‘It’s always great to play the character in a drama that is given opportunities for comedy’: you might know him best as Neil on The Inbetweeners, but Blake Harrison’s knock out performance as Sergeant Stan Raddings in BBC One’s World On Fire is more than worth tuning in for. We caught up with Blake ahead of series two launching on BBC One tonight (16 July) at 9pm.
Interview: Blake Harrison On World On Fire Series 2
Hi Blake, how’s life going at the moment?
Good. Very busy. My kids will soon be on their summer holidays and we’re going abroad as a family for the first time in four years! So we’re trying to get as much work done now so we can just enjoy the holiday and not worry about anything until we’re home.
You’re about to reprise your role as Sergeant Stan Raddings in World on Fire – can you give us an elevator pitch for the show for any readers unfamiliar with it?
World on Fire tells the story of WW2 through the eyes of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. It follows soldiers, resistance fighters, emergency servicemen and women, and families at home trying to keep their lives together.
What can we expect from series two?
Just like in series one, the characters are relatable people thrust into extreme circumstances because of the war. What makes these stories special is that they are based on true events and real people, and made more exhilarating and harrowing because most of us still hold a connection to someone that was alive during that time. The other thing that is great about the writing on World on Fire is that they tell stories that most people won’t know about, which is so important. You think you know what a WW2 drama will entail, but these stories feel fresh and highlight moments in the war that will educate a lot of people.
How would you describe Sergeant Stan?
Stan is exactly the kind of soldier you want by your side at war time. Not only is he proficient, but he has the emotional intelligence to know what his regiment needs. Whether it’s a kick up the arse to fall in line or a joke to boost morale, he’s always trying to do what’s right for the men.
What is it like playing him?
I love playing Stan. It’s always great to play the character in a drama that is given opportunities for comedy. Equally, I’ve been able to do a lot of action sequences in this show, which I’ve enjoyed so much! When your day at work is to run away from explosions and get in a gunfight knowing that the entire thing is safe and organised by very talented people, that’s a great day.
How did you get into character/prepare for the role?
I tried to immerse myself in the time period as much as possible by watching documentaries and old army training videos, listening to music from the ‘30s and early ‘40s and going to museums. I enjoy throwing myself into a world or time period and just seeing what jumps out at me and feels important and usable for the character.
Any funny stories from rehearsals or filming season 2?
What was funny and equally terrifying is when you’re on set and people have rigged up a bunch of explosions that you’re about to run through the middle of. You’re wearing tiny little ear plugs that keep falling out and everyone around you is wearing industrial grade goggles and ear defenders and you’re told ‘don’t stop running and don’t look back… You’ll be fine.’ It definitely helps with the performance. I’ve never run faster or straighter in my life.
What is the cast dynamic? Who was your fave person to work with?
I loved working with all the other soldiers, but most of my scenes were with Jonah [Hauer-King, who plays Harry Chase] and Ahad [Raza Mir, who plays Rajib]. Both guys are very talented, good people. It’s easy to work with people like that who are always prioritising the scene and the story over their own performance.
Do you stay in touch with any of your co-stars?
Yes, particularly Jonah and Cel Spellman [who plays Joe Broughton]. I really love those guys. We did series one together and stayed in touch ever since. There’s a WhatsApp group and we’ve met up a few times. Neither came to my birthday BBQ, though, and I still haven’t gotten over it.
You’re perhaps best known for playing Neil in The Inbetweeners, but you’ve also starred in the likes of The Great, A Very English Scandal, I Hate Suzie Too and Trust Me. What has been your favourite project to date?
It’s really hard to choose. I loved I Hate Suzie because everyone was so talented and we got to dance all day, which was awesome. On World on Fire, I get to work with some good friends and do incredible action sequences, which is some of the most fun I’ve ever had on a set. And The Inbetweeners will always be special to me because it was my first real acting role on screen and it’s still so loved by fans.
Any roles in the pipeline that you’re excited about? (If you’re allowed to tell us!)
I recently did a film called Spread about a failing porn magazine. It’s very funny and stars Harvey Keitel who I admired so much as a young actor. I loved Mean Streets, Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. Working with him was a ‘pinch yourself’ moment for me.
What’s your favourite genre to act in?
I don’t have a favourite genre. For me, the joy is in the variety. I love being able to go from comedy to drama and theatre to screen; it helps me to keep learning as an actor, and it’s fun to change it up from job to job.
What’s a genre you’ve never done that you’d love to try?
I don’t think I’ve done a fantasy show. I love Lord of the Rings and being a part of something like that – riding horses, having sword fights and being a part of a magical story – would be something I’d be so excited to do.
What’s your dream role?
I can’t say I have a dream role. For me, it’s always about striving for variety in the projects I do and in the roles I can play. That’s the dream for me.
Who has been your favourite actor to work with in the past?
It’s impossible to choose just one. Michael Gambon was so much fun to work with. Bill Nighy is the epitome of class. Brenda Blethyn is incredible. There’s too many to choose from.
Who have you learned the most from in your career?
I’ve probably learned the most from my own failures. Nothing is as good a teacher as your own experience. Making mistakes is part of the process. I think you learn the most from personal experiences and coming back from mistakes.
Do you get to spend much time at home?
Between jobs I can feel like a stay at home dad, which I love. It can be hard to be away from the family doing long hours, sometimes in a different time zone. So when I’m not working, I try to relish that time with my kids as much as I can.
Do you live in the town or the country? Which do you prefer?
I live in the town. I’m a city kid and don’t think I’m built for country life. It’s great for a weekend and can be exactly what you need to reset and rest, but I think it’s hard to have everything easily accessible at all hours your whole life and then stay in the quiet of the countryside for an extended period.
How do you find balance in your personal and work lives?
It can be tricky. I host a podcast about Mixed Martial Arts (the MMA Fan Podcast), and I was able to speak to a fighter who trains away from home for weeks in order to prepare to compete at the highest level. He has two adopted sons and I asked him about his work/family balance and he said that you have to accept there never will be balance. He said all you can do is make a decision on what you need to prioritise at any given moment. Something will always suffer. You make your choices to do the right thing for what is most important at that moment and move on.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
An actor. It’s always what I wanted to be. I’m very lucky it’s worked out for me, because it’s such a tough industry, and if it hadn’t worked out for me, I don’t know what I would be doing.
If you could give advice to your 15-year-old self, what would it be?
Don’t worry as much. To be honest, it’s probably the same advice I’d give myself today.
How can we all live a little bit better?
Don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’. It seems like everyone now has to have an opinion on something, even if they’re not educated on the subject. Give space to the people that know what they’re talking about and listen.
Anything fun in the pipeline – professionally or personally?
I’ll be working as a media member at UFC London, speaking to athletes, attending weigh-ins and being at the O2 for the event. It’s such a fantastic thing to have a hobby that I can completely lose myself in. It’s nothing to do with the acting industry, and I can switch that side of my brain off. I have so much admiration for the athletes and the sacrifices they make as well as their mental strength. Can’t wait.
I’m tuning into… Beef
What I’m reading… So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Mark Ronson
The last thing I watched was… The Bear
What I’m most looking forward to seeing… A new series of Loki. I loved that!
Favourite film of all time… There’s so many films I love and can rewatch. I can’t pick one.
Band/singer I always have on repeat… The Smiths
What’s next for me is… Some really fun projects but first a family holiday!
World on Fire airs on BBC One on Sunday 16 July with new episodes airing weekly, and all episodes available on iPlayer immediately.