Growing up, Tracy Beaker was always my favourite show. I followed up on her story watching Tracy Beaker Returns and The Dumping Ground. Every Friday I would be waiting for the new episode after school. On reflection, the show tackled strong and heavy themes in a child-friendly way. I recently came across Joe Maw on Tik Tok, recognising him from his days playing Johnny Taylor in Tracy Beaker Returns and The Dumping Ground. I was lucky enough to meet Joe and chat about his time as a child actor, his degree and life now with his fiance, Courtney.
Speaking with Joe was brilliant, he was honest about social media and some of the tougher times, but light-hearted, leaving me fulfilled knowing someone I saw on the TV when I was young, was as kind as he seemed. With a welcoming spirit, he is incredibly down-to-earth. He spoke with a smile on his face, aware of who he is and his worth. Now, on to the interview!
For those who may not know what you do, could we start with a brief introduction of yourself?
My name is Joe Maw. I’m an actor primarily, best known for my role as Johnny Taylor in Tracy Beaker Returns and The Dumping Ground. I’ve done a few more films and acting roles after this, including a video game. Now I’m at university studying Law, which is quite a far cry from acting! One thing that most actors will understand is that it’s pretty unreliable at times as a profession unless you’re at Leonardo DiCaprio’s level! I never know when my next job is going to be so I’m at university at the moment essentially just getting myself a backup plan, just in case I need a change in the future!
If we take it back to the beginning, how did you get into acting?
It depends on how far back we want to go really! I did my first play at the local theatre when I was three and it was a complete coincidence. My Mum liked doing the local plays, and my Dad was into athletics. One night, my Dad went out for a really long run, which clashed with a rehearsal my Mum was attending for a show and they couldn’t get a babysitter in for me. She decided to bring me with her, thinking I’d sit in the corner reading a book, but coincidentally, one of the kids in the cast had dropped out. They asked me to stand in and I really enjoyed it! The next day, I went back and did it again. From there, I did them every year.
When I was 10, this was when it turned more from a hobby to a career! My mum had found an advert for an acting agency in the newspaper and I went along to an interview. From there, they took me on and I had an agent! My agency held workshops every weekend, and bless my parents, they used to drive me from Scarborough to Leeds every weekend. I can’t thank them enough for everything they did. I was in and out of auditions for a couple of years until my Tracy Beaker audition came about. I’m a firm believer that if you stick to something for long enough, something will work out eventually.
Tell us more about landing your role in Tracy Beaker Returns?
My agent had sent me three potential auditions within one week. Two were in London and one was in Manchester and I knew I could only go to one, as it’s an expensive ordeal getting to an interview with petrol etc! I had the choice of which audition to attend, so I picked the Tracy Beaker Returns one, as I had watched The Story of Tracy Beaker a lot! I thought ‘wouldn’t it be so cool if I could get that?’ I sometimes wonder how different my life could be now if I didn’t go to that audition.
Did you know of the show or watch Tracy Beaker before you landed the role?
I used to watch The Story of Tracy Beaker every morning on CBBC before school so I was pretty knowledgeable of the show before I even got there! When I first walked on the Tracy Beaker set, I was like ‘wow… this is legit’! I did three years of Tracy Beaker Returns, then three years of The Dumping Ground as well as a few guest appearances since! It may sound odd, but when I was on the show, my family and I would sit around the TV and watch it together every Friday when it was released!
What was it like on set? Was the cast like one big family? Were you particularly close with any particular cast members?
As cliche as it sounds, it did feel like a big family. I spent almost every hour of every day living with them, learning with them and working with them. We would sometimes stop over on weekends so we could hang out as well. It genuinely felt like one big family, and of course, families get along really well, every now and then there were disagreements but it was a really nice atmosphere.
I was particularly close with Mia McKenna-Bruce, who played Tee, my onscreen sister. I don’t have a sister in real life, just two brothers, but Mia still to this day feels like the closest thing I have to a sister. Whenever I see her achieving things, I still feel so proud of her like a brother, even though we aren’t related! Also, I’m really close with Chris who played Frank. I don’t like using the word ‘famous’ because none of us feel ‘famous’, we just feel like us but no matter how well-known Chris gets, he’ll always be the most down to earth guy you’ll ever meet. I really appreciate that in him. You find some people in this industry who land a new role then feel like they’re better than others and that really winds me up. Chris is the exact opposite of that, we just get on really well and always have done.
