Alun Armstrong On The Girls Who Came To Stay

What first attracted you to this role?

It’s a very moving story. The background to the Chernobyl disaster is fascinating. My character has a life changing journey, which from an acting point of view was an intriguing role to play.

How would you describe your character Bob?
Bob’s a good decent person. He’s a very ordinary man who’s done quite well in his life and owns a small building firm. He only has one daughter and like many fathers he thinks of her as his princess, so he’s very upset that she’s leaving home. He’s reached that age, middle age, where the only thing he’s got to look forward to is building his dream home. He drives around in a big truck and is very materialistic. Bob’s done the same thing for the whole of his life, and feels he has no adventure. Like many men he puts all his effort and dreams into his house.

Did Bob support the charity’s scheme from the beginning?
No, he didn’t like the idea at all. Partly because he felt that he didn’t have time, because he was in a rush to finish his dream house. Also, he didn’t want to go anywhere near children that were needy, due to his own upbringing and the fact that he’d been fostered as a child. Bob’s mum died when he was young, and so it brought back so many unhappy memories for him. He rationalised his decision by arguing that it wasn’t good for kids to be uprooted and sent to live with people they don’t know.

How does he go from being so negative to loving the children?
Well, his wife gives him an ultimatum. Julie suddenly thinks Bob will sense that she really wants to do this and realise that he’s just being selfish. I suppose she threatens him, either he does it with her or she’ll do it on her own.

Was it difficult to portray the different emotions that Bob went through?
Yes, I had to keep looking at the script to check if he was supposed to be angry, happy or sad!

What’s he like when he meets the girls?
He’s nervous because he doesn’t quite know what to expect. He’s always wanted a son to play football with. In fact, he wanted lots of children.

Has Bob’s relationship with his wife improved by the time the girls go home?
Yes, his whole life opens up and he benefits greatly. It’s a life changing experience for him. He realises there’s more important things in life than material possessions.

Did you see anything of yourself in Bob?
Yeah, I have three sons, and when they were very young I used to pick them up from school. I was working in the theatre at the time so I had some free time, which allowed me to spend more time with the boys. My wife was also working so it gave her a break if I could look after them as well. I was the only man in the babysitting circle, which was full of working mothers. We all did one day a week, where we would pick all the kids up. Every Monday I would have 14 kids round for tea!

Did you research the role?
Well, I have worked on building sites when I was younger, so I had already done lots of research in that area. I’m also very keen on my D.I.Y.

Would you ever consider taking part in a charity scheme where you bring children home?
It’s very attractive, isn’t it, and the whole story is very persuasive. It’s something I’d have to look into with my family.

Have you enjoyed working with the rest of the cast?
Yes, it’s been terrific! The girls have been brilliant!

Have you worked with any of the cast before?
No, I don’t think I have, which is unusual for me. Normally working on a drama like this there is somebody who I’ve worked with before.

What do you think audiences will take away from this drama?
I hope they’ll be charmed by it because it’s a very charming story and I hope it will make them think that there is a tragedy still going on. It’s very easy to forget that people are still suffering and need help.

Do you prefer working in a certain genre TV, theatre or film?
I usually just want to be in what I’m not working in! I like them all. I’ve been very lucky to work across all genres and to have such a varied career.

Is there any role you would love to play that you haven’t had the opportunity to?
No, I don’t have anything I’m dying to be in. I’m just seeing what turns up so it’s always a surprise.

You worked with your son Joe in Between The Sheets, would you consider doing it again?
We’re not doing anything together at the moment, but it would be nice to in the future, as father and son.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently starring in The Royal Hunt Of The Sun at The National. I’m playing Francisco Pizarro a Spanish soldier, intent on the conquest of Peru. He entices recruits with the promise of inconceivable riches.