In his teens, Nick Cornwall shared a drama studio with fellow would-be actors John Simm, Joanna Riding, David Thewlis and Sean McKenzie, among others, at Blackpool And The Fylde College’s St Annes campus.
But they went their separate ways; the latter four choosing a life in the limelight - and becoming some of British stage and screen’s most recognisable faces, while Nick stepped back from the acting.
Instead, he chose to work back stage on tours and major West End productions.
It wasn’t until his mid-40s that Nick went back to his dramatic roots, after 12 years working as an art teacher.
“One day, talking to a friend I’d been at college with - saying what would have happened if we had given it a go, I thought I don’t want to do this any more and gave it up to become an actor,” he said. “And I’m doing OK.”
If by ‘OK’, he means a constant stream of work since turning full-time professional in 2014, then Nick’s got it sussed.
Quitting his teaching job, he delivered fish and pizzas to make ends meet while gaining acting experience to help build a show reel, and within two months he’d secured a London agent and was being called to Hollywood castings. Now 51, he has built up an impressive CV of big burly characters.
“I’m a big fella, and a Northerner, and I’ve found my niche,” he said. “Everyone at 20, 21 are pretty boys fighting for the same leading roles, the romantic roles or being character actors; I never had the confidence for either of those at that age, and I preferred the technical side which I found more exhilarating at the time.”
Nick’s latest release is a South African film, out this week on DVD in the UK, called Blood And Glory - telling the story of an island prisoner of war camp during the Anglo-Boer war, with Nick playing Sergeant Skirving, one of English deputies charged with enforcing the terrible conditions in the camp who made life hell for the Boers.
The prisoners challenge their keepers to a game of rugby, in return for an in-mates life who had attempted to escape. Overcoming the odds, the Boers beat the English at their own game.
“It’s a story of brutal treatment and how they turned that round into a victory of sorts,” Nick said. “A story of revenge, redemption and of human spirit overcoming adversity.
“It’s a really well crafted story and a good film to watch.”
Future releases will include The Sisters Brothers, which he shot in Spain with Joaquin Phoenix and Jake Gyllenhaal and a horror movie filmed in Iceland.
And he’s appeared in a handful of series on Amazon and Netflix – crediting the streaming services with reviving TV.
“I really don’t think there has been a better time to be an actor because there’s so much being made, other than maybe the golden age of the 30s and 40s when films were churned out in a week, and there’s a lot of historical dramas – and that’s what suits me as an actor; put me a costume, wig and a sword in my hand and I’m away.”
“Why would I move?”
While Nick has travelled the world for various films and TV series, he’s happy staying put in Blackpool - and with the internet has no real need to move.
“Auditions these days are mostly self-tape, or at least the initial auditions are,” he said. “I had an audition last week and did it in my kitchen - instead of spending £92 for a train to London, plus the Tube and the stress of the travel.”
When he’s not filming, Nick teaches drama at Phil Winstons Theatreworks on the Prom, and also does ‘patient simulations’ - playing the role of a patient for trainee doctors’ exams.
“It’s a nice little earner, and a fun challenge; you’re given a role and play it out,” he said.