Interview: Nicholas Ralph & Callum Woodhouse
With three seasons’ worth of hijinks, healing, and pints at the pub, All Creatures Great and Small characters James Herriot and Tristan Farnon have practically become brothers. In an interview with MASTERPIECE, Nicholas Ralph and Callum Woodhouse discuss the brotherly love both on screen and off, the highs and lows of working with the animals, the co-stars who crack everyone up, and more. These two leading men will have you laughing as hard as they do during the show!
Do you have a favorite moment in James and Tristan’s friendship over the years?
Nicholas Ralph: That’s a tricky one. One of the things I remember, just because we had so much fun doing it, was at the end of Season 1, where we’re doing the operation on the cow’s neck, the abscess. Because we go against Siegfried, and we take it upon ourselves to do something that’s quite radical, as well, in regards to veterinary science at the time. That whole thing was a lot of fun to do, running away from the Christmas party and then…
Callum Woodhouse: …performing an operation in the dark—yeah, that was a really fun day. And I think the whole wedding is a really good showcase of James’s and Tristan’s friendship, as well. They obviously get way too drunk—probably Tristan’s fault, although Siegfried was the one who bought the yard of ale—and then James ends up in the middle of nowhere. Tristan is tasked with getting him back, and then screws up a bunch of other things, but James has prepared for all of them. I think that really showcases how well they know each other and how much they’ve got each other’s backs.
Nicholas Ralph: Yeah, how well they balance each other out. And then another scene, at the end of Season 3, Episode 6, they have a conversation at Skeldale about what’s going on in the world, signing up for the war, things like that. That was a really fun scene to do as well. It showed another side to the pair—it’s not all just laughing, joking, going for a beer at the Drovers; it’s also that they really care about one another as well, and I think you see that in that moment.
As they continue to balance each other out, are we seeing their friendship growing and maturing?
Callum Woodhouse: Yeah, it’s absolutely growing, and balancing each other out—I think it’s so true. It’s something I’ve said before, that James is this really studious, hardworking guy, and Tristan’s this guy who just wants to slack off and have fun all the time. And James has taught Tristan how to stick at it a bit more and be more hard-working, and that’s rubbed off on him. In turn, I think James has allowed Tristan to corrupt him a little bit with going to the Drovers and stuff like that. So I do think they balance each other out great. Over the course of the three series, the relationship that these two guys have now has, I think, also turned into quite a brotherly one. They’re all sort of family in Skeldale.
Nicholas Ralph: Yeah, absolutely, I could only agree. I think also what’s lovely about the way their relationship has developed is that sometimes now, James will advise or help out Tristan on something that before, Tristan would help James out on—relationships, or something along those lines. And at the exact same time, Tristan will help out James sometimes with a diagnosis or a procedure, or something he’s studied up on. So they balance each other out in those opposite ways as well, which is quite a nice development in the relationship. But as Cal says, they’re pretty much brothers, and in our adaption as well, Tristan is his best man, and rightly so. Yeah, it’s really a sweet relationship. [Laughs] I’ve got your back, man.
Callum Woodhouse: I’ve always got you, Muchacho.
Was it fun to have Rachel Shenton [Helen Herriot] in more scenes in Skeldale House, and did the dynamic change at all with her arrival?
Nicholas Ralph: Yeah, absolutely. It was so much fun, because when we sat at the table, doing a kitchen scene, for example, and we’re all eating the food and having a laugh, Rach was like, “I haven’t done these scenes before. This is really fun, sitting around the table with you guys, and at the same time, I’m a bit off, because I don’t really know how it all goes.” So she thought it was quite good, that it was so true to what was happening to Helen within the show, that she’s new and out of her depth a little bit.
Callum Woodhouse: We’ve had our players for two seasons around the table.
Nicholas Ralph: Yeah, then she comes in, and everyone’s moved around a little bit and things like that. We had a fry-up [a full English breakfast] one day—I think it was either just before lunch, or maybe at four o’clock—it was a time when we were all hungry, and when we finished filming, there was a little break afterwards. So we just sat down and had a fry-up, us three and Sam. And Rach was like, “Oh, is this what you guys get up to?” Like, “Yup, this is it.”
Callum Woodhouse: As for Helen moving in, Tristan absolutely loves Helen. They’ve got a relationship, a friendship, that goes years back. Obviously, Tristan’s been helping out on Heston Grange for years, and then when she moves in, I think Tristan’s really excited to have her there for more fun and conversations. And then, as the series goes along, there are times when Tristan wants to go up the pub with James, but he’s off with Helen, and I think it puts Tristan’s nose out of joint a little bit. He wants his drinking buddy, but he’s off and away.
Callum, what is one animal scene that Nick had to shoot that you were glad you didn’t have to do?
Callum Woodhouse: Actually, I know exactly what it was—it was in Series 2, Episode 2, with the cow’s stomach explosion. We basically got James Fleet, a lovely, lovely man and an amazing British actor, very well respected, playing Colonel Merrick. We got him in for three days and then blew up a cow’s stomach in his face at the end of it. It was inside his eyelids, this green liquid. Honestly, I don’t know how it got to the places that it got. And it got all over Nick, and it got all over Sam, right in their faces…and I think I got away with maybe two or three drops on my jacket.
