INTERVIEW: Terri Dwyer, Actress & Star of New British Film ‘Break’

It was back in 1995 when British model turned actress Terri Dwyer first burst onto television screens, as the formidable Ruth Osbourne in Channel 4’s groundbreaking teen-drama, soap opera Hollyoaks.

Since then the multi-talented entertainer has gone on to enjoy an incredibly successful and diverse career, playing roles in established tv dramas Law And Order UK, Holby City, Mile High and Grange Hill, as well as enjoying triumphant stints as a presenter on shows including 60 Minute Makeover, This Morning and Loose Women! Away from television, Dwyer has also excelled onstage – thriving off the thrill of performing in front of live audiences in productions of Vagina Monologues, Truth, Lies, Diana (in the West End), Abandonment by Tom Morton Smith, Love v Hate and Dial M for Murder.

Forever curious and always eager to keep learning, in her latest project Terri finds herself taking on an all together new challenge, serving as both actress and producer of her first feature film BREAK – a heartwarming, thriller starring Sam GittinsDavid YipBAFTA Winner Adam Deacon and the late, great Hollywood icon Rutger Hauer, in what will be his final on-screen role.

Passionate, tenacious, self-deprecating and smart, we caught up with Terri ahead of the films “drive-in” world premiere (the first of it’s kind!) at London’s Brent Cross next week, to talk all things BREAK, finding professional balance and the importance of searching outside of your comfort zone, to do things you never thought possible…

So the moment is finally here – BREAK is set for its big premiere in London NEXT WEEK! We know it’s been a long journey for all involved to get this film to where it is now, but can you cast your mind back to the very beginning of this whole process, and tell us a little bit about how you first become involved in the project?

Well, Michael Elkin – who is the writer and director of the film, actually approached me on Twitter! We talked a little bit back and forth, and he was telling me about this brilliant script he’d been working on, which sounded really intriguing to me so I said “look, I’m really busy at the moment, so it might take me a few weeks to read it, but send it over to me and I promise I’ll look through it when things have calmed down a bit”. And then by sheer luck, I had something cancelled, so I thought let me give this script a go, and you know I’d planned on reading the first 20 pages to get a feel for it, but right away it drew me in and I just could not put it down! So I rang him and I said “I have GOT to do this film!”

That must have been so exciting for you as an actress to make such a strong and instant connection with the material?

Absolutely! I just loved it – the script itself read like a book, which is very rare. It had fantastic pace and wonderful characters… I just thought it was brilliant!

BREAK is described as being a ‘heartwarming, thriller’, that chronicles the life of Spencer Pryde, a young man caught up with the wrong crowd, doing things that he really shouldn’t be doing! But on the flip side, he possesses great talent and shows shows such promise and potential to do so much good in the world! For people of Spencer’s age, who find themselves growing up in a similar environment, this story is going to really resinate with them…

Yeah, I totally agree. And it’s interesting you say that because the film itself is slightly autobiographical in the sense that Michael (Elkin) was born into a very rough London council estate, where the problem of knife crime for him was a regular, if not daily occurrence. So he’s seen first hand the effects of what growing up in that environment can have on a young person. But to put a positive spin on that, Michael believes that everybody has a talent, and a fight within them to use that talent to make a better life for themselves. I’m not saying it’s always that easy, but for so many of us, throughout the course of our lives, we are presented with so many different opportunities that have the potential to help change our futures… we’ve just got to be brave enough to take those opportunities and really go for after the things we want!

For many people finding the courage to feel brave enough to step outside of their communities and comfort zones, is the thing that prevents from them ‘breaking free’ (excuse the pun)…

Definitely! And listen, when you’re born into second or third generation of council estate, breaking away from that reality and choosing something that nobody in your family has ever chosen to do before, is very tough, and I think that the hope with a film like BREAK is to show people that you can break away from those negative environments, and it is possible to do anything you set your mind to, regardless of your background or where you come from!

BREAK: The Official Film Trailer

You play the role of Spencer’s Mum, Cathy in the film, how would best describe her as a character?