What was it like going back to school after being on set for weeks on end?
Going back to school afterwards felt weirder than going to film. The filming felt like where I was supposed to be whereas school felt wrong. I imagine it’s how Harry Potter felt when he was going back to the Dursley’s after being at Hogwarts.
I often joke with Courtney about Tik Tok calling it ‘Tik Toxic’ because you could make the most innocent video ever and you’ll still get hate comments/ trolls. There are some people who will just want to bring you down for no reason whatsoever. School is pretty much the same thing, I’d just be going about my day and the fact that I was on TV, doing pretty well for myself did rub people up the wrong way. I wasn’t the most popular at school let’s say that. At the time, adults would tell ‘they’re just jealous’ which in hindsight, may be true, but at the time, it still sucked. I always got the feeling that people were staring at me in the corridors but for all the wrong reasons. You could hear them sniggering or making sly comments. It wasn’t a good kind of attention. In a way, I feel like it shaped me and made me who I am.
How did it feel when you got recognised as a child actor?
Whenever someone recognises me, I love to stop and chat. I always take selfies and try to take the time for everyone. I can definitely tell the difference between people who are fans of the show versus people who are just trying to take the mick, which doesn’t happen too often thankfully. I grew up with all of that, so I learnt how to hold myself in public and filter what came in my brain versus what came out of my mouth! I kind of felt like I had two identities at times, there was Joe when I was relaxing, then the other Joe who was always on his best behaviour. That’s definitely not a bad thing, especially with my Law degree at the moment, from a young age I would have to think before I spoke, which works in my favour. I think it’s important to be polite and welcoming to our followers – they’re the reason why I can do what I do. It upsets me when people think they’re too good or too big to talk to their followers.
What is the best part of being a child actor?
The best of being a child actor for me is the same as an actor now to be fair. As cliche as it sounds, they say to get a job that you love, and you’ll never work another day. I was doing the job that I had dreamt of since I was three, at the age of 12. Some people work their entire life to achieve their dreams, so I felt incredibly lucky to be in that position. I also think I matured quite quickly. From the age of 12, I would be responsible for looking after myself, my belongings, doing washing etc! It doesn’t sound like much now I’m 24 but as a 12-year-old, I was independent.
What is the more challenging or less glamorous side of being a child actor?
It is notoriously difficult going from a child actor to an adult actor, but it has been done. Even now, I’m 24, when I go to auditions I still think ‘do they still just see me as Johnny Taylor?’ Another less glamorous side to being a child actor is that you can’t escape the tutoring! It was filmed away from home and school, so I used to have to go to all my teachers and ask for weeks worth of work. My school were really good about it. Every day on set, we had to do at least five hours worth of tutoring so there was a fair bit of that!
What was it like seeing yourself on TV? Did your parents try and shield you in any way?
At the time, when Tracy Beaker would come on, seeing myself just felt like watching a home video. What’s more embarrassing now, is when I walk into a room and I see my 12-year-old self on screen. It makes me cringe! There’s a lot of scenes where I would’ve acted differently if I could do it again! At the time, it felt surreal watching myself on screen in a way.
When I first got social media, I was about 13, my parents ran it on my behalf for about a year. I only learnt years later that they would block a lot of haters, shielding me from the nasty side of social media because believe it or not, even as a child, people would troll us sometimes! When I got access to my social media pages it did shock me to see the negativity, but most of my followers are lovely!
Is it strange seeing fan pages dedicated to you?
When I see a fan page for me, it is very flattering! I’m always happy to see fan pages because it tells me that people enjoy the work that I do. What freaks me out is when people pretend to be me on social media. I once had an argument with someone who was pretending to be me on Instagram, and they didn’t believe that I was me, when they were the fake account! They were swearing blind that they were the real Joe Maw, to me, I was thinking ‘I should know’! You have to be cautious when people make fake accounts of you because they could go around saying all sorts or even more worrying if someone pretended to be me and said ‘come and meet me’. There’s a real danger to it.
