He’ll probably always be known as Barry from EastEnders but that’s fine by Shaun Williamson, who is appearing on stage in Sheffield next week.
Not least because playing the much-loved character also gave Shaun the chance to be in Extras alongside a host of international stars.
Shaun was thrilled when Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant contacted him to be in the show, where he plays a version of himself as someone still desperately courting fame as “Barry from EastEnders”. He did it so well that many people took it seriously.
Shaun said that he had never met the two comedians before they approached him about the idea but couldn’t resist being in the show once he knew more about it.
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, working with those guys. When they told me that Kate Winslet was going to be playing a nun and Ben Stiller was going to be a narcissist, I thought if those two can send themselves up, then so can I.”
He added: “I owe them so much.”
The character of Barry changed dramatically during his time in EastEnders, said Shaun.
“When I first joined they wanted Barry to be a villain, putting the frighteners on people down at the car lot and kidnapping kids out of school. People forget those things.
“They saw something in me and they needed a funny man, so they shoved me into this comedy role which gave it longevity. I was very lucky.”
Looking back, did he ever regret the turn that his career took?
Shaun said: “You always wonder what would have happened if you hadn’t been in EastEnders. I was 27 to 30 when I went to drama school and got grabbed by TV immediately. Six months out of drama school I was in EastEnders for 10 years.
“You wouldn’t know unless you totally turned it down what your career would have been. Staying in for 10 years was too long. The children came along and the money meant we could move from a rented flat to our own house. It bedded everything down in life.
“Jasmyn’s got the right idea: in for two years, made a big impression and then out again.”
Shaun jokes that the show he is appearing in at the Lyceum is “One Man, Two Guvnors, Three EastEnders”. His co-stars include Emma Barton, who played Honey Mitchell, and Jasmyn Banks, who played Alice Branning, in the soap.
His character, Charlie Clench, is a Brighton gangster torn between marrying off his beloved daughter, Pauline (Jasmyn), and dodging another gangster, Roscoe Crabbe, who he has double-crossed and owes a fortune to.
He doesn’t realise Roscoe is dead and is being impersonated by his twin sister, Rachel.
All the action revolves around cheeky chappy Francis Henshall (Gavin Spokes), who haplessly ends up working for both Roscoe/Rachel and her boyfriend, posh bad guy Stanley Stubbers, who’s actually killed her brother and doesn’t realise Rachel is in Brighton…
As confusion reigns, the comedy action flows thick and fast and there’s lots of running around.
Shaun said: “It’s not so bad for me as most of the physical comedy is carried by Gavin.
“This is farce at its best and there are bits that are total panto. It’s got everything it it, really.”
Shaun was speaking while he was rehearsing the play at the famous National Theatre on London’s South Bank. The National Theatre are doing a nationwide tour of the production that’s already been a huge international hit.
He said: “I’m loving it. I can’t believe I’m in this venerable building in my 50th year.”
One Man, Two Guvnors is at the Lyceum in Sheffield from next Wednesday, May 14, to Saturday May 24. Tickets: from the Crucible box office, call 0114 249 6000 or go online to www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk