Meet the Cast of All Creatures Great and Small
From a former football player to a Harry Potter star and MASTERPIECE fan favorites, find out about the stars of All Creatures Great and Small. Learn where you’ve seen them before, what is was like prepping for the series, working with animals and more.
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His Role: Newcomer Nicholas Ralph makes his television debut as the charming, somewhat naïve James Herriot, who comes to the Yorkshire Dales in search of his first veterinary job but finds more than he bargained for when he starts working for Siegfried Farnon.
Getting the Job: “I had never come across James Herriot or All Creatures Great and Small before the audition,” Ralph admitted. “My parents knew of and had seen the 1970s show so I spoke with them and it was actually my uncle who is a massive fan of the books and as a boy had read them all. He lived near Alf Wight’s veterinary practice and his mum took him along one day and they opened the door for signings and my uncle had his book signed. So when I told him he nearly hit the roof and that was only about the audition. He was beside himself when I got the role!”
Before All Creatures Great and Small: Playing James Herriot may be Ralph’s first on-screen role, but he’s not new to the acting craft. The Scottish star (and former accomplished football player!) appeared in a number of stage productions prior to his breakout role, including a number of plays with the Royal Conservatoire and the Royal Shakespeare Company in Scotland, as well as an appearance on the BBC Radio Scotland production Kidnapped. Up next for Ralph: a role in the film The Devil’s Light, due to premiere in 2021.
His Role: Samuel West plays Siegfried Farnon, the gruff, tough-love veterinarian of the town who takes a (rare) chance on newly minted veterinarian Herriot. Past his tough exterior, of course, is a man with a big heart, but Siegfried often finds animals easier to handle than people.
Playing the Part: To prepare for the role of dedicated veterinarian Siegfried Farnon, West wanted some real-life experience. “Andy Barrett, our vet advisor, introduced me to somebody who bred horses who said ‘this is how you check their teeth’ and he opened the horse’s mouth and grabbed his tongue which is pretty messy, and moved it out of the way to look at the teeth and asked me to hold on to the tongue. It takes absolute confidence and I thought, ‘okay I am not ready to do that yet but maybe for [season] two.’
Checking horses’ teeth may be new to West, but the actor does have personal experience loving animals — he’s been an avid bird watcher for nearly 15 years now. “I get itchy if I don’t go birding for a while,” he told Country Living. “It stops me thinking so much about myself… It’s so easy to be squashed by human concerns.”
For the Fans: There is something for everyone in this adaptation, according to West. “The original books and series show their age in terms of the agency and the prominence of the female characters,” West said. “So, we have changed that and it is right and proper. I think it is about people who aren’t very rich, which is important. …This is about a very hard, quite remote community which is a collective and which has to work like one. It is suspicious about outsiders but when they prove themselves it welcomes them into the collective very strongly and I think that is extremely important now.”
Where You’ve Seen Him Before: The London-born actor is best known for his previous roles in the 1992 film Howard’s End (as Leonard Bast), Notting Hill, Darkest Hour, and for television roles in such series as Netflix’s The Crown, Grantchester (Season 4) and Mr. Selfridge as Frank Edwards. West also appeared on the PBS series NOVA in a dramatization about young Albert Einstein.
West’s work doesn’t end with on-screen roles. The actor has made a name for himself on stage and on radio, and has directed numerous plays since 2002. West has won a number of awards for such productions, including a London Critics’ Circle Theatre Award for Best Shakespearean Performance in Hamlet, and has been nominated for a number of Laurence Olivier Awards for his directing.
Her Role: Anna Madeley plays Mrs. Hall, the backbone of Skeldale House who keeps James and the Farnon boys in line.
Playing the Part: Madeley was especially interested in playing the role when learning that Mrs. Hall’s story in this adaptation would be even further fleshed out. “In the books you meet her and I think she’s described as ‘A figure of grim benevolence’ as she opens the door, but then she disappears off into the back of the house and you don’t really get to know her,” Madeley explained. “In this adaptation she really is fundamental to the running of the practice. She’s integral to James’ arrival there.”
For the Fans: With the state of the world as it is now, Madeley recognizes the timely importance of the series more than ever. “We’ve really noticed in lockdown just how kind people can be, how important your community is, and ultimately how much our quality of life is dependent on those things and I think you really see that in the community in All Creatures Great and Small,” she said.
Where You’ve Seen Her Before: Madeley has previously appeared in films such as In Bruges, as well as television series such as Patrick Melrose, The Crown, and on MASTERPIECE in The Child in Time and Mr. Selfridge .The actress also recently starred in the television series Deadwater Fell alongside David Tennant, written by Grantchester writer Daisy Coulam.
His Role: Callum Woodhouse stars as wayward, wild child brother Tristan Farnon, who believes in some work, all play (unlike his seriously hard working brother, Siegfried).
Déjà Vu: The series is, oddly enough, not Woodhouse’s first experience working on a show that centers on animals. The actor is most well-known for his four season run as Leslie Durrell on The Durrells in Corfu, a role not entirely unlike Tristan Farnon. To Woodhouse, it’s no coincidence that he’s worked on two animal-centric shows — he’s a self-proclaimed animal lover. “I absolutely love animals,” he said. “The Durrells was exotic, crazy animals – I got to hang out with lemurs and pelicans – whereas this show has more cows and goats and any scene where I am in the veterinary practice on my own I was always asking if the dog could be in the scene, too. Any scene you see me with George, our Golden Retriever (who plays Jess), that is me asking to have him in the scene with me because I love him so much.”
