“I was at Leyton Orient from the age of seven to 12, and then I stopped playing football … because I had other interests,” Will Miller says, breaking into laughter. He is halfway through recalling how the lure of a trip to Madagascar, while in South Africa more than a decade ago, prompted him to swap football for film sets and led to him successfully auditioning for the role of Oliver Twist in the BBC’s adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel.
Miller’s backstory is absorbing and he speaks candidly over an hour in which the unassuming Burton Albion midfielder makes fascinating company, as he discusses working alongside Tom Hardy, getting cold feet about a Martin Scorsese film, learning off Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane at Tottenham Hotspur, and looking forward to the next chapter of the Brewers’ “incredible” journey.
Next up for Burton is a trip to Manchester United on Wednesday. The year these teams last met, in the FA Cup in 2006, Miller accrued his first television credit, as Pieter Beijerinck, in a documentary drama, Krakatoa, directed by his father, Sam, whose family were on location in Durban. “There was a part for a young boy, and the young boy couldn’t do it for some reason, so my dad was like: ‘I need you to do it,” Miller says. “I was like: ‘I can’t, no way. I don’t want to do that, I am not interested in that.’ But he said: ‘If you do it, you will get to go to Madagascar’, because they were shooting there for a week, so I was like: ‘Cool, I will do it.’”
Miller’s mother, Janine Wood, is an actress who has starred in The Bill and The Inbetweeners. When Miller returned home, to Hackney, a friend of hers encouraged him to go to an open audition for Oliver Twist. “I was not too conscious of myself or what could be,” Miller says. “I was not like: ‘I have got to get this part.’ It just happened and it was just a very natural process. I can’t really remember my feelings towards it but I remember I just had the decision that I could either do this or I do football. And I thought that opportunity was ridiculous. I never saw that, never envisaged it, and I never really even wanted it.”
He got through seven auditions and beat off competition from around 700 others to land the role, in which he starred alongside Timothy Spall and Rob Brydon after three months of filming. “I remember meeting just the best people,” Miller says. “I had some really good relationships and good times with people. Tom Hardy played Bill Sykes and I really looked up to him. But everyone in the crew was great. I was so fortunate to be involved in that experience – it was incredible.”
Then an agent came along – and more roles followed: Runaway, a TV series and a film called The Kid – “a really interesting project to work on”. Then came more movie auditions, including Hugo and X-Men, but after two years of acting he sought a return to football. Miller, who attended Stoke Newington secondary school in north-east London, was missing a lot of lessons, as well as his friends. “I always thought to myself: ‘Obviously acting is always a possibility no matter what age you are but football’s not’, and I really want to pursue that. It was a big decision because I think I was actually getting to a point where I was becoming really quite established, and I was starting to get auditions for good roles and stuff.
“I remember going up for the Martin Scorsese film Hugo. My dad was like: ‘This is a Martin Scorsese film, you have to do this.’ But my parents were so supportive, they did not try to stop me at all and if anything they probably pushed me harder to pursue what I really wanted to pursue. They come to every game they can.”