Interview: Emun Elliott, actor and star of The Paradise

Emun Elliott stars as John Moray in The Paradise
Emun Elliott stars as John Moray in The Paradise
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AFTER flying spaceships for Ridley Scott, fighting the undead with Sean 
 Bean and learning the value of holding your tongue – before someone else decides to do it for you – on medieval fantasy drama Game of Thrones, finding time to drop by Portobello sounds like mission impossible.

Not so, says Emun Elliott, 
Edinburgh-born star of new BBC drama The Paradise, set in the late 19th century and adapted in a new north-east of England setting from the classic French novel by Emile Zola.

Work commitments might have seen the 28-year-old drift south – he now lives in London – but he relies on regular visits to his family home to keep his spirits up.

“I love bringing people up to visit and showing them around. It’s so nice to be able to walk into the city. In London, that’s not really something you can do.

“My favourite pub is The Sheep Heid Inn in Duddingston Village. I can often be found having a pint in there when I’m in town.”

Former George Heriot’s pupil Emun – the son of a Heriot-Watt University lecturer dad and a social worker mum – is enjoying a growing reputation, and while that might mean his trips home may become less frequent, he will soon be seen pounding the city’s streets on the big screen. “I’m in Filth, a film based on the Irvine Welsh book. There’s a great cast including James McAvoy and Jamie Bell. It’s a much smaller part than in The Paradise but I would have done anything for that director and that script, it was one of the best things I’ve ever read. It’s very dark and close to the bone, so I hope it’s not censored too much.”

In The Paradise, Emun plays the “ambitious and damaged” John Moray, owner of an eponymous first-of-its kind department store, whose arrival on the high street signals the beginning of the end for many local traders.

“The store is a character in itself, with qualities very similar to Moray’s,” he says. “There’s charm, seduction, but also manipulation. In department stores things are set out in a certain way to lure you in, and he knows how to apply the same techniques in his personal and professional life.

“There’s a lot going on in the story, and it tackles some important issues like betrayal, dishonour and loyalty. It’s not just about how things appear on the surface, there’s a lot going on underneath.

“It’s a lot edgier than your average period drama, though I actually hate that term – it gets tacked on to so many vastly different things. But this style of piece is quite new to me, plus the scale of the role.

“The scripts are incredible, too. They’re so finely tuned and an immense amount of thought has gone into them. We’re nearing the end of the shoot now and it’s been lots of fun, but also a bit of a roller coaster.”

Emun got into acting after dropping out of an English literature and French degree at Aberdeen University.

“I just knew it wasn’t going to make me happy and I wanted to do something that filled me with joy, so I auditioned for the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, got an agent and it’s really just gone from there.”

Since then his credits have included Monarch of the Glen, Lip Service and Threesome, plus more high-profile parts such as pilot Chance in Prometheus and minstrel Marillion in Game of Thrones.

“Game of Thrones was pretty daunting at first,” he says. “I’d never been on a set of that scale. In the first series the cast list had 255 speaking parts. It was the second time I’d worked with Sean Bean – we did a film together called Black Death in 2010. He’s an amazing actor and so humble, definitely not your typical Hollywood superstar.”

But despite all this, Emun insists he’s not considering himself an A-lister just yet.

“I’m still fighting for parts – it’s not like I’m sitting with a big pile of scripts putting them in a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ pile. There was a couple of months a few years ago when I couldn’t get any work at all. It was totally soul-destroying. As an actor you have to get used to being told no, develop a thick skin, and just keep persevering.”

n The Paradise begins on Tuesday at 9pm on BBC One.