Where You’ve Seen Him Before: In addition to his successful run on The Durrells in Corfu, alongside stars like Keeley Hawes and Josh O’Connor, Woodhouse has appeared in a number of films and series such as Cold Feet, B&B, and Father Brown. Woodhouse, however, is mostly ready for a new title — as a fashion icon for his All Creatures Great and Small role. “When I was doing some research before the show,” he told RadioTimes. “I found a Pinterest board called ‘Tristan Knitwear’: endless images of every jumper, every Fair Isle sweater, that Peter Davison [who played him in the original BBC series] wore! Oh my God, is it going to be that big this time round? That’s pretty cool.”
Her Role: Actress Rachel Shenton plays Helen Alderson, a local farmer that catches the eye of James Herriot. She’s a hardworking woman who takes on much of the farm’s responsibilities, and that of raising her younger sister, Jenny.
Playing Helen: Shenton admires her character greatly, for Helen’s wit, her loyalty, her drive, and the way “she doesn’t sit around waiting for something to happen, she just goes out and does it,” Shenton said. But it was Shenton’s research into the real-life Helen that really struck her. “What I love about her the most is what I learned from meeting the real-life Helen’s (Joan Danbury Wight) children, Rosie and Jim; that she is mischievous and fun loving in spite of having been through some really tough times,” she explained.
That, and Helen’s wardrobe. “I will gladly state that Helen has the best wardrobe, bar none,” she said. “She has serious style for a farmer’s daughter.”
Where You’ve Seen Her Before: Prior to All Creatures Great and Small, Shenton was best known for her roles on television series such as the ABC Family series Switched at Birth, White Gold and the long-running British soap opera Hollyoaks. Shenton has also won a number of awards — most notably, an Academy Award in 2017 for Best Live Action Short Film, The Silent Child, which Shenton wrote and starred in.
His Role: Harry Potter star Matthew Lewis (hello, Neville Longbottom!) plays Hugh Hulton, a local, wealthy horse racer and landowner who has his own involvement with farmer Helen Alderson.
Getting the Job: Before he even got the part, there was someone who thought Harry Potter star Matthew Lewis was a perfect fit. “Coincidentally, when I received the script for All Creatures Great and Small the make-up artist on the film I was working on in New Zealand talked to me about the series because my accent reminded her of it,” he explained. “As well as being an institution in the UK, it was hugely popular in the Commonwealth. So I was very much aware of its popularity, and I do recall when it was announced that they were doing a new series of it, my dad said ‘Oh, you should try and get involved in that!’ Little did I know just how charming, funny and endearing James Herriot’s world really is.”
Playing the Part: Jumping into a period drama has a certain magic of its own, thanks to the costumes, the hair, the make-up and all. It was an experience Lewis thoroughly enjoyed. “It’s a lot of fun as it’s so different, and it’s kind of the reason why I got into acting in the first place, I was always daydreaming and imagining being in other places and doing other things. When you do a period piece, that’s exactly it, you’re transported to another place which is a real luxury for an actor.”
And is Lewis himself an animal fan? “I am a huge animal lover! I grew up with two rabbits. Unfortunately, when I left my parents, I was in no position to own another animal. I was desperate to, but I was constantly working away from home and lived on my own and it was very difficult. Now that I’m married, when I’m away, my wife is still at home. We have two dogs and we actually live at the back of a nature reserve, so we’ve got turtles, otters, ducks, I reckon there’s an alligator back there as well, actually.”
Where You’ve Seen Him Before: Aside from his best known role as Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter films, Lewis has also appeared in films and series such as Me Before You, Happy Valley, and Ripper Street. Don’t be surprised if you see Lewis in his Neville Longbottom costume, even after all these years. The star admitted to BuzzFeed in one interview that he’d taken some costumes with him after filming was done! “I’ve got the whole Neville outfit from the final [Harry Potter] film. The trousers and the shirt and the cardigan, sort of covered in blood and burn marks and stuff. They know I’ve got it now, but I did steal it – with the help of a costume dresser. We worked together and we smuggled it out of the building.”
Her Role: In one of her last roles, the late Diana Rigg stars as the eccentric, affable Mrs. Pumphrey, a frequent client of Siegfried’s thanks to her spoiled canine, Tricki Woo. Mrs. Pumphrey can afford a life of luxury and comfort, and that goes just as well for Tricki Woo, who enjoys a few too many savory pleasures in life. James, Tristan, and Siegfried do their best to help.
Where You’ve Seen Her Before: Rigg was a beloved presence on MASTERPIECE for decades. The former MASTERPIECE Mystery! host has appeared in a number of series over the years, including (but not limited to) her role as the Duchess of Buccleuch on Victoria; her Primetime Emmy award-winning role as Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca; Lady Honoria Dedlock in Bleak House, and more. The acclaimed, award-winning actress was also known for her roles on Game of Thrones, The Avengers and even for her stage work — in 1994, she won a Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play for her role in Medea.