Belfast Telegraph

Scandalous talent

By Audrey Watson

Making love to Cate Blanchett is something most men can only dream of, but a new film sees an Ulster actor doing just that... and he's only 18! Sunday Life meets Andrew Simpson - a Northern Ireland star-in-the-making

Making love to Cate Blanchett is something most men can only dream of, but a new film sees an Ulster actor doing just that... and he's only 18! Sunday Life meets Andrew Simpson - a Northern Ireland star-in-the-making

IT'S hard to equate the chirpy young schoolboy lounging in a chair in Belfast's Merchant Hotel, with the cocky and arrogant 15-year-old I had watched pursuing and seducing Cate Blanchett, the day before.

But that's what being an actor (well a good one) is all about - being able to convince an audience that you are someone who in real life you're not.

Such is the case with Andrew Simpson, the 18-year-old Londonderry boy, plucked from near obscurity to star alongside Cate Blanchett, Dame Judi Dench and Bill Nighy in Notes on a Scandal - a movie that is sure to generate some controversy when it goes on release on Friday.

Based on the novel by Zoe Heller, Notes explores the creepy relationship that develops between two female teachers after the older woman (played by Dench) discovers that her friend, Bohemian art teacher Sheba (Blanchett) has been having an affair with pupil Steven Connelly (Simpson).

It's not Andrew's first time on the big screen, he appeared previously in Irish movie, Song for a Raggy Boy and "two short films, two adverts and that's it," he laughs.

So how did the Foyle College pupil come to star opposite Cate Blanchett?

"The casting director who had cast Raggy Boy was also casting Notes€ and they had looked in England, Wales and Scotland and couldn't find the right boy, so they started to look in Ireland," explains Andrew.

"I was selected to go over to Elstree Studios in London for two screen tests, which I had never done before. I made it to the last five boys who all had to do a second test with Cate.

"I was really nervous, but Big Brother was being filmed there at the same time and I was trying to see into the house as well," he laughs. " So it was a bit hard to concentrate."

Despite having recently been on a promotional tour in America, endured a gruelling round of interviews in Dublin the day before Sunday Life arrives, and having been questioned and photographed since 9am, this young star-in-the-making is as enthusiastic as only a novice can be when dealing with the Press.

He's also happy to be interviewed without the presence of a film company PR, something mostly unheard of these days.

The only time he gets a little uncomfortable (well, in a jokey way) is when asked about his first day on set - which was spent in the nude!

"Yes," he says looking mortified at the memory. "I've never done love scenes or anything like that before, so it was a little embarrassing, but it had to be done and Cate was great, she really put me at ease."

Andrew has nothing but praise for his co-star, who he says was really down-to-earth.

"I knew she would be nice because most really famous people are, it's the less well-known ones that are prima donnas. She was almost like a mother (she has two sons of her own) so it was difficult to switch from laughing and joking together to kissing, but it wasn't awkward because we got on so well."

Empire movie magazine describes Andrew as a 'teen tempter' in a review of the film, what do his schoolteachers think about the role?

"They keep looking at me out of the corner of their eyes to make sure I'm not trying something!" he laughs. "No, I'm only joking.

"Some of them tease me about it, but most of them are just concerned about me keeping up with my schoolwork."

And what about the girls - is he spoilt for choice now that he's a movie star?

"I wish," he laughs again. "I don't know what's going on there, but hopefully this will help."

Schoolwork was a big concern in 2005, when Andrew had to take six weeks out to film Notes in London.

"School basically just didn't happen during that time," he explains. "I'm studying history, English, business studies and German A-Levels, so I had a lot of catching up to do. But I've just got four As in recent exams, so it's OK."

As well as school, Andrew has also been a pupil at the Foyle School of Speech and Drama, since he was four-years-old and it's his drama teacher Sandra Biddle that he credits for his acting success.

"My brother and sisters went as well," he says. But there was no pressure - my brother didn't like it, so he dropped out. Classes were once a week and as well as acting it was great craic and a great way to make friends.

"Sandra, is really unbelievable. It's testament to the talent that is in Northern Ireland that the filmmakers had to come here to find Stephen Connelly.

"Of the five boys shortlisted, three were from Northern Ireland.

"We were a last resort and it really annoys me that so often we're overlooked when it comes to film making and acting talent. You have to move away to be successful."

So after the success of Notes does he have any plans to move away from the province?

"I definitely wouldn't want to move to Hollywood. I had to go to Los Angeles with my mum on a promotional trip last year and it was terrible. We were at the side of the hotel pool all white bodies and freckles and all around us were these women with fake tan, fake faces, fake bodies€ fake everything. It was awful."

One thing he doesn't enjoy about filming is having to (temporarily) give up his beloved rugby and football (he plays for Derry team Aileach).

"When I was making the movie, I wasn't allowed to as much as kick a ball because of insurance," he says.

"What with my schoolwork, I've also had to cut back on sports, plus I tore my ankle ligaments a few weeks ago and I've got to go to London for the UK premiere in a few days, so I want to be OK for that."

Then after that, this talented young man has a few tough decisions to make.

"I have been offered a few scripts and there are a few directors who want to meet me, but I've got to finish school - that's a priority. Everyone on the film advised me to finish school as well.

"After that, I might take a year out and do some more acting, although I would really love to go to uni and study law. I really don't know at the minute, but it's a good dilemma to have."

€ Notes on a Scandal is released on Friday.


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