When you ask a soap star how their life has changed since the days when they were a jobbing actor, you expect to hear tales of being mobbed in nightclubs and the buying of flash cars. But it seems that Michael Parr has made more subtle changes to his day-to-day living.
“I can’t walk to the shops in my PJs anymore,” he says with a laugh. “But, to be honest, I try to keep under the radar as much as possible. I’ve not got a problem with anyone who does personal appearances in a club, but I can’t imagine walking in and saying, ‘look everyone, I’m here!’. I’d be dying in my boots.”
Keeping a low profile isn’t easy though. After 18 months playing Ross Barton, 28-year-old Parr finds that there are now Twitter accounts set up by his fans, while devotees of Emmerdale he meets out on the streets are always quick to offer comments:
“Someone did say to me the other day that I was better looking in real life. And I didn’t know whether that was a compliment or an insult. Were they saying that I looked ugly on screen?
“But, weirdly enough, I do enjoy the negative comments. I get people mocking me on Twitter by saying, for instance, ‘how much gel do you use in your hair?’. And I always like to reply and try to get them on board. The one thing I could never do is retweet the compliments. I hate it when people do that.”
And is he critical about his own performance? “I’ve just about become able to look at the screen and not cringe and die. But I still watch Ross and think, ‘is my forehead really that big? Why is my nose so huge? Why am I delivering the line like that?’ I really am my own worst critic.”
Parr has made a big impression on viewers of the ITV soap, with Ross’s less-than-legal dealings seeing him taking over the bad boy mantle from Cain Dingle. Behind-the-scenes, though, Parr appears to be far more sensible, his pre-Emmerdale experience as a teaching assistant for teenagers with learning difficulties having grounded him.
“Playing Ross is walk in the park compared to that job,” he admits. “Work as a teaching assistant for kids with special needs requires a lot of patience. Every day is new to those guys because yesterday can be so easily forgotten. But I learned a lot from them – I’d have much rather done that than work in bars.”
Born and raised in St Helens, Lancashire, Parr’s first taste of drama was when a teacher made him sell tickets to a show in which he wasn’t appearing: “I said to myself, ‘right, I will BE in this show. And I will STEAL this show. It didn’t quite turn out like that but that was my first taste of acting.”
He ended up at the Elizabeth Hill School of Dance and Drama in his hometown (where he studied alongside fellow actor Daniel Rigby) before training further at the East 15 acting school in Essex. After graduating, he embarked on the aforementioned work in schools, alongside appearances in such shows as Good Cop, Inside Men and Hollyoaks. But it was getting the role of Ross in Emmerdale that gave him his big break.
“It’s a lot of fun playing this character,” he says. “When they tell me that I’m going to be, say, nicking a Porsche and driving it around, I’m thinking, ‘perfect!’. And I love getting those lines where Ross is really rude or cheeky.”
And is there anyone on the cast with whom he’d like to work with more but has never had the chance? “Roxy Shahidi,” he says without hesitation. “She makes me howl with laughter when I watch her on screen. And – like Ross – Leyla’s a character who is always out for the cash. So I could see it working.”
This January will see Parr competing for the Newcomer prize at the National Television Awards just as his character Ross is facing fresh drama in the Dales. The arrival of the Barton boys’ long-lost mum Emma is sure to stir up long-buried emotions, so what can we expect to see?
“Emma is going to soften him up a little bit, but there’s a history there. For all the boys, but Ross maybe more than the others.” So we shouldn’t be bidding goodbye to those bad boy antics just yet? “Well, this could either send him over the edge or pull him back and help him realise why he’s turned out the way he has. The background to all this is quite dark…”
You can vote for Michael Parr in the Newcomer category at the National Television Awards here
And you can watch a 60-second rundown of next week’s drama in Emmerdale below: