Interview with Augustus Prew

Augustus Prew plays Tony Adams one of Noele Gordon’s dear friends. Tony was Adam Chance in Crossroads. Here Augustus talks about all things Nolly

Augustus at the ITVX launch of Nolly.

Please tell us, in a nutshell, what Nolly is about.

Noele Gordon was an icon of British TV, who got forgotten in history because of terrible men. And we’re going to tell you that story.

Were you aware of Crossroads and Noele Gordon before taking on the role of Tony Adams?

I was aware of Crossroads, but only as a sort of punchline to a joke about how bad TV can be. Noele Gordon, I had never heard of, which is shocking, because she’s, like, a gay icon! Well, she should be. It’s wild to me that this incredibly powerful woman – the first woman globally – ever! – on colour television, 15 million people would tune into Crossroads every night, she won Best Actress at the TV Times Awards every year, six years in a row and they had to make up a new award for her so that she didn’t keep on winning!

How is it that someone can go from that level of cultural relevance to just being completely forgotten by history? I think that’s what I find so compelling about the story. How does that happen? Something profoundly wrong must have happened. So, the short answer is no, I didn’t know who she was initially. But I’m glad I do now.

Tell us a little bit about who Tony Adams was? Did you undertake much research when preparing for the role? Did you ever get to meet him?

I vaguely remembered the reboot of Crossroads, and when I started my research, I realised I’d actually seen him in a production of Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang but I didn’t realise who he was at the time. Research for different roles really depends on what the project is. You have to sometimes be mindful around how much research would actually be helpful, because sometimes it can actually get in the way.

For this one I did loads of research because this world is like it’s own little subculture. And I think that’s something that Russell writes really well – he writes these really nuanced, very textured, very colourful, unique subcultures. And he lets us in. I spoke with Mr. Adams twice. He’s so warm and so playful, and so loving, so silly and so caring. He is just full of stories. This man is in his mid-80s, and a lot of the stories that my character tells in the show are direct transcriptions from his own stories. He also has a very specific speech pattern and mannerisms, so I wanted to honour that. He also wrote a biography about his mother’s life and it explains a lot. I think his attachment to powerful women is really, really explained and contextualised by that. So that was helpful in my research too.

Can you tell us about Noele and Tony’s relationship?

I think that in terms of Noele Gordon’s story, Tony is so important. He was her rock. He was her best friend. They were a platonic couple, and on the set of Crossroads they were kind of the power couple. They were the ones who ran the show. I think that’s quite progressive at that time in the early 80s, to have this younger man and an older woman love each other that much. I mean, he would drive her to work every day, he would cook her dinner every night, they would speak on the phone – every night! There are scenes where Helena and I are talking to each other through the window [as Noele & Tony], and that was absolutely true. He used to live on the opposite side of the road to her in an apartment that she got for him, so that they could be together. It was a very unique and specific relationship.

How was it working so closely with Helena Bonham Carter?

It was an immediate love affair. We absolutely loved each other to the point where the execs at the time said, “We didn’t know you guys knew each other so well”, and we were like, “We just met!”. It was such easy fun. Energetically we’re very similar people, and I’ve made a dear friend for life. I have nothing but complete admiration and respect and love for her. She’s so professional and so talented, so magical. I’ll tell you, spending a summer with Helena Bonham Carter is a good time!

Augustus as ‘Adam Chance’ in Crossroads. ITVX/Quay Street Productions.

For a number of reasons, this show feels particularly timely and resonant. Would you agree?

And I think that’s something that’s going to resonate intensely, particularly with what’s going on in the UK right now, politically. We’re in a Winter Of Discontent. We have mass strikes. It’s miserable, and really alarming. And I think this is a time when people are digging deep and taking strength, not from the institutions that were built to protect them, but by the people that they love. And I think that’s what this show is about. It’s about powerless people coming together to empower themselves against the odds.

Incidentally, Crossroads was my mom’s favourite show growing up – she absolutely loved it! She would run home from school to watch it with her mum. It’s interesting because whenever I’ve talked to my friends’ moms about this show, they’d be so excited, “You’re doing a show about Crossroads? That was my favourite!”. For that generation, it has this incredible pull. It’s such a nostalgic moment in their lives.

And I think a lot of peopleresonate with that. Another interesting thing about Crossroads that I didn’t realise at the time, but that really resonated with me as a gay person while shooting, is how incredibly progressive and queer it was! And I mean that in the academic sense of the term queer. All of the lead characters were women, it was about issues that weren’t really spoken about on other TV shows, and that’s why it was beloved by women. That’s why it was beloved by the gay community because it was this kind of inherently camp show that was so successful, in spite of all the odds! It really was the little show that could.

The drama is set almost 40 years ago – what do you think young people today, who may not know Crossroads, might be able to take from Nolly?

