Saturday, March 31, 2012

'EastEnders' Dyslexic Actor Ricky Grover Inspiring Fellow Dyslexic's

EastEnders’ Ricky Grover is the first to admit he enjoys a fight. The actor and comedian is a former boxer who still gets in the ring and spars with professionals despite, he jokes, “my big belly”.

In Albert Square, as Dot Cotton’s nephew Andrew, he will need to call on all his battling qualities – having been arrested for the murder of fiancĂ©e Heather Trott.

Viewers already know he’s innocent but whether justice will be done or not remains to be seen. Ricky is just enjoying the moment.

The 50-year-old, a real East Ender, couldn’t read or write until he was 31. Although dyslexic, he was diagnosed late and spent his school days in remedial class and being labelled stupid. Throw in the fact his stepdad was involved in London’s underworld and things could have panned out very differently.

He said: “My stepfather was an armed robber and for a long time it looked like I was going to go that way too. When you come from quite a rough area and you grow up having problems reading and writing, you feel like society is against you.

“That’s certainly how I felt and you can go astray, to try to get your own back on society. Thank God I never did. I stayed on this side of the fence and I think I got my aggression out in the boxing ring.

“In school, I was just labelled thick. The way I used to deal with it, when the book came round for reading, I’d say ‘I’m not reading that, it’s rubbish’ or storm out or something.

“Even as an adult, if anyone gave me a form or asked me to write out a cheque, I would go to pieces. I couldn’t face it.”

He decided to try his luck performing following a sort-your-life-out weekend – “you know, ‘Hi my name’s Brad’ that sort of thing. It was called life training” – and everyone asked him if he was an actor or a comedian.

It sounded like a good idea and, despite his obvious reservations, led to him learning to read.

He said: “I decided out of the blue. It was a brainstorm because I had tried lots of other things. I was a boxer, I was a hairdresser, I didn’t know what I wanted to do.

“I went to a place in East London and said to the teacher there, ‘I want to act but I have dyslexia quite bad’.

“I thought she would say ‘well fine, you can improvise around the lines’ but she said ‘well you better learn to read then hadn’t you’. I was gutted but it started me off, getting me to read out loud and face my fears.

“Even now, I’m not a brilliant reader. I put a lot of my lines into a dictaphone and listen to them and memorise them.”

Ricky, a father-of-one, has an impressive list of TV and film credits, including Black Books, ’Orrible and Red Dwarf . He presented F*** Off I’m Fat for BBC Three and he can also be seen as Matron Hilary Loftus in the acclaimed BBC medical sitcom Getting On.

His film credits include Revolver and Love, Honour and Obey. He has written two award-winning short films and recently wrote – with his wife Maria – directed and starred in his first feature film, Big Fat Gypsy Gangster.

Even so, his battle with dyslexia is an ongoing one and it cost him a role in recent blockbuster The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and EastEnders almost fell by the wayside too.

Ricky said: “The way I love working is improvising, that is my strength, coming in and ad-libbing.

“When I was offered EastEnders, I thought ‘hold on a minute, this has all got to be word for word, and you’ve got to churn out script after script, and I am not going to be able to do it’. So I kept saying no. They were saying, ‘this is going to be brilliant for you, you’ll fit right in’.

“When I eventually read the part, I really liked it and I thought, ‘I am just going to give it a go’. It has been a great discipline for me because I have had to learn lines and what I didn’t realise was they are really good about you being loose, as long as it works.

“Even just last year, I was asked five times to be in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and I kept saying, ‘no, it’s not for me’. But if I put my hand on heart, the reason I never went to meet them was because I was scared of the speech they had sent me.”

When he goes to a new job, he makes it clear he has problems with reading and writing and people are invariably accepting and helpful. He cites Scottish actors Peter Mullan and Peter Capaldi, who directed him in Getting On and appears in Big Fat Gypsy Gangster, as being particularly helpful.

Ricky said: “I worked with Peter Mullan on a film called Cargo many years ago and we really got on well. He was the first person who said to me it was more about becoming the character and the words were secondary. Before that, I always thought words are first. When I started looking at it from that point of view, it gave me a lot more confidence.

“Peter Capaldi helped me tremendously with my lines and he’s been very encouraging along the way.”

Ricky is working on Getting On at the moment, as well as EastEnders and, although he is sad to see the departure of co-star Cheryl Fergison, it seems he will be staying around Walford.

He said: “I think Andrew fits in and he has legs because there are a lot of sides to him and because of his relationship with his aunt, Dot Cotton, he can stay around Albert Square. She’s like the mum he never had really.

“I am sorry to see Cheryl on her way. It was quite a shock she was going. She is such a nice character, on and off screen. She is going to be missed.”

EastEnders also gives him an invaluable profile and Ricky won’t miss the opportunity to use it to speak about dyslexia and, he hopes, inspire others.

He said: “I’m not proud of it by a long shot. I would love to be able to just pick something up and read it. When I get a script through the first thing that happens is my wife reads it to me so I can hear how it sounds.

“There is still a lot of stigma around dyslexia and I would imagine there are so many talented people out there who are just too scared to make a go of it.

“The good side of it is I can go round my area, or other areas, and say ‘don’t let it hold you back. Anyone can do anything’.”

Daily Record

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