She’s a bit of a rough diamond I suppose – she’s you’re everyday, working class woman, who tries her best to do what’s right, but like a lot of people, she’s had quite a tough time of things really. Her husband’s in prison, so she’s found herself on her own as a single Mum to Spencer, who she loves very much but, you know she’s no fool – she can see where his life is heading and that he’s going down this path of selling drugs with his mates and becoming more and more involved in knife crime and she wants better for him… as any Mum would! Ultimately I think she’s just trying to support him in finding a better way to live his life.

In terms of approaching how you were going to play her, and bringing the true essence of Cathy’s character to life, what sorts of methods and techniques did you adopt? And did you ever find yourself drawing upon any of your own personal life experiences in your portrayal of her?

I think there’s always an element of yourself in any character that you play, and unless you’re completely method in your approach to acting, then you’ve simply got to draw on some of your own life experiences to be be able to play an experience that you, personally might not have been through. Like Cathy, I’ve dealt with significant loss in my life, I’ve felt at times to not always be in complete control of what’s going on around me and really, well most importantly, like her, I’m a Mum! I’ve got two boys, who I adore and there’s a never a true saying that you never know how much you’re loved by your parents, until you become a parent yourself… so I was able to tap into all of those emotions when playing her.

As you say, you’re a Mum in real life to two boys now, and with that Mother/son relationship being an almost constant thread that runs throughout the film, how was it playing opposite Sam Gittins (who plays Terri’s onscreen son Spencer in BREAK), and tackling that sometimes challenging and fraught relationship?

Like with any family dynamic or any kind of relationship with a loved one who you care deeply for, there are so many emotions and feelings that you experience – you can love somebody so much, but still be absolutely frustrated and infuriated by them! My eldest is teenager now and as much as I love him, sometimes he drives me bloody mad (laughs) and Spencer’s only a few years older than my son in the film so I suppose there was some comparisons to be drawn from there. I got on really well with Sam, so actually to be really honest with you, there was not much acting required on my part, he became a bit like my little boy, he’s great.

Another topic and theme that features heavily throughout, is that of knife crime. How was it trying to find balance in tackling such a sensitive, yet very relevant issue?

Sadly, it is such a relevant topic isn’t it? It’s huge in the news and unfortunately seems to be escalating daily… I personally think it’s really important to try and give these kids something else to try and aim for, other than joining the local gang. Having someone like Adam Deacon involved, I mean I don’t know much about his background or how he grew up, but he is very much a part of the Grime scene and has associations with a lot of those artists, and he said something very interesting to me quite early on in production that for him, it was really nice to read a working class, white story! Because let’s be honest, more often than not these working class stories, similar to the one we tell with BREAK, if you didn’t know better you’d just expect it to be an actor from a minority group playing the lead, and it’s not, it’s a white boy. So I think it’s time we all woke up to the fact that knife crime doesn’t distinguish between colour or demographic, it’s an everyday issue for everyday people, no matter their race or background. 

Everybody has a talent, and a fight within them to use that talent to make a better life for themselves.

As well as acting in the film, you serve also as producer, how did that opportunity come about?

Well, first and foremost I’m an actress – that’s what I do; it’s what I’ve been doing for over 20 years now, so it’s really a part of who I am at this point. But more recently I’ve been branching out a little bit, I produced a play that went on to tour; as well as a short film, so I was kind of heading in that direction of doing more producing as well as acting, and somewhere along the way I just remember Michael saying to me one day “would you ever considering producing this (Break)?” and I just felt instantly up for doing it! I knew it would be a challenge, but I also knew I was in safe hands with Michael – I knew he would let me get my hands dirty and teach me how to produce, rather than just be a producer in name only. From there I brought on a producer I’d known for 20 years – ironically I always thought that he’d one day end up giving me a job, but in this instance the roles were reversed (laughs). And from there, the three of us became this little team, working together through thick and thin to get Break to where it is today.

How did you find managing the balance between the two different roles, both on and off set?

