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I TALK TO Lenny Rush

"By the end of the episode, you see that it's about everyone coming together and having a good time. And that's what Christmas is about, isn't it?"

Actor Lenny Rush is 13 years old, has spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita (SEDC), and a rare natural talent that sees him consistently stealing scenes from some of the best actors in the business.

Lenny's first TV appearance was in 2017 alongside his family in the CBeebies documentary Our Family, before going on to star as Eli in Apple Tree House and Murphy in The Dumping Ground and Tiny Tim in Steven Knight's BBC One adaptation of A Christmas Carol in 2019, a role he'd previously played on stage in Jack Thorne's adaptation for The Old Vic.

The last 12 months have been incredible for Lenny who has starred in two of the year's biggest hits, as Crossing Sweeper, Morgan in the CBBC comedy drama Dodger alongside Christopher Eccleston and Ollie in BBC One comedy Am I Being Unreasonable? alongside Daisy May Cooper.

Proving what a great year he has had, earlier this month Lenny Rush was voted Best Breakthrough at this year's I Talk Telly Awards and shortly before that, Dodger won a BAFTA for Best Scripted at the British Academy Children's Awards.

And if that wasn't enough, last month, Lenny led a fantastic sketch starring the likes of Sir Mo Farah, Lorraine Kelly, Natalie Cassidy, Peter Andre and even Mr Blobby for this year's Children's In Need.

Following the huge early success of Dodger on CBBC in February, halfway through its run, the series launched on BBC One with all remaining episodes available on BBC iPlayer. It then came as no surprise when the BBC announced that they had ordered three new specials, two of which have already aired, with an Easter special still to air in 2023.

The first special followed Dodger’s ingenious escape back to London to reunite with Fagin and the gang and pull off their very own great train robbery! Whilst the Dodger Christmas special sees Dodger embark on a secret rescue mission and the gang organise a festive hijack of 200 turkeys, whilst also unwittingly crashing a Christmas party at none other than No. 10 Downing Street.

With his mum by his side and having just broken up from school for Christmas, I caught up with Lenny over Zoom to personally congratulate him for his I Talk Telly Award (of which he was incredibly thankful before I'd even said hello), to find out what this year has been like for him and what we can expect from the Dodger Christmas special which is being shown again on Christmas Day.

Let’s start at the beginning then… when did you first start acting and when did you know that’s what you wanted to do?

I remember mum signing us up for a CBeebies documentary show called Our Family, which is about how different families work differently. With my family, obviously, you've got me who's shorter, but the eldest, and then you've got my brother, who's a lot taller and it was about how different families work. And how we get through day-to-day life.

I'd always bugged mum about acting but at the time, you don't really think anything of it. I'd always really liked Warwick Davis who was the other little actor. He was a big inspiration for me.

And you yourself, I'm sure will be an inspiration to many. You mentioned Warwick Davis there, was he the only one you saw on TV like you?

Thank you. That's the thing, there wasn't a lot. The ones for me were; Verne Troyer, Warwick Davies and Peter Dinklage. They were my favourites. But that's only three. There aren't a lot of disabled actors. It's gotten better, definitely. But it still could get even better.

How have you found the acting industry so far and how do you manage it with your schoolwork?

I absolutely love it. I love it. It's surreal. It's incredible! Right now, I'm not filming anything, so I'm at school at the moment. Actually... I've just finished school for Christmas! But I have a tutor on set, so I'll do tutoring for a bit and then go to set and when I come back off, I do a bit more tutoring.

Let’s talk about Dodger then, how did you get the role?

I had an audition and it was only meant to be the smallest role ever. I think I had about three scenes and hardly any lines. But then when I started, Rhys (Thomas) and Lucy (Montgomery), the writers and directors, managed to make the role bigger.

I couldn't believe it. It was only meant to be a few scenes and to go on to do even more, and then the specials, it's incredible.

The show was a huge success amongst children and adults, so much so that it was later repeated from CBBC onto BBC One. What was that like?

For me, any show to be in is amazing. At first, it was only CBBC and BBC iPlayer and then it's quite a big jump from the children's to the main channel, BBC One. I remember mum reading out the email and I forgot how many it was, but the views were crazy!

For those who haven’t watched Dodger yet, what’s it about and who do you play?

Dodger is the prequel to Oliver Twist and is about how Jack Dawkins becomes the Artful Dodger. It's action-packed, it's funny but it has touching moments as well.

My character, at first, was only called the Crossing Sweeper, and now they've given him a name, Morgan, and he knows everyone in London. Jack Dawkins/Dodger is against the police, so he's thieving and stuff and one minute I'm working with Dodger and the next minute I'm with the police, telling them information. He's a bit of a tearaway!

I think he's done it twice now - but he tells a story of how his life's so hard and he's going to die alone and all sorry for himself. And you want to show that side of him as well because it wasn't happy in Victorian times for kids who were poor and swept and did this and that. It was hard for them.

