The British actor on shedding his Mr Gay UK image to become one of the brightest stars on the small screen.
We speak to the British actor – best known for his roles in Channel 4’s Humans, and Russell T Davies series Banana and Cucumber – about his journey from Mr Gay UK 2008 to one of the brightest stars of the small screen.
After being crowned Mr Gay UK back in 2008, Dino Fetscher started his career as an openly gay actor. “There’s no tiptoeing back into the closet now,” he recalls thinking. But the Welsh star hasn’t let his sexuality define who he is as both a person and an actor.
You may recognise Dino from high-profile roles in Channel 4’s hit series Humans, as well as the Russell T Davies-penned Cucumber and Banana. He’s now busy at work on a huge new BBC and HBO period drama alongside Suranne Jones, and just won himself a role in a big new series coming next year. Essentially, he keeps jumping from success to success.
We caught up with the actor to get all philosophical about A.I. after portraying a robot, the challenges he faced breaking through, and he talks for the first time about an exciting new role he’s just been given.
Let’s go straight in with a philosophical question: How has your role on hit Channel 4 show Humans changed your view on artificial intelligence?
I’ve been a fan of Humans since it first began, I found the concept of the show and how creepily close to reality it all seemed immensely impressive. It wasn’t until I was cast as Stanley last year, when I started researching A.I., that I realised how close to a possibility the series actually is. It was mind boling to discover how technologically advanced we already are. Pre Humans, when I thought of A.I., I thought of Alexa, Siri, Cortina, face recognition, fingerprint phones etc, stuff like that. How naïve I was. That doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface! As I delved deeper it became very apparent to me that the rate of development in A.I. over recent years has been astonishing. So much so that scientists believe we will reach what’s known as ‘Strong A.I.’ in the next 10 years (where robots will have abilities to reason, just like humans). They will not be limited by the parameters of their programming and have the ability to make decisions independently of human input. Consciousness. Literally what Humans is about – freaky deaky. So, basically Skynet is coming and we’re all screwed... that all said A.I. is also wonderful and is responsible for some of the most major advancements in medicine, education and non-murderous technology over the last few decades. I think that A.I., like any great power, has the ability to be an immense force for good or evil. We just need to be careful with who is allowed to wield that power. Which, at the rate it’s developing, is difficult to control.
Season three of the show dealt with the ethical question of ‘synth rights’ – did you draw comparisons between that and the battles marginalised communities have faced in the real world when being seen as less than human by the patriarchy?
Absolutely, I think the reason I loved this particular series so much was for this very reason (not because I’m in it, I swear). The parallels drawn between the fraught and dramatically polarised world of Humans and our own, right now, is uncanny. One of the reasons I think dramas such as Humans are so essential, today, in our society is because they have the ability to evoke thinking and spark these types of conversations. The way Jonathan [Brackley] and Sam [Vincent – creators of the show] have so cleverly crafted an immensely detailed fictitious world about humanoid robots, that so accurately reflects our own and really makes you think in a different way, is just incredible to me. It’s why I love doing what I do, because I believe that shows like Humans have such a farther reach and greater power for good than simply just entertainment... that and the insane robot Ninja fight scenes I got to do.
Your next project will see you on screen with Suranne Jones for BBC and HBO drama Gentleman Jack. What can viewers expect from that?
Yes, I’m currently filming at the moment. It’s written and directed by the wonderful Sally Wainwright (H appy Valley, Last Tango in Halifax) and has been 20 years in the making. The show is based entirely in historical fact, from the diaries of an incredible and surprising woman: Anne Lister (Suranne Jones). It’s not your typical period drama either – it tells the story of this charismatic, stubborn, defiant landowner who constantly rejects tradition. She’s a ruthless businesswoman and has many a passion, including medicine, travel, mountaineering, life and...women. I’m genuinely thrilled to be joining such a stellar cast on such an exciting project. And it’s my first period drama, which is exciting enough in itself, because I get to wear such incredibly cool costumes. I even get my very own cape.
You started your acting career after being crowned Mr Gay UK in 2008, so you’ve publicly been out from a young age. How did you find that when trying to break into show business?
