(KGET) — Nicholas Ralph feels like he is living a dream. That’s because his very first professional acting job is taking on the lead character in “Masterpiece: All Creatures Great and Small,” the latest adaptation of Alf Wight’s autobiographical books written under the pseudonym James Herriot.
“It’s been absolutely incredible from start to finish. I still have moments where I pinch myself. I can’t really believe it’s happening,” Ralph says.
It has happened and the seven-episode series will begin airing at 9 p.m. Jan. 10 on ValleyPBS.
The series – set in 1937 – begins with James Herriot having just graduated from Glasgow Veterinary College. His efforts to become a vet begin in Yorkshire Dales, one of England’s most beloved and beautiful landscapes. Making his dream come true is going to be more difficult than he imagined because the Dales’ farmers are a tough crowd to please.
Ralph found it easy to relate to what Herriot was going through as a new graduate making the leap into their dream profession. The moment Ralph knew he wanted to be an actor that became his focus.
After he graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow three years ago, Ralph spent time taking on theater projects. He feels just like Herriot, he had put in the hard work to get him ready for the job.
Joining Ralph in the series is Samuel West (“Mr. Selfridge”) who plays Siegfried Farnon, the eccentric veterinary surgeon and proprietor of Skeldale House who reluctantly hires the recently qualified Herriot into his rural practice.
West calls Ralph “a natural” when it comes to acting. Part of that came from all of the work Ralph did to prepare for his debut role as he is a big believer in research. That included reading the books and looking at the 1978 series based on Herriot’s books.
“With regards to the first series that came out, during the audition process, to get a head start, I watched one episode, but I didn’t want to watch anything more because even subconsciously you could end up copying things and come into your own form,” Ralph says. “We just kind of researched the world of James Herriot and the books, and we met his son and daughter, Jim and Rosie.
“They were really helpful with little anecdotes and stories and things like that.”
One area where Ralph had to do some extra work was dealing with all the animals. He had little exposure to creatures great or small when he was growing up except for a pet guinea pig called Nip and a neighbor’s cows and sheep.
The research Ralph did to prepare for working with all of the animals used in the production was to tag along with the show’s consulting veterinarian, Andy Barrett. Ralph got familiar with the ways a modern vet works. While there have been medical advancements from the time when the series is set, animals remain the same.
“All Creatures Great and Small” could have been updated and set in the current time period. Executive producer Colin Callender stresses that was never a consideration.
Callender says, “The whole point of revisiting the series was that we felt that there was an appetite for harking back to days gone by, a time when family and community were the sort of core values at the heart of British life.
“Certainly my feeling was that we are living in such a sort of difficult and problematic time, this series would be reembraced because of that. That was before COVID-19, and I think those considerations are as relevant, if not more so, than ever.”
Callender’s hope is that the show will give families – who are confined at home – the chance to watch this program together the way families watched TV years ago. And, he would love to see an interest in the books from a new generation.
The cast of “All Creatures Great and Small” also includes Anna Madeley, Callum Woodhouse, Rachel Shenton and Dame Diana Rigg. “All Creatures Great and Small” was one of the final acting jobs for the British acting legend.
Ralph calls working with Rigg an absolute pleasure.
“She had so much vitality and she was keeping everybody on their toes. We had two days in quick session with her,” Ralph says. “We are setting up for a take and there’s all the people and an extra and everything, and she’s like, ‘Are we going yet? Are we going on?’
“She keeps you on your toes.”
As for the best advice Ralph got, that came from Woodhouse. Ralph told Woodhouse where he was going to go for breakfast before arriving on the set for the first day. Woodhouse told him that he could get breakfast on the set and it wouldn’t cost him anything.
That was shocking news for Ralph.
“All this and free food,” Ralph says.