When Kay Mellor made her return to television earlier this year with the debut of her brand new series Girlfriends, not everybody knew what to expect, but we all expected something special. Thankfully, Mellor delivered and Girlfriends has quickly become one of her most compelling and exciting pieces of work.
One of the actors involved in bringing the show to the small screen is Philip Cumbus, and we got the opportunity to put some questions to the star ahead of the series’ upcoming finale. Find out what he had to say below…
For those who haven’t yet caught up with Girlfriends, what can you reveal about the series and the character you play?
The series follows the trials and tribulations of a trio of women and their respective families. The women are reunited following a tragedy which, in the end, effects them all. The women are all in their late 50’s and struggling to cope with the demands and difficulties of life at that age: grown up children who can’t quite fend for themselves; jobs; money; death; marriage; honesty - everything that life asks of you in that window between middle age and old age.
I play Andrew who is Sue’s only child. I am the product of a long-standing affair that she has had with a married man, John. My life is fairly complicated as I am secretly gay and have fathered two children with a lesbian couple who share my home. I have kept all of this a secret from my mother.
Andrew struggles with his lack of place in a secure family unit. He has never really had a father figure and indeed his mother has had her whole life thrown into chaos by her relationship with John and Andrew has spent his life being a part of this difficult dynamic. He has had enough and has forged ahead with his own life and his on family. It’s a fantastic part - both flawed and vulnerable. A man who struggles to balance his innate loyalty and love for his mother whilst also managing his frustration with her inability to fight and stand up for herself.
The show’s quite the dark comedy, so how do you find balancing those two tones when acting in a series of this type?
I love it. The tonal balance is one of the most exciting aspects of Kay Mellor’s writing. Honouring each scene for what it is and not shying away from the fact that real life is never one note or a single genre. Our own stories in the real world shift from the dark to the humorous, from the profound to the ridiculous in a moment. Kay captures that human chaos so astutely. It really is exciting to play.
You had previously mentioned your nerves working on this show in a separate interview; now that it’s been a big success, how do you feel about the whole project?
I was only nervous about my performance really! I knew the show would be great but as a relative novice to the world of TV acting I was a little anxious that when I watched it back everyone in the series would seem believable and real and every time the camera cuts to me I would look and sound like an awkward Noel Coward or something!! Thankfully the brilliant people that I was acting against and the direction of Kay and the production team were all around to guide and shape the work to make it real and I think the finished series is thrilling and brilliant. It is always weird to watch yourself on screen but so far in the series I haven’t done anything monstrously awful so I can just about manage the strangeness. It was a pleasure to work on and I am hugely proud to be a part of it.
Can you tell us a little bit about a typical day working on the show? If indeed there were any ‘typical’ days!
Indeed - every day was completely different. That was the thrill of shifting from working in the theatre where every day has a relatively similar structure. You deal with either the whole play at a time or in rehearsal you might be focusing on larger chunks of the story. You are looking at the bigger picture all the time. Whereas over the course of an average day on a TV set you are focusing so intensely and specifically on all the small pieces of the puzzle. Spending hours creating and shaping a small exchange between characters, tiny moments which you really get to investigate. It was such a wonderfully strange experience really adapting to the different rhythms of TV acting.
Do you have any memorable moments from behind-the-scenes that you can share with us?
Working with my son Arthur was something I won’t forget any time soon. He plays Sam, Andrew’s young 18-month-old son who appears in a couple of scenes. I will never forget the strange mix of love, pride and shame as he wreaked chaos on set! Refusing to do what he was told and making a right old mess everywhere. As an 18-month-old he is more than entitled to do whatever he wants really in that scenario but it would have been somewhat easier for all in involved if he hadn’t been quite so energetic in his rebellion. Kay works with kids a lot and she handled him brilliantly but it was a very interesting day!
Kay Mellor is obviously a huge name in the world of television – how was she to work with on Girlfriends?
Kay is extraordinary. She creates the vision, writes the work and then puts it all together as well. End to end she brings it all to life. I felt really lucky to be a part of it all. She creates vivid, energetic stories and fills them with funny, flawed people and then films it with real style. She has an incredible creative energy and I found her very inspiring. Watching her lead the production and bring everything together so smoothly. She is quick to laugh and that always makes a difference. Finding the joy in the creative process rather than the difficulty.
The series wraps up this Wednesday (February 7); what can you tell us about the finale?
The finale is a lot of fun! It continues on the same path that the series has already forged of grabbing your attention. People will love it. It’s dark and twisted and very funny.
If the show comes back for a second series will you be hoping to jump on board?
I had such a good time filming the first series I would happily hang out with and work with everyone again. Who knows what will happen. You make these projects, you invest and have fun and then it’s all out of your hands really.
Away from Girlfriends you’ve obviously enjoyed a successful career both on and off the stage; is the theatre somewhere you think you’ll always be working?
Theatre is a massive part of my life. It’s where my love for acting began and I will always be drawn to that form of storytelling. It’s powerfully addictive. It will always be something I will love and enjoy. The live audience, the terror, the adrenaline, the satisfaction of developing work and character over a course of months. But TV is a fantastically satisfying medium to work in and demands a different sort of brain. Quick thinking, decisive choices have to be made and you have to trust your instincts much more. I would love to be able to do plenty of both! To leap from camp to camp.
Finally, what’s next for you in the coming weeks and months?
I work a lot with younger actors. I think it is massively important to look to who is coming next and try to find ways that each generation or batch of actors can add to and help the ones who are coming up behind them! I try to help them manage the difficulty of finding your own path, voice and skill in an industry which very much abandons you to your own devices once you leave whatever training you may have had. I love teaching and directing just as much as acting really. I will hopefully be able to keep doing that whilst also attempting to keep the jobs coming in from TV and theatre. Fingers crossed.
Girlfriends concludes on ITV at 9pm on Wednesday, February 7.