Cult Faction’s Brett Summers got the chance to chat with the cast of one of the BBC’s greatest productions in recent memory, Emma Reeves‘ revival of The Demon Headmaster. As we await a Second Series, the first series is available once more on BBC iPlayer so you can either rewatch it or if you have no clue what I am going on about go and check it out ASAP!
Joining me in this interview from the show are Lizzie aka Ellie Botterill (EB), Tyler aka Jordan Cramond (JC), Blake aka Jordan Rankin (JR), and Angelika aka Lori Stott (LS)…
So, what was life like before The Demon Headmaster? How did you get into acting?
EB: To be fair Life was a lot more exciting after I got the Demon Headmaster! Prior to that I was at school studying for my GCSE’s!! I have always loved performing and joined the West End production of Matilda in 2013. My first experience of filming though was in 2015 when I went to Romania to film a Hallmark movie ‘Crown for Christmas’. I absolutely fell in love with screen acting.
JR: Life before the demon headmaster was pretty normal, I was just your average kid growing up in Glasgow, I loved playing football both watching and playing, although truthfully, I am no good at it, I also was and still am quite the movie/Tv show buff behind the scenes and methods of how actors performed in their roles really did just fascinate me. I suppose that’s how I came around acting, for so long I was aiming to work in the business sector, as maths and business were strong points for me in school but they just didn’t excite me, I found the only thing really keeping my interest was the making of tv shows and movies, so at 17, I crashed into Higher Drama and joined a theatre School right into the deep end and the rest as they say is history
JC: Well at that point I’d already spent almost 9 years at Theatre school in Glasgow and I’d gone on lots of auditions. I got into acting early on, probably around age 4 when I joined my first local drama group in Stewarton where I am from.
LS: I started attending drama classes from around the age of four and very quickly became passionate about performing. Acting, has always been one of my favourite ways to express myself and connect with people. Before The Demon Headmaster, I was just finishing my last year of high school, I was pretty focussed on my studies and was preparing to go to university, but also had a few creative projects on the go with friends at the time.
How did you get involved with the Demon Headmaster tv series?
EB: I was lucky enough to be called in by Rob Kelly the Casting Director to audition for the part of Lizzie. I then had several more auditions and meetings. I was super excited by the opportunity, and I could not believe it when I got offered the role.
JR: With my theatre school came my agency, and various opportunities to audition for adverts and Tv shows, one of which was the demon headmaster, at the time I was performing in my colleges production of ‘Babies’ by mike Bartlett, but I managed to get to the audition, the next day I had the recall, which I don’t think fazed me, I’d had many recalls already, so whilst it was positive news I tend to keep myself grounded through the entire process, that’s why I was so composed in front of the Director of the show John McKay, a few weeks later I got a phone call from my agent to tell me that I got the part, I was in costume the next week and two weeks later we were filming, it really was a dream come true.
JC: I got involved in TDH when my agent submitted me for the role. I then was invited to self-tape and meet the casting director Rob Kelly who I’d met before when he cast me in The Midnight Gang film a year before.
LS: I’m very fortunate to be signed with Infinity Artists Management, a wonderful acting agency based in Edinburgh. Susie Dumbreck took me on a few years ago and I was one of her youngest clients at the time, since then she’s been such a wonderful mentor as well as an agent in helping me mould my career path and providing constant support. She got me the audition – it was actually on my last day of sixth year. I remember rushing to the train station to get to Glasgow straight after school whilst all my friends were off to party. I can safely say now though that it was definitely worth missing out on the celebrations!
Had you heard of it before?
EB: I hadn’t heard of it before my audition invite to be honest but once I started speaking to older people about it I quickly realised that this had been a really popular TV series and terrified a lot of youngsters back in its day.
JR: My generation just missed the original demon headmaster, but when news got out friends and family alike were telling me how it terrified them as children, as soon as I was made aware I headed onto BBC iPlayer and binge watched the first season. I had a read at some of the books as well and it was a surreal experience seeing the character I was portraying in a book.
JC: I actually hadn’t heard of TDH before, but my parents had and my Dad used to watch it. I did watch some of the original series to get a flavour of what it was about and who these characters were before we started shooting.
LS: I remember mentioning to my mum that I was going to be auditioning for the show, and she works at a primary school, so she was really into it. She told me all the kids at school loved the books. I’d heard of it before, but I think my generation missed the original 90s hype, which is why it’s so good that it’s making a comeback!
Had you seen the original series/read the books?
EB: No, I had not but I did watch some old episodes as I was progressing through the auditions and meetings.
JR: When I read the script I was blown away with the adult themes and how mature the story was, as well as its humorous touches. At the start we only had the first 5 episodes to read but my instinct told me right away that my characters Arc was only halfway completed by the end of episode 5.
JC: I actually had heard of the books but had not read them, however some of my friends had so I asked them for some info.
