Thursday, February 23, 2006
RAY FEARON: Our Nathan Cooper
HE'S slicker than engine oil and smoother than a pint of Newton and Ridley best bitter...
The girls are queuing round the forecourt for a glimpse of Coronation Street's velvet-voiced mechanic Nathan Cooper.
For actor Ray Fearon, who plays the Street's kind-hearted hunk, success is especially sweet - he's lucky to have stayed out of jail.
Ray drifted into trouble as a teenager and was arrested several times.
Today, many of his old friends have fallen by the wayside - the victims of crime, drugs or violence - and Ray, 38, reckons that he was headed the same way.
"If I hadn't discovered acting my life would have most probably gone off the rails," he admits. "I grew up in a pretty rough part of London and knocked around with bad company. I didn't like school very much and when I was about 14 I just stopped going.
"I went astray. All I did was hang about on the streets and get in trouble with the police - and that was my life.
"We got up to silly stuff - messing about like teenagers can do - and at that time the law was different. It was called the Suspected Person law - the "sus" law.
"The police could pick you up if they suspected that you were going to steal - you didn't actually have to do anything.
"I was arrested several times just walking down the road. They'd say they suspected I was going to burgle a house.
In the end this terrible, essentially racist law, was scrapped. "We were just kids, but some of the local police gave us hell," says Ray. "We were always getting pulled into the police station about something. I'm not giving the police a bad name, but that's just how it was back then. I just assumed that was how my life was going to be."
If Ray is frank about his background, Nathan's is more of a mystery.
When he arrived on the Corrie cobbles last year he took a job working at Kevin Webster's garage and soon hooked up with Tracy Barlow.
Tracy Barlow and Nathan Cooper
He has an eight-year-old daughter Rosa from a previous relationship and admits the break-up has made him cautious.
"It's not that I haven't got the time for a girlfriend, I'm just a bit scared. When you're been in a long relationship it makes you a bit tentative.
"And this business doesn't help. There's a lot of travelling and holding on to a relationship is sometimes nigh on impossible.
"I'm not a saint, but I don't drink alcohol and I don't go to clubs much, so I'm not often in places where there are single girls. It can get a bit lonely, but that's OK. I'm not in a hurry to meet anyone."
A devoted father, Ray currently divides his time between his home in Wimbledon, south London, his daughter's home in Warwick and a rented flat in Manchester close to the Coronation Street studios.
The son of Jamaican immigrants, he grew up in Wembley, the fifth of seven children.
His engineer father David was 25 and his mother Anne, a nurse, was just 19 when they moved to Britain from Jamaica. They were desperate for Ray to make something of his life - but he just wasn't interested.
"When I was at school the only thing I knew about Shakespeare was a road called Shakespeare Crescent - I just wasn't bothered," admits Ray, who later became the first black actor for 40 years to play Othello at the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Fearon as Othello
When he was 15 he started taking part in theatre workshops and his outlook changed.
At 17, he joined the Royal Court Youth Theatre and decided to go to college to finish his education. Then he enrolled in the Rose Bruford Drama School in Kent.
"I decided that my life wasn't going to change unless I changed it," he says.
"At the same time I realised all the hard work my parents had put into their kids. It would have been a crime to see all their efforts go to waste. I knew I could do better.
"Some of my old friends have turned out alright, but some are dead, some are extreme drug addicts and some are in prison doing life.
"It was God's grace, I suppose - but I discovered something I liked."
In ten years Ray went from school drop-out to one of the RSC's treasured stars. His determination are evident in every area of his life.
In his early teens, he joined a tennis club - much to the amazement of his mates on the street.
"I got a coach and started to play for my local borough Brent and then for Middlesex," he says.
By his late teens he was playing for Great Britain and travelled the world on the junior professional circuit.
"I was obsessive - I video-taped tennis players and watched them over and over again and read every tennis book. My dream was to win Wimbledon.
"But I was playing tennis, attending drama workshops and catching up on my schooling and something had to go. I'd got to a pretty good standard in tennis, but nowhere near good enough. So the acting took over." After drama school he immediately began appearing in Shakespeare plays and then in 1993, at 26, joined the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company.
He spent ten years there, winning impressive reviews as the first black Romeo and Pericles and making headlines in 1999 when he became the first black Othello for 40 years.
Fearon as Pericles
"When I was at drama school an acting teacher told me: 'You've got a natural talent for Shakespeare, but I don't think you are going to get the parts you deserve because of being black.'
"It seemed wrong - and just made me determined to go and make a change." At the RSC Ray began to attract press attention.
"I went on a world tour and the press would ask what I thought about current affairs involving black people, such as Mike Tyson fighting in Britain, but I was rarely asked about Shakespeare," he says.
In his late 20s Ray began to appear on TV, including Prime Suspect, Band of Gold, The Bill, Doctors and Waking The Dead. In 2000 he appeared in EastEnders as a paraplegic in the next hospital bed to Nick Cotton and in 2002 he joined the Channel 4 teen soap As If.
He has also appeared in several films, including Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone as Firenze the centaur.
The call to join Coronation Street came in September 2004 and the role of garage mechanic Nathan was created especially for him.
"I was flattered, but very frightened," he says. "I'm from the theatre and I'm used to getting a complete script.
"But when I went to meet the producer he only had four lines.
"In them, I walked into Tracy Barlow's house, we looked for a room, but there was somebody in each one and then I snogged her ... and that was it.
"I had to decide whether to take the part on the basis of those four lines.
"But it's a great show and the writers are fantastic so I knew it would be fine - and I said yes."
And Corrie got a new heartthrob.
Source: The Mirror (edited to remove spoilers)
Posted by MJ at 1:09 AM