What is something people wouldn’t know about filming Tracy Beaker Returns or The Dumping Ground?
People may not know that everything is filmed out of order! We would film the episodes in blocks of four, so we’d have four weeks to do four episodes but they weren’t necessarily in order. We could start the day on episode 1 scene 25 for example, then we’d get changed and do episode 3 scene 8. It was dependent on what equipment was needed, who was needed, location etc! It was also funny going back for guest appearances as the set had actually moved, but it looked exactly the same, no one would even notice! They had packed the whole set up and rebuilt it somewhere else so the green room and all the behind-the-scenes were completely different, but the set was identical!
Was there ever any issues with continuity when it was filmed like that? Did anyone ever go home and get injured then it threw off the filming?
It’s funny you should say that because that happened to one of the cast members … it was me! In the first series, when I was new to it all, I went home at the weekend and was play fighting with my brothers. The next thing I know, I have a massive black eye! My Mum and Dad were panicking that I’d get sacked because I was still so new! What actually happened is, I went to the makeup crew, who are the most talented people ever and they made it disappear! It looked like it never even happened in the first place! A similar situation happened when Danny Pearson who played Rick came in with a tattoo one year! With his character being in a kids home, he shouldn’t be old enough to have a tattoo! So, he had to always wear long-sleeved tops or use makeup to cover it up!
How did it feel leaving the show after so long?
The main reason why I was written out is that I could no longer reasonable play a child. The show was set in a kids care home and my voice was breaking. I was taller than Connor Byrne who played Mike, the head care worker! Towards the latter end of my run as Johnny, it was harder to find storylines for my character. Some of the more wacky storylines of the younger characters didn’t work with Johnny as he was older and wouldn’t get involved. I received my contract, which was for 10 episodes, half of the series. I called my agent and asked if it was right, and she explained that as I was getting older, it was coming to an end, and doing it this way was the only way we could get a nice exit storyline for Johnny. I was really grateful to have an exit storyline and episode to round off my time there. I went out with a bang, and credit to the writers, because they had been building up the animosity between Johnny and his step-dad since day one, so it was a great finale.
What was the most fun episode that you did?
The most fun filming day had to be the Alice in Wonderland Christmas Special. My Grandma had a copy of Alice in Wonderland, which as a kid, I was obsessed with. Whenever we’d go to her house, I’d read it every time in one go and The Mad Hatter was always my favourite character. When the scripts came through for that episode and I saw I was playing The Mad Hatter, I was over the moon. I was allowed to improvise a lot with The Mad Hatter and be as creative as I’d like. My character, Johnny was normally a very serious dude so it was nice to let loose and go nuts with The Mad Hatter.
Tell me about your degree, where do you go and why did you choose to go to uni despite your success in acting? Do you ever get recognised at university?
I’m currently at Northumbria University doing an integrated Undergraduate and Masters degree in Law. I did Law as I wanted a backup, but one that was decently paid! Other than acting, I loved the idea of being a detective, so I thought it’s a good plan. I have just finished my second year so I’m halfway now!
I do get recognised sometimes at uni, but not as much as I used to. At the start of my first year, I met this group of friends and we were all hanging out, having a laugh, then they asked for my Instagram handle, so I told them. When they found it they were like ‘why do you have so many followers?’ I explained to them why I have so many followers and that I am an actor, then a few of them revealed that they did recognise me but didn’t want to say anything.
So, you share a lot online alongside your partner, Courtney. How did you two meet?
Our love story is a little boring so every time people ask, I come up with some farfetched and outlandish tales of fiction because it’s funny to wind Courtney up a bit! In reality, we were 20 and had a lot of mutual friends on Facebook. She requested to be my friend and I accepted her at the time because she’s beautiful, which she knows now! We got chatting and instantly got along, and it went from there really – a typical love story from the 21st century. We are getting married in July (hoping that the Covid-19 roadmap goes to plan).
You and Courtney have a joint Tik Tok account, how did that happen and was it a conscious decision?
