Watch: Ralf Little on the instant success of The Royle Family and his audition with Tom Hanks
Ralf Little has one of the most successful acting careers in British TV.
He won acclaim in his debut role as Antony in iconic comedy drama The Royle Family.
That success led to starring roles in two further hit BBC series, Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps and Death In Paradise, as well as film and theatre.
Little is “very grateful” for his career and the opportunities it has brought him, he told Kate Thornton on podcast White Wine Question Time, but there is one audition from his youth he'd rather forget.
At the age of 22, he got the chance to audition with Tom Hanks for the World War 2 drama Band Of Brothers – an experience that did not, however, end well.
Determined to be “memorable” in the crowd of other young hopefuls, Little told Thornton that he decided to try to make Hanks laugh.
“He's filming Cast Away at the time so he's emaciated and he's got a big beard,” he said. “And I go, ‘Nice beardadge, by the way!’”
When Hanks appeared confused, Little recalled the “panic” he felt and how Hanks tried to “rescue” him with his own joke.
“He goes, ‘Oh, beardage. Oh, I see! Hey, it's not even for a role. It's just fashion, you know! You like it?’”
To Little’s embarrassment, his reply was. “Nah, you look like s***.”
He didn’t get the part, but doesn’t blame that on his gaffe. He did remember, however, “sitting in a chair going, ‘You told Tom Hanks he looks like s**t!’” Fortunately, he emphasised, Hanks was “just lovely about it.”
Listen to the full episode to hear Ralf Little talk about rumours the real royal family were fans of The Royle Family, the joys of working with Caroline Aherne and a memorable audition with Tom Hanks
In real life, Little is the opposite of the gormless Antony that he played so convincingly, excelling in multiple areas.
The young actor was studying medicine at Manchester University when he won his role in The Royle Family. He is also an accomplished sportsman, who played semi-professional football in his twenties after being spotted in a celebrity football match. Incredibly, he played for “a couple of years” while starring in Two Pints of Lager And A Packet of Crisps.
Read more: Where is Death In Paradise filmed?
He now hosts a popular podcast Two Pints With Will and Ralf, with former co-star Will Mellor.
Little told Thornton that he credits the support, love and encouragement his parents gave him as a child for his drive to succeed. “We didn’t have a lot of money,” he said, yet, “but what money we did have was ploughed into furthering… our life experience for us to succeed in whatever we chose to do”.
“We were sort of born into this very kind of like, high expectation… high achieving, do your best in everything you can.” He added, “It's an extremely privileged way to grow up.”
Little shared with Thornton another “extraordinary” experience he feels “lucky” to have had as an actor – the discovery that Prince Harry was a rumoured fan of The Royle Family.
“He didn’t tell me himself… but I happened to be… at a party where Prince Harry was… and we did get talking to a lot of Harry’s mates,” Little revealed. “One of them was like… ‘We all of us love The Royle Family!’”
When Little enquired if that included the prince, “[the friend’s] like, oh yeah, him and his gran watch it all the time.” Little is still not sure if this was true. “But I like to believe it is!”
Today, Little spends part of each year in the Caribbean, where he films Death In Paradise.
“After month four, you’re a bit like… ‘I guess I should swim in the Caribbean Sea again, but it's a bit warm,'” he laughed. “It is hard. I do my best!”
In the meantime, Little, who is engaged to American playwright Lindsey Ferrentino, takes none of it for granted. “What if this is the last job I get? What if this one doesn't lead to other things?” he joked with Thornton. “I'm not sure that ever goes away.”
But for now, life is good.
“It's not gone too badly,” he concluded. “I know how lucky I am.”