It’s natural to assume that soap actors will be just like their screen persona when you meet them and whilst a few are, most couldn’t be more different. Take June Brown who plays Dot Cotton – in real-life she is incredibly eloquent and would never dream of using the bad grammar that often punctuates her character’s conversation. And remember Pat Butcher? Pam St Clement who played her has a cut glass accent in real-life.
That brings me to Michael Parr. He plays Ross Barton in Emmerdale and the brooding edginess that he gives off on screen makes him one of the most intriguing characters in soap. It is also the reason why he has hoards of young female fans – every woman loves a bad guy, at least before the age of 30 after which we usually come to our senses and marry a good guy.
I’ve met Michael a couple of times now and what struck me during our first encounter, was how different he was to Ross, even before he had opened his mouth. Whilst Ross gives off those ‘Come near me and I’ll punch you’ vibes, Michael has a calm and open presence.
It came as no surprise to hear that he spent six years as a teaching assistant working alongside kids with special needs – I know from experience that such a job requires limitless patience and I have a son with Asperger’s.
‘Teachers have such a hard job,’ Michael told me when we chatted recently. ‘I often thought that if the acting didn’t work out, I might try teaching, but the pay you get for the workload you are expected to take on is unforgivable. I found that often there wasn’t the money being spent on kids with special needs who really needed the support. I loved the job. I am still in touch with some of my old pupils – a few of them have asked me for references.’
Michael got his big break in acting when he landed a role in Hollyoaks. He thought he’d finally made it, but his character Billy Parker was only in one episode.
‘I was disappointed, but I didn’t give up hope. I always knew it was around the corner because of the way I worked. I would have got there in the end because I wouldn’t have stopped trying,’ he explained.
In between acting jobs and teaching, Michael ran a bar in Essex and managed a nightclub. ‘It wasn’t the job for me. I wasn’t getting anything out of it,’ he told me.
Michael describes the role of Ross Barton as his ‘dream job’ and he says that with conviction and not because it’s what you’re supposed to say as a soap actor giving an interview.
I for one am glad that the team at Emmerdale were wise enough to bag him and hope he’ll be around for a long time soon.
To find out more about Michael, read my interview with him in this week’s issue of TV Times (cover date Nov 15 – 21) and by the way, in case you were wondering, he is single. When I joked that he would be inundated with offers if I wrote that, he laughed and said ‘Do it! Get in there!’ but be warned, the competition is fierce. Michael has 32,000 Twitter fan and most of them are young women. Good luck!