No stranger to television and cinema audiences, actor Michael Socha is making a rare appearance on stage in Liam Borrett’ssupernatural two-hander This Is Living at Trafalgar Studios, London, in May. Paul Couch caught up with him before rehearsals to talk ghosts, werewolves, aliens, and skinheads.
It’s difficult not to warm pretty quickly to actor Michael Socha. The 28-year-old is laid back, breathtakingly unassuming, eschews the typical showbiz lifestyle and, comically, he swears like a trooper.
Our interview has shifted an hour because he’s been playing football, one of his passions. “I’m absolutely knackered!” he tells me, “I’ve not played in so long!” Which is hard to believe. This guy is in good all-over shape; physically and mentally, he’s in a positive place. Which is probably a good thing. Socha’s not troubled a stage in any serious way since 2009, appearing as Jimmy Potter, an embryonic pornographer, in Stephen Lowe’s Glamour at Nottingham Playhouse. So how does he feel ahead of going into rehearsals with Being Human co-star Tamla Kari?
“I’m massively nervous, to be honest with you,” he admits. “It’s been a while since I’ve been on stage. I’m shitting myself really! [laughs] I’m confident in the writing and I love the play. It’s just down to me and Tamla to perform it.”
This Is Living has echoes of Anthony Minghella’s 1990 comedy-drama Truly, Madly, Deeply, in which Juliet Stevenson played a recently bereaved woman who is reconciled with the spirit of her deceased boyfriend (Alan Rickman). “It’s the story of a man trying to deal with being a single parent,” Socha explains, “and how he deals with his wife coming back from the dead and communicating with him and dealing with her own death issues. Then he’s trying to figure out what he’s going to do – if he’s capable of living life without this woman that he loves so much.”
Of course, it’s not the first time the pair have dabbled with the supernatural. In Being Human, Socha was the young werewolf, Tom McNair (pictured, left), while Kari played Pearl, a ghost from the 1950s. “I loved Being Human!”, he says, “I really enjoyed that job!” and there’s a genuine regret in his voice that the BBC cancelled the series when the public failed to connect with its next generation of principle characters.
Endearingly, Socha seems oblivious to what he’s let himself in for with this latest project. He’s never been to the tiny Trafalgar 2 studio theatre and does not react well to the news that the audience is a sniffing distance from the actors. My disclosure that, at just 98 seats and a bijou 25’ wide by 14’ deep, the performance space is smaller than many people’s front rooms alarms him slightly. I explain that the actors can see the whites of their audience’s eyes and there’s a sharp intake of breath. “You’re doing nothing for my nerves, here, Paul!” he laughs. “That’ll definitely be the most intimate theatre I’ve worked in! I did a lot of theatre in my teenage years but never have I had a 98-seat audience. I’ve never performed in London, other than the one-off at the National! This is my West End debut!”
Known primarily for his TV and film work, Socha, who played Harvey in Shane Meadows’This Is England franchise before going on to find recognition as Being Human’s third regular lupine cast member is today enjoying recognition as Lewis Garvey, a human-ET hybrid in Fintan Ryan’s E4 refugee allegory, The Aliens.
But it hasn’t exactly been a meteoric rise; Socha’s had to pay his dues and even spent some dry time in 2008/9 sitting at home watching Jeremy Kyle and waiting for the phone to ring. He admits that didn’t have a lot of time for academic studies and was often absent from school (being passed over for a part in a school play as an 11-year old is clearly still raw) but, when he was offered the titular role in Bugsy Malone with an amateur youth group, along with his sister (the actress Lauren Socha of Misfits fame), he jumped at the chance mainly, he says, to prove his teachers wrong.
“I had a lot of help from my drama teacher. I auditioned for Bugsy Malone at school and I didn’t get it, so I auditioned for it outside and I got it, so I was able to go back to school and say “Fuck you!”.” The drama teacher, Mrs Hughes, pointed him in the direction of the Central Television Junior Workshop run by film director Ian Smith, where Socha threw himself into the opportunities on offer. Still, the formal drama schools of London must have seemed light years away for the siblings who, at the time lived on the outskirts of Derby.
