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Sneakerhead | Interview with Hugo Chegwin (Russell)

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When we first meet Russell, where is he in life?

He’s a little bit ambitionless and he’s coasting through life. I know people whose hearts aren’t in their full-time jobs and become conditioned by this feeling: “This is life. I’m just going to coast through it”. He’s vaguely interested in the job, but not the shoes they sell.

He’s a bit of an optimist, although he’s not aware he could strive for more, but he’s cool with it. His commute from his house to work is about 20 steps, so it’s easy and convenient for him.

What appealed to you about the script and character?

I guess my involvement was before there was ever a script. I met up with Roughcut and kept talking about my experiences, and we discussed how we wanted it to look and feel. I didn’t want this to look like another sitcom, because there’s so many of them.

How would you describe Russell’s relationship with Clare?

He’s so wet. He’s unaware of what a good relationship is because, as far as I’m aware, this is the only relationship he’s been in. His relationships in general aren’t good; his relationship with his mum’s messed up and his dad’s a wasteman. As an optimist, he definitely hopes his relationship with Clare will improve.

I once overheard a conversation with a guy who said he had to be in a relationship to feel normal and that proper stuck with me. So, when we were making this, I thought, “Oh, he’s that guy”. Russell has to be in a relationship to be a normal, functioning human being; what he needs is a strong woman who loves him to bring him up, and make him feel good about himself. Not too strong, though.

Russell is made manager – how good is he with responsibility and have you ever managed a team?

He’s not management material in any capacity. He’s walked all over and nobody respects him. I worked at a soft play when I was 17 and they put me in charge of children’s birthday parties. I did what I was meant to do, I guess, but begrudgingly.

Once I knocked myself out in a soft play while chasing my son: I didn’t spot a low bar, so I headbutted it and fell down the stairs. I was woken up by – in my mind – 14-year-old staff members who were yelling, “Kurupt FM!” My head was bleeding, I was a bit concussed, and I was thinking, “Are these guys in charge here? Where are the adults?” But I’ve been those guys, too.

Have you ever worked in retail?

The show’s relatable, because many people have worked in low paid retail jobs or something similar. I’ve worked in Foot Locker and a place called Sole. There’s nothing wrong with working in retail, because it’s an honest job and I massively rate anyone that can do it, and it’s not beneath any of us. But, in my opinion, it’s sh*t.

It’s hard work, no-one’s enjoying it, and shops are a target for teenage shoplifters, or, in my case, drug addicts. They would shoplift and I never chased them. These places are run by 19, 20, or 21-year-olds who would rather be enjoying life. I would never trust my own business to be run by a 20-year-old; I wouldn’t trust myself to run a business and I’m 36. It’s insane giving young people such responsibility.

You get a mix through the door and it’s interesting, especially where I worked; you’d have people who just needed new trainers, people after a specific shoe, drug dealers, the whole scale. You see all walks of life in there.

What does the show say about the gig economy?

I’m fortunate – I’m not rich, but I can support my family – because existing is so expensive. How do you do it on a zero hour contract on minimum wage? It’s tough and some people do have to support their family. I should be getting paid f**k all for what I’m doing and people who work genuinely hard in mind-numbing jobs should be paid real money.

What did you most enjoy about filming?

It had such a good vibe and it was fun on set working with Lucia, Big Zuu, Alexa, Francesca, and Mark. He’s hilarious. I’m used to filming with my mates who I’ve known for such a long time, so I was worried it would be a bit clinical and I wouldn’t feel confident without them.

But, in fact, working with those guys was so fun and the director Simon Neal is amazing. I’m no Daniel Day Lewis – I’ll be honest, sometimes I didn’t know my lines when I turned up to set – but Simon would let me work it out and improvise as much as I wanted. If you’re not genuinely wanting to laugh a lot when you’re making a comedy, then it’s not going to be good.

Is streetwear culture important to you?

Definitely! Costume isn’t solely up to me, because I micromanage enough with the costume department, but if it was I would have gone even harder. However, you have to think realistically, because streetwear clothes are expensive. How does a guy who works in Sports Depot, or an equivalent, afford these trainers with a resale cost of £700? He can’t, unless it’s a hustle and then you have to show the hustle, which is a massive part of trainer culture – like flipping, when you buy two pairs and sell one so you get yours for free.

Are you a sneakerhead and, if so, how many trainers do you own?

A lot of the shoes in the show are mine. To pay homage and respect to the culture you can’t wear anything, it has to be desirable. I loaned about ten pairs to production; the ones which were picked were Air Max 95s, Stussy Air Max 95s, Yeezy Wave Runners, and some New Balances. I did bring in a big bag of stuff.

The trainer version of Shag, Marry, Avoid – go…

I’d shag New Balance 5050s. I’d marry Air Max 95s because they’ve been a staple since I was 13 and they go with everything. I would avoid Jordans right now because everyone is wearing them.

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