UNIVERSITY NEWS LAST UPDATED : 02 NOVEMBER
From Line of Duty to Peaky Blinders, Acting alumnus Nigel Boyle has become a staple of British television since he graduated in 2002.
We sat down with the alumnus to find out more about his journey, his career highlights, and his advice to current students and fellow graduates.
After growing up across our region thanks to his parents being pub landlords in Bartley Green, Quinton and West Bromwich, Nigel originally studied a Business degree in Northampton.
But a family tragedy changed his perspective of what he wanted from his life and career, and he arrived at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in the late 1990s to make his dreams a reality.
He said: “I completed a Business degree in Northampton originally. It was a sandwich course, which included a year’s work experience, and although I loved the company where I worked, I just couldn’t see myself working in an office for the rest of my life. I went back for my final year, but after graduating, I couldn’t get a job. To be honest, I didn’t really want a job, so I was going to interviews half-hearted.
“Everything changed when I was 21. My brother passed away suddenly, he was only in his early thirties, but he was diabetic, and he died of pneumonia in his sleep. It was really sudden and unexpected, and that put things into perspective. It made me realise that I needed to do something that makes me happy.
“Growing up, I was always involved in plays at school, and I’d often get cast as lead roles. I was the class clown, very extrovert and confident, and a bit too cocky, if I’m honest. I didn’t even enjoy the rehearsal process at that point. I was young, and I didn’t want to put the work in and learn lines. But after my brother passed away, I went back to what I wanted to do when I was younger, which was either being a rock star, a footballer, or an actor. I knew I could act, so I thought I would do it for a living and look into drama schools.”
Nigel’s acting journey started with taster classes before he eventually got offered a place on the Acting course at what was then called the Birmingham School of Speech and Drama.
He said: “I flicked through the Yellow Pages, which is what you did back in the day, and found Birmingham School of Speech and Drama. I phoned them up, and they suggested doing taster classes on Tuesday nights. I did them for a year and loved it.
“I decided to audition for the Acting course, but I didn’t have enough experience. But they told me what I needed to work on and gave me so much feedback, like going to the theatre as much as I can, reading as many plays as I can, working on my voice. They also told me about their summer school, which was a two-week intensive course which really puts you to another level. After taking their advice, I auditioned again, and I got in.
“Back then, I knew nothing about the industry, but I knew that I wanted to be somewhere where I felt safe and welcomed. I didn’t want to move to London, and my family couldn’t give me money to move there, so for me, studying in Birmingham was a no brainer.
“Not only is it a great school, but I knew all the teachers, and they knew me. In a vocational course like acting, you can't underestimate how important it is for the teachers to actually know you.”
After appearing in Casualty, The Inbetweeners and Peep Show, the graduate landed the role of Ian Buckells in BBC’s hit show Line of Duty in 2010.
The show catapulted Nigel to a new level of fame, and when he was eventually revealed as ‘H’ in the series finale in 2021, his face was printed on every newspaper front page across the country.
He said: “Looking back now, it was amazing. As an actor, you get lots of scripts. But there's certain scripts that jump out at you, and Line of Duty was one of them. I remember reading the script for the first scene in the first episode. I was blown away; it was such a brave scene. I showed my wife, who is also in the industry and a fellow Acting alumna, and we couldn’t believe it.
“I read my character, and it was like it has been written for me, with the same words and language that I would use. I thought, I’ve got to nail this. I’ve got to get this. If I can’t get this, there is something seriously wrong. So, I worked really hard, and I got it.
“What makes it such a good drama, is the writing. The writing is just superb. I was so lucky to be brought back in serious four and then again in series six, and then of course to be 'H' and have the big reveal, it really is what dreams are made of. The day after the reveal, I was on the cover of every newspaper in the country.”
Nigel is now back on our screens as Dougie in the new ITV series Three Little Birds, written by BCU Chancellor Sir Lenny Henry.
The show is based on Lenny's mother Winifred's experiences arriving in Britain from Jamaica as part of the Windrush generation in 1957. Two sisters Leah and Chantrelle and their acquaintance Hosanna catch a steamboat from Saint Ann Parish in Jamaica to the United Kingdom, arriving in London's Notting Hill before moving to the Midlands.
Nigel said: “There's a strong Windrush connection, and it's about the trials and tribulations, and the racism and the difficulties that they faced. I play a character called Dougie, who's a Foreman in a factory. I give the three girls a job, but they face racism at work in the factory.
“It's a lovely story and the series is based on stories that Lenny's mum used to tell him. It resonated with me because my family is from Ireland. They came over in the 1950s and faced the same kind of problems as the girls in the series. My dad used to tell me that growing up, he'd be looking for work, but he was told not to apply because he was Irish.
“When the pub bombings happened in Birmingham, he was a pub landlord at the time, and he faced so much racism and was told to ‘go home’ time and time again. So, the script for Three Little Birds really resonated with me.”
Nigel has also played six roles since graduating in BBC soap Doctors, which is set to end in 2024 after being cancelled by the broadcaster.
The graduate is concerned about what the cancellation of the show means for our region and Acting graduates.
He said: “Cancelling Doctors is an appalling decision. Particularly that the BBC have already axed Holby City. Doctors is a great training ground for people in all aspects of screen making; actors, writers and directors would learn their trade on the show.
“The cancellation of the show means that Birmingham has got to reinvent themselves again. Peaky Blinders put the city on the map, and we should be developing the city now, not taking things away from it.
“It’s important that we keep Birmingham back on the map and make shows locally. It shouldn’t be that all actors need to be in London. That’s why shows like Three Little Birds, which was all filmed here in the region, are so important too. Manchester’s got Coronation Street, Leeds has got Emmerdale. London's got everything. We need to get Birmingham back up there and make it fashionable again.”
Nigel has several career highlights, but he’s most proud of still enjoying what he does after almost 25 years.
“As well as TV, I’ve done over 100 commercials, and even done voice over work for computer games. There are so many transferable skills as an actor that you can do.
He said: “I just feel lucky and happy that I'm still doing it. I'm here, doing what I love, but it's never easy. There's ups and downs in the industry, but I always try and keep positive. With my wife being in acting as well, we are able to help each other with auditions, and not always having a stable income with three children can be tough, but ultimately, I love what I do.
“After making the change from business to acting, and making a real bold decision, seeing it all pay off has been the biggest highlight for me.”
Nigel has a huge amount of advice to current Acting students and fellow graduates.
He said: “It’s important to work hard, but also to stay positive, and don’t expect that opportunities will just come to you. You’ve got to work hard for it. Also, it’s OK to have a day job to pay the bills whilst you audition and get roles. Whether you’re working in a bar or a shop, remember that you’re an actor first, and that is the priority.
“Also, keep yourself busy in the industry; watch shows and plays, learn about new things, do what you can to stay in the industry. It’s a career, so when you’re not working, there’s still so much you can be doing.”
Three Little Birds is now available on ITVX.