Joe Absolom: ‘I felt really star-struck!’

Ex EastEnders star Joe Absolom chats about working in Romania with some of the biggest names in Hollywood for Channel 5’s new true-life historical drama Hatfields & McCoys

You work with big stars, including Kevin Costner, Bill Paxton and Tom Berenger, in this new drama about a bloody feud between two American families over 150 years ago. How was that experience?

“I mostly do TV so when you are offered a job like this and you ask who is in it and are told Kevin Costner, Bill Paxton and Tom Berenger you think ‘bloody hell!’ These are people whose CV includes things like Alien. It was a bit of a buzz to be told I was going to work with this really good director and cast.”

How were you first introduced to Kevin Costner?

“A few days before I was supposed to do my first scene with him I saw the producer talking to this bloke with a hat and beard, who I thought was a Romanian horse wrangler. As I walked passed the producer said ‘Joe can I introduce you to Kevin?’ I’d been planning on being really nonchalant when I first met him, but I said ‘bloody hell, it’s you!’ That was my poker face gone and it wasn’t a very cool way to start the job! I felt really star-struck.”

Did you have a problem with the accent?

“Sort of, but I had a really good voice coach from Ireland. So I was in Romania, learning a West Virginia accent from an Irishman! ”

This drama is based on real events. What can you tell us about that?

“Americans use the real-life story of the Hatfields and McCoys as their first example of gangland violence. The programme spans a 20-year period and all the characters in this were real people. My character is called Selkirk McCoy and he ends up marrying into the rival Hatfields after he’s banished from his own family for being a traitor.”

What is he like?

“Selkirk is useless. The minute someone points a gun at him he jumps on the floor and gives up! If you think about it those times would have been really tough. Although a lot of people were willing to fight and get their guns out, there were also a lot of people who weren’t – and I think Selkirk was one of those! My character is also a bit of a skiver and Kevin Costner shouts me at quite a lot – which was a bit surreal!”

What was the atmosphere on set like?

“It was really nice. We had a cast of 75 people so it was a big job, but people just got on. Initially when you meet someone like Bill Paxton you are really impressed, but within five minutes you’re chatting normally and everyone is just getting on. These are certainly some of the biggest stars I’ve ever worked with and they were really cool. It was inspiring and there was no starry atmosphere. Tom Berenger was brilliant. He told me mad stories about living in New York. He’s a top fella. He really knew his stuff about the history of the Hatfields and McCoy feud, too. He also said, it was the best on-set camaraderie since Platoon!”

Were there any unexpected perks to the job?

“I was told not to shave or cut my hair – which was brilliant because I’m quite lazy! It’s not a major part or anything, but it’s different to anything I’ve done before. So it was a great experience to go to Romania and learn to ride a horse and shoot guns. It’s been a brilliant job and I’ve loved it.”

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