You might know him better as Hollyoaks’ devious Dr Browning, but Joseph Thompson’s incredible performance as the menacing medic didn’t come out of nowhere – the actor got the foundations of his craft from a drama degree at Bristol University. He stopped by to tell us more about his student experience…
How would you sum up your uni experience?
I know it’s a huge cliché, but I really did have the time of my life. Most of my closest friends now are friends that I made at university – I had an amazing time. And the course was brilliant.
Why study drama?
I kind of knew that I wanted to be an actor but I wasn’t absolutely sure. I applied to a drama school, and then I applied to university as well, and I decided that I wanted to continue my academic studies to give myself the option that, if acting didn’t work out, I had a degree behind me to follow another career in the field. I grew up a lot at university, I really needed that experience. I think it’s really healthy to mix with all kinds of people studying all kinds of things.
Where did you see your career going when you left uni?
When I went to university, I wanted to be an actor, but I was aware that it was going to be difficult. I wanted to be absolutely sure that that was what I wanted to do. I also thought that I might want to be an editor, or work behind the camera or behind the scenes in theatre or TV. That’s why I chose my degree – the department was absolutely brilliant. After I left university, I went to Japan with the JET English teaching scheme, which, again, I wouldn’t have been able to do without my degree and it’s still one of the greatest things I’ve ever done. Then I came back from Japan and went to drama school!
Did you have any weird flatmates?
[laughs] In my first year, I stayed in halls of residence and they put us in different corridors depending on our interests and what we were into. I think I must’ve been a bit of an odd one out because I was put in this corridor with people who they couldn’t fit in anywhere else. We were on the edge of the accommodation, it was almost like they thought they’d put all the odd balls out in the one corner! One of the guys is still my best friend, but there were a couple of interesting characters there.
What kind of impact would you say your uni experience has had on you as a person?
Huge. Enormous. The main thing is that I met most of my good friends at university, and my friends are probably the most important thing in my life. I really grew up a lot in those few years too. It gave me a breadth of life experience that, if I’d done acting or gone straight into work, I just wouldn’t have got.
How do you think your degree has helped your career?
Acting is absolutely not an academic practice – there’s nothing academic about it. It’s about emotion, intelligence; it’s not about having to read academic texts. So in that sense, not at all, in any way. But, as a person, it gave me experience of lots of different things that have made me much more open-minded. It’s an integral part of who I am as a person, and therefore who I am as an actor.
If you’d said to you as a student that you’d end up on one of the most popular soaps on TV, what would you say?
I would’ve been really, really excited and delighted to be told I’d be working as an actor. All I’ve ever wanted is to make a living from acting. Dr Browning is really fun to play – I love working on Hollyoaks, everyone works incredibly hard. When I first started, I couldn’t believe how difficult it is!
Do you think uni’s worth it?
Absolutely. It’s not for everyone – I think it’s really important that a degree isn’t essential to make it in the world, but I think it’s an opportunity that everyone should have. You shouldn’t feel like you have to go, but at the same time, if you want to go, you should be able to.
Catch Hollyoaks, weekdays at 6:30 on Channel 4.
Source Summer 2013