Rising young actor James Sutton tells Roz Laws about the thrills and spills of working in TV soap.
Actor James Sutton flies the flag for his home town whenever he appears on TV – and at the moment, that’s six times a week.
That’s because he’s named after it.
The Emmerdale newcomer was born James Cook in Good Hope Hospital, Sutton Coldfield, but when he joined Equity he discovered there was already an actor with his name.
James remembers: “I emailed him to ask if I could have my name, as he hadn’t worked for a while. He didn’t reply so I had to change it.
“I thought it would be nice to take Sutton from where I was born. It has a good ring to it and I’m very fond of the Midlands.
“It’s weird, though, having a bit of an identity crisis. I am still James Cook in my passport and at the bank, I’m just James Sutton for work.”
James, 26, is already an established soap star, having spent two years playing John Paul McQueen in Hollyoaks.
He made his mark to such an extent that he was shortlisted for Most Popular Actor at the National Television Awards in 2007, losing out to David Tennant.
He had plenty of dramatic storylines – John Paul came out as gay, had an affair with a priest and was blown up by his vengeful secret brother.
You might expect he’d have a slightly easier life now he’s joined Emmerdale as mechanic Ryan Lamb, but life in the Dales doesn’t seem any more relaxed.
Quite apart from the fact he has yet to learn his father is the owner of Home Farm, Mark Wylde, he almost dies in a spectacular accident tonight.
A van crashes into the Home Farm shop, crushing Ryan between the bonnet and a fallen beam.
James says: “I spent two days lying on a bonnet covered in dust and filth, in 30 degree heat, in a tiny room filled with crew and cameras. It wasn’t the most pleasant experience!
“It’s not my first time doing those type of scenes, but they are quite exciting to do. They bring in big cranes and stunt teams, and it makes a change from the more mundane scenes.”
After months of playing a gay character in Hollyoaks, James is now back to kissing girls as he looks forward to a blossoming romance between Ryan and Katie Sugden, played by Sammy Winward.
He was born in Sutton Coldfield but barely lived there before moving to the village of Haughton just outside Stafford with his mother Jeanette, a teaching assistant, and stepfather Steve, who works for BT. He attended King Edward VI School in Stafford. “I had an idyllic childhood, in a lovely village surrounded by fields where I could climb trees and make dens.
“I had lots of energy, so at eight my mum took me to a summer drama school where we put on musicals at the Gatehouse Theatre, and the idea of becoming an actor was born.
“When I was 14 we moved across the border to Newport in Shropshire and I went to Burton Borough School. I bullied my wonderful teacher, Emma Hennesy, into letting me take a GCSE in drama, even though it wasn’t on the curriculum.
“I’ve been back since and now they have a whole drama department and their own theatre!
“I like to think I had something to do with that.”
After studying drama at the Royal Welsh College in Cardiff, he had a memorable TV debut at 21 in Trial & Retribution, playing a psychopath who raped his next-door neighbour then battered his grandmother to death before setting fire to her body.
Then he took a stop-gap job as a bingo caller before his numbers came up and he landed the Hollyoaks role.
His fans – particularly one strange admirer – will be interested to learn that James has just split from his girlfriend Lauren Casey, who he met two years ago when she was a crew member on Hollyoaks.
“Most of the fan mail I get is really nice, but I did have some bizarre stuff on Hollyoaks.
“One guy sent me more than 30 bottles of wine.
“He just kept sending cases, with no covering letter.
“Not that I’m complaining, I’m happy for people to send me booze. More please!”