Meet Jack Donnelly Atlantis’ leading man

He’s mastered the backflips and polished his pectorals – but is the hero of Atlantis ready to be a heartthrob?

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Meet Jack Donnelly Atlantis’ leading man
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Meet Jack Donnelly. He’s 27. He’s single. He’s the leading man in Atlantis, the BBC’s action-packed new drama made by the team behind Merlin. And as if that’s reason enough to look forward to Saturday nights, there’s more good news: Jack has three brothers even buffer than him…

Which mythological hero are you?

Jason but not the Jason of the Argonauts legend that people might be assuming. He’s a bit of an outsider, a bit socially awkward and he isn’t totally confident in himself. So he’s not quite a hero yet, not quite a man…

How good was your ancient Greek mythology prior to this?

When I got the audition, I googled Man from Atlantis and saw Patrick Duffy. I thought: he’s got my hair! I’m in! I was anticipating a whole series under water.

What was your last role?

I was dressed up as a giant white rabbit in Misfits. I had no lines and went around killing people with a golf club. This is by far the biggest thing I’ve done. I honestly thought they’d want someone better known than I am or with more experience. I remember I was so nervous by the last audition, I was outside the hotel listening to music from Rocky on my headphones to psyche myself up – shadowboxing and crying: “come on! You can do this! Just get it together!”

How did you celebrate?

Pizza. I knew that was probably the last time I’d be able to eat carbs for six months. I hit the gym the next day, thinking: I’m going to be topless, oh man!

Jason has some hair-raising action scenes. Is that you?

Yes, it’s me most of the time. I had to train for five weeks with a stunt co-ordinator before the job. We started with forward rolls and cartwheels and then he built me up to flips and parkour. He wants me to be able to walk on my hands and do a backflip off a platform by the end of the first series. There was only one jump off a 50-foot building that they wouldn’t let me do. I wanted to until I saw it happen and then I was like: “do you know what? I’m good.”

Were you sporty before this?

Nooooo. My brother is a gymnast in Cirque de Soleil and I mentioned that in the audition. I neglected to mention I’d done nothing!

What’s it been like acting opposite computer-generated mythical beasts?

The very first day of filming was in the caves with the Minotaur. Our director, who’s a big Scottish guy, said, “I know you can’t see it but imagine it looks like me. A bigger version of me.”

Any injuries?

I stabbed myself in week three. Doing a stunt sequence you’ll see in episode two, I somehow managed to pick up the wrong knife – a real one that we use for close-ups, not a rubber one – and managed to stab through my elbow and out the other side. We had to stop filming while I went to A&E.

Is that a natural tan?

Nope, I get spray-tanned once a week. I’ve three brothers who mock me about the tan and the hair; but they mock me most about the gym work. They were all born with six-packs – one is an actor, one is a professional gymnast and the youngest is a model – whereas I’ve had to go on the “insanity” exercise programme. For the last two months I’ve eaten chicken and broccoli for lunch, which is really boring.

How come you’ve all ended up with such glamorous careers?

Well, my mum was a dancer and choreographer and only stopped recently. My dad was an actor for years and then stopped after my second brother was born. So I guess it ran in the family. But saying that, I was never really aware that that’s what my parents did and they never pressured us.

Did you ever have a back-up plan?

About 18 months after I left drama school, I was with a really good agent and I got dropped. That was probably the lowest moment. I thought about starting again and then I thought: nothing else is going to make me happy – I’ve got to stick with this.

One final question: are you ready to be a heartthrob?

I don’t know about that! I just hope people watch it and like it. I can’t quite get my head around the whole thing, to be honest. The reality hasn’t sunk in.

Atlantis starts on Saturday 28 October at 8:25pm on BBC1