From the North to Netflix
Craig Hough talks to actor Reece Noi about his career in the UK, his move to the US and his new Netflix series
This year you are celebrating an incredible 20 years in the television industry at the tender age of 30. How did your first role come about?
I always knew I wanted to tell stories and did. I don’t recall ever wanting to be famous as such but I think I liked being able to command attention and make people feel some type of way. I would beg my mum to find drama classes and after a few fairly fruitless local classes someone told her about David Johnson Drama School. So she took me there every Saturday at the crack of dawn and after a few months David pulled ‘Mummy’ aside and told her he wanted to start suggesting me for roles. I joined the agency and got my first audition. I did a commercial and then came ‘Seeing Red’. I think it was three rounds of recalls and such but I booked the role of Wayne and shot it over the summer of ‘99. In Cheshire actually!
You have worked on some of the biggest UK series over the years, from Grange Hill and Waterloo Road, to more grittier dramas such as Silk and Father and Son. Which role did you enjoy the most and what do you most get recognised for?
Well I enjoy different roles for different reasons. I still always love a short film I shot in 2010 named ‘Friday’ simply because the team were so great and it looks beautiful. We shot on film which is such a novelty now I think it captures life so differently. It’s richer! I really miss film. Am I ageing myself here? I loved Father & Son because it still remains the role I had with the most journey. Hit & Miss was special because it kind of changed my life on a personal level but I would say I’m definitely still mostly recognised for Waterloo Road.
You also had a role in Game of Thrones, the biggest show on television. How was your time filming in Northern Ireland and Croatia? Were you sad to see the show finish last month?
I think it is sad but then at the same time nothing lasts forever and it means that all those people both behind and in front of the camera can go off and explore some more. I used to really struggle to say goodbye to jobs. Starting with Seeing Red. I woke my mum at 5am the day after wrap crying that I ‘had nothing to look forward to anymore’. I was a dramatic kid! I thankfully have since learnt how in order for new things to come in you have to create space. Back to Game of Thrones, I had a ball! I went in for a couple of scenes and they wrote me into the following season and I feel really lucky for that. For a show so vast it felt so close knit and I laughed all day every day. I do miss that shoot!
Whilst living in Manchester you had a stint alongside Rochdale born Maxine Peak in A Street Car Named Desire at Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre. Having spent most of your career in television how was the experience performing in front of a live audience?
I love theatre because it’s a different experience with the team. We all muck in and do all kinds of different things. We’re forced to get to know each other really intimately. A few weeks rehearsals, shared dressing rooms, green rooms and that doesn’t happen always in TV & Film. Then you get to feel the audiences tension, their anger and sadness. The show is interactive, whether you want that or not. it depends on who is in the crowd and how much you can engage them. That is really exciting. It is instant response to something. A play often changes so much throughout its run as you adapt to the audiences reactions.
Having spent the majority of your younger life living in the North of England where are some of your favourite places to go?
My favourite places in the North is without doubt Oldham St, Manchester. I love that street and everyone on it. That whole block was my stomping ground and I have so many fond memories and friends there. I also used to love jumping on the train to Hebden Bridge for a day. Of course I have a few friends down in Alderley too, I would go and have a day at The Yard, which is no longer there but was owned by former Waterloo Road actress Sadie Pickering. That was my spot. I like cake.
You are now flying the British flag living over in LA, having moved to America in 2007. After finding so much success over here in the UK what made you make the move?
Sadly I moved because it became imperative. I had always loved working in the UK and particularly the North, I had never been one of those actors that had Hollywood hopes but the work just stopped coming. I never thought I would like it but it’s the best thing I ever did. I think, for now at least I am absolutely where I am supposed to be.
You star in Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us (which was realised worldwide on Netflix May 31st). Talk to me about your role and what the four-part series is about?
So this is an interesting story. I started following Ava on Twitter a couple of years ago and she announced she was making the story of The Central Park Five, (as they were then referred to) and I responded that I thought it was amazing she was doing so. Then forgot all about it. In late Spring 2018 I got a phone call asking me to go and meet Miss Ava DuVernay and I knew immediately what it was for. We met, and she liked me. Eventually I read for three different characters and did a chemistry read with another actor before she called me and asked me to play Matias Reyes. Honestly, despite knowing how important this project was, I was sceptical. Matias is the man who actually committed the heinous crime and I wanted to be on the right side of this story. I realised that there isn’t a wrong side though because this story is being told with the voices of the five boys who were arrested and forced to confess to the crime they didn’t commit: Raymond Santana, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise and Kevin Richardson. The series tells the story of how five innocent young boys were rounded up and framed for a crime they didn’t commit by people and a system that was supposed to protect them. I’m really proud to be a part of it.
Since giving up your life in the North of England for sunny California, how has your lifestyle changed? What do you do to unwind?
I am absolutely more relaxed than I have ever been despite the fact that I actually had a few bumps in the road. There is an energy here that forces you to slow down and really respect the process. For me at least. I love to do all the cliché things, I hike regularly, do lots of yoga (I did love yoga in Manchester though). I think LA has all of my favourite things. Healthy food, fitness and spirituality. I think the optimism here as always really changed me beneficially.
Now you are living in Hollywood can we expect a film in your immediate future?
I actually recently got back from a stint in Sydney shooting a feature film named Unsound. Its a love story primarily about a young gay musician (me) who returns to Sydney to his mother after being raised in Manchester and meets Finn (played by Yiana Pandelis), a trans guy still trying to figure out his own journey and they fall in love. The film follows them and their ensuing struggle. It’s filled with heart so I hope it’s well received. They’re hoping to get that out to the late Summer festivals and we shall see what happens from there.
Reece Noi on Twitter : @ReeceNoi