Craig takes it on the chin to make Stella TV role a big hit
SWANSEA actor Craig Gallivan has had to suffer for his art, not that he is complaining.
When you are in a hit TV show like Stella, the most watched comedy on Sky1 to date, you can take a few sacrifices along the way on the chin.
In fact that is exactly what he has been doing.
His character Luke has turned to boxing in series two of the acclaimed South Wales comedy drama written and starring Ruth Jones. And that meant gloves on and a bit of kit off.
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So the 28-year-old thought he had better get into shape. A strict diet and training regime followed.
"I had a phone call from Ruth a couple of months before we started filming the second series," he says. "She said 'just to warn you, Luke your character is going to get heavily into boxing'.
"I am thinking there is going to be a lot of tops off stuff. She said 'you are not in bad nick, but have a think if you want to up the ante', which basically means get down the gym fatty.
"So I did. I really threw myself into it. I changed my diet overnight. I was eating broccoli and tuna and for a treat a banana. It was very strict, it was hard. I gave up booze. My favourite thing is a pint of lager. I was training pretty much every day, sometimes twice a day.
"I was training with an old school mate, Rhys Cole, and had boxing coaching every week. I am under no illusion. I am coming into it like a novice. I just don't want to look an idiot basically. It was a pretty full-on regime."
But Craig concedes he was pretty lucky to get the role in the first place.
"Some people have got their finger on the pulse," he says. "I am not one of them. I am lazy. I had a phone call from an old RADA mate of mine. He had been on the internet and spotted that there was this new upcoming programme written by Ruth Jones and set in Wales.
"There was a part in right up my street, a working class guy in his mid-20s, rough around the edges. I phoned my agent and said I needed to get in for it."
An audition in London duly followed in December 2010 and it went well.
"I thought 'happy days' and that they would be thinking about it over Christmas," he says. "So I got on the train back to Swansea for Christmas and as I was walking through the front door the phone rang and it was my agent. They needed me back in London the next day for a recall, so I gave everyone a kiss and jumped back on the train and went for the recall."
The role was his, although he was not told until after Christmas because Ruth and her husband and series producer David Peet wanted to consult former EastEnders actress Susan Tully, who was directing the first two episodes.
"The first season we were really shooting in the dark," says Craig. "There is only one person who has got it in her head and that is Ruth. The rest of us think we know the style of it, a comedy with drama elements. Some characters were wacky, and some were a bit more down to earth.
"I brought a bit more of the drama to it. I started off in prison. There was not much humour there. Everyone was looking over their shoulder with wide eyes at Ruth, as if to say 'is this what you want?' Then the first one goes on telly, and we all look at it and we all go 'I get it'.
"By the time we come to film the second series everyone has a much better idea of what they are trying to make, the pitch of it and the balance between the comedy and the drama. You feel a lot more relaxed second time around."
So Craig has even higher hopes for the second series than he had for the first, and that was well-received.
"We shot most of it in the Valleys, Ferndale, Maerdy and places like that," he says. "All those areas have really taken ownership of Stella. They felt they were a part of it, it was their street.
"The first time around the kids were on the street and asked what we were making. We said Stella and they didn't have a clue. This time around it is 'oh, Stella'. We have a game of football with them. They offer us sweets. There is a real buzz.
"When I first got the script it was just the life that I know in Bonymaen and Winch Wen. A lot of stuff is set in the rugby club and I grew up from six to 16 at Bonymaen Rugby Club, just up the road from where I live. There is that humour, that working class banter.
"You keep your feet firmly on the ground and Ruth has observed that so well and put it into the script. I know this, this is my life, I thought when I got the script. I think that is why I got it."
Craig is delighted that a series set in Wales is getting such a profile, and positive reaction from far away.
"I get people on Twitter from all over the UK, certainly, and the world watching Stella and getting it," he says. "Ruth did try and make it intrinsically Welsh and was worried whether it would translate across the border. But they are getting it."
So much so that a third series and a Christmas special was commissioned while filming for the second series was going on.
"That was a real boost," says Craig. "It was so unexpected. The first time around it had to air and they wanted to see the reaction. This time around the rushes were going back to Sky and they didn't wait. They gave it the green light."
Craig, whose other credits include Footballers' Wives with Joan Collins and the Dylan Thomas film The Edge of Love with Matthew Rhys, also sings and at 12 was opening his lungs to good effect in Oliver at the London Palladium.
He has also been in Billy Elliott in the West End and toured the country in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, while he undertakes regular singing engagements in many styles in pubs and clubs in the Swansea area.
But Craig is not the only star in the family.
Sister Hayley is currently understudying the lead role in the hit West End musical Wicked and has clocked up around 15 performances so far.
"The whole family went up," says Craig. "It was really emotional. We were all crying. She is doing so well, and for us to both decide to go into this crazy business in the first place is a bit mad, and for both to make a living it is pretty awesome and I am proud of her."