Will Mellor: In The Club helped me beat depression after unemployment and sister's death
As millions watched him in acclaimed drama Broadchurch, actor Will Mellor should have been basking in his success – yet he had never been so low.
Fans of the ITV whodunnit might have assumed he was at the peak of his career but Will, 38 – who played “psychic” phone engineer Steve Connelly – was out of work and feeling worthless.
Coming just a year after the death of his sister Joanne, the fear of not being able to provide for his wife and children sent him plummeting into despair.
Now back with a bang in BBC1 hit "In The Club", and already working on his next project, he can look back at his dark time last year and see it for what it was.
He says: “I was depressed. It was a tough year, even though it looked great on the outside. I was lying awake all night, worrying. I've never been like that before.”
At the time Will, who also starred as David in Channel 4’s Dates last year,Could not see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“Every actor knows it’s very normal to rest for up to a year and audition a lot,” he says.
“But off the back of Broadchurch and Dates I was hoping something would come quickly.
“I didn't get any work confirmed until the end of the year, and because of the frame of mind I was in I got really stressed and panicked. Everything felt negative to me.
“I went up for three or four jobs but it just didn't go my way. It felt like a black cloud was over me.”
A year earlier Will had lost his sister Joanne,44, who was born with Marfan’s Syndrome and had physical and mental disabilities.
Now he sees this may have added to his vulnerability last year.
He says: “I was strong for my mum and dad and my other sisters at her funeral. I had to be.
“But even now the phone rings and I don’t want to answer it. If it rings late on, I panic. Because it rang at 12.30am and I was told my sister was dead. I felt so helpless and useless. I couldn't save her.”
It was his wife, actress Michelle McSween – mum to his kids Jayden, 10 and Renee, six – who first saw the warning signs that he was tipping into depression.
He said: “At first, I didn't notice. I think you’re always the last to know. But my wife Michelle did.
“I couldn't sleep properly, I was very down. I didn't want to get out of bed, I didn't see the point.
“With depression everything makes you feel worse about yourself.
“Your self-esteem plummets.”
Michelle and his friends tried to get him to talk about his problems, and he admits they were right.
He says: “My wife talked about me going to see a doctor, and if I ever felt like that again I would definitely speak to a professional.
“But men don’t talk about it. I always had this barrier to stop people seeing how I really felt.
“It seemed pointless talking about it because I have a good life.
“But my friends told me never think like that, always call them."
Psychic: Will as Steve Connelly in Broadchurch
The turning point came when he was offered a part in Kay Mellor’s six-part drama In The Club.
“I could see light,” he says. “It was like the sun coming over the hills.”
In the series, which ends on Tuesday, he plays printer Rick who loses his job but can’t bring himself to tell his wife Diane (played by Jill Halfpenny) as she is finally expecting the baby they thought they could never have.
He says: “It makes me feel very proud to be on a programme, not only that the public likes but that my mum, dad and my family all love and talk about.
“It’s fantastic and it changed everything for me. It’s got me believing I can break away from the Jack-the-lad characters I played when I was younger.”
In The Club saw Rick robbing a bank to make ends meet after hiding his redundancy for five months. This week viewers will learn the outcome of his court case.
For Will the storyline has a particular resonance.
“There’s a lot of things I touched on in the character,” he says.
“My dad Bill went to prison when I was very young. He was making a bit of extra cash, he was breaking the law and he got caught. He was doing it for us. He loved us, he made a mistake and he paid for it.
“He was in Strangeways for about 18 months and it ripped him apart, he felt like he had let us all down. I don’t remember this but when I went to see him in prison, he says I’d forgotten who he was. I was screaming when he tried to pick me up. He says it killed him.
"Even now it makes me emotional. That’s what I was thinking about when I was playing the character."
Growing pains: Will and Jill in In The Club
Will grew up on a council estate in Stockport, Cheshire, where he experienced living on the breadline like his character Rick. “We were very poor, but very happy,” he says.
“None of us had anything on our street, we were all borrowing off each other for electricity.
“My dad cut people’s hair, we’d find little scams and deals.
“I’m representing the working class, where I’m from. I love that.”
All this has made his portrayal of Rick all too convincing for some.
Will says: “People are offering to lend me money all the time, they keep saying, ‘Do you want to borrow a fiver Rick?’ or ‘You’ve not robbed any banks today have you?’ which is nice. My wife’s sister sent a message saying, ‘You could have just asked us if you wanted to borrow a few quid, you didn’t have to go robbing a bank’.”
Will, who first found fame as Gaz in BBC’s Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, is in Manchester filming Channel 4 detective show No Offence, and tells of his excitement at returning to his family home in Buckinghamshire for the weekend.
“Being a dad gives me a purpose and stops me feeling selfish,” he says. “I feel like whatever I do, it’s for them.”
He admits he was “a bit gutted” not to be in the second series of Broadchurch, expected next year. He says: “I thought there was a place for my character to come back, but I would say that.
“I was glad to be in it in the first place, it’s right up there with the best thing I’ve ever done.”
But he is very happy with his lot, saying: “I’m loving every minute of what I’m doing at the moment.
“It’s a massively different feeling I have this year. I’m positive again and I believe in myself again.
“I’ve got aspirations. I’d love to be in a war film, I want to do these roles that I watch. I want to continue dreaming and fighting.”