From Romford to Belgravia: Actor Jack Shalloo explains how his roots helped land him his latest role
- Credit: ITV
The Recorder caught up with Belgravia footman, Jack Shalloo, who we managed to drag away from season three of Ozark to tell us about his experience working on the period drama… and of the benefits of being ginger.
The 33-year-old who plays Morris, a servant in a the Trenchard household, was fresh from the trenches of the Oscar-winning war film 1917 when he waltzed into the stately houses of 19th-century Belgravia.
For filming the series, Jack says: “I’ve visited every posh house in the country you can think of.”
Belgravia, which follows the love affairs and scandals of various upper-class families in 1840s London, has a similar upstairs-downstairs character divide to that in Downton Abbey, which is not perhaps surprising given that it was written by the same screenwriter, Julian Fellowes. In Belgravia, however, the downstairs servants are more cunning and prone to skulduggery.
“I think what’s nice about the servants in this drama is that they’re quite different to those in Downton Abbey; they aren’t so loyal. In this they’ve all got all their own agendas and they’re after things. It’s a different way of doing things,” he says.
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“I always liked downstairs characters because they’re always quite funny and gossipy.”
Jack’s character is a cheeky chappy, is a new employee under the watchful eye of butler Turton (Paul Ritter). Jack said he was drawn to the role because, “I thought, I can do this - I’m a Romford boy. I can be cheeky, gossipy and fun. That’s all I really wanted to bring to the part, a bit of fun.”
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The cast were instructed by an “etiquette advisor”, an on-set historian with deep knowledge of the period, who judged how much impudence Morris would have got away with at the time without being fired.
“He ensures accuracy, from how to serve up silverware to the way you pour a certain drink and where you wear gloves. It’s really important to get it right - and very challenging,” says Jack.
The cast spent a session learning about what the lives of their characters would have been like, so as to have a deep comprehension of the time in order to maintain as much as historical accuracy as possible.
“According to the costume department, people still write in saying, for instance, that a button was not positioned as it would have been, so they try their best.”
In fact, so specialised and revered in his field is etiquette advisor Alastair Bruce that he had to leave the filming three-quarters of the way through to take up a post as governor of Edinburgh Castle. He has also commentated for royal, religious and national events on Sky News, as well as advising on the sets of The King’s Speech, The Young Victoria and Downton Abbey.
Jack, who played Private Seymour in 1917, says that, with bright red hair and a face that suits sideburns, period dramas seem to find him rather than the other way round.
“I think it’s because of my look, which is quintessentially British, or Celt. You get grief at school for having ginger hair, but now it’s what gets me lots of work.
“Also, being from Romford and having family from the East End, my accent is often sought after as it immediately takes you back to another time - a lot of people in east London don’t actually speak like that any more. I did Call The Midwife at Christmas - it’s that kind of old-fashioned London tone.”
Nowadays, with east London areas such as Bethnal Green and Bow Church hosting an eclectic mix of nationalities, it is often only people from Essex and Havering who have kept the original ‘cockney’ accent.
Jack went to Abbs Cross School and trained at the now-closed Colin Performing Arts college, working at Sainsbury’s in the Brewery Centre to pay for it.
“Acting has always been my life. My mum took me to classes to at the YMCA in Hornchurch after hearing me singing along to Aladdin and having a little too much energy,” he says.
One of his first roles was in Oliver Twist at the London Palladium.
Now, stuck in lockdown with the whole industry coming to an abrupt halt, Jack is using the time to learn the piano, watch Ozark and write something of his own.
“My dad’s been cab driver all his life, and I really want to write something from the perspective of working-class people,” he says.
We look forward to it, Jack.
Belgravia is on Sundays at 9pm on ITV.