Waterloo Road actor, Tommy Lawrence Knight, speaks to Different Strokes about playing stroke survivor, Kevin Chalk in the BBC1 series
Different Strokes was thrilled to be contacted about the Waterloo Road stroke storyline and was pleased to be able to help with background information. We caught up with Tommy Lawrence Knight to find out how he felt when he found out that his character, Kevin Chalk, was going to suffer a stroke, and how he prepared for the storyline ahead:
Tell us a little bit about your character, Kevin
Kevin is quite an unusual character. He comes from a broken family. He bonds with one of his teachers over a mutual love of maths and this teacher, Daniel “Chalky” Chalk, goes on to adopt him. He is very intelligent, very frustrated and aggravated – it makes him an interesting character to play.
When did you find out you were going to be given such a major storyline?
I found out about a month beforehand. At first I felt a little intimidated and greeted it with mixed emotions – I didn’t want to underplay or overplay it and wanted it to be a realistic account of what happens to somebody when they have a stroke. I also felt proud to be given such an important storyline and felt that the producers must have felt I was capable of doing it justice.
Did you know about stroke before you were told of Kevin’s stroke?
I had seen the FAST campaign so knew what symptoms to look out for. I also have first aid training and knew the basics of what happens when a stroke occurs.
The FAST test identifies the most common symptoms of stroke: Face (facial weakness - can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?) - Arm (can the person raise both arms?) - Speech (can the person speak clearly and can you understand what they are saying?) - Time (time to call 999 as stroke is a medical emergency).
How did you research the stroke storyline?
I spent a lot of time researching stroke as I wanted to get it right. I additionally watched a lot of videos on YouTube and found out as much as I could about symptoms and about the longer road to recovery. Kevin initially experiences a TIA (a transient ischamic attack or "mini stroke") minutes beforehand but is suffering from a lot of stress (he has had an argument with his girlfriend and is in the middle of applying to university) so doesn’t think too much about it. He then goes on to experience muscle weakness and blurred vision before he collapses.
Were you surprised to hear that young people have strokes too?
I knew that it was something that people often associated with older people but had some awareness that it could happen to anyone. I know that other people around me hadn’t given it much thought though, e.g. my mum was really surprised when I first told her about the storyline. I think it’s great to be involved with something that can help to raise awareness.
What have you learned the challenges of younger survivors to be?
The stroke hits Kevin really hard. He was always very academic and had been planning to go to university. This really puts everything on hold and he finds it very frustrating. As well as his physical recovery, he struggles with speech and to remember words, his memory is affected. There is a big psychological impact to come to terms with.
What was the hardest part of this storyline for you as an actor?
I practised playing the scene where he has the stroke in front of the mirror as I wanted to get it right. The hardest part though was filming the gradual recovery process as I needed to keep track of any improvements Kevin made – to keep them gradual but believable. I am proud of the way it has come together.
What do you hope this storyline will achieve?
I hope that this storyline is able to help to raise awareness of the fact that stroke happens to younger people too. If it helps people to recognise symptoms and to save even one person’s life, that will be fantastic. Raising awareness might also help younger people to get faster access to the treatment they need and to lead to a better recovery.
What’s next for Kevin?
Kevin has a long road to recovery ahead of him. His whole life has been interrupted. The idea of university is put on hold for a while. All his dreams have changed - the stroke has made a massive impact on his life.
Thank you very much to Tommy Lawrence Knight for sharing his thoughts with us. Kevin’s story will be played out on Waterloo Road, Wednesdays on BBC1 at 8pm.
“I hope that this storyline helps to raise awareness that strokes happen to young people too. If it helps people to recognise symptoms and to save even one person’s life, that will be fantastic.”
Tommy Lawrence Knight who plays Kevin Chalk in Waterloo Road