LS: Since my generation just missed the cut for the original series, I didn’t know too much about it. However, as soon as I got the part, I ordered a couple of the books and sped through them – as well as watching a few episodes of the original series to get a feel for the story. I didn’t overload myself though, as I think the scripts very much speak for themselves.
What were your first impressions on the character you were presented with?
EB: I liked her, she resonated with me – I loved her loyalty and fierce opinions.
JR: One thing I was so thankful for was, as well as having the scripts as reference, I had a great director in John who really gave me a good idea of what he wanted from Blake, how Blake fit into the story and how he could possibly develop, he always gave me freedom as well to express my ideas for the character, which I felt made Blake a very genuine, authentic character.
JC: I thought Tyler sounded a smart, timid, slightly geeky but loveable type of character.
LS: I absolutely loved Angelika. She is such a force and is consistently fierce throughout the series, even as she switches between her authentic and hypnotised self. When I first read the script before my audition I was definitely drawn to Angelika and her journey, she’s a very empowering and kind-hearted individual – however cruel she initially seems! Though I must admit, I did equally love playing sassy Angelika.
How much of your character’s overall storyline was revealed to you at that point?
EB: It was only once I arrived in Scotland to start filming that we received the scripts!!! Emma Reeves’ writing is incredible- everyone was so excited about the storyline.
JC: Not much of the story line was revealed initially. Other than Tyler has an older sister Lizzie and lives with his parents. He also likes doing magic tricks. The fact Tyler was being bullied at school was revealed too. I knew the family had returned from living in the US to go back to school in the UK.
LS: I knew that Angelika would go on some kind of journey. When I found out that she would go from being the Headmaster’s pet to a rebellious, radical activist I was very intrigued. I remember thinking, “how on earth am I going to make that convincing?”, but to be honest, due to the fabulous writing it was made quite simple for me! It was like playing two different characters initially, and it was so exciting to see the two versions of Angelika merge throughout the filming process.
JR: I really sympathise with Blake, he’s your predictable bully, yet the show delves deeper to really explain his actions and flesh him out as a character, Blake will always hold a special place in my heart.
How much of you is in your character?
EB: I would say we definitely share similar morals and values.
JR: I think the biggest difference with Blake and myself is his obsessive cleaning, whilst I’m not a slob, a mess/untidiness really doesn’t bother me half as much as it does Blake!
JC: There’s quite a lot of similarities between me and Tyler actually. For example: he may seem quiet in nature and small in stature, but Tyler makes up for it. He has a big heart and a big personality. We definitely have a lot in common there. He’s got a funny humorous side, and I am a bit of a natural comedian off camera.
LS: There are definitely aspects of Angelika I can closely relate to. The relationship I have with my mum is very important to me, so working with Shonagh (Mrs Maron) to establish a similar dynamic was really amazing. I can identify with Angelika’s passion for activism and her determined nature too. I remember at one of my auditions I had a discussion with the panel about my involvement with Extinction Rebellion, I had just been to one of the protests that week. I really enjoyed the parallels drawn in the script to that. I am definitely not as organised as Angelika though – that’s one quality I wish I could steal!
As your character grew through the series how much was on the page and how much was your input?
EB: We were all encouraged to share our opinions and ideas on how the characters and scenes should be played and play out – I loved that.
JR: One of the really challenging aspects of playing Blake was deciding when his Rage was subtle and more contained, to when it was more explosive and volatile, but by the end I had it down to a fine art.
JC: Most of the character development is down to the terrific writing by both Gillian Cross and Emma Reeves and her team. I guess how that translates on screen is down to me and how I play it. (In other words how well, I do my job lol) It will certainly be interesting to see what happens next for Tyler!
LS: This is a very difficult question… I think it is hard to tell. There are certainly physical mannerisms which I tried to steal from people I knew in real life to give to Angelika. I wanted her to have good posture, which is something I struggle with, so I tried to copy my friend Rosie’s mannerisms and notice the way she holds herself – which sounds quite odd, but I always find it useful to pick up on friends’ and family members’ qualities in order to develop characters. The script was instrumental to the way I went about developing Angelika on screen, though.
What is the biggest difference between your character and yourself?
EB: At Lizzie’s age I would not have stood up to people in authority like she does – she is braver than me that way
JC: The biggest difference between me and Tyler is that I don’t have any siblings in real life. So having Lizzie as a big sister is certainly new to me. Hmmm? The most difficult part of playing Tyler is probably staying in Tyler’s accent on set. Especially when I’m surrounded by Scottish cast members and crew. I can go in and out of my English accent easily but sometimes it’s like having a split personality. Like when I make fun of Blake’s accent and mimicked him- that was fun! But I quickly have to go straight back into “Tyler” and that can be tricky. Some of the crew didn’t realise I was Scottish at first because they had only heard me speaking with my English accent. (A compliment indeed).
LS: Angelika’s intense level of organisation and leadership is something I probably lack, also I am terrible at making coffees. And baking. The biggest challenge for me was defining Angelika’s hypnotised self in a contrast to her true self. I felt like they needed to be very different in order to have more of an effect on the audience, so I found it tricky having to snap between the two versions within one shooting day.
When did you first meet the rest of the cast?
EB: That was in Glasgow when we all first arrived to start filming. What I enjoyed about the cast was that each had some kind of onscreen relationship with the other and these combinations were not always positive.
JR: The first cast member I met was Jordan or Tyler should I say, during costume fittings, which I think is quiet poetic, as Blake and Tyler have such a close complicated relationship, which for me was one of the most interesting plots in the story. After that I just met cast members as we began filming.
JC: I met with the rest of the cast a day or so before we started shooting. We met up in a hotel and had introductions and a rehearsal with our Director John Mc Kay.
LS: I think I met Shonagh (Mrs Maron) first, as we had our fittings on the same day. She was so lovely and made me feel so comfortable. The rest of the cast I didn’t meet until the first day of filming. However, I actually knew Lola (Becky) from years before as we were in a theatre group together! So, I was very excited to see a familiar face on set.
How hard was it to develop the onscreen chemistry between the varying combinations of you?
EB: I did not find it hard at all, we all had a great chemistry together and the cast were such great actors – switching was easy.
JR: it was tricky to figure out which Blake everyone was dealing with especially when it came to Tyler, Blakes hypnotised state was really cruel at times to Tyler whilst his normal self was more confused envious and just wanted to learn from Tyler, another tricky aspect was to balance how rebellious Blake would be naturally with how subservient he was around Ms. Maron and the demon headmaster.
JC: So, when I met Ellie who plays Lizzie and my on-screen parents Sally and Kevin we pretty much connected straight away. Kevin who plays my Dad and I are both quite alike – we have a natural comedic side. I think that shows on screen too! For example, in the scene where both of them are pretending to understand and know Shakespeare. They clearly do not have a clue! The exchange of knowing glances is funny and came quite natural to Kevin and me. We instinctively just did it. Lol. And laughed more afterwards because we both found it hilarious.
My relationship with Blake is a funny story. We actually knew each other from before as we attended the same theatre school and had met occasionally. I originally auditioned for the part of Blake. But I guess I was too small (or not intimidating enough shall we say lol). Jordan (Blake) and I get on well-off screen and keep in touch regularly. I think Tyler sees there is more to Blake than just a Bully. He sort of feels sorry for him and wants to become friends. I can see this friendship going further and developing more in season 2. It is not really hard to develop real friendships on screen, as we spend so much time together therefore it kind of happens organically. We all have lots of layers to us, and naturally we connect with easily with likeminded people.
LS: I think the chemistry came very naturally to us. I spent a lot of time with Ellie (Lizzie) over the course of filming, as we were in so many scenes together and were staying in the same accommodation. We definitely bonded over the course of the filming period. Overall, the cast got on amazingly. We had so much fun working together as well as mucking about off screen too.
Any fun stories from filming?
EB: We had lots of fun but the water scene with Lizzie and Ethan was really funny … we had to keep taking the scene because I kept laughing and spluttering under the water.
JR: it would be tricky to name one, I had so much fun filming, I got on great with all the crew and cast and loved every minute of every day, there’s a funny story and time connected to everyone that worked on the show! one of the funniest moments was when Dijarn, also known as Ethan, had to jump in the freezing Scottish water, he was very impressed!
LS: There were too many! I remember there was a piano in the school we were working in and one time Jordan (Tyler) and Ellie (Lizzie) did a beautiful duet. That was very sweet. A lot of the cast were staying in the same place and Love Island was on at the time, so I also have many memories of us gathering in one of our rooms (usually mine) to eat takeaway and chat over the TV after long days of filming. Lots of debates were had on set about who would end up with who on the Island.
JC: Here’s a couple anyway: Every day we had a tournament of table football in the Greenroom. I won! I rubbed it in to Jordan Rankin for ages! Also, the scene where Tyler has to stow away in the headmaster’s car, I actually kept falling into the boot so we had to do a few good takes as I’d burst out laughing as did the camera men! Lol.
How did you feel finding out that your show linked so deeply with the original tv show?
EB: It was exciting but seeing what Emma had done by bringing the elements together for a modern-day audience was phenomenal!
JR: when I found out there was a direct connection between this series and the original I felt instant excitement, I knew already what we were doing was authentic and stood on its own but the way in which we connected ourselves to the original would surely give new and old fans a huge thrill!
LS: I was so excited; I think it was such a great way to catch the viewers’ attention. I’ve met a few parents of fans of the show who said they actually really enjoyed the nostalgia of it as well, since they were fans of the original version. I think it is lovely that it became something that parents would enjoy watching with their kids too.