Then, in 2008, the group won what was then called the Shell Connections Award and, as a result, did a stint in Nicholas Wright’s He’s Talking at the National Theatre. “That was a great play,” Socha recalls. “I played a South African terrorist! It was a one-off really in the Cottesloe Theatre.”
Neither Michael nor Lauren went to a formal drama school, but that doesn’t seem to stop them. In fact, Lauren won a BAFTA for Misfits while still 20 years old. Their mother, Kath Lyons, is clearly proud of her offspring and said in an earlier interview: “Lots of directors aren’t looking for classically trained actors but you’ve got to have something about you. I think Lauren and Michael do bring an edge to their work.”
Never was a truer word spoken and Michael Socha has gained a reputation for going in hard when it comes to performance, clocking up numerous injuries including broken ribs and missing teeth. However, he’s characteristically pragmatic about the bruises. “When I’m in a role, obviously I don’t intend to hurt myself. I’m not a method actor, but I just become the fucking character! In This Is England,I kicked over a fucking glass table and that went fucking ridiculously wrong!”
I suppose in my normal life there’s no way I’d head-butt a giant bottle top or knock over a glass table but, when I’m acting, I don’t really give a shit…
“In Canada [he became a series regular in the fantasy show Once Upon A Time and its spin-off, both of which filmed in Vancouver] I head-butted a huge wooden bottle cap and ended up bleeding everywhere. I don’t really think about it. I suppose in my normal life there’s no way I’d head-butt a giant bottle top or knock over a glass table but when I’m acting I don’t really give a shit. I get caught up in the moment.”
Returning to the stage after such a long time isn’t a sign that he’s bored with TV but just keen to spread his wings and try different media and processes. “I don’t know. I’ve never really seen my career go down a certain path,” he says thoughtfully, “I’ve never thought oh I want to do TV or I want to do theatre. I just look at a project and see if I like it and audition for it or not really.
“With this play, obviously it’s been a long time since I‘ve done theatre so it was a real big choice for me to go back to it and basically conquer my fear of it and just get back to the graft, I suppose. I’m really looking forward to it – the rehearsal process and all that stuff you don’t really do too much of when you’re doing TV. You’ve got to be on the ball – no arsing about!
“By the time I was 19, I’d done enough to get myself an agent – a couple of short films and that. When I started at the Workshop there was a mad craze for employing non-actors, raw talent, in low-budget feature films. I’ve not looked back since I was 19 really.”
As for a second series of The Aliens, Socha’s pragmatic.” I don’t know, to be honest with you,” he says as though he’s been asked this a million times before. “I don’t know what the viewing figures were like. It’s easy to get sucked into ratings and shit and I just stay away from them. It’d just kill me if I rely on another series or rely on people’s opinion so I just think “fuck it” and just carry on with what I’m doing and trying to find another job and mostlyjust progress.”
“I’ve got nothing lined up after This Is Living. But, I had a meeting with Mike Leigh the other day – which is fucking incredible because I’m a massive fan of his – so maybe something there but otherwise I’m back on the audition circuit. And that’s something I enjoy really. And it’s great because I’m down in London for the play anyway so I can just nip to the offices for my tapes and do meetings around the corner and I’m just looking forward to getting back into it – doing different accents and different characters.”
Michael’s never strayed far from his home-town for any length of time. “I’ve just given up my flat and rented one down here. I try to stay near my boy, really, so as long as he’s in Derby, I’m going to be near him.”
Whether This Is Livingestablisheshim as a stage actor or whether he takes Lewis Garvey out for another spin, one thing is certain – Socha has a distinctive look and a grounded attitude that will guarantee his continued rise to prominence.
This Is Living runs at the Trafalgar Studios from 17 May – 11 June 2016 | Images: BBC / E4