Do you have a lot of fun playing Morgan?

Yeah, I do. I love playing him! I think he's most like me, even with the accent. I like playing him. He's really fun. It is like you're transported to a different time. It's crazy. You're on set, but then you walk out and you've got all the modern things, it's a really weird feeling.

For the specials, and for series one actually, we filmed a lot in the summer, so it was hot, especially when I have to wear a hat and a tight red jacket.

What happens in the Dodger Christmas special?

In the Christmas special, one story is that they have 200 geese to steal and you've got Barry Mattocks who scares everyone, he's known to be the scary, fearful character and you've got his gang in the bar, The Fiddlers Arms. So they're trying to get the geese, but for some reason, they can't get the geese and it's about how he gets angry.

The main story is about Dodger trying to steal a doll from No. 10 Downing Street, but he gets stuck so it's about how he gets out.

By the end of the episode, you see that it's about everyone coming together and having a good time. And that's what Christmas is about, isn't it?

How do you feel about it being repeated on Christmas Day for families to enjoy?

I did A Christmas Carol, and that was really Christmassy, but with this one, in particular, I don't know what it is, maybe because it's more family, it feels very appropriate. I think that it'll be great to watch on Christmas Day actually.

Will you be watching it? Do you like watching yourself back?

(Laughs) I don't mind seeing me, but my voice is annoying. I really don't like listening to myself. The thing is, I think I sound alright, but then I've got a proper Essex accent. Do you know what I mean?

You get to work a lot with Christopher Eccleston in Dodger. What's he like to work with?

He was lovely and obviously, he was Doctor Who, so that was crazy. But he was lovely. The way he does his accent, he's himself when they've cut, he's completely himself apart from his accent, and he keeps that cockney accent.

I knew he was from Manchester, but at first, I couldn't get my head around it and then I realised that he was putting the accent on in between takes.

Do you enjoy learning your lines?

Yeah! I enjoy learning my lines. You get a call sheet before the next day which tells you who's picking you up, and what you're filming, and I just go through that at night in the hotel. Mum will read the other person's lines.

I guess the lines I did find quite hard to learn were his big monologues where he'd say how sad he was.

There's some singing in this Christmas special. Do you enjoy singing?

I do, yeah! It was actually really good. I like singing. It was meant to be the 12 Days of Christmas, but it went on until about 20 so it was really funny actually, it was good. I enjoyed it.

What are some of your favourite scenes to film in Dodger?

There are three scenes. I really like that scene (singing 12 Days of Christmas) because we were all together. The scene at the end with everyone all together and the one with Christopher (Eccleston) when I'm shining his shoes. That was surreal.

I mean, I was brushing Christopher Eccleston's shoes! You can't get much better than that, you know?! (Laughs)

So not only are you brilliant in Dodger but then Am I Being Unreasonable? comes along and you're fantastic in that. Do you enjoy playing comedic roles? Are those the type of roles you want more of?

Thank you. I love comedy. I do, I love it but I'll do anything. I love everything! With comedy, I really enjoy that feeling of knowing - well hopefully - that you're going to make someone laugh.

And are you starting to get recognised now?

Yeah, a few people have come up to me now. I feel like sometimes, people don't want to say anything. But I don't mind, I like it! (Laughs) Everyone's been lovely, I've had no negativity.

What's it like to end your year with two award wins? Best Scripted at the British Academy Children's Awards and Best Breakthrough at the I Talk Telly Awards. Congratulations!

Thank you. It's... I... I dunno. (Laughs) Am I being Unreasonable? I knew it was going to be good, but it took off. I was good with the Dodger specials because I knew that the first series had done really well. But Am I Being Unreasonable? was crazy.

Did knowing how well the first series of Dodger was received take the pressure off for the specials?

Yeah, I think so. But also, there was also pressure of trying to make it - not just as good as the first series, but better. You want to try and make it better and I think we did that. I do, I think they're really good.

And we know that Am I Being Unreasonable? is coming back for a second series. Anything you can say about that?

Honestly, I have no idea. I hope I'm in it! I'm just waiting for the call...

You were also fantastic in that Children in Need sketch. What was that like to film and who was your favourite person to meet?

That was great! I really enjoyed it. I think the most crazy for me, was Mo Farah. That was mental and he brought his actual Olympic medals in. The thing is, I didn't realise they were his actual medals until he went and someone said "You know they're his real medals?"

And finally, how do you plan to spend Christmas this year?

With the family. I think my aunt is coming over for a bit. my aunt and uncle. And... watching Dodger! And lots of food. Lots of food!

Dodger Christmas special airs Christmas Day at 6.10pm on CBBC and again Friday 30th December at 9am on BBC One

All episodes are available now on BBC iPlayer


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