JC: I loved the fact that the reboot actually is more of a continuation of the original series. It’s very cool how we get to meet the characters who have now become grownups! That was cleverly done. I think it’s great when shows like this appeal to mums and dads who watched first time round and can now tune in with their own kids!
In an age where everything is getting remade, how important do you feel your reboot is?
LS: I think The Demon Headmaster is still such a relevant exploration of power structures and politics, as well as showing how much potential the younger generation have to create real systematic change. I love the way the writers drew parallels to the politics we see in our society through the series, and I think it would be such an inspirational thing to watch as a young person wanting to make a difference!
EB: I didn’t feel like it was a reboot or a remake but more a continuation of the show. What is great is that young people who haven’t even watched or heard of the original love the show, so I think it holds its own brilliantly – but for the people who loved the original mostly the feedback seems to be that they are excited it’s being revisited.
JR: The original still is a great watch and whilst our show can be seen as a remake, I see it more as a reboot if you will, the original covered storylines and arcs that you could relate to the timeframe it was based in, our series has took the original, added a few twists and new aspects and dropped it right in the 21st century with drones and robots, which in my opinion only fleshed out the story and character of the demon headmaster on screen, to a further degree.
LS: I think they’re both very different shows, and brilliant in their own right! I don’t think there is one that is necessarily better than the other, both shows were aimed at different generations and were trying to do different things. One thing that remained constant though is the spookiness of both Headmasters. Chills!
JC: Our series fits in really well in terms of how times have moved on and changed. We see modern technology being used frequently but sometimes not in a positive way. Again, very relatable to modern living of today. We notice how the Headmaster uses tech devices to “control “and influence. Again, very topical subject of how we live on a daily basis. I like how the young people see through this and figure out what’s going on before the adults do!
In an age where a lot of TV shows talk down to its audience, the Demon Headmaster in all its incarnations has always approached its intended young audience head-on. Do you feel this is important?
EB: Very important, that’s Emma and how she writes – she is genius!
JR: There’s so many messages that the first season sends, first off, I’d hope to send audiences away entertained, but apart from that the only other hope id have is that people be kind, there are so many moments in the show that portrays the feelings and themes of friendship, of working together and of being nice/unified towards the right thing.
JC: It’s massively important to show that the powers that can be wrong sometimes. Hopefully, our audience will take away a sense of justice and the realisation that our young people are seeing what the headmaster is doing is wrong. They stand up for themselves. No one deserves to be controlled or manipulated. It’s nice to see the love and support of the kids’ families in the end, even if they were fooled at first.
LS: I really do! Young people are incredibly smart and more engaged than most people give them credit for. I love the way the show incorporated the modern technology element which the younger generation are so familiar with. The characters are all very motivated and smart, which I think is a great representation of how young people are as well as who they aim to be. I hope people enjoyed it, I hope they learnt something from it and I hope in some ways they were inspired. I think the important thing to take away from it is that we all have the power within ourselves to create change and empower others.
Looking forward, what hopes do you have for the second season?
EB: I think because the first few episodes of the first season we’re getting to know the characters etc we don’t have to do that in season 2 so we can just crack on into the storylines and adventures – although they can’t share anything with me as yet I know it’s going to be exciting and clever – I hope it’s full of juicy storylines and drama I hope it’s as well received as the first series seemed to be.
JR: I hope Season 2 builds on the momentum of season 1, the ending really does set S2 up to be anything it wants, I feel like we only got a glimpse of the Demon Headmaster’s powers, and this time he might not be so arrogant.
JC: My hope for Season 2 is that Tyler finds a girlfriend. Just kidding, well maybe even a love interest. In all honesty I don’t have any insider info on what’s next for our gang! I’m sure it’ll be an exciting journey ahead though. I’d also like to see Blake and Tyler’s friendship develop further. We saw the start of this in season 1 and I think somewhere in the mix there could be a comedy double act in there!? I’m currently over in Prague till the middle of April filming an upcoming Feature Film. I can’t say any more at the moment I’m afraid as it’s still all very hush hush. However, I’ll let fans know as soon as I’m allowed. What I can tell you is I’m playing a very different character from Tyler Warren though!
LS: Ooooh, I hope it’s just as exciting and adventurous as the first! I’m so excited to see how the characters grow and develop, as well as their relationships to one another. I’ve just recently started a band called Liquorice, which you should check out on Instagram if you fancy! That’s been such a fun creative outlet to keep me going throughout lockdown!
How do you feel now the show has been picked up for global distribution?
EB: This is super exciting, and I am so pleased for the team!!!
How can fans stay in touch with what you are up to?
JR: I’m mainly active on my Instagram page, which is where ill post anything I’m up-to.