The actor and Strictly winner, 45, on preferring good-guy roles, playing football with the and Christmas plans.
How did being on Strictly change your life?
It put me on the map. It’s all thanks to Strictly that I got a career in musical theatre. We tune in without fail every Saturday.
It’s so lovely to be able to watch it and relax. It took quite a few years to stop feeling the nerves from the shock of hearing the music starting up!
Who are you tipping to lift the Glitterball trophy this year?
I’m really enjoying and how much he’s embracing it. As for the final, maybe Will Mellor, Tyler West and ?
Why did you become an actor?
I was playing football at school in morning break and no one had signed up for the school play. A teacher came over and said, ‘Right, all of you, come and audition after school today.’ I ended up getting the part of Dracula.
I didn’t realise it was going to take quite so long to make it as an actor. I was 13 when I played Dracula and 27 when I got my big break in .
What was your first TV role?
I was an extra on The Virgin Queen, with Anne-Marie Duff and Tom Hardy. I asked the director if I could have a line and I ended up saying, ‘Tis true your Majesty.’
It meant I was no longer an extra. I was actually a legitimate actor in a TV series!
You’re now starring in Elf. Did you watch the movie as a kid?
I was in my 20s when it came out, so I watched it as an older kid! But without doubt it’s one of the top Christmas films. Our version is slightly different as it’s a musical.
It’s really fun – all-singing, all-dancing and very up-to-date. We’ve tweaked the scripts so that it’s very current to connect with a modern-day audience. It’s a real feel-good Christmas story – it makes you laugh and makes you think.
It’s more suitable for your kids to watch than your last play…
The last one was Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder! Olive, who is eight, and William, who is 11, both watched it.
They did enjoy it but I think this will be a lot more fun and appropriate and my youngest, Poppy, who is four, can come to this one too. She was asleep backstage in a travel cot in my dressing room when I did Dial M For Murder.
He’s a normal family guy. Buddy, the elf, arrives claiming that he’s his son and Walter thinks, ‘Who is this weirdo who’s come into my life?’In some versions Walter has been the Scrooge character but in our version he’s a younger guy, who used to be fun like Buddy, but life has sucked the joy out of him.
Who do you play in Elf?
I’m Walter, who was played by James Caan in the film.
He’s got a high-pressured job, he and his wife are at cross purposes and they’re struggling with parenthood and with phone use.
Is the battle with kids and tech familiar?
It’s a concern for any parent, because however many restrictions you put on their phones, they can somehow work out how to get round them. But it’s a changing world.
Some pioneering surgeons are very dexterous with their hands because of gaming and very good at surgery compared to surgeons who have been consultants for 30 years. People who have been gamers are very quick to catch on to things and also they’ve learnt how to deal with failure.
Do you prefer playing good guys or baddies?
I like playing good guys, whether it’s a doctor or a detective. I don’t think I’m a natural villain. In Waterloo Road, I played a Machiavellian, twisted, manipulative headmaster.
Maybe I was a bit inexperienced then, maybe I’d handle it better now, but it’s not a nice place to live in your head. The world is full of so much sadness as it is.
What hobbies do you have?
I play five-a-side football on a Thursday night with the local dads. It’s not as testosterone-heavy as when we were in our 20s. No one is elbowing anyone in the face or doing sliding tackles. I’ve had two new front teeth as a result of a sliding tackle. I also go cold-water swimming in the Thames.
If you weren’t a performer, what would you be doing?
If I had my time again, I would probably be a search and rescue sea helicopter pilot. I love the coast and the sea. I love being against the elements and I adore challenges.
How will you spend Christmas this year?
I’ll still be in Elf The Musical. We just get Christmas Day and New Year’s Day off. Christmas Day will be the five of us – me, my wife and our three children. My dad is going to my sister’s this year, very sadly I lost my mum a year and a bit ago after 27 years of breast cancer.
I’ll be back on stage on Boxing Day, so Christmas Day will be pretty clean – maybe just a little glass of bubbles, Christmas carols, food, a nice walk and we’ll definitely be watching It’s A Wonderful Life and the Strictly Christmas special.