balls Channel 4 has to go "We're going to go the whole hog about this place and celebrate this place" which is great.

I want people to feel joyful about these somewhat forgotten cities, and want to put Hull on the map.

You've done a lot of theatre so far in your career and increasingly more television. How do the two disciplines compare?

They're such different mediums. That I don't think I can pick. I would just like to continue to be employed basically. In any way, shape or form!

I will always want to do both. I've seen Hullraisers, I'm really pleased with it, but as an actor you always watch it going "I could have done that joke that way" because obviously once it's done, it's done and the take is chosen in the edit. Whereas obviously in theatre, the response when landing a joke in theatre and getting that audience laughter, the live element of it you can't beat.

What's next for you?

Fingers crossed a second series of Hullraisers. I'm doing a little bit of something in Whitstable Pearl which is a detective drama and I've just accepted that I'm going to join the cast of Wuthering Heights, the one that's just been on at the National when it goes to California! So I'll be going to California at the end of the year and taking over as Cathy.

Hullraisers starts Tuesday at 9.15pm on Channel 4


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