Mr Selfridge – Sean Teale interview (exclusive)
Interview by Rob Carnevale
SEAN Teale talks about joining the second season of hit ITV period drama Mr Selfridge and playing the role of mischievous waiter Franco alongside leading man Jeremy Piven. He also discusses the impact of the First World War on the new series.
Elsewhere, he also discusses his career to date, including his role in Skins, and what it’s like being a young actor and dealing with the highs and lows of the industry. And he discusses breaking into film and getting to star alongside Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson shortly.
Q. So, tell us about Franco, I gather he’s mischievous?
Sean Teale: Yeah, he is to an extent. He’s a little bit exciteable. He’s very good at his job… I mean, he has to be to work in that kind of store at that time. But there are a few moments where he goes a bit wayward.
Q. How did you go about researching the role?
Sean Teale: I watched Trystan Gravelle, who plays Victor, Franco’s cousin. I watched what he was like and I also had some silver service training to get to grips with it. It’s unbelievably complicated. It was an art form. It wasn’t just a “here’s your pasta” kind of thing. There is etiquette involved… food is always served from the left, for example. It also taught me how to hold myself, how to walk and carry things, how to pour and generally how to act.
Q. Do you enjoy that part of the job?
Sean Teale: Yeah, it’s quite fun. I think a lot of it comes to you quite naturally. So, I don’t try to overdo it. I think sometimes, or for me personally at least, you can over-think things and some of the best moments are those that come to you naturally. So, it’s about finding the right kind of balance between being spontaneous and well researched. I don’t indulge in it too much.
Q. You have previously done Skins of course, which was a big show, but do you feel any pressure coming into a show like Mr Selfridge, which has such a massive Sunday night following?
Sean Teale: To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about it until the last few weeks [laughs]. It is a big show and it has a huge following in other countries as well. In that respect, it’s different to Skins, where the fan-base was smaller but had a lot more voice. They were quite intense and media savvy [laughs]. So, it is just a bit daunting. But at least this isn’t the first season where you simply don’t know if it’s going to work at all; it’s the second and everyone is really happy and they know what they’re doing. So, that’s a nice atmosphere to be able to walk into.
Q. So, how was your first day?
Sean Teale: Actually, my first day was quite scary because things had been running the way they had on that particular day and the scene I was shooting required a lot of dialogue with Jeremy [Piven] and other cast members, who are obviously very experienced. And the scene in question was quite long. So, you could say I got put in at the deep end… I had a baptism of fire, let’s say. But I suppose that’s the best way to do it, to come in and hit the mark on your first day. It’s a bit scary but I prefer doing that because then nothing else really phases you.
Q. Is that the worst baptism of fire you’ve had?
Sean Teale: Well, the first day on every job is always a little bit nerve-wracking and wayward. But sometimes I get more nervous over certain scenes that require a lot. They can be a lot scarier.
Q. Do you have an example?
Sean Teale: I was quite nervous before I did a few of the scenes in Skins. The scene where I smash up the kitchen with a golf club was pretty intense, especially as I broke a cabinet beforehand and so had to wait even longer to shoot it! It all sort of got very deep and dark and we ended up doing it in one [take] because we got everything we wanted and didn’t really want to go back. So, that turned out fine… it was a release but the build up was quite intense.
Q. How was getting to work alongside Jeremy Piven?
Sean Teale: Jeremy is such a nice man. He is really warm and friendly, which is especially nice if you’ve ever seen an episode of Entourage. You just don’t see Ari Gold in him – although I’m sure he must be aware that he has that in him, so you don’t go looking to piss him off [laughs]! What’s also nice about him is that, sometimes when you’re a younger performer the older cast members just want to get on with the scene and don’t have too much of a relationship with the younger cast – but he was really great at talking to us and hanging out. Frances O’Connor was the same. They were both warm and friendly even when we weren’t filming.
Q. I gather the First World War plays a massive part in this series too, which is especially timely given the centenary this year. Did you look into that?
Sean Teale: Well, I’m a history buff, so I’ve always been interested in that, especially the two World Wars. And World War I does play a massive part in this series – both on the store and its staff. The work force will always take a big hit, especially with such a male heavy crew, so conscription-wise, there will be a lot of characters heading off and… who knows! But a lot of what you’ll see is true – Selfridges changed the way the store was run during World War I – it changed massively, especially with money being tight. High end fashion and shopping wasn’t so high on people’s lists, so that had a massive influence on how Selfridges went about its business.
