Features: Interview with Neil Grainger (Phil Berry)

 

In September 2006 Neil Grainger kindly agreed to answer some questions about his time working as series regular, Phil Berry on Crossroads. We are grateful to him for sharing his time with us.

 

I get the impression that your casting was a little "rushed" - can you tell us something about the process, and why it was left until so late in the day?

 

Well, the version that I heard was as follows… Carlton had offered the part to Ben Freeman, who was very keen to do it. (I’ve spoken to Ben about this and he verifies the story). He was under contract, so could not do it, thus opening up the part to others. Come the day of the read through (Wednesday or Thursday) with the full cast, I was blissfully unaware of the programme in Sheffield, while the producers were explaining to the other cast members that the actor playing Phil had been cast, but was unable to come along.

 

Jane Gurnett and Neil McCaul then travelled back to Sheffield to join up with the casts of the two plays running at The Crucible, one of which I was a part of. Over a post show dinner, Jane let slip that there may be a spare part going, and that I should get on to my agent. I did on the friday, and got a call back instantly telling me that I had an audition on Monday morning in London, which was fine as I finished the show on Saturday night.

 

 

Neil Grainger as Phil Berry

 

 

I turned up on Monday morning and as soon as I walked in the door I knew I had a great chance. Everyone stood up and smiled as if I was just what they had been looking for. I had another audition later in the day, and when my agent phoned that same day to get feedback, she mentioned my other audition, to which the casting directors said to tell me not to make any decisions until the morning.

 

At 11am on Tuesday morning my agent called to say they had offered me a three year contract, and that I was to have a medical at 5pm in central London, before jumping on a train to Nottingham, and checking in to a hotel. I was told that Wednesday morning a car would pick me up and take me to the studios, where I would begin filming, and that while I was on the phone a courier was on his way to my house in London with 5 scripts and a shooting schedule.

 

Knowing the way most things were on this show, it was no suprise that things were left so late in the day. Some casting decisions worked and some didn’t. I’d like to think mine did.

 

From the first episode when your character arrived, until the last when he was thrown in jail there was quite a journey. Do you think Phil was well treated by the scriptwriters?

Very well really. I was told that I was good to write for, as I could adapt to different scenarios. Subsequently, I got more and more to do, and I didn’t complain. If my character had come back for the final series, I wanted to change him completely as I could see him becoming boring. I wanted him to become nasty and bitter, after all, he had been in court for murder twice!

 

Phil Berry dresses to impress… and fails!

 

 

Memories of his previous life come back to haunt Phil as ex-friend Shaun turns up

 

 

There was a fair amount of hype surrounding the launch of the show - do you think it helped or hindered in terms of ratings or viewer expectations?

There are many factors, departments and people that should take the blame for the show being taken of air in 2002.

 

I’d like to think the main problem was a lack of support from Carlton and ITV. I think people forgot that we were never in competition with Coronation Street and Eastenders. We were on in the daytime, or slot changed every few weeks and yet we were still the highest rated ITV daytime programme.

 

The hype was fine, but we needed a better publicity department, and time, something which we were constantly told that soaps need, and something which every other soap on television has been given.

 

The younger actors were cast to appeal to the teen audience - from an actor's point of view do you think the show succeeded in targeting its viewers?

Every week the target audience changed. I believe the target audience was just an audience. They didn’t care, yet as soon as they got a following, they pissed them off. They put the first daytime gay relationship on tv, get a gay following, and then remove it in the most unforgivable way. By making one of the characters straight, and by making the other run away through fear. What does that say!

 

I get fanmail from teenagers because they are the people who are in front of the TV at the time we were on. I believe we should have stuck with them, but the makers seemed to be seeking approval with the viewers of the original, rather than getting a new audience.

 

Phil ((Neil Grainger) marries girlfriend Nicola Russell (Julia Burchell) but they are hiding a secret…

 

 

What was the reaction like from fans of the show? Did you have any funny / unpleasant / strange reactions from the viewers?

 

So many varied reactions. Here is but a few;

 

  • People who hadn’t seen it thought it was rubbish. Always admired the ability of people to judge before they had seen.
  • People who had seen it were very kind to me.
  • Some thought I was a bad boy, no matter how much I pleaded. So I just gave up.
  • One girl prodded my face in a nightclub to see if I was real.
  • Lots of people were sad to see it go.
  • Still get some strange people who send me regular presents.
  • By on large, people knew it was not very good, but are surprised by how many viewers we used to get.
  • Most people thought Crossroads Mark II was much better than Crossroads Mark III, though they may have been saying that for my benefit. I very much doubt it.

 

Do you have any funny stories about your time in Crossroads?

Soo many wonderful stories from my time. Not enough time in the world to type them out It was a great and exciting time for all of us I think. There are a lot of things I can’t talk about, but I’m sure at some point I will!

 

I think the story I tell the most is about the Birmingham RTS awards, which Julia Burchill and I were hosting the Best Actor award. I had been told by publicity to wear any type of suit. (I turned up in dark blue, and light blue shirt and tie), only to turn up and find that it was strict backtie. I went up on stage to read out the nominations, and decided to explain my predicament. “Sorry everyone, I thought it was a blue tie event!” Silence befell the room until host Emma Forbes said “If you could just read the nominations please?”

 

Which was your favourite storyline / scene? (Terrible question I know - I feel like Smash Hits or Look In)

So many great storylines. My fav was probably being on the run with Nicola. My favourite scene, again soo many. I guess it was all the stuff on the room of the hotel when my stepfather had taken a hostage. I wrote all my lines (long story and was all about inconsistencies and stupidity) It wasn’t the best scene ever, but I learnt a lot.

 

A mysterious stranger turns up at the Crossroads Hotel on a motorbike - a story that would be repeated in 2003… without Phil

 

Sam Delaney (Jonathan Wrather) and Phil Bery (Neil Grainger) in a heated discussion

 

 

Your time on the show was cut short by the failed 2003 revamp. Had you considered how long you were going to stay with the show?

I had a three year contract, but realistically only wanted to do 2. I was always conscious of leaving before I became too familiar for one character. I was always a bit put out when I was not invited back, but realistically I knew that my chances were limited due to my character being in prison.

 

Crossroads suffered a huge amount of criticism in the press. Did this affect you personally and did it have an impact on the other cast and crew?

I think more than anything it frustrated us and made our skins a bit thicker. It was mostly undue criticism which makes you angry. I have always been very lucky, as no one has ever said a bad word about me in Crossroads. Well, to my face anyway.

 

It came as a shock to the viewers that he and Nicola were left "high and dry" in August 2002. Were you given any reasons for your character not being asked to return?

I think there were many reasons. One was money, one was to do with storylines and how I would be brought out of prison. I think it had something to do with creative control, and wanting to cull for just for the sake of it. I also think it had to do with image. I had put a bit of weight on, and can’t help but think it was due to that. Especially when they brought in a new leaner, sexier biker. Whatever the reasons, it worked in our favour.

 

With 3 million viewers, Crossroads remains one of ITV's highest performing shows, and far exceeds the ratings of many other shows brought into the same slot. Is this any consolation for the way in which the 2001-2002 series ended?

Everyone who worked on it knew the truth, and that is enough for me now. It was a baptism of fire and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I can’t do anything about politics, and when I feel it was unjust, I remind myself about the team involved on another
Carlton show “Peak Practice”, and how unjust things were for them.

 
Rocky was very protective of Phil in the show - did Roger and you have a similar relationship?

Roger is a great guy and actor. He was a joy to work with, and taught me soo much. He never patronised me, and I thank him for that. I believe it was a lovely on screen relationship. It definitely was off-screen.

 
Are you surprised at the level of interest there still is in Crossroads?

Very surprised, but I love it! Enough time has passed for me to enjoy the attention, as it feels like someone else was in it. I hardly ever get recognised any more so I can appreciate it more when it happens now.

I have dim recollections that you used to frequent the Crossroads message boards - What was that like from an "insiders" point of view?

It was weird. Everyday you would have a look and see what people had written about you. Mostly, it was good, but sometimes you had to remember it was written by people who didn’t know you.

 

Can you tell us something about your work since Crossroads and what you have been up to recently?

Been living in the North East for a few years, and spent a lot of that time working with Sir Alan Ayckbourn at the
Stephen Joseph Theatre. Just finished filming a 2 hour special of Judge John Deed for the BBC, and voice various documentaries for the Discovery Channel. So things are good.

 

The final word...

 

One regret that I do have is not keeping on top of fan mail, so if anyone does want to write, feel free to write via my agent, and I will do my best to reply.

 

Fighting on the compost as Shaun and Phil come to blows

 

 

 

 

Tinsel and Tea Towels…

Christmas at Crossroads

Bradley (Luke Walker) and Phil (Neil Grainger) get close under the mistletoe

 

 

 

 

Banged Up!

Phil is arrested for the murder of step-dad Brian Noakes – a story that would never be resolved!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our heart-felt thanks go to Neil Grainger for giving us this interview.

 

The text here is © Crossroads 2001 and Neil Grainger

Images are used with permission (See below)

 

In 2001 Neil was interviewed for the official site. You can view that interview HERE.

 

Visit Neil’s website

www.neilgrainger.com