Words: Alastair James; pictures: Ben in The Long Call (ITV)
Ben Aldridge has said he feels "more alive" after coming out, adding that he did so to claim his identity.
The actor, who won the TV award at the 2021 Virgin Atlantic Attitude Awards, powered by Jaguar, can be seen in the new ITV crime detective drama The Long Call, which starts tonight (Monday 25 October).
Speaking to Attitude in a video interview, the the 35-year-old - who also appears on the cover of the Awards issue of the magazine - also discusses queer actors playing queer roles in TV and film, as well as the show that got him started in acting.
"I've felt the best I've ever felt"
Ben says coming out was something that he did for himself, "just to feel open and authentic and to claim it for myself." But he also realised that he was protecting something based on fear.
He says he was taught things in his early career about his sexuality negatively impacting his chances at getting work. "It started to be more valuable to me to be true and honest in myself than the opportunities that might cut away from me," he explains.
"I guess I thought if someone didn't want to work with me because of that factor, then I obviously didn't want to work with them either," he says.
"It was a thing that I was moving towards doing I think in the back of my mind. I didn't realise how significant it was going to be until I did it and the weight that it lifted. I didn't really realise there was a weight I was carrying with that or that I was protecting something.
"I've felt the best I've ever felt. I've felt more alive, and more myself."
Photo: Dean Ryan McDaid
Discussing his role in ITV's The Long Call as UK TV's first gay detective, Ben - a queer actor himself - says the casting feels "important and timely".
Picking up on the topic of LGBTQ representation, he says it's important growing up without that sort of representation on screen left him "with a real lack of self-understanding" and nothing to model his feelings on.
"It's so joyful and brilliant that we're getting to a point where that is recognised [by non-queer producers]," the actor also says.
Entering the ongoing debate about queer actors playing queer parts, Ben says, for him, "it can afford to be nuanced project to project." With the exception of a cisgendered person playing a trans character, Ben personally feels there shouldn't be any "hard and fast" rules.
"If there's a project where the queer experience is very central to the piece and we really see the character go on that journey then of course maybe a lived insight from an actor might really bring that to life and help the project. I don't even know that that's essential. It's something I'm still thinking about myself." the actor continued.
"It's a real marker in my own journey"
On receiving the TV Attitude Award, Ben says it "feels very significant to me in that I can remember being a teenager and being in the corner shop and I remember my eyes being drawn to the cover of Attitude."
Remembering feelings of intrigue, panic, and confusion he says to now be on the cover has been a "huge journey". "It's a real marker in my own journey in that I just didn't think it was ever going to be a possible thing for me as a teenager."
Seeing Andrew Lloyd-Webber's Cats (before it was clawed by the film version, which he hasn't seen) in Bristol as a young boy provided the inspiration for him to become an actor he reveals. (Adding he often recreated it at home!)
Eventually joining the National Youth Theatre provided a key stepping stone where he says he was a part of something "bigger than myself", and somewhere very community and creative focused.
But has he ever auditioned for Cats? He did - for the movie! But, it didn't work out, which is maybe for the best...
The Attitude Awards issue is out now.