Milo Parker: my life with animals and film crews
- Credit: Archant
East Anglian actor Milo Parker has made a big impression in a few short years. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to him as he returns to our TV screens in The Durrells
Young Suffolk actor Milo Parker has shared the screen with some big names in his 15 years: Sir Ian McKellen in Mr Holmes, Eva Green and Judi Dench in Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children and Ben Kingsley and Gillian Anderson in Robot Overlords; but, none of these great acting luminaries have threatened to steal his limelight in the way that the menagerie of animals have done in the Sunday night TV series The Durrells which returns to our screens this weekend.
Not that Milo minds, he enjoys working with the animals on the sun-kissed island of Corfu where he plays the iconic conservationist Gerald Durrell as a young teenager. Although Milo says he has always enjoyed being around animals, he didn’t feel especially close to them before he started work on the series which stars Keeley Hawes as Gerald’s single-mother who brings her eccentric and headstrong young family to the Greek island to start a new life following the death of her husband.
Milo says that he has discovered a natural affinity to the wildlife on the show and has recently become an ambassador for the Jersey-based Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, helping to raise awareness of endangered species.
Filming and conservation work is a long way from his life in Suffolk which he says he and his parents work hard at keeping as normal as possible. He still attends a state school, still hangs out with friends he grew up with and they are quite accepting of the fact that he will disappear for weeks, sometimes months at a time, for filming.
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But, he points out that although he is not physically in the classroom, an on-set tutor makes sure that he doesn’t slip behind his contemporaries. “Now that exams are looming, it’s all getting a bit more intense,” he observes. Still, writing English essays and solving maths equations must be easier in the sunny climes of the Mediterranean?
“My school are very supportive when I go away and they liaise with my tutor Katherine, who stays with me on all my jobs, so they make sure I don’t fall behind. The intensity of the school work has ramped up as I start my GCSE work.”
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This new series of The Durrells has been extended to eight episodes, so it has meant that he was away from home for a longer period. “We did 11 weeks filming in Corfu followed by seven weeks shooting interiors at Ealing. It can seem quite a long while to be away from home. My Dad comes out to Corfu and he’s great at keeping me entertained but my Mum and sister only managed to get out there once but they did come to Ealing. It’s hard being away from home and it’s hard not being with my friends.”
But, any feelings of homesickness are dulled by the fact that the fictional Durrell family – Keeley Hawes, Callum Woodhouse, Josh O’Connor and Daisy Waterstone – do get on very well.
“There is a real sense of community on set. We are all really close. Being out there together we got to know each other very quickly and that relationship has continued into series three. We really enjoy each others company and that comes across on screen.”
So, how easy was it to work with the animals? “I have to admit I was a little nervous about handling some of the bigger animals and birds because I hadn’t done anything like that before. We have some amazing animal trainers who work really hard to make sure both me and the animals are comfortable with one another before we start shooting a scene.
“The real secret is something they told me on the first series three years ago, it’s really important to spend time with the animals away from the set as well as during shooting. It helps you get to know one another and it really boosted my confidence when it came to working with animals and now I really love it.
“I think one of the great things about the series is the fact you can get top see me/Gerald getting introduced to so many amazing animals which live on the island.”
Milo says that while he identifies with Gerald Durrell as an actor, he fights shy of saying that he is following in his footsteps. “I don’t think I can compare myself to Gerald Durrell in any way because he had such a unique take on the world. I am just inspired by him.”
He says that all the animals featured in the series were largely hand-reared and were used to human company so they wouldn’t be stressed by working on a film set or in close contact with people.” So were there some animals that were challenging than others? “The pelicans,” he laughs,”They were just so big and if they don’t want to do something they don’t do it.”
He says that he has achieved so much in such a short period of time that he still pinches himself, convinced that it is all going to turn out a dream. Like many other hopefuls, his first acting steps came in a school play.
“I only found out how much I loved acting when I appeared in my year four school production and I just loved it, I loved being in control of my character. Then I started going to a Saturday morning drama club run by Beth Tuckey and Andrew Braidford and after a while Andrew became my agent. I was really lucky because Andrew put me up for auditions and I landed a part in the film Robot Overlords. That was my first proper job and it made me fall in love with acting even more.”
The Durrells returns for a third series on ITV on Sunday March 18 at 8pm.