It was Courtney who got me into Tik Tok! She had an account but I hadn’t really used the app at all before. Courtney came across a video of someone saying they had a crush on Johnny Taylor when they were younger but now find Liam, who is played by Richard Wisker, a lot hotter! Courtney was practically wetting herself laughing at the video, so I thought it’d be funny if I dueted the video reacting! We posted the video and didn’t think much of it but woke up the next day with 60,000 followers! It just blew up overnight with over a million views and that was the moment where we decided to make it a joint account. We now have over 130k!
Previously you mentioned ‘Tik Toxic’ – how do you deal with negative comments/trolls?
With any social media, there is going to be haters or trolls. 90% of the comments are lovely, but it’s a tiny number of people that bring the experience down. We normally just block and delete negative comments as we don’t want to give them a reaction, as that is what they’re after. Hate comments don’t really bother me too much – I’m at a point now where I am comfortable with myself and who I am. What does bother me is when people send hate comments to Courtney because she doesn’t deserve any of it. I hate to think that by Courtney being associated with me, she then has to deal with that. They upset me more than the comments about me! I normally brush it off and think if you don’t like me, don’t follow me. If you’re watching my videos you must be interested and they’re just giving us more views and interactions.
We’ve shared part of our journey ahead of the wedding, but we don’t put too much out there with it being ‘Tik Toxic’! We’ve had a few people commenting that they are going to show up unannounced which is not cool, we want it to just be family and friends. Courtney did put up a video since explaining that we are sharing the elements we want to share in regards to our wedding, but please don’t show up if you don’t have an invite! Even that video got lots of hate comments calling us ‘unreasonable’! For me, I still feel like just a normal guy from Scarborough, so it’s weird to think people would want to gatecrash my wedding!
Do you ever feel as if you’re ‘stuck’ as the boy who played Johnny with a young following on social media?
Possibly! Someone messaged me once with a long rant telling me how horrible I am to my ‘sister’, Tee and how she deserves better! They obviously didn’t realise that it’s fiction, and I don’t have a sister! I don’t mind being called Johnny, it’s all part of the job! I often get asked to sing the Gina Song or repeat my lines but I don’t mind doing it!
You mentioned the Gina Song there – unfortunately Kay Purcell who played Gina passed away last December. Can you tell me a bit more about Kay?
Kay had been fighting cancer for a couple of years and unfortunately, it was just before Christmas when she passed away. She was the heart and soul of set whenever she was on. I mean this in the nicest way, but she was the loudest voice with the biggest laughs. She had such an amazing personality. I always found it funny because her character had a Jamaican accent, but as soon as they said ‘cut’, she spoke with the most perfect posh English accent. She was amazing. It was hard losing her.
In more recent years, you have done some voice acting. What motivated you to try that out?
I’m trying to get into voice acting a bit more since the lockdowns. I worked on a video game, The Shapeshifting Detective which was something new. I am just trying to break into it at the moment. I also made a cameo appearance with my voice in Dark Nights with Poe and Munro. I was crouched under the stairs when I was filming the voice over because it was the best place for acoustics when I was working from home. It’s not all as glamourous as it seems! With voice acting, you have to put a lot more emphasis and energy into your vocals, but I love how you could be literally anything, as your physical appearance doesn’t matter, like a troll or a superhero!
What advice do you have for any young people who want to be an actor?
The best way to get into acting is by getting an agent, as they will be the person sending you to auditions. Most agents are on Google, then it’s a case of sending a package to your agents. This includes some headshots, a showreel and a CV – this can be intimidating at first but it’s easily done! Getting some professional headshots are great, but it’s not always necessary with phones nowadays. If you don’t have a showreel, send them a video of you reading a monologue for example! If you haven’t done lots, just big yourself up on your CV! Talk about school plays etc! One big tip I give people is to look into a website called StarNow. On StarNow, you can essentially be your own agent, people put up jobs and you can apply there. They offer free roles as well as paid if you are starting out – this is how I got the role in The Shapeshifting Detective.
What’s next for you?
Hopefully, I will be getting married in July, I’ll finish uni in the next few years and my plan is to do auditions throughout uni. When I finish uni, I’ll have to decide whether I want to pursue law or continue acting. But that’s a problem for future Joe! If Star Wars called me tomorrow and asked me to get in the next film, then uni would be out of the window! We’ll just have to see how it goes.