It's second year at uni for Jack, Danny and the gang in the latest instalment of the Channel 4 hit.
Dylan Llewellyn was a student at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 2014. “I was doing the foundation course,” he explains. “Making friends, doing lots of Shakespeare and pretending to be animals in movement class.” It's student days from the same year documented now in Season 2 of Big Boys, out now on Channel 4. Jack Rooke’s autobiographical sitcom charts the rollercoasters of coming-of-age, sexuality, grief, friendship and mental health via an impossible cocktail of sensitivity, charm and comedy. At the heart is Llewellyn who plays Jack himself, a student at the fictional Brent University, coming to terms with both the untimely passing of his dad a couple of years prior and his sexuality – he comes out as gay to family and friends in Season 1.
Life at RADA was similar to the student days of Jack and friends Danny (Jon Pointing), Connie (Izuka Hoyle) and Yemi (Olisa Odele) in that there were plenty of hookups and friend-making, Llewellyn says. “But I don’t think anyone drank poppers,” he confirms. The same unfortunately can’t be said for an experimental Jack in Season 1 who disastrously takes a sip of the inhalant after being introduced to it in a club.
But such missteps, successes and crises of the more life-altering kind all form part of the messy tapestry of uni days celebrated in unvarnished form on Big Boys. In Season 2, before academic pressures take full flight – second year now counts towards their final degree mark! – the group have a bruising encounter with the local student housing shortage. Once settled into a home of sorts, Jack makes a bid to lose his virginity, contends with the mystical allure of a sexy lecturer, a tumultuous week of work experience and his aunt Shannon’s unexpected pregnancy and subsequent labour. The latter prompts upending reflections on the cycle of life and the loss of his father in a heartwrenching but hilarious final episode. As if to add any more to Jack's plate, he has to keep up with the weekly participation in Strictly Come Dancingof his hero and the eponym to his pet goldfish, British daytime TV queen Alison Hammond – one of a catalogue of pop cultural references from the 2010s expertly incorporated by Rooke.
For Llewellyn himself, the show follows his star-making turn as “the wee English fella” in Lisa McGee’s Derry Girls, the juggernaut period sitcom set in Northern Ireland during The Troubles that brought international success for him and his four fellow leads. With a second season of Big Boys now under his belt, affections for Llewellyn’s endearing but razor-sharp portrayals are cemented even further and it’s anyone’s guess what he’ll do next. Hopefully another season of the show, but maybe something darker too, he says.
Head below to read our chat with Llewellyn on returning to Brent Uni for Season 2, balancing sensitive themes with comedy, keeping up with his Derry Girls castmates, his next acting move and the perks of being a Cineworld Unlimited cardholder…
Congratulations on another huge season of Big Boys! How did it feel to step back onto set this time following all of the success of last season?
It was just like stepping back into a comfy pair of shoes. It's just the familiarity of it and the good vibes of everyone on set. The cast and crew are just so lovely and I personally think Jack has matched what he wrote last season. It's just such a joy to work on.
The show very deftly handles several sensitive subjects – e.g. grief, sexuality and mental health, as well as championing the power of male friendship. Can you talk us through some of the reactions you’ve heard from audiences?
It's just been so beautifully received by the general public and it's so lovely to hear people's reactions to it and even their personal experiences relating to Jack's story, especially with mental health and dealing with grief and sexuality. It was quite special. Especially seeing the Pride special on GoggleBox [in which they featured] Jack's Coming-Out scene [from Season 1]. Just seeing celebs like Rylan react to it and seeing how much it meant to them to have that kind of Coming-Out [representation] on today’s television is really good and really important to see.
One of the best things about the show is how quickly it skips from humour to really sensitively exploring a challenging topic and then straight back to humour again. How did you find those tonal shifts when it came to filming?
Yeah I mean, like I said, I think it's a credit to Jack's writing. I think Jack writes beautifully, sensitively treading on humour but also with tough subjects. He gets that perfect balance and makes our job so much easier because when you do important, sensitive scenes, like those, and almost dangerously mix in comedy, it's very tough and very difficult to do especially if it's not well-written. But because Jack writes it so well, it made our job so much easier and we were able to get the perfect balance. So I think me and the other actors really appreciate that. And credit to Jack and credit to Jim Archer the director as well for getting the best performances out.
Are there a lot of laughs on set? I don’t know how you manage to keep a straight face!
Yeah a lot of laughs and I corpse probably the most, I feel like. Just so much funny stuff comes out of the others. Jon makes me laugh a lot and also Katie Wicks who plays Jules the uni rep. She's so funny and she delivers the lines perfectly. She's really good at it. She really means those lines and I love it. I’m always laughing.
And now Season 2 is ticked off, we can only hope for a Season 3, but regardless… what would be your hopes in a hypothetical world for Jack and Danny as they progress onto the big bad world?
Jack’s the big brain so I think whatever he writes will be amazing if the story continues. I think whatever it'll be it'll be really exciting and funny and fun. And yeah, I guess I just hope they just continue all of their friendships, which I'm sure they will and keep looking out for each other, with Danny supporting Jack on his gay journey and Jack supporting Danny with his mental health. Whatever they do, [I hope] they've got each other's backs.
And for you as well, post-Derry Girls, this has been another amazing role to land! What has doing the show meant to you?
I think it’s quite interesting really because Big Boyswas a pilot at first for the BBC and we shot the pilot just before we shot Season 2 of Derry Girls and then lockdown happened after Season 2. So it took a while until we shot Season 3 and then we shot Season 1 of Big Boys just before Season 3 of Derry Girls, so that was the journey with both projects. And yeah those two have just been absolute highlights of my career. Derry Girls and Big Boys – they've meant a lot to me. They're really special. And they've really helped with other projects because they've just been so well received. And the girls [from Derry Girls] are absolutely smashing it, they're doing brilliantly.
What would you like to do next? Maybe something a bit darker?
Yeah definitely. I think maybe something sinister, like I want people to be like, ‘Whoa that's the wee English fella, what's he doing?’ Like, yeah, ‘he's a bad guy!’
Amidst all the excitement of starring in one of British TV’s most beautifully received shows, what’s something boring in your life lately that’s brought you pleasure?
I like gaming! Playing Call of Duty, although it's not in the best spot at the moment. They've changed the developers and the game's not amazing nowadays, but it's still good. I mainly do it just to play with my friends, you know like team up, squad up and be the last man standing.
And I guess going to the cinema too. I’ve got a Cineworld Unlimited card. It gives me 20% discount on food and drinks –just saying, it's no big deal! I watched Godzilla recently which was class. So yeah, just making the most of my cinema card and just doing all that fun, wholesome stuff!
Big Boys is available to stream now on Channel 4