Roz Laws discovers that being deaf and dyslexic hasn’t stopped Joseph Mawle from being a very versatile actor
It takes a versatile actor to go from playing Jesus to the Yorkshire Ripper.
But Joseph Mawle has proved his adaptability off-screen too, having overcome hurdles from deafness to dyslexia and toiling on a Warwickshire building site for £1-an-hour.
Joseph shot to fame playing Jesus Christ in BBC1’s 2008 Easter drama The Passion, then next appeared on screen as the infamous serial killer Peter Sutcliffe in Channel 4’s Red Riding.
In-demand Joseph then popped up last month in BBC2’s Freefall, as a security guard who lost his home after taking on a mortgage he couldn’t afford.
We sympathised with his plight then, but viewers won’t start off rooting for him in The Street. In tonight’s edition of the acclaimed BBC1 drama, he plays a racist chef.
Joseph grew up in a Victorian manor house on a farm outside Shipston-on-Stour in Warwickshire, with views of the rolling Cotswold hills. His mother was a teacher while his father Richard still farms the land.
Joe reveals: “I can drive tractors, ride a horse and shoot a gun. Useful skills on Oxford Street! London life is vastly different.”
His first acting role was as Dick Whittington at The Croft prep school on the outskirts of Stratford-upon-Avon, but he was so dyslexic that from 13 to 16 he was sent away to a boarding school for special needs.
It was here he fell in love with drama, but when he announced his ambition to his father, Richard put him to work on a building site to knock some sense into him. He worked for local building firm which last year went bust.
Joe, 35, remembers: “I worked a 49-hour week and got paid £49.
“Dad was right to do it, since I learnt some valuable lessons there, imparted wisdoms of these real men. Site work is physically very demanding. I lasted long enough to learn a few things, but I knew what I wanted to do and who I aspired to be.
“Only lately do I see what my parents were worried about. My folks just wanted me to be happy and reasonably successful, and the acting world isn’t renowned for stability and security. They’re relieved it’s happening for me now.”
It took guts to pursue his acting dream after contracting an airborne virus which lead to the disorder labyrinthitis. It destroyed the hairs of his inner ears and he was left with 70 per cent impaired hearing and with tinnitus, a constant ringing in the ears.
He wears discreet digital hearing aids but prefers to take them out while he’s acting, relying on lipreading to know when to say his lines.
Despite his handicaps of deafness and dyslexia, Joe persuaded the director of Stratford-upon-Avon College to let him take a BTEC in performing arts, while living in a caravan in his grandparents’ garden.
“I have great memories of the Goth crowd at the Green Dragon pub, going to the Mop Fair and visiting my great friend Panos’s Fish & Chip shop on Ely Street.
“I still have good friends in the area, so we get together from time to time.”
After winning a scholarship to Bristol Old Vic theatre school, his break came playing the lead in Soundproof, about a deaf man wrongly accused of murder.
He then appeared in Silent Witness, Dalziel & Pascoe, Persuasion and Foyle’s War.
The Passion involved an arduous shoot in Morocco. It took three days to film the crucifixion in baking heat and Joseph lost feeling in his arms for three weeks afterwards.
Now he takes a starring role in the gritty Jimmy McGovern drama The Street, as racist chef Kieran who finds his bigoted views challenged when he falls for a Polish woman.
“I got the lowdown about life in a restaurant kitchen from the chef where we filmed. I also watched a bit of Gordon Ramsay, though Kieran is more angry than passionate.
“As for cooking, I wasn’t allowed near the knives! I am happy to cook simple stuff for myself, like roast salmon, minted new potatoes and pan-seared courgettes. That sounds so swanky, but in reality it’s just meat and two veg! I wouldn’t invite people to dinner but I’m learning, slowly.
“We shot in a real street and witnessed eye-opening stories. One woman walked past with blood all over her face and announced ‘My boyfriend just beat me up’. Another cancelled a hospital appointment just so she could stay at home and watch her neighbour being evicted.
“You can find real-life drama on any street in this country.
“We may like to pretend it’s nothing to do with us or that these people are outside our circle of life, but these stories are all around us. We can’t ignore them.”
Joe is bracing himself for more viewer reactions after The Passion evoked some extreme responses.
“Most mail I get is complimentary, but one man did write a four-page letter, half-typed, half handwritten. He quoted the Bible, said I’d got it all wrong and that he didn’t like my beard! He was totally entitled to his opinion but it was a frightening read.”