The star of the West End, Strictly Come Dancing and Hollyoaks, Sussex’s very own Danny Mac is now in a killer role, playing John Wilkes Booth in Assassins at Chichester Festival Theatre

Google Pagham-based actor Danny Mac and you’ll see he played the role of Dodger Savage in Channel 4’s soap Hollyoaks for four years from 2011 to 2015 – and won many awards for doing so – as well as reached the final of Strictly Come Dancing and has had a stellar career on the West End stage.

You’ll also see squillions of photographs of him without his top on, bronzed torso out, biceps bulging, with the tag line ‘hunk’ invariably attached. You might even see a racy picture of the star almost baring all while talking about his ‘dad bod’ on Instagram – his blushes only spared by his quick-thinking wife actress Carley Stenson’s strategically placed hand.

But Danny, 35, is far more than just a very handsome face and buff body. Intelligent, well-spoken, and talented, the musical theatre star wants to be known for more than taking his top off and making headlines for his looks.

Now set to star in Sweeney Todd composer Stephen Sondheim’s musical Assassins at the Chichester Festival Theatre from 3 – 24 June he sat down to answer a quick-fire round of questions with Sussex Life’s editor Karen Pasquali Jones.

Great British Life: The star likes serious roles of complex charactersThe star likes serious roles of complex characters

You’re back in Sussex where you grew up – how is that compared to the bright lights of London?

I love it. We’re in Pagham, which is between Bognor and Chichester, as I bought the family house that I grew up in. My mum wanted to downsize after my parents separated and the only way to do that was for us to move her into a property in the garden and we had the house. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been nice to finally have a family home again after living away for so long.

Your wife and mum must get on well to live that close!

(laughs) Yes, they get on brilliantly otherwise it wouldn’t work. My mum is a nurse at a hospice and Carley’s family live up north. They come down as often as they can to see us and help out but it’s wonderful having my mum just down the garden. She helps us with everything. Our daughter Skye is almost two and it’s lovely having us all so close. Sussex is a beautiful place to raise our child.

Are you missing London?

I’m not missing the five-hour plus round trip to work. I’ve just finished doing Pretty Woman in the West End, which was fun but I’m excited to be appearing in Assassins. I trained at Chichester college and for as long as I can remember I’ve dreamt of playing at Chichester Festival Theatre and now finally it’s coming true.

Did you always want to act?

Yes. Always. I love the freedom of being able to get into a character and explore the world through a different perspective. It’s funny as I would never stand up and do a karaoke as that’s me performing as myself, but I’ve been in lots of musicals as that’s part of the character.

What’s been your favourite role so far?

Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard. It’s a grand Andrew Lloyd Webber show with an orchestra. It’s a big part [Gillis is a screen writer for the Hollywood film industry taken on by a silent movie star trying to make her comeback] but it is easy to feel his frustration with the industry. I had just been out in LA before doing that which gave me an insight into the place, character, and the industry. I would love to do that role again.

It sounds very serious – and very different to all the sequins at Strictly. You made it all the way to the final in 2016 eventually losing to sports presenter Ore Oduba. How was that?

I’m very competitive and thought that learning to dance could only be good for my career. I was partnered with Oti Mabuse who was amazing, but it was a lot of hard work. It took me a few weeks to get into it and then I did a quick step and I remember discovering the joy of dancing. [Danny made history in the series when he danced the Charleston becoming the first contestant to both receive a score of ten from Craig Revel Horwood and a perfect 40 for the series. The next week he became the first to ever score 40 for a Samba and it was also the earliest double 40 in the show's history.] The judges for my series were [the late] Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli, Darcey Bussell and Craig Revel Horwood, who were all very supportive and encouraging. Len really cared about the show and everyone taking part. He wanted to know about how training was going. He and Craig were amazing behind the scenes.

What made you choose Assassins as your next project?

Theatre is close to my heart and this role is close to my home, too. (laughs). I went to Chichester Festival Theatre to see Fame when I was seven or eight and was blown away. I’ve always wanted to perform there. Assassins is a great challenge. I play John Wilkes Booth, a stage actor and Confederate sympathiser who shot dead US president Abraham Lincoln in 1865 – the first president to be assassinated. It’s been hard to get my head around Booth as a character as he wasn’t a psychopath – he was making a stand for what he believed in and lost his life because of it. So, I didn’t want to play him as a villain. My character sets the tone because he’s the first assassin. It’s a musical, a dark comedy and a beast of a piece. It’s exciting.

What’s the appeal of theatre?

At the end of a take on TV or a long day of filming, no matter how emotional or how well you played your part, there are no claps. In theatre it’s all about being close to the audience and seeing their reaction to the story. Assassins is going to be a special production. The director Polly Findlay usually does Shakespeare – this is her first musical, and the entire cast are at the top of their game.

If you could play any part what would it be?

It would have to be a Shakespeare character. I used to think Hamlet but now I think Iago in Othello. I like playing darker characters and seeing them as normal people to make them empathetic. That’s our job as an actor. Bad characters don’t walk around wearing capes or masks and think of themselves as villains – they see themselves as good people so it’s a great challenge to show that. I’d like to be known for more than taking my top off.

Great British Life: He wants to be known for more than his looksHe wants to be known for more than his looks

Why’s that?

Danny: I took my top off in Hollyoaks. I was young when I did that. There’s always a hangover from doing that and you can get known for playing certain kind of characters. It’s OK if you’re doing a romantic scene and taking off your top helps the plot or character development, that’s fine. When it’s just for the sake of it then it gets a bit tedious. It’s not who I am or how I’m perceived. I want people to be talking about my work and not just my looks. No one wants to be labelled a hunk. Now it seems to be a big part of reality TV and that’s toxic.

What do you get up to in Pagham when you're not working?

I have three pubs near me - The Lion, The Lamb and The Bear – they’re all within 500 yards. We take our cockapoo Barney for walks around the harbour and down Bognor promenade, and we go to the park for Skye. We love The Lobster Pot restaurant on the beach and – I don’t even want to say it because I’ll never be able to get a table – but The Fox Goes Free is incredible. We go walking on the Downs, and just do ordinary things like everyone else.

Fame is a funny thing as people think you don’t go shopping. The first time I was recognised was when I was in Hollyoaks but it got crazy after I was in Strictly. People were blown away if they saw me in the local Tesco. They just couldn’t believe I was there. I’m lucky that if people do recognise me, they are always so polite and in Pagham they’re used to seeing us, even in the supermarket.

Assassins, the late Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning musical collaboration with John Weidman explores the history of would-be and actual US presidential assassins, ranging from John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald to Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme and John Hinckley.

Chichester Festival Theatre, June 3-24, 7.30pm, 2.30pm matinees, from £10.