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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Derry Girl Dylan Llewellyn: ​’​I call things wee​ ​when they’re not even small​’​ | Derry Girls

Surrey-born Dylan Llewellyn, 29, took up acting in his teens while attending a specialist school for children with autism, dyslexia and developmental disorders. His TV credits include Call the Midwife, Holby City and Hollyoaks. He’s best known for playing James Maguire in the award-winning comedy Derry Girls, which recently returned for its third and final series.

Going into the final series of Derry Girls, how does it feel?
Bittersweet. Very mixed emotions. The show has been such a huge part of my life and has helped me loads personally. So I’m sad it’s the end of an era, but happy because Michael Hogan Lisa McGee has written such a perfect ending. It feels like the right time to stop. Quality, not quantity.

It became Channel 4’s biggest comedy for 20 years. Did that take you by surprise?
I knew it was good because the writing genuinely made me laugh. Normally, I might titter at scripts but this was laugh-out-loud funny. What I couldn’t predict was the way it struck such a chord. My phone was pinging off loads, then I found out the viewing figures. For a new comedy, it was doing crazy numbers. Everyone’s been so supportive, especially the Irish. It’s like their baby.

You play the token Englishman but have you been embraced by locals?
I’m an honorary Irishman, like Jack Charlton. Derry and Belfast slang has crept into my vocabulary. I call things “wee” when they’re not even that small.

The Derry Girls mural in Derry, Northern Ireland.
The Derry Girls mural in Derry, Northern Ireland. Photograph: Adrian Langtry/Rex/Shutterstock

Since the series two finale, do people shout “I’m a Derry Girl!” at you?
A bit, which is lovely. But I mainly get asked to not be a dick. “Don’t be a dick, James.” OK, I’ll do my best.

The final series is set in the 90s. Have you enjoyed immersing yourself in that period?
Definitely. Music-wise, I’m more of a 60s guy, but I was born in the 90s, so it brings back memories. Baby-G watches alone give me a nostalgia rush. The costume department let me keep the odd item. Last series, it was the Doctor Who scarf. This time, I got my school blazer, which I might auction off for charity.

The show has become part of pop culture: The Simpsons recently did a tribute, there’s a mural in Derry…
That Simpsons episode is such a cool nod, with an ice-cream parlour called Dairy Girls. And I still can’t believe I’m 20ft tall on a wall, especially as I’m English.

Was it emotional on the last day of filming?
Everyone was in shock: “What the hell? This is our last day.” There were lots of hugs, some tears, several parties. It was very special. The girls have become like my sisters over the past four years.

Might there be a reunion or spin-off someday?
The series comes to a perfect conclusion but I’d love to watch a spin-off about Erin’s family. Or a show about Sister Michael [played by Siobhán McSweeney] called Derry Nuns.

What inspired you to first take up acting in your teens?
Doing GCSE drama. Obviously, I never thought I’d get to this stage. My school entered a competition to perform a short play at the National Theatre. We won, I got scouted and I haven’t looked back since. It’s been an amazing ride.

How has being dyslexic affected your career?
Sometimes, learning scripts can be tough but only when the turnover is quick. If I have to learn something overnight, I’m like, “Woah, hold on!” But I find it easier to learn scripts than read books because of the way scripts are spaced out. I struggle with spelling more than reading, but I’m getting better. Being severely dyslexic meant I was always behind with schoolwork. I struggled at mainstream school but as soon as I went to a specialist school – with kids like me, smaller classes, more attention – it helped loads. I’ll be for ever grateful to More House in Farnham.

Llewellyn with Jamie-Lee O’Donnell in series three of Derry Girls.
Llewellyn with Jamie-Lee O’Donnell in series three of Derry Girls. Photograph: Peter Marley

Next month, you’re in the Steve Jones biopic series Pistol. How was that experience?
It was mad being directed by Danny Boyle. I had to pinch myself every day. I play Wally Nightingale, who founded the band. Before they were the Sex Pistols, they were called the Swankers, so he was a Swanker [laughs]. Steve Jones was the singer and Wally was lead guitarist, then sadly got kicked out by Malcolm McLaren because he wore glasses. Which is a tragic reason to get fired from your own band, but I guess it didn’t fit the whole Vivienne Westwood punk image. He was unfairly treated, Wally, but he’s in our hearts.

Did you get to live out your rock star fantasies?
I did. I had to learn guitar. We had a band camp, rehearsing together constantly with professional musicians to help us. I’d never picked up an instrument in my life – except the recorder – but I was getting there by the end. I know one song very well!

You’re about to star in the Channel 4 comedy Big Boys. What’s that about?
My friend Jack Rooke’s experiences of losing his dad and coming out. It’s a funny, beautiful, coming-of-age story that tackles tough subjects such as depression and male mental health. It’s based on his book Cheer the F**k Up, which I highly recommend. I play Jack and basically did my research by hanging out with him. It’s great to have more LGBTQ-led shows. I can’t wait for everyone to see it.

What kind of roles would you like to play in the future?
I’d love to play a superhero. Wiccan, maybe. I’ve got the build for Spider-Man but I think I’ve missed that boat. Or maybe a psychopath. I tend to play geeky types but I’d like to be a bad boy. I’d also love a period drama. Nicola [Coughlan, AKA Clare in Derry Girls] is smashing it in Bridgerton. I can do the RP accent, too. Maybe I could join her.

You’re a Quentin Tarantino superfan. Fancy working with him?
I’d love to. His characters are so colourful, it’s like a comic book in movie form. Maybe I can win him over by showing him my Celebrity Mastermind clip. Tarantino was my specialist subject and I won. The trophy’s in pride of place on my windowsill.

The third and final series of Derry Girls airs Tuesdays at 9pm on Channel 4. Big Boys is coming to Channel 4 in May

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