South Shields actor speaks of pride after making TV debut in 'incredible' Channel 4 hit series It’s a Sin
A South Shields actor who made his TV debut in the hit Channel 4 drama ‘It’s a Sin’ has spoken of his sense of pride at having been involved in the acclaimed series.
Michael Mather, 26, stars in two episodes of the much-lauded television drama set during the UK’s 1980s HIV/Aids epidemic.
Recording around 20 million views over the course of its five-episode run, the hit series became the broadcaster’s most-watched box set show ever shortly after its release at the beginning of the year.
For his small-screen debut, Michael featured alongside household names like Stephen Fry and Olly Alexander, lead singer of pop group Years & Years.
The actor and performer told The Gazette that, even though his appearance was a relatively minor one, he takes immense pride in having been part of a project that has helped combat prejudice and ‘sparked so many important conversations’ around the formerly-taboo subject of HIV/Aids.
Sexual health charity, the Terrence Higgins Trust, reports HIV test orders from its centre having tripled in the days and weeks following the first airing of the series, with its helpline also having experienced a 30% increase in calls during this time.
Speaking about the show’s runaway success, Michael said: "It’s now in America, Australia, France has got it– it’s just gone worldwide. I never expected that to happen.
"I’m just so proud to be a small part of such an incredible show, to say that in my life I was part of telling the story of all the men who lost their lives in the Aids pandemic, a story that so many people had no idea about – or thought they knew, but didn’t know the true devastation of it all.
"I feel very proud to tell that story, because we weren’t taught this in school. And it's time that people learn about LGBTQ+ history.
"I think one of the good things about it is that it connected a lot of LGBTQ+ people with their parents. Their parents were able to look back and think, ‘God, I can’t believe people used to be treated like that’.
"Because that’s their generation. I had a lovely conversation with my parents after it, and it felt amazing.”
Although he believes a generational shift in attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community has helped younger people navigate questions around sexuality, Michael said there was still a deficit in public education concerning the subject.
As a result of the HIV/Aids pandemic, he explains, there were few role models or reference points to look to when growing up in South Tyneside during the 1990s.
"Sadly, because we lost so many people of that generation, there weren’t many LGBTQ+ people immediately around me,” he said.
"My parents didn’t really have any gay friends. There weren’t many gay people in my school. So I struggled a lot internally with it, since I didn’t have anyone to turn or look up to in that way.
"I love South Shields and I love the North East – but growing up as a gay man there was sometimes very lonely. Luckily I have an amazing support system from my family to my friends. And now I am so proud of who I am.”
Michael’s background is in musical theatre, having been a regular fixture at the Customs House stage productions in his teenage years before moving to London to study drama in 2014.
His passion for the stage and performing arts has not left him, he said, revealing a desire to one day return to star in the borough’s pantomime programme.
"We've got so many amazing performers who have come out of South Shields,” he added.
"I always say this, the North as a whole has this real talent bubble, and I am so proud to be a part of it.
"I'm dying to do a musical film next. Fingers crossed!"
The executive director at the Customs House, Ray Spencer, has followed Michael’s acting development since he first auditioned at the venue as a youngster.
He said of the promising homegrown performer: “We’re absolutely delighted to see the progression that Michael is making in his career, and it comes as no surprise to those in South Tyneside who saw his brilliant performances on the stage at the Customs House.
"He continues a deep vein of talent which is embedded in the borough.”
Michael’s next project, feature-length comedy film ‘The Duke’, in which he stars alongside Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren, is set for UK release later this year.
About It’s a Sin
It’s A Sin is multi-BAFTA Award-winning writer Russell T Davies’ (Queer As Folk, A Very English Scandal, Years and Years, Doctor Who) brand new 5-part drama which follows the story of the 1980s, the story of AIDS, and charts the joy and heartbreak of a group of friends across a decade in which everything changed.
Olly Alexander leads a cast which also features Keeley Hawes, Stephen Fry, Neil Patrick Harris, Tracy Ann Oberman, Shaun Dooley, Omari Douglas, Callum Scott Howells, Nathaniel Curtis and Lydia West.
It’s 1981, the start of a new decade and Ritchie, Roscoe and Colin begin a new life in London.
Strangers at first, these young lads, and their best friends Jill and Ash, find themselves thrown together, and soon share each other’s adventures. But a new virus is on the rise, and soon their lives will be tested in ways they never imagined.
As the decade passes, and they grow up in the shadow of AIDS, they’re determined to live and love more fiercely than ever.