Luther star Warren Brown on growing up in Warrington and working with Idris Elba

DS Justin Ripley (WARREN BROWN), DCI John Luther (IDRIS ELBA) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Robert Vigla

DS Justin Ripley (WARREN BROWN), DCI John Luther (IDRIS ELBA) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Robert Viglasky - Credit: BBC/Robert Viglasky

Despite an unconventional route, Warrington-born former professional Thai boxer Warren Brown is starring in some of television’s biggest dramas, writes Andy Greeves

By his own admission, Warren Brown’s acting career began somewhat ‘by accident’. From the age of 15, the Warrington-born star’s main ambition was to become a professional Thai boxer – a dream he realised a few years later.

Had it not been for a series of serendipity moments during his early twenties, his path may have been very different to the one that he followed.

‘I was part of a few productions when I was in school, but not for one minute was I doing those with a career in mind,’ he reflects. ‘A friend was doing some extra work when I was in my twenties and I went along with him to see how TV shows were put together, what filming was like etc. It sparked an interest and I started going to acting classes in Manchester when I was about 24. It was there that I was given the opportunity to audition for Shameless and after a few auditions I was cast in the first episode of that.’

Warren appeared in two episodes of the Channel 4 comedy-drama Shameless in 2004, before being cast as Andy Holt in teen soap opera Hollyoaks a year later. He was 27 at the time but the actor’s youthful looks helped him convincingly pull off the role of a college student.

‘After Shameless I did some work here and there before getting cast on Hollyoaks. I never went to acting school and I guess what Hollyoaks was for me was one big acting apprenticeship. I learnt so much and had so much fun in the process. It was my first, long term job and I still have very fond memories and have many friends associated with Hollyoaks.’

Warren’s first appearance on the soap came on August 8, 2005, remaining a constant fixture in Hollyoaks for some six months thereafter. Along the way, the irony of the Cheshire-born actor playing a character in the fictional Chester suburb of Hollyoaks was not lost on him.

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‘Having grown up in Cheshire, it was quite surreal to be working on Hollyoaks, obviously being set in the county I grew up,’ smiles Warren. ‘I can’t really say there are similarities between what happened in the story line and normal Cheshire life, as obviously Hollyoaks is a soap and something put together for people’s entertainment. It should also be pointed out that the set of Hollyoaks is in Liverpool not Chester too!

‘I have actually done some filming in Cheshire, indeed Warrington itself when I shot Home Front. We spent a few days at the Territorial Army base near to the Halliwell Jones Stadium. It was great to do some filming work in the place I’d grown up.’

Currently living in Mile End in East London, Warren is still back in Cheshire a fair bit with his parents, his godchildren a number of friends still living in the county.

‘Sometimes I’ll visit a lot in a short space of time, other times I’ll be back more sporadically, especially when I’m filming. I’ve been back for quite a few friends’ weddings recently. I often visit The Ferry Tavern as the owner and his wife are good friends from school. It’s in a lovely area, between the River Mersey and the Sankey to St Helens Canal. It’s become something of a tradition for me and some old school friends to meet there before Christmas each year.’

The former Bewsey School and Penketh High School pupil was born in Warrington on May 11, 1978, being brought up in the Great Sankey area of the town until his parents moved to nearby Westbrook when he was around the age of 15.

‘One of my earliest memories, and I don’t know why this has stuck with me so much, is seeing planes landing at and taking off from RAF Burtonwood in Warrington. When I was younger, the Red Arrows were quite frequent visitors to the airbase, which is obviously something that was going to interest me a child. The noise was quite terrifying, mind!’

Warren discovered one of his lifelong interests, Thai Boxing, visiting a gym in Warrington as a teenager. He started training in Manchester, competing as a professional in several high-profile undercard bouts. The acting world came calling though and after stints in Shameless, Hollyoaks, Casualty, Coming Up, Spooks and The Bill, he landed a career defining roll in Occupation in 2009.

‘Occupation was a massive break. I think this was the point where I realised acting had become my full time career,’ he says. “Everyone I’ve ever worked with has shaped my career in some way really, from my former and current agent, actors, directors etc. But I have to mention James Nesbitt and Stephen Graham who I worked with on Occupation and learnt so much from. Both them are good friends now and Stephen especially is like an older brother to me.

‘Nick Murphy the director of Occupation took a bit of a risk on casting me at the time as well I suppose. It was a huge, defining role for me, so I’ll always be grateful to him.’

Since Occupation, Warren has appeared, among other projects, in Criminal Justice, Single Father and Accused and is on our screens starring in the third series of crime drama Luther on BBC One. He has played DS Justin Ripley since the series began in 2009. His character Ripley is noted for his dogged loyalty to Luther and his admiration for him is not unlike Warren’s real life respect for Idris Elba, who plays the title character.

‘Idris Elba is someone I looked up to a lot when I was younger as I was an avid fan of The Wire. I was slightly in awe of Idris I have to say when I started working with him, which is funny as this mirrored a bit the way my character DS Justin Ripley looks up to his character John Luther. He’s (Elba) become a really good friend.’

Admitting to the old acting insecurity of sometimes worrying where his next job will come from, the talented 35-year-old need not concern himself.

He is filming a new series called By Any Means, which will be screened later this year also on BBC 1. So 2014 and beyond looks rosy for Warrington’s unlikely acting sensation.