For a long time I allowed this to haunt me. I was totally caged by stories I’d been fed: If you’re out you won’t work. You’ll limit your career! You’ll only play gay blah, blah, blah. Well shit, I’m Mr Gay UK, I kept thinking. Technically the gayest man in all of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland combined. There’s no tiptoeing back into the closet now – you’re screwed. Every time Mr Gay UK came up my stomach would plummet a la Alton Towers’ Oblivion. I was 18, I entered on a drunken whim for the free drinks and validation – it wasn’t ever a part of my life plan. I was convinced I had ruined my career before it had even begun...Thankfully, I followed my instincts and just focused on what I love to do; tell stories, to act. I got into a top drama school and have been fortunate enough to be cast in an array of roles since graduating; gay, straight, and even biomechanical. It took me years to realise that the only obstacle in my path was this poisoned narrative that I was feeding myself. Now, I relish the fact that I’m able to say I was Mr Gay UK 2K8! I did some amazing work with some amazing charities, I learnt a fuck load about myself and got a trophy from Jane McDonald. Not many people can say that.
Do you feel like you’ve ever missed out on roles because of your sexuality?
No, not that I know of. I think it’s a much better idea to focus on the things you have achieved, rather than the things you might not have...yet.
How important is it that we have visible LGBTQ role models?
I think it’s absolutely essential. Like any minority group, positive representation in the media is vital for LGBTQ kids growing up. I know I found it really tough growing up in Wales with no one in reality, or on TV, to relate to. I literally felt like the only gay in the village at times; which was terrifying and made me feel incredibly isolated – even with an amazing, liberal and supportive family. At the risk of sounding incredibly clichéd; reading letters from LGBTQ people who’ve sourced strength and confidence from knowing that I’m gay, brings me great joy and reaffirms everything. That’s why I think people in the public eye should never underestimate the power of coming out – or the help it could give to someone who is in desperate need of it.
Who were your role models when you were growing up?
Robin Williams, Britney Spears, Jim Carrey, Harry Potter, Bette Midler (specifically in her role as Winifred Sanderson in Hocus Pocus, which I was obsessed with as a child and still am as an adult) and most of all, my mum. She’s the most inspirational of them all.
There has been much debate about whether gay roles should go to straight actors – what are your thoughts on that issue?
I think that roles, regardless of sexuality, should be given to the best-suited actor. The actor who – because of a number or aligning factors – is best equipped to tell that character’s particular story the most truthfully and adeptly. Otherwise, on the flip side, you could argue that only straight people should be allowed to play straight roles. We are actors, chameleons; it’s literally our job to portray a variety of different people, beings, animals – or whatever – from different creeds, worlds and sexualities. No actor should be limited because of whom, or whom he or she is not, sexually attracted to.
You worked with Russell T Davies back in 2015 when you starred as Aiden in Cucumber and Banana – what impact do you feel those shows had for the community at that time?
I think shows like Cucumber and Banana will certainly have an important impact on the LGBTQ community, but I don’t think that their effects are necessarily immediate. Queer as Folk was before my time but it still trickled down into my orbit, years later, and massively resonated with me. It was during a repeat episode at 15 years old, late at night, when I first said ever said ‘I’m gay’ aloud. I’d like to think that Cucumber and Banana would have similar effects on the community, like Queer As Folk did for me. I think the power of drama is immense and its reach is potentially unlimited. Who knows? At the very least I think they’re excellent pieces of drama.
Do you have any plans to work with Russell T Davies again on any of his future projects?
Well – and this is a Gay Times exclusive – I just found out yesterday that I am joining the cast of Russell’s brand new BBC drama; Years & Years! It’s bloody brilliant, the writing, the cast, everything – I’m so excited to start filming later this year. Unfortunately that’s all I can say at the moment but it’s going to be awesome, just wait. Russell is one of my favourite people to work with and favourite people in general. The love and energy he brings to his projects is phenomenal, unprecedented and as an actor his writing is a total gift to play with. I feel massively fortunate to be getting to work with him again on another project. Stay tuned.