Q. I gather you’re also moving into film? A political thriller named Survivor?
Sean Teale: Yeah, we start on January 26, which should be fun. I think I’m the youngest on that one. I quite like to not be the youngest because people always say: “You’re so young… you’re such a child.” But I haven’t actually met most of the crew yet…
Q. It stars Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson doesn’t it?
Sean Teale: And Milla Jovovich. She is our boss, and Pierce Brosnan plays her boss, II think, with Emma possibly being Pierce’s boss [laughs]. They work at the US Embassy and they have a visa team, which we’ll be part of. Basically, Milla’s character is framed for crimes she did not commit, and she’s forced to do the heroic thing and save the day against all the odds by proving there is a different terrorist plot.
Q. Is movies where you eventually want to be?
Sean Teale: I’ve never really distinguished between the different mediums, to be honest. I’m happy to do film, TV or theatre. It depends on the job. I often find, especially at this age, when you get to 21, there are those who hit the ground running and never stop, but they are very few. Most of the time, you’ll be working but there’s no direct route to how fast those roles will come. You can get a bit side-tracked by the notion that if you’re not first you’re last, especially if whether you land or miss out on a role comes down to something so fickle as they just chose somebody else and now you no longer exist in relation to that project. It can be painful to deal with if it’s a large project or something you really cared about. At this point too, and especially in the States, you reach an age where you’re eligible for a lot of roles that you might even be too old for.
For instance, a lot of 25-year-olds tend to get cast downwards and play 19-year-olds. So, from that pool, and being 21, I’m the youngest. That’s why I’m quite chuffed about getting this Survivor job. It also stars Angela Bassett and Dylan McDermott and is directed by James McTeigue, who did V For Vendetta, so I can get on the set and get a feel for it without being thrown in at the deep end. I can watch and learn from all of these great actors to see what projects of that scale are like, and to get a feel for the nature of those kinds of sets. And then hopefully, by the time I get to 24 or 25 those roles will come a lot easier. I think it’s going to be great to be able to experience those sets without being in all day, every day.
Q. Have there been times when you’ve thought about quitting? Or do you accept that it’s all part and parcel of the industry you chose?
Sean Teale: It is part and parcel but that doesn’t change everything – just because you know it might happen doesn’t make it easier. But I’ve had a really good time and would never have expected it to have gone this way up to this point. I didn’t train at drama school. I always wanted to act but was unsure of how to go about it. So, it’s been amazing. Naturally, you will always look ahead and the people ahead of you but my career so far has been full of highs and full of lows. And yes, there have been times when you go ‘this is getting serious, it’s really tough’ and you might not have anything for three months. But three months is nothing in the grand scheme of things and that’s just the nature of the game. When it snowballs, it snowballs and when you’re in a rut it can be easy to dig yourself deeper. But I’ve never wanted to quit. If I have ever talked about wanting to go and train or take time out, the people around me know that’s just Sean going into his cave and they need to drag me back out again [laughs]. Apparently, I have a cave! But it’s been great for the most part.
Q. What’s been your favourite experience so far?
Sean Teale: My favourite? I guess you could say the whole Skins experience. It was eye opening because we were all going through it together and you also get some great adult actors coming in, from whom you can learn a lot. I’d never done anything of that magnitude before so scale-wise it was a real eye-opener. But Mr Selfridge itself has been a great experience too. I never thought I’d do a period drama but it’s been great fun and a fantastic opportunity to work with some amazingly talented people.
Q. Didn’t you work with Tom Hardy early in your career, on Sergeant Slaughter, My Big Brother?
Sean Teale: That was my first job, when I was young and eager and very scared!
Q. Do you stay in touch?
Sean Teale: We’ve crossed paths a few times since then. But that was a passion project for the film’s director, Greg Williams, who also wrote it. Greg is also an amazing stills photographer and he was terrific to work with. It was meant to be a summer movie and we spent a week in 5ft of snow in Reading, so it was really weird. But Greg was brilliant to work for. As for Tom, he was in the middle of doing Inception and then moving onto Mad Max: Fury Road, so I would have been pretty surprised if we had managed to stay in touch. But as I say, our paths have crossed occasionally since then and it was great to work with him.
Q. What first made you decide you wanted to become an actor and pursue it as a career?
Sean Teale: I guess something changed… when I was 16, I didn’t know how to say a line; I could not physically get it out. But then day by day, while I was doing my A-levels something, somewhere just clicked and I got more confident with it. I assume you can’t really learn how to act but you can learn how to open up and express your feelings and emotions more. So, day by day it became more important than sports and studying was always a pain… so that seemed to lose its way and I followed drama more. I think being in smaller groups of people and performing as a five or a six also helped me to gain confidence. And then the agency I’m with at the moment happened to come by and see me and signed me from that, which I never really expected. So, I think what changed was that I grew up a bit.
Series 2 of Mr Selfridge airs on ITV1 on Sunday nights at 9pm.