Herons: An interview with Max Gill
Currently training at EDSA Performing Arts School in Hitchin, Max Gill plays the lead role of Billy in Herons. Last year he played Fat Sam in Bugsy Malone at the Lyric Hammersmith, where his Herons co-star Sophia DeCaro also starred. Herons is the disturbing and moving story of 14-year-old east London schoolboy Billy, whose life is made a misery by a gang pushing him into violence. First performed in the Royal Court 15 years ago, it is one of the earliest works by playwright Simon Stephens.
Tell us a bit about Herons and your role as Billy.
Herons is a play by Simon Stephens that was written about 15 years ago. It is about the anniversary of a girl’s brutal murder. The brother of one of the murderers intimidates my character, Billy, because Billy’s dad found the body of the girl. He ends up questioning in the play whether his dad didn’t just find the body, but actually saw the murder happen.
What was the rehearsal process like?
The rehearsal process was really enjoyable because the first few weeks didn’t feel like rehearsing, they felt like playing because we tried lots of different ideas with the script. I felt really involved in the process and felt like my ideas were being heard with the rest of the cast.
Had you heard about or read the play before auditioning?
I did an R&D [research and development] workshop on the play in July last year while I was performing as Fat Sam in Bugsy Malone at the Lyric. The workshop felt exactly like the rehearsal time – a mish-mash of brilliant ideas! And from that I was offered the role of Billy.
It’s 15 years since the first production of Herons. Is this production a fresh take on the material?
The play is being performed in a bigger space this time. We also have a dramaturg called Joel [Horwood] working with Sean [Holmes, the director] on guiding us through a different approach to the characters, which means the production is quite different to the original stage directions in the 2001 script. Also, I don’t think anyone would have thought to set it all in water back then!
The play has some dark and difficult themes. What are you hoping it will make the audience think about?
I hope they will think about the representation of the characters of Scott and Billy, as it’s not so simple that they’re just the bully and the victim. It’s not as straightforward as that.
You’ve worked at the Lyric Hammersmith before, what has it been like acting there?
It’s really nice. Everyone is supportive, especially the production team and company. You get to know everyone really well, and make new friends. I like working here a lot!
How do you feel your time at performing arts school has helped you develop as an actor?
I only go to performing arts school on Sundays, the rest of the time I go to my local high school. My school and school friends are really supportive and interested in what I’m working on.
What has been the most important thing you’ve learned from this experience?
I don’t know yet. I think I’ll notice a difference in my acting when I look back after the final show to the first day of rehearsals. One of the things I have really enjoyed is learning sign language, and working with Sophie (Stone), who plays my character’s mum.
Do you have anything planned, career-wise, following this? Are there any further fields of acting you’d like to go into, such as TV or film?
I’d like to win an Oscar… before Leonardo DiCaprio.
Are there any actors who are an inspiration to you, either personally or professionally?
Johnny Depp and Imelda Staunton.
Is there any advice you’d give to an aspiring actor?
I don’t feel like I can give that kind of advice yet, but I would say, if you enjoy it – stick with it!
Read our review of Herons here. Herons is on at the Lyric Hammersmith from 15th January until 13th February 2016.
Watch the trailer for Herons here: