What does the future hold for this out-of-work Time Lord?

IT'S often a wise recommendation that we shouldn't meet our heroes. Doing so, we're told, will only leave us disappointed.

This is very definitely not the case with Christopher Eccleston, the Lancashire-born actor who, for a brief spell, became a household name through his TV role as the ninth Doctor Who. More – or perhaps less – about this aspect of his work later.

He’s in Scarborough to talk to budding members of the theatrical profession at the 55th National Student Drama Festival. As I’ll find out later, the advice he’ll give is based on his years of experience:

“There are no guarantees,” he states, bluntly and honestly, “this is a hard profession and you’ll often find yourself out of work.”

The softly-spoken, 46-year-old Eccleston started his training as an actor at Salford Tech, before going on to the prestigious Central School of Speech and Drama. When I ask which he feels more at home with, stage or screen work, he says simply “I’m an actor. I haven’t worked in theatre for a long time so I am seen as a screen actor. “

He speaks fondly of his early role in the award-winning 1980s TV series Our Friends in the North, for which he was BAFTA nominated and where he worked with a group of actors who, like him, have achieved much acclaim – Gina McKee, Mark Strong and Daniel Craig, the latest James Bond.

“It was the writing which attracted me,” he said, “and it’s writing that’s always what draws me to a project. Money is an important factor, too. I’m out of work right now, I am an out-of-work actor, so the money often has to see me through those periods of unemployment.”

It was the writing, he says, which convinced him to take the part of the Messiah figure in 2004’s The Second Coming, another role for which he was also BAFTA nominated. He did, however, win awards from the Royal Television Society for Our Friends… and again in 2003 for the drama Flesh and Blood.

I ask him if the quality of writing was a factor in his decision to play one of the most coveted roles in entertainment – The Doctor.

“Absolutely,” he agrees. “I had known the writer, Russell T Davies, through The Second Coming and I knew how well he wrote. So I was happy to take on the part. Television needs good writing and there hasn’t been any for a long time.” But he wouldn’t be drawn on why he left the series and it’s hard to tell if he regrets doing so.

Eccleston is a softly-spoken, modest man who is happy to talk to the gathering crowd of students hoping to make a career in theatre. What will he tell them? I ask.

“It depends on what they want to know.

“I’ll be honest with them because they should be under no illusion that being in work all the time is rare. I will tell them that they must be passionate about what they do or else they won’t last in the business.”

Eccleston has praise for the NSDF, which ends tomorrow. “When I was growing up, I didn’t know there was anything like this and it’s a wonderful opportunity.

“All these people, enthusiastic about acting and the stage.

“And so many people who have been here have gone on to achieve success. I can only get a brief idea of the scale of the event,” he adds, conscious that in a couple of hours, he’ll be leaving Scarborough’s chilly, wet climate.

An out-of-work actor, a household name who, he confesses, has no idea what the future holds for him.

l Overview of the festival in tomorrow’s Evening News.