Antony was born in Bury and attended Oldham Theatre Workshop for ten years with Anna Friel and Marsha Thomason.
The Street's Antony shrugs off stereotype claims
26 January 2005 by Simon Donohue
ACTOR Antony Cotton has a message for those who think Coronation Street's Sean Tully marks a retrograde step for the representation of gay people on television. "Oh, they should just . . . shut up," splutters Cotton, just as camp as he is on the cobbles as Underworld's only male sewing machinist. "They say, `Oh, it's just embarrassing. He's stereotypical'. What they don't realise, if they'd just shut up for a minute, is that five nights a week, up to 15 million people a night are watching an out and proud gay man at half-seven at night. All over Britain and all over the world. And that is an extraordinarily brave move for ITV."
Extraordinary indeed. And coincidentally, both Manchester and Bury-raised Cotton can claim a pioneering role in altering attitudes to the extent where overt homosexuality is now considered suitable family viewing in the early evening. Rewind less than a decade and Cotton was playing the similarly out and proud Alexander Perry in Queer As Folk, the uncompromising television series set in Manchester's gay village. "That was a massive, ground- breaking, extraordinary series," Cotton adds. "I was shocked - we were all shocked. Some of the things in the script, we were like, `Oh, they'll never show this'. "It literally changed the shape of television and what they can show. People realised from Queer As Folk that if you're going to show real life, then show real life. You can't show it through rose-tinted spectacles."
But for all the hedonistic trysts and turns, Cotton insists that Queer As Folk was actually a love story. "It was about unrequited love," he insists. "Had Queer As Folk's Aidan Gillan taken Nathan Maloney home and chopped him up in bits and put him in the freezer, it would have been shown on ITV at 9pm and it would have been called Cracker. "Go home and fall in love and everyone flinches. Go home and chop them up and everybody goes, `Wow, what great drama'. "Things have moved on in leaps and bounds - with Queer As Folk, people said they were worried about the issue being presented on such a massive scale. And so gay people revolted and said, `We're not all like that. We don't all do drugs'. But, you know what, gay people aren't special - they don't deserve to be treated any differently. Straight people are shown taking drugs on TV and we don't imagine that they all do it."
Similarly, Cotton is adamant that Sean Tully will now be treated like any other character by the Coronation Street scriptwriters. "When I came for the job, it was very important for me and for the producer - Tony Wood - that the character would have exactly the same life as everybody else," he explains. "He'll have relationships like everyone else and fall-outs like everyone else. And all of this should happen without making his being gay an issue. "We've already had the storyline involving Todd, and so sexuality issues would just mean going over old ground."
It is hard to believe, given his apparent youth, but Cotton has been around in showbusiness for long enough to know what he's talking about. In fact, this year sees him celebrating his 25th year in the industry. But then he did sign up when he was only five! He and his brother, Andrew, who is 18 months older, joined dance and football s. Antony recalls: "We both did dance lessons on Friday and football lessons on a Saturday. Within a year, my brother gave up the dancing and I gave up the football. "By the time I was at high school I was working professionally on top of doing dance lessons, singing lessons, elocution lessons, violin lessons in my school. My brother ended up being a professional golfer."
Ultra-confident, it's hard to imagine that much has stood in Cotton's way in the pre-Coronation Street years. He says his parents, part-time actress, Enid, and BT director, Paul, are "proud of everything he has done". However, not everybody he has encountered has been so supportive. Originally from Bury, he attended Woodhey High School at Holcombe Brook. "I hated it," he says. "I had a couple of brilliant teachers - a brilliant drama teacher called Mrs Baines and a brilliant English teacher called Mrs Burrows. The rest were a bunch of see you next Tuesdays. "By that time I was always going to Oldham Theatre workshop, and that was my childhood. That was my life. Whatever I didn't like about school used to go straight over my head. "I thought, `I don't care what you think about me, because in two hours time, I'm going to be at the theatre workshop'."
Similar, there were people in Manchester's gay village who didn't take too kindly to his on-screen portrayal of gay people. "Oh, the gays hated me after Queer As Folk. I've had drinks poured over my head and cigarette burns in my jacket. "People were so bitchy. It was a mixture of jealousy and, because there had been nothing like it before, some of those guys didn't want their parents to know what they were up to. Not because it was representative of every life but it was representative of some people's life, and, erm, I think they didn't want their secrets given away. "But they've warmed to me after Coronation Street. A lot of the gay boys love Sean Tully."
As well as appearing in Coronation Street and Queer As Folk, Cotton has also appeared in Absolutely Fabulous. And there are other strings to his bow. He co-wrote and starred in the BBC3 comedy series, Having It Off, in which he played overtly gay hairdresser Guy La Trousse, and has written another drama which is on hold while he works on Coronation Street. But isn't he even slightly concerned about becoming typecast? "There's no such thing a being typecast," he replies. "The only people who say that aren't working. There's always a script for you. I do tend to play the Sean Tullys of this world because that's who I am. Even if you're playing a serial killer, you're going to play you playing a serial killer. "The reason I'm in Coronation Street is because Tony Wood knows who I am and called me in."
And so how far does Cotton think he can take the transformation of people's attitudes to television gays. "My burning ambition would have to be playing a gay serial killer," he adds, adopting a menacing stare and stamping on an imaginary victim's windpipe. "I can be a nasty piece of work if I want to be," he adds.
Not what you'd expect, certainly, but then who would have thought that a gay man would one day be living happily in Weatherfield?