Gritty character actor Ben Richards tells Liam Rudden his Billy Elliot tale
AS PC Nate Roberts in The Bill, Ben Richards could be as handy as the villains he banged up. Equally, as the bigamous Bruno Milligan in Footballers’ Wives he would do what it took to keep his women. Gritty characters both.
However, as the 41-year-old returns to the Playhouse as chauvinistic boss Franklin Hart in the smash hit Dolly Parton musical 9 To 5, he reveals he has a more gentle side - dance is his first love.
“It was a Billy Elliot story really; eight year-old boy from a small town discovers a love of dance,” Richards says, explaining, “I would be waiting at the back for my sister to be picked up from dance class and just started copying what I saw.
“Now, this was at a time when dancing really wasn’t all that popular with guys - the only real role model was Wayne Sleep. The teacher saw me and so I started tap lessons, and that was that.”
Although best known today for his TV roles, Richards’ original ambition was to follow in the footsteps of his hero, Gene Kelly.
“I wanted to star in a West End musical, and I’m very lucky to have achieved that and continue to achieve that,” he says.
“I was inspired by Gene Kelly in Singing In The Rain, so it was always a goal to do that. As for the TV and film stuff, well, I’d always been into movies and acting but never believed I could do it professionally. That came later, just through hustling and going to auditions, getting parts and finally realising that I could do it.
“So I’ve had two very concurrent careers, which is what I like. I like diversity.”
It was the TV parts, however, that changed his life. “Footballers’ Wives was huge. I remember chatting to Ben Price, who played Conrad, when I joined. He said, ‘Look, when this airs, your life will change. All of a sudden you will find people staring at you in the street. Just be prepared. And sure enough, that’s what happened. It was pretty intense, but you can’t prepare for that at all.
“The Bill was a hell of a responsibilty. Going into such an established show, with a history of great performances and of being of a very high standard, well, you don’t want to be the one who drops the ball.”
Based on the 20th Century Fox Picture of the same name, it’s safe to say 9 To 5 is a godsend for the actor, allowing him to combine his love of acting, singing and dancing - he even ends up tied up, upside down at one point.
“That’s what is so good about really great musicals, they are a way of exercising all your skill sets,” says the actor, who was treated for cancer last year.
“I’ve been six months all clear, so doing well,” he’s pleased to say. “Every day is a blessing now. I try not to get too wound up about things... the other option is not so great.”
9 To 5, Playhouse, Greenside Place, tonight-Saturday, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £17.90-£48.90, 0844-871 3014