EastEnders and panto star on being a Branning and ‘really cute’ Norwich
PUBLISHED: 15:39 28 November 2019 | UPDATED: 15:39 28 November 2019
Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk
Former EastEnders star David Witts, best known for playing Joey Branning, spoke to Louisa Baldwin as he prepares to get hearts beating as Prince Charming in the Theatre Royal Cinderella pantomime.
David appeared on the soap from 2012 to 2013 as the eldest son of Derek and the nephew of Jack and Max, where he made a big impression and won the award for Most Popular Newcomer at the National Television Awards 2013.
He also scooped the prize for Sexiest Male at the British Soap Awards the same year and on the show his character was known as a bit of a lothario.
His other storylines included his turbulent relationship with dad Derek and fighting to clear his sister Alice's name when she was imprisoned for the murder of Janine Butcher's husband Michael.
Since the show, he went from Walford to hit West End musical Wicked, where he starred as leading man Fiyero and he has also appeared starred in US TV series Recovery Road.
Ahead of his stint as Prince Charming in Cinderella at Norwich Theatre Royal this Christmas, David spoke about the magic of the Brannings, getting recognised in Tesco and whether or not he is lucky in love.
Is this your first time in Norwich?
It is my second time here as I've been to the football ground as well for a charity football match, so I was on the pitch which was exciting, but this is the first time I've seen anything that isn't the football ground.
My family are big Tottenham fans, but I don't really support anyone to be honest.
Are you excited to be in the city for panto?
Yes, both for being able to work in the theatre and to experience the city - so far I've seen ten minutes of it and it seems really cute actually and a nice, little place.
Usually in panto you end up in maybe not such a nice place and you're counting down the days.
Are you looking forward to playing Prince Charming?
Absolutely, it's good fun - every job I do is great fun.
I've been in a couple of pantos before and have been a prince and the Genie too.
You're often cast as the love interest in the work you do - would you rather be offered more comedy roles?
Well when it stops it says a lot about the deterioration of the way that I look.
What do you think is the appeal of panto?
For one, it is a tradition and at the heart of Christmas, like the Queen's Speech, and is great fun and I went to them when I was little.
How did you first discover your talent for acting and how did you break into the industry?
None of my family were in the industry and I have a regular working class background, so acting as a career was not necessarily what was expected.
I was lucky at school and did plays and then got pushed in the direction that this could be a job for me and then, like everyone else, it was a case of auditioning until someone said yes.
People most recognise you from playing Joey Branning in EastEnders - did you feel pressure joining the show?
Oh yeah and it was one of my first acting jobs and my first in TV.
I was only 20 and that show is more than just the responsibility of the job, you carry it with you wherever you go as you've been in people's living rooms and then they might see you in Tesco - other supermarkets are available.
Did you get recognised a lot?
Yes, also because I live in Essex it is the exact demographic of people who watch the show and it was pretty overwhelming.
The Branning family is one of the most popular on the square, what do you think is their appeal?
There is a good mix of sex and violence and people are quite fond of that.
Joey was a bit of a lothario whilst on EastEnders, did you enjoy bringing out the character's cheeky side?
Yes, it is always fun to build those sort of relationships because your work becomes far more than just lines as you need to build that chemistry.
What was your highlight whilst starring in the soap?
I liked the Christmas times, I only did two but it was always exciting to see what the storyline was going to be - I think my dad Derek died one Christmas, that was a highlight for me.
Why did you decide to leave EastEnders?
I was 21 and a year-and-a-half is a long time at that age and I was excited to do other things, there was a couple of opportunities and I followed those.
You then went on to play leading man Fiyero in musical Wicked on the West End, what was that experience like?
It was pretty mad and weird taking over a role in a production that is already going and established and there are limitations, the same as in EastEnders where they recast a character six or seven times, as you have to at least be consistent with the person who played the role before you.
I've always sung a little bit but the thing is with musicals you have to tell a story and it is obvious if someone is just a singer - they are looking for someone who can do both.
I had a good time and it was good to check the West End off my list of things I wanted to do.
What else have you been up to?
I moved to LA and lived there for a few years and had some TV shows, one was called Recovery Road, and I also did some Indie movies.
When you are a young actor you need to have the same level of discernment as a plumber does in which toilet they are fixing as it is all work.
Each toilet is a movie or a theatre show and this has served me well and kept my head above water, it isn't just about choosing projects that speak to you, especially if you are a working class kid.
Prince Charming in Cinderella is a real hit with the ladies, are you lucky in love?
Am I lucky in love? I think that love is a very interesting thing and this is the topic I can't really condense into a sound bite.
Finally, why should people get tickets to see this year's Theatre Royal panto?
Because I'm in it, only joking.
Because it is a good show here every year and it is a Christmas tradition and a great opportunity for little ones to have their first experience of live theatre, without them needing to be quiet.
They can chat and throw popcorn that's allowed, but the front of house staff may tell me off for saying that, and it is such a nice experience and I have such fond memories of going to panto.
Cinderella runs at Norwich Theatre Royal from December 17 to January 19 and tickets cost from £10 to £28.50 and can be purchased at theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk, by phone on 01603 630000 or in person at the box office.
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