Well, I’ve had a little bit of experience in doing both before on previous projects, and I must say I learnt from bitter experience that you really have to separate the two roles. So on the days that I was acting, I was not producing. And I had to be really diligent about that, so on my acting days I’d say to the crew “please don’t ask me anything about producing – speak to someone else please, speak to Dean!” (laughs) And I took that approach because sometimes if you wear too many hats, you end up compromising one or the other. But I was lucky on this film because ‘Cathy’, is very much a supporting role, so in acting terms, the massive weight of the film wasn’t on my shoulders, so it allowed me to do my acting job without compromising my job as producer and vice-versa. 

So taking into account all of the hard work, the long days, the sleepless nights and reflecting on the journey you’ve all been on as a creative collective, with the world premiere of BREAK less than a week away, how do you feel about audiences finally getting to see the film?

Do you know it’s really funny, a lot of people have asked me this question and it’s hard for me to answer because if you’d have asked me before I started this journey, I would probably say that I was feeling really excited and really nervous, but right now I just don’t have the time to feel any of that (laughs). And I say that because right now, everyday is a new day of overcoming obstacles and you’re almost waiting for the next obstacle to appear to deal with it, do you know what I mean? It’s been such a hard slog to get here, so I think when we’re at the premiere and the film has finished and everybody is clapping… that is probably the moment I will feel most proud of – and I’m really excited to share that moment with everyone that’s been involved in the film as well as family, friends and former colleagues that I’ve worked with and known over the years. It’s going to be one big celebration and I can’t wait!

What overriding message would you like audiences to take away from BREAK?

Ultimately, I would like people to be inspired by it! I want people to be inspired to make better choices and to live more of a fulfilled life, and God knows we all need to feel like that in the current climate don’t we? Like you said before, and you’re right in saying that it is a heartwarming thriller and the ending… it just makes you smile, even now when I watch it, I just can’t help but smile – I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s a bit like that moment in the Rocky stories where although he wins the battle, he doesn’t win the fight, and there’s something really lovely about that and I think, I hope, BREAK will leave you with that same feeling of being inspired to stick things out and ultimately win no matter what life throws at you.

Terri on the set of Loose Women with Kerry Katona; with the cast of Hollyoaks; promotional stills from the Vagina Monologues & on stage in ‘Dial M For Murder’

You’ve had such a diverse and varied career – which you should absolutely be congratulated for, because as anyone in the entertainment industry will tell you, maintaining longevity in this business is hard! When you look back on everything you’ve done so far, what are your stand out moments and personal highlights?

There are lots of memories and stand out moments that I hold dear, and I guess each for different reasons. When I was doing ’60 Minute Makeover’, we were essentially going into people’s lives and giving them something that they’d maybe not been able to have before, and for me personally being able to change somebodies life in that way, or should I say make their life feel that little bit better is something that I really value, just on a level as human being to human being. I remember we were working with a young girl up in Manchester one time, and after the big reveal she was just running around screaming “I’ve got carpets, I’ve got carpets, I’ve never had carpets before!” Seeing somebody so happy because of something we’d done was just an incredible feeling, and I will never forget it. Acting wise, I think probably the first day on set filming BREAK will always be a very special memory for me, because Michael, Dean and I had been on a really, really long journey to get us to that point, so for it to have become a reality and see our hard work pay off was wonderful. 

Being able to mix things is up, and experience working in so many different areas within entertainment must have been such a thrill, and I would think somewhat of a luxury a times, as not a lot of people are accepted taking on a role outside of what the public originally knows them for – have you enjoyed taking on such differing projects and roles over the years?

It’s funny, you might see it as being a luxury but if I’m being completely honest, to a a degree, I’ve just always gone where the work is. I loved my time being a presenter but I had to stop doing it because people, particularly casting directors, were finding it very hard to see me and consider me as a serious actress, which was really sad because as I say, I really loved doing it (presenting). But for me, and I think I said this to you before, first and foremost I’m an actress. Don’t get me wrong, if times change I’d love to do more of both (acting and presenting) because there are some people out there that manage to do the two and it doesn’t really hinder them, but that’s not always been the case for me, which is fine. I think my desire to get into more of the production side of things was born out of that whole dilemma I guess, you know I wanted to take more control of my own destiny and certainly then since I have, I definitely feel more in control of my career and the work I do.

