THE JOHN HANNAM INTERVIEW – Stephen Wight
John interviewed the former Islander about his television career and memories of the Isle of Wight
Back in 2003, I had a phone call from Zoe Young, of East Cowes, to tell me her daughter, Claire, had just seen an old school pal from Grange Road primary in an episode of A Touch Of Frost.
His schoolboy name had been Stephen Gray. Now, rather appropriately, it was Stephen Wight. Being an old pupil of the same school, I could barely wait to track him down – and it didn’t take long. Since that first interview, we have met many times. The latest being quite recently at London’s Electric Airwaves Studio.
Stephen has since been seen in Diamond Geezer, Fingersmith, The Paradise, New Tricks, Ashes To Ashes, Whites, Bluestone 42, Manhunt and Maigret. His movies include Wilderness, Highlander – The Source and Weekender.
You grew up on the Island and went on to Osborne Middle and Medina High, after Grange Road. Do you still look back on those days as being rather special?
I loved all my Island schools. My one memory of Grange Road, other than their ancient swimming pool, was when we played a football match which turned out something like a movie. It was between a team who were really good at football against the team I played for who were not good at any physical activity. We won on penalties. I was about six and, to me, it was like The Great Escape or Escape To Victory.
When you were at Medina you tried to beat the system and get an early lunch by joining the pupils who were going to audition for the school musical. Did you have any intention of trying to get into the show?
No! We were just trying it on so we could play football and we got caught. I often think about Miss Peck. She made me audition for the musical, as a punishment, and I even had to sing a song. I got the part, which was the first time I had ever been on a stage, and it was to change my life.
(JH – Years later Lisa Peck told me: “Stephen had such a stage presence from the very first time I saw him. He was a very brave young actor.”)
How important was the local amateur group, The Ferret Theatre Company, in your development as an actor?
I learnt such a lot from that group. The greatest thing was that, as a young schoolboy, I was hanging out with adults who didn’t treat me like a child or teenager. My views were respected and we would talk about many things, as there never seemed to be a filter. This was really important for me. I think the arts, whether it be acting, music, sculpture or painting, should be more exposed to young people in today’s world. You can explore a lot of what they’re going through. It’s an emotional time for boys and girls because they are going through so many physiological and emotional changes. Now with the acknowledgement of gender and what it means in the gender fluidity, I think art has such an important role to heal these things that go through their lives at this particular time.
Back in 2003 when you had a small part in Casualty did you have a career dream at that time?
I think just to keep working was my main wish. I have been lucky to have enjoyed a few good breaks. Working alongside Sir David Jason in Diamond Geezer was so good for me. He was so kind to me in the first series and I learnt such a lot from him.
Was being in such a brilliant television series as Manhunt, watched by nine million people and which featured the hunt for serial killer Levi Belfield, one of the highlights of your career so far?
It was one of those jobs where the end result was a bonus. We had a superb team behind it and when you take on such a sensitive story it galvanises everyone and is very focussing when you are on set. There were pictures of Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange around and you realised you were playing to a really heightened sense of reality, as this was a case that was still fresh. It was also shot on location which, I know caused some controversy but the production team dealt with it very sensitively. The way it was received was very gratifying. Personally, I’d rarely had such a response from friends and family who, for want of a better word, enjoyed the series and the way it had been portrayed and produced. This was a credit to the whole team. Martin Clunes in the lead role was quite amazing and we had brilliant directors.
Do you get back to the Island much?
We try and get back as much as we can to get some good clean air. My wife, Chloe, comes from the Island and her family still live there. I still have friends there and I like to see my best mate, Ben, and his family. We have been friends since he was six. I love everything about the Island except the ferry fares, but I won’t get on my soapbox.
Look out for Stephen in the new movie Men In Black: International and he’s one of the stars in a play, called Europe, at London’s Donmar Warehouse, from June 20th to August 10th.