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INTERROGATION: JASON MERRELLS - `My kids saved me from Special Brew and the gutter' Cutting It star Jason Merrells, 36, talks drinking, dieting, being a gay pin-up and what keeps him awake at night...

Byline: Louise Burke

Your first big role was in C4's Queer As Folk. What was it like playing a gay man? Jason Merrells: It was brilliant. I was so proud to be a part of it. I had this huge gay following too, I found out afterwards. Gay men would come up to me to tell me my character, Phil, was their ideal man. I suppose a lot of men identified with him. He was very different from the characters played by Aidan Gillen and Craig Kelly, who were more like sexy movie stars. I was bigger back then and camp. And let's face it, a lot of those guys are camp, so they loved him.

Have you ever done a nude scene? JM: Yes. I had one in Fat Friends and also Cutting It. They don't bother me too much, but I'm quite a shy person. In reality, it's all quite technical and not especially sexual. I'm not the sort of actor who would have a clause written into my contract to say I can't do nude scenes. If the role demands it, I don't mind. But if I was a woman, I think I'd look at it differently and might consider refusing. Women are generally more beautiful than men and more vulnerable to being looked upon as an object.

What's your reaction to being labelled a `pin-up'? JM: Don't forget a womaniser as well, thanks to my character, Gavin, in Cutting It. No, I don't agree with the pin-up label. Gavin's a nice guy at heart and OK-looking, like me - you wouldn't kick him out of bed.

Compared to Finn, who's a complete b*****d, I look like the nice guy, so all the women were like, `Ahhhhh.'

Do you get recognised a lot then? JM: Not really, not in London anyway - everyone's a bit too cool to say anything. But up north, people often come up to me or shout out my name in the street.

Are you vain? JM: I try to keep the whole grooming thing to a minimum. Vanity isn't a great attribute to have, although if I'm honest, there's probably a little in me. I buy products every so often, then I don't use them. I've got after-shave and hair wax, but that's about it. I've never had a facial or a manicure, and I've only had highlights once and that was for a job - never again.

Do you watch what you eat? JM: Only if I want to get in shape for a role, then I follow a non-combining diet - I eat either protein or carbs, never both together. But I try not to get too wrapped up in what I look like on screen. It's not the image I have of myself. You just have to get over that.

We never see you on the party pages - do you try to avoid showbiz bashes? JM: Yes, I hate them. I'm terrible at networking, I hate all of the superficiality. When it comes to impressing people, I'd rather they see my work and judge that. I know I may be making things hard for myself this way, but I'd rather do anything than schmooze. Besides, I never get it right - I'm either very quiet or very drunk, and that's just embarrassing. So I'm best avoiding them really.

Do you have a lot of actor friends? JM: Yeah, I do. Like anyone else, you have friends from work. My brother, Simon, is an actor too. He's my best mate, no mistake. My wife, Zerlina, is in the industry too, but she's in theatre rather than TV. She works in lighting. We met while I was in a play at a theatre where she was working.

Do you consider yourself rich? JM: Absolutely not - just the opposite. Anyone can go on holiday in the Caribbean, but it's having a house in the Caribbean that says you're rich. It's also harder to become rich in London because living costs are so expensive. If I lived in the far east corner of Cumbria, I might possibly be on the way to becoming rich.

Do you drive a sportscar? JM: Yes, I bought myself a vintage Porsche about a year ago. It's my pride and joy. I spend so much on maintaining it though - which is probably why I'm not so rich...

We'll soon be seeing you in BBC1's Afternoon Play, The Hitch. Sounds like `serious' acting compared to some of the roles you've played in the past... JM: Well, it was quite a departure for me as an actor, but it was great fun to do. I play this nerdy bookish chap. He reminds me of one half of TV's The Odd Couple. Two guys discover their vicar is a fake and realise they're not actually married in the eyes of God, so they break off their unhappy relationships and live together across the green from their `ex-wives'.

You star alongside lads' mag favourite Samantha Janus. What was she like to work with? JM: Sam played my partner. It was a bit funny at first when we met, as the only time I'd seen her was in mags or on the telly. But then you just buckle down and get on with it. She's having another baby, which will probably take her out of the loop again.

You're a family man yourself... JM: I try to be. I have three kids - Camilla, 12, Gina, nine and Jackson who's three. I see the girls (by my first wife Judith Hurley) at weekends. I like creating a nice home for Zerlina and the kids. I'm quite the handyman - I've been slowly doing up my house room by room. I'm pretty good at it, if I do say so myself. I find it therapeutic. It's quite removed from my career, and I like getting my hands dirty.

Do you consider yourself a romantic? JM: Yes. I like sending flowers to my wife - well, any gift really. I also like to do non-materialistic gestures, like cook dinner. I don't normally go with a particular recipe book - I like to go with the flow and do my own thing. My chicken pie is quite something.

If you could wake up tomorrow as anyone, who would it be? JM: It's hard to focus on just one person. Maybe it would be a cross between Al Pacino and Steve McQueen. They're big heroes of mine.

We heard you are quite an artist. Do you sell paintings on the side? JM: I have done - only to friends though. I paint quite a bit, even during filming. I studied at art school before becoming an actor. I have a few paintings of my own hanging in my house. My favourites are portraits of my three children.

You have `mime' listed as a talent on your CV. Do you still do it? JM: Good God, where have you read that? You've got to be having a laugh, haven't you? Years and years and years ago, I did physical theatre - not mime. It was movement-based theatre, like Steven Berkoff. That's where I started. No Marcel Marceau nonsense!

Do you have any regrets? JM: I try not to, but I think I have a few lurking about. I'm not totally happy about life. Things have gone wrong in the past, but I don't regret them. Those things build character and you learn from them.

Have you ever experienced a life-changing moment? JM: Having children has been my biggest life change. Ultimately, it has made me less selfish. I was in my early 20s when I first became a father, and it was a wonderful thing. You may be working on a great TV drama, but then an hour later you're back home, changing nappies. Your life becomes less about you. Before kids, there was always the chance I could end up in a gutter with a can of Special Brew. But that's not even a possibility now.

What keeps you awake at night? JM: Nothing I could talk about in this interview. I say stupid things, and when I lie in bed I stew on them and that keeps me awake. Tonight I may be doing some of that...

The Hitch is on BBC1, Monday 24 January at 2.05pm


In which city is the TV soap Hollyoaks filmed?

I don't know. And do you know what? I'm happy I'm able to say I have no idea. (Chester)

When was the last time you took public transport?

Yesterday. The No 3 bus - one of London's new bendy buses. It was horrible - everyone in East London hates it too. They should've never taken away the old Routemaster (pictured).

Do you email?

Yeah. I don't check it that often though. And no, I'm not telling you what my address is...

Do you drink fresh or instant coffee?

At home I drink fresh. I buy it from the Fair Trade Coffee Company. But I wouldn't turn down instant if it was offered.


Jason with his wife Zerlina
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 16, 2005
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