TV and Radio

From Derry Girls to Big Boys for 'wee English fella' Dylan Llewellyn

Derry Girls draws to a close tonight but Dylan Llewellyn - who plays James Maguire - will return to our screens next week in new sit-com Big Boys, writes Danielle de Wolfe

Dylan Llewellyn as Jack in Big Boys.

FRESHERS' Week is a coming-of-age moment for those embarking on their first year of university, and the onslaught of new experiences away from home can often come as a shock to many new students.

Yet, it remains an alien concept to actor Dylan Llewellyn, who shunned uni in favour of a drama school a short commute away from his family home in Surrey.

This decision served the 29-year-old well. His acting career has gone from strength to strength, with roles in Holby City and Hollyoaks before landing his big break as 'wee English fella' James Maguire in hit Channel 4 series Derry Girls.

Llewellyn's latest role, however, has handed him something of a do-over. Living vicariously through his on-screen character as part of new Channel 4 sitcom Big Boys, 19-year-old Jack is a naive, closeted fresher from Watford who receives a scholarship to study at the fictional Brent University.

"Jack in Big Boys is basically a 'baby gay'," says Llewellyn.

"He's trying to learn it all while he's still trying to discover himself. It's about young males, in particular, being comfortable in their masculinity and opening up, dealing with loss, not bottling it up."

Big Boys sees Jack and fellow fresher Danny - two students at different ends of the "spectrum of masculinity" - form the unlikeliest of friendships. There's also grief to deal with too. In the midst of attempting to carve out his adult identity, Jack must also deal with the void left following the sudden and unexpected loss of his dad.

Broken down to its bare bones, Llewellyn's character is not too dissimilar to his former Derry-based companion. So much so, Big Boys creator Jack Rooke insists Llewellyn was cast because "he's just so fantastically good at playing this shy, endearing boy who keeps messing up".

Born out of two Edinburgh Fringe shows - Rooke's 2015 offering Good Grief and 2017 show Happy Hour - Big Boys acts as a cathartic memoir, adapted from the original scripts he co-wrote with his 85-year-old nan.

Material that can be traced back to the death of his father when Rooke was 15, the spoken-word show was lifted from diary entries written in Microsoft Word using "really bad fonts that nobody could read".

"I think Big Boys to me illustrates why the Edinburgh Fringe Festival can be an amazing place to go," says Rooke. "I went there, nobody knew who I was, I was in the smallest room at one of the big venues at the Fringe, at the worst time slot. By the end of it, I'd had the whole BBC comedy team in; I'd had the New York Times in... it was just one of those Edinburgh sleeper hits."

Following a 2017 sit-com writing masterclass from Jon Petrie, producer of People Just Do Nothing and Stath Lets Flats, the comedian says he learned from the "comedy genius" the nuances of "how sit-coms work" - from character to plot. The skills he learnt from those conversations formed the framework of the new Channel 4 show.

Reflecting Rooke's own adolescent experience in the north London suburb of Watford, the show, set in 2013, sees Jack (Llewellyn) experience a "period of reinvention" courtesy of new friend Danny, played by Jon Pointing.

With Rooke acting as narrator across a "series of memories", the comedian points out that audiences will be "very aware" they're watching a TV show set in the past.

Having initially met through a mutual friend - Llewellyn's Derry Girls co-star Nicola Coughlan, who caught Rooke's 2017 Fringe show - the stars aligned perfectly when it came to casting. With Coughlan tipping her co-star off about Rooke's show Big Boys, Llewellyn admits his first thoughts were "I wish I could get on that".

"I like Channel 4 comedies," confesses the actor.

A year which saw Llewellyn juggle filming commitments for Big Boys, the final series of Derry Girls and Danny Boyle's highly anticipated forthcoming series Pistol, 2021 was a career milestone for the actor.

And with 2022 marking the release of two-thirds of those projects, the future's looking bright for the 'wee English fella'.

::Big Boys arrives on Channel 4 on Thursday May 26.

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