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Floodlights star reveals he initially refused to play Barry Bennell

Jonas Armstrong plays the convicted paedophile, who abused numerous boys during his time as a football coach.

Floodlights
BBC
Published: Tuesday, 17th May 2022 at 9:00 am

This article contains discussion of subjects including sexual abuse that some readers may find upsetting.

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BBC Two drama Floodlights tells the story of Andy Woodward, a former professional footballer who was sexually abused by his youth coach Barry Bennell from the age of 11.

The film explores Woodward's childhood trauma in the 1980s and the devastating long-term impact that Bennell's cruelty has had on him, forcing Woodward to retire early due to the mental health problems borne out of his ordeal.

Speaking to RadioTimes.com and other press about portraying Bennell, Jonas Armstrong (Hollington Drive, The Bay) said: "I'll be honest, I was really nervous about taking this part.

"Initially, I was asked to audition for Andy but then the night before I was due to have a Zoom meeting, my agent called and said they'd like you to have a discussion about potentially playing Barry. Immediately I was like, 'No. Not a chance. I'm not prepared to do that.'"

But after further discussion with his agent, Armstrong agreed to the challenge.

"It wasn't pleasant to play," he added. "It wasn't. And the process wasn't comfortable. Because Bennell was from Manchester, he's got a similar accent [to the one I have], but I really didn't want it to sound like me. I remember during a couple of takes stopping and saying, 'No, I sound too close to myself.'

"I just wanted to find a level where there's a switch in between when he's with Andy's family, for instance, and he's charming and disarming, and people gravitate towards him. This is why he was enabled to invite children around to his house, and for the parents not to ask any questions. It was almost like a little bit of an honour to be invited around to Barry's house because you were in the circle then, so it's finding that charisma.

"But then also to show that demon within him and the way he would push the children. So it's finding that balance because otherwise, if I played him as this outwardly grotesque guy, you'd be like, 'F**k, I wouldn't go near that fella.'"

Young Andy Woodward wearing football kit and standing in line with his teammates in Floodlights
Andy Woodward (GERARD KEARNS). TV/Matt Squire TV/Matt Squire

Speaking about what he hopes the drama will achieve, executive producer Colin Barr, who met with Woodward on a number of occasions, said: "I think Andy would say this, and I completely agree with him, it's really about getting people to talk about these things, above everything else.

"Being able to talk openly and honestly about the most difficult things is the only way of starting to heal or make the world a better place. It really does start with having an open and honest conversation, especially about the stuff that we don't want to look at. And this is one of those subjects.

"Part of the reason that [the abuse] was allowed to happen the way it happened was people didn't want to look at it, people didn't want to talk about it, people almost didn't have the language for it. Thankfully, I think we live in a different time now.

"These things still happen, we still struggle to look at it, we still struggle to talk about it, but hopefully, a film like this can at least start a conversation about these things and not allow them to be ignored."

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The SurvivorsUK National Online Helpline for Male Survivors can be reached from 12pm – 8pm every day via the website (http://survivorsuk.org), by text (020 3322 1860) and by email (help@survivorsuk.org).

Floodlights airs on Tuesday 17th May at 9pm on BBC Two. Visit our TV Guide to discover what else you can watch, or find all the latest news on our Drama hub.

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