It’s a powerful woman fighting the patriarchy, man! She’s a matriarch, she looked after everyone, and she stuck it to the man. It’s about people who are overlooked and downtrodden, standing up against the powers that be. And that’s where we’re at. Now, in the 21st Century, it’s almost like history has repeated itself. So, I think it’s important for the millennial generation and younger to understand what happened before, as we come into political maturity.

We also have all these amazing shows thanks to Russell, about gender roles and deconstructing the way that gender played out in the in the early 70s and 80s, and what that means today, looking at female empowerment, feminism, and queerness, deconstructing patriarchy, all these big terms which were being discussed at the time and are still so relevant now. Also, if you don’t know what Crossroads is, you should just watch the show because Crossroads is absolutely hilarious. It’s a riot. Going back to my research. I watched so many episodes, and I actually got really into it! It’s hilarious. It’s so silly and funny.

How was it acting in a show within a show? How does Augustus Prew acting as Tony Adams differ from Tony Adams acting as Adam Chance?

I decided that he’s a very good soap actor. Which really is its own type of acting. I mean, it’s totally outrageous. And with the way that we shot it, a show within a show within a show. You’ve got Helena Bonham Carter, playing Noele Gordon, playing Meg Mortimer. All of these actors playing the actors who are playing the characters within the show. For me playing Tony Adams as Augustus Prew and resonating with all these different themes as an actor, playing an actor, playing a character, who at the time was like a very progressive guy – you’ve got three different things going on in your head at any one time.

And I think it’s made what we’ve created here really special. Crossroads is very weird – the acting is very broad and big, we’re talking about big hair, and big 80s shoulder pads. And they shot the whole thing really fast and as live. They were doing five episodes a week when it started, and then by the era we are looking at in Nolly they went down to three episodes a week – which is still a lot! It was incredible the way the style of acting switched from soap acting one minute then venturing into very character driven, nuanced acting. That’s when you realise, we’re telling an amazing story about this woman. It’s so smart. Russell is a genius. There’s a reason Russell T Davies is Russell T Davies. The writing is exceptionally good. It’s such an honour to be part of it.

How was it working with the rest of the cast?

A total love affair. Truly “The Summer Love 2022”. Helena and I got on like a house on fire, but with the whole cast it was just one love affair after another. We have a big group text that Helena and everyone is on, and we’re still talking! Everyone in the cast! There’s about 40 people on it. It was just magical, wonderful. We were all like a really big family, which isn’t always the case. It was one of those really rare projects that you work on every now and again, where, and this speaks to Russell [T Davies] and Andy [Pryor] and Peter [Hoar], for bringing this group of people together who just got on like a house-on-fire. There was just this cohesion that you can’t fake.

Augustus as Tony Adams in Nolly. ITVX/Quay Street Productions.

Can you tell us about your experiences working with Russell T Davies?

Russell is an icon, he is someone that I respect so much, and I look up to so much. And for someone that iconic, he is way too nice! He is just a dream. He is the sweetest man you’ll ever meet. For the vibe on set and the vibe of the project, that always starts at the top. Whatever relationship the showrunner and the director have – and the actors have a part to play in this too – that sets the tone for the entire project. So, speaking of this Summer of Love 2022, I wish it would have gone on forever. That’s all to Russell’s credit, that should give you a sense of how magical this man is. And in terms of a personal note, his shows sort of taught me how to be gay – Queer As Folk was this amazing, iconic show, that came out at a time when that sort of television wasn’t being made! I think he’s tapped into something really deep and really relevant and really important. And he’s one of our greats. He’s an all-time classic.

Do you have a scene you are most looking forward to audiences seeing?

There’s a scene where Noele Gordon finds out she is going to be sacked. And she calls Tony over to her apartment to be there as support in case it happens. So, they’re both standing in her apartment on separate phones at the same time having a conversation with each other, while she’s having a conversation on the phone with Jack Barton – their boss! It is so funny. It demonstrates that side of their relationship perfectly. There’s another scene in a Chinese restaurant towards the end of the series where Noele Gordon is having a hard time – we won’t go into why because you’ve got to watch the show! But there’s a pep talk that Tony gives her which is just a beautiful monologue.

What do you hope audiences take away from the series?

Well, it is about all these big issues, but without getting too academic about it, or too intellectual – it’s also absolutely hilarious. You’ll be crying laughing one minute and you will most certainly be crying sad tears too. It’s the fullness of the human spirit encapsulated on film through the lens of an 80s TV show. It’s hilarious. It’s the Best of British and it’s starring National Treasure Helena Bonham Carter. What more could you want!

Nolly is available now on ITVX and the STV Player. There is also a documentary The Real Nolly, looking at the life of Noele Gordon.