Nicholas Ralph: You got off so lightly on that one.
Callum Woodhouse: I got off so lightly on that one. You guys were covered.
Nicholas Ralph: Also the setup of it! There’s a show in the UK called Scrap Heap Races where people make things out from scrap, and honestly, bless them, but it’s how SFX make things—they bosh them together. So they made this cannon, which was the end of a fire extinguisher chopped off, then filled with the contents of the cow’s exploding stomach, the goo, with a bit of hose pipe, which led to a car battery, which then fired it into our faces. The first two times, it never went off, so that just ranked up the anticipation and nervousness. Then I think they dialed the battery up a little bit higher. Almost too high…
Callum Woodhouse: Yeah, they did, because they said, “We’re going to give it double power,” and you were like, “Well, I don’t know…”
Nicholas Ralph: Yeah! Almost took my hair with it—my hairdo was almost gone as well.
Callum Woodhouse: Oh, God, that was really funny. That was a funny day.
How about you, Nicholas, is there any animal experience Callum had you’re grateful you didn’t have? I sense it might have to do with a certain cow…
Nicholas Ralph: Oh, yeah. I spent my first year at the back end of those bigger animals, and—touch wood—so far I’ve been fine. Then Cal gets his first taste of it, and gets a double hit straight away!
Callum Woodhouse: It was absolutely crazy. The whole thing with the cows is that when you lie them down, they’re only allowed to be laid down on the ground for five minutes at a time, because their organs are so heavy that if they’re down longer than five minutes, they start to be really uncomfortable and could squish. So once they get the cow down, one of the animal handlers sets a timer on their phone for five minutes, and during that five minutes, you just get as many takes as you can from that camera setup. At the very beginning of the one five minute period, I got weed on—basically all the way from my Adam’s apple down, it hit me, a really powerful, warm stream. So for the rest of the five minutes, I had that, and then, just as the five minutes was up and I was standing up, I got the other one, poo, all over my hand. Literally in one five-minute period, it just all happened!
What was your favorite offscreen moment in making this season?
Callum Woodhouse: There’s an actor who came in, Jim Moir. His stage name is Vic Reeves, he’s a very famous English comedian. And he came in and did a couple of days as Mallock, the knacker’s yard owner, and was very, very funny to work with. He was cracking us all up on set. That was a good day.
Nicholas Ralph: Similar to what Cal says, some of the best experiences are with the wonderful guest actors that we have on. If we can, we’ll go out for a dinner or a beer with whoever’s in, and it’s always just a lot of fun hearing stories from the industry and things like that. We had another great guy, another fantastic English actor, Adrian Rawlins, who played Charles Harcourt. It was great hearing these people’s stories and having a laugh over a beer. That was a lot of fun.
Who among the regular cast cracks people up the most?
Nicholas Ralph: Intentionally or unintentionally?
Callum Woodhouse: I think the answer to both is the same person…
Nicholas Ralph: So do I.
Callum Woodhouse: And I know for a fact Nicholas is going to agree with me.
Nicholas Ralph: So do I.
Callum Woodhouse: Okay, three, two, one, say it. Okay?
Nicholas Ralph: Right.
Callum Woodhouse: Three, two, one. Anna!
Nicholas Ralph: Sam!
Callum Woodhouse: No, it’s Anna.
Nicholas Ralph: I think it’s Sam.
Callum Woodhouse: Yeah, Sam is funny as well when he forgets his bit.
Nicholas Ralph: Sam makes me laugh. Oh, he makes me laugh so much when he’s being funny intentionally, but also makes me laugh so much when I think he’s not intentionally being funny. He’s a hoot. He’s good craic.
MASTERPIECE: How about Anna? Callum, you said her…
Callum Woodhouse: I think when Anna finds something funny, you just may as well send her home, because that’s her done for the day. She’s not going to be able to recover.
Nicholas, what is Callum most likely to be doing between scenes?
Nicholas Ralph: If there’s a dog anywhere within a mile radius, he’ll be over saying “Hi.” Or we’re away finding out what snacks are available and what snacks are coming out. We have it all timed, we know the 10:00 snacks, the 3:00 snacks, so we’ll be at the table like, “Where’s the snacks?” if they’re not there at 3:00 on the dot. So, yeah, dogs and snacks.
Callum, what is Nicholas most likely to be doing between scenes?
Callum Woodhouse: Yeah, the snacks as well, but that’s a double team. That’s me and him going on the hunt fairly regularly. Other than that, maybe checking his football scores. He’s for the Rangers. Or he could be in the green room just singing some Johnny Cash. He’ll serenade us occasionally with some Johnny Cash. He does it all a capella. It’s really powerful.
Nicholas Ralph: I think you had a tear in your eye one time.
Callum Woodhouse: I did. Yeah.
Nicholas Ralph: It was that good.