Aged 16, Nick Preston was picked from over 500 to join Nottingham’s legendary Television Workshop. Since then he’s had a number of impressive telly roles and renowned acting mentor Ian Smith calls him “one to watch”. GEORGE ALLEN reports.
Nick Preston thinks he’s going to Nottingham’s Television Workshop for a little introduction to his teachers – a soft hello before things really kick off. Before he knows it, he’s out in front of the entire school, thunderous applause is ripping through the room – and all eyes are on this fresh meat, judging the new talent.
“And what was I wearing?” Nick asks. “I was wearing a tracksuit, man!”
“I thought it was just a normal evening, and then I found out it was this thing where they welcome all the new members from the lower years. So you walk in and you go on a stage through these doors and everyone’s shouting yeah! Everyone’s so loud man. The Workshop is in a basement and it’s absolutely packed, you’ve got like 60 kids behind the stage lights.
“I remember being so embarrassed that I was in a tracksuit. All these new girls, and I just wanna impress, you know?”
Nick’s had nine television roles since that day two years ago – most notably this year as Crutch in This is England ’90 and a lead part on BBC1’s Doctors. He played Mansfield Mike in BBC1’s military drama Our Girl last year, and in 2013 was the bully Simmy in E4’s My Mad Fat Diary – which, Nick says, is what girls most recognised him for during the music festival season this year.
Nick is in his local, The Golden Pheasant in Shelton Lock, Derby. For a change of tack, I ask him if he has a girlfriend. He stares at his pint, looking as if he’s running through every possible answer and working out which is the least problematic. “They’re too much for me, man, they’re too much for me! I’ve been doing what every teenage lad does, just messing around with the ladies, but I’ve not been trying to knuckle down to find a missus – probably not just yet.”
Before the issue of girlfriends was even on the scene, Nick grew up in Derby and was named after his father. His mum Sharon Green – a child protection manager – looked after him and sister Bethany after Sharon and Nick’s father divorced.
But it was as early as infant school that Nick’s talent for acting became clear. By year three, Nick had secured two lead parts in school plays. Then, by his junior school’s leaving assembly of year six, he’d bagged a third. Nick’s face beams as he talks about those early days.
Today it’s not schoolteachers but rather Ian Smith – former director of Nottingham’s famous Television Workshop (where BAFTA-winning Vicky McClure and Oscar-nominated Samantha Morton learned their craft) – who Nick looks to for guidance and praise. It was Smith who noticed Nick when he was plucked as one of five candidates out of over 500 to join the workshop’s over-16s.
Smith says Nick had a quality that he recognised: “There are certain young actors that you are drawn to and Nick’s one of those. The workshop has got a bit of a reputation for working with tough kids, or kids who wouldn’t normally go into the profession. When they come through the door for an audition I always think yeah, great. I can work with this kid, this kid’s gonna go far. And Nick’s one of those.”
While he is clearly a talented actor, it’s Nick’s unique ability to deliver under pressure that seems to set him apart from other actors of his age. Smith recalls a time earlier this year when Nick was filming TV projects but still insisted on keeping his lead part in his production of The Roses of Eyam. Despite missing several rehearsals, Nick shone.
He’s definitely someone who is one to watch. There’s no question about that. It’s not if it’s going to happen, it’s when it’s going to happen
Smith says: “When he pulled it off, I was obviously totally pleased, but I was quite surprised that he managed to turn it around. Maybe that’s a measure of his professional determination.”
Of all the baptisms of fire – and there seem to be many – it was Nick’s bid to be a part of This is England’s final series that has stuck with him most vividly when he met Stephen Graham for the first time. “I remember walking in and going ‘bloody hell, there’s Combo!’ He stood up, shook my hand. I couldn’t even fathom the chance of working with someone like Stephen.
“They wanted someone to poke and prod Combo – that was me. I think maybe they were impressed how I thought outside the box, I thought to use the apparatus around me. Grab another chair to put my feet on and that, the kind of stuff I would do if I were in jail – chilling out, you know what I mean?
“I remember trying to aggravate Combo and it wasn’t happening, it wasn’t affecting him. I finished this banana, and I slapped it on his lap. I said ‘you can have that’.
“He’s sort of sat to the side of me in a blind spot, so I can’t really see him. But he folded his book up that he was reading, and looked right at me.
“The look in his eye, I thought yes man – yes. I’ve awoken the beast.”
Nick’s next TV outing is Witless – a BBC series starring Him & Her’s Kerry Howard. There seems to be no stopping Nick’s drive and ambition.
Smith clearly sees Nick’s potential in this kind of hunger: “He’s definitely someone who is one to watch. There’s no question about that. It’s not if it’s going to happen, it’s when it’s going to happen.
“And, to be honest, it’s already happening.”