Throughout all of your various roles and work within the public eye, you’ve always stayed true your morals and seemingly never once compromised your artistic integrity, allowing you to really maintain a level of credibility that most actors can only dream of – how do you think you’ve managed to do that?

I surround myself with people, who are not “yes” people and that’s it, it’s as simple as that! In this crazy world that we live in, it’s really easy to lose yourself and to get carried away in the bullshit of praise that can come as a result of being in this industry, and I’m not saying this lightly, I value people’s praise and people’s criticism in equal measure, because it is very easy to get lost in that “you’re fabulous” mentality. A lot of the friends I have in my life, I’ve had for years and years and years, and they just wouldn’t stand for it, and I wouldn’t stand it of them, and I think a really, really good friend is somebody who tells you you’re fabulous, just as they will tell you you’re shit when necessary (laughs). I’ve experienced a lot in my life, you could say I’ve been around the block a few times, so I know myself, I know when I’m being naughty or if I’m not being respectful. I’ve got to give credit to my husband too, as he has always been a great leveller for me – he’s makes me a better version of myself because he doesn’t allow me to get away with bad behaviour (laughs). Even to a point where if I happen to walk through a door and not notice that there’s somebody behind me (so I don’t hold the door open for them), he’ll go “babe!!!!!” He’s put me in my place for sure! He’s a real gentleman my husband, he’s a real, kind gentle soul and I suppose watching hm and seeing how he navigates his way through life helps me to do the same. 

For many people, they first met you back in 1995 as Ruth Osbourne in Hollyoaks, would you have ever dreamed back then you’d be still here in 2020, producing a British film, a Mum of two and continuing to work as an actor?

No! Not. at. all. When I started Hollyoaks, I didn’t think I’d be there in a years time, let alone still having a career in the industry 20 years later. I’ll always remember walking into Hollyoaks, with my little modelling portfolio, wondering what the hell I was doing there! It still feels recent to me, there were all these other girls from drama schools sitting there slagging Hollyoaks off and because I wasn’t in the industry at that time, I was a model, I just didn’t understand why they were going up for a job on a programme that they didn’t like! But there I was, and four auditions later I got the job and I started immediately – I didn’t go back home for four months, in fact the next time I went back home to London was to pack up my house to move up to Liverpool full time! And I just used to say to myself “okay Terri, hang around here until you’re found out” and then just accept that it was really good fun and then go back to modelling or another job. But I ended up being there for six years and I learnt so much, not just about acting and the industry, but about work ethic and being dedicated to something.

Looking to the future, what’s next for you and what do you hope to achieve in the next phase of your career?

Well, I’ve got a trilogy that I’m working on right now, which I’m raising money for, and then there’s an amazing supernatural themed project by James Webber that I’m doing – which I’m so excited about because I LOVE all the Marvel films, X-Men, vampires, all that stuff… I’m super geeky (laughs). And then who knows? I love meeting people. I love sitting around a table and working out how we can all work together and get projects up and off the ground, that’s exciting to me – it’s challenging, don’t get me wrong, but it’s what motivates me. I was never a child who grew up knowing what they wanted to do for a career and perhaps if I had, maybe I would have had more of a plan on how to get there, but now I know for the first time what it is that I want to do, and that’s produce my own projects – so as of right now, I’m building relationships with people who are going to help me facilitate that. I want to start building my owns crews, who I know are on my side and are people who will help me grow. I’m more clearer now of where I want to go than ever… and as gracious as you were early, I have to admit, I have made some turkey decisions in the past, that have not always served me well, but I’m only human, we all make mistakes don’t we? We just have to make sure we learn from them and do better next time. 

BREAK will premiere at Brent Cross Drive-In on 22nd July and rolled out nationwide in other drive-in venues, starting with Sheffield. To buy tickets for the premiere, please go to breakfilms.co.uk. Follow @BrEAK_Film on Twitter and/or @breakukfilm on Instagram & Facebook for more news.

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Written by Philip Logan

Contact: logan_philip@hotmail.com
Twitter & IG: @philip_logan