One Day star Leo Woodall was bullied at school but is now billed as new Brad Pitt as actor draws in a record 15m viewers… whose thespian dad begged: ‘Don’t be an actor!’

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Written By Maya Cantina

Leo Woodall’s CV from his days at London’s ArtsEd drama school reads more like that of an athlete than an actor.

He is ‘highly skilled’, it says, in basketball and football, and boasts expertise in badminton, cricket, darts, stage combat, swimming, table tennis, tennis and volleyball.

There is scant mention of his ability on stage or screen, save for a couple of accent proficiencies (American, Cockney and Estuary English) and a note that he can sing ‘high baritone’ if required.

Indeed, Leo, 27, the breakout star and raffish heartthrob from tear-jerking Netflix series One Day — which has been viewed by more than 15 million people in a fortnight — was a late convert to acting.

‘Growing up I wanted to be a PE teacher or a stuntman,’ he recently admitted.

Yet from a young age, Leo’s older brother Gabriel could see he had a star quality that drew him inexorably towards the spotlight. 

Mod and Woodall have formed a ‘close bond’ and friendship since making the hit series

From a young age, Leo's family could see he had a star quality that drew him inexorably towards the spotlight. Pictured: With his brother Gabriel, far left, father Andrew, left, and sister Connie

From a young age, Leo’s family could see he had a star quality that drew him inexorably towards the spotlight. Pictured: With his brother Gabriel, far left, father Andrew, left, and sister Connie

Leo, 27, the breakout star and raffish heartthrob from tear-jerking Netflix series One Day ¿ which has been viewed by more than 15 million people in a fortnight

Leo, 27, the breakout star and raffish heartthrob from tear-jerking Netflix series One Day — which has been viewed by more than 15 million people in a fortnight 

‘From the moment my family and I saw Leo play Goggles The Penguin in the Year Two school play, we all said it,’ jokes Gabriel, 31.

His father, Andrew, meanwhile — an actor who has had roles in Casualty and Grantchester — used to watch his two sons re-enacting scenes from The Matrix and Lord Of The Rings in the playground in Hammersmith, West London, where they grew up.

Ironically, Andrew, 60, used to try to discourage his son from following in his footsteps, telling him: ‘Whatever you do, don’t be a f***ing actor.’

But he’s not the only thespian influence in Leo’s life. Mum Jane, 62, also went to drama school, and became deputy principal at Leo’s alma mater in Chiswick.

After her divorce from Leo’s dad, she later married Alexander Morton, another actor, best known for his role in Monarch Of The Glen.

Uncle Ed Woodall is an actor, director and movement coach, and Leo’s older sister Connie, 32, works in the industry as an agent.

The Woodalls, then, are very much in the business of showbusiness. But nepotism has nothing to do with Leo’s rapid rise to fame. 

Those who know him insist he alone — with that boy-next-door charm and piercing blue eyes, which have drawn comparisons to a young Brad Pitt — holds the secret to his success.

On screen in One Day, Leo plays troubled Dexter Mayhew, starring alongside Ambika Mod as Emma Morley, the on-off best friends from David Nicholls’ heart-wrenching, best-selling 2009 novel.

Woodall appears opposite This Is Going To Hurt star Ambika Mod, 28, in One Day in his first lead role

Woodall appears opposite This Is Going To Hurt star Ambika Mod, 28, in One Day in his first lead role

Though Leo insists he’s nothing like Dexter (‘a d***’, he proclaims), there are certain parallels: both hail from well-off families (Leo’s family is listed in The Peerage as his paternal grandmother was the daughter of a baronet) and both are, to use the actor’s own words, ‘a bit spoilt’ — Leo on account of being the youngest of three siblings.

As a child, recalls his proud stepsister Kerry Morton, a video creator and artist who lives in Essex, he was a ‘bouncy two-year-old’ whom she remembers ‘breaking all the sofas in the house [by] bouncing on them’.

Leo credits Kerry with helping him perfect his Essex accent for Jack, the character he played in darkly comic series The White Lotus alongside Tom Hollander. He also met his girlfriend, American actress Meghann Fahy, on set.

‘I’m from West London, but there are definitely a lot of people I know from Essex. My stepsister’s from Essex, so it was fun to lean into that,’ he said in a recent interview.

Up until the age of 11, his family says Leo was happy. Quiet and well-behaved, his father once described him as ‘a taciturn child’.

Leo and his brother Gabriel with their mother Jane, who also went to drama school where she met his father

Leo and his brother Gabriel with their mother Jane, who also went to drama school where she met his father

However, secondary school proved a struggle, exposing him to bullies and violence. One classmate pinned him by his neck to a wall; another beat him on the chest. Once, at a house party, someone threatened to stab him if he didn’t hand over a pair of gloves.

The impact on Leo was dramatic. At home he became withdrawn and introverted, too anxious to leave the house. At school, he says, he put on a character.

‘I started shaving my eyebrows,’ he said. ‘I shaved my head. I wore a hood all the time, changed the way I talked. It was a kind of survival instinct, I think. To fit in. But I wasn’t nice. I lashed out. My mum was worried.’ These days, Leo credits ‘the dark years’ with giving him material: the reason, perhaps, he is so often cast as an angsty, tormented young man.

Studying wasn’t his forte — ‘I didn’t really give a f*** about my grades, so it wasn’t like I could just go to university to study economics’ — and after school he ended up working in a bar, smoking weed, without purpose or direction.

Sitting up late one night watching Peaky Blinders, the gangster drama starring Bafta-winner Cillian Murphy, he realised his calling had been staring him in the face all along.

He enrolled at Andrew Lloyd Webber-backed ArtsEd, graduating in 2019 with a BA in acting.

His first break was a small part in Holby City. Next came Cherry, the 2021 action thriller by the Russo brothers, starring Spider-Man star Tom Holland. 

He caught the attention of the directors, who cast him in their spy series, Citadel, alongside Hollywood big-hitters Richard Madden and Stanley Tucci.

English actor Leo Woodall , 27, has been compared to Brad Pitt after winning a legion of fans playing charming Dexter Mayhew in Netflix smash-hit One Day

English actor Leo Woodall , 27, has been compared to Brad Pitt after winning a legion of fans playing charming Dexter Mayhew in Netflix smash-hit One Day

After that came Emmy-winning series The White Lotus.

On his father’s recommendation, he was actually binge-watching the first series while laid up in a hotel room with Covid when the email came from his agent asking him to go for an audition for the second series in 2021, doing what he has since called ‘the greatest job I’ll ever have’.

He may be slightly biased: it was here he met Meghann, 33, a former Broadway actress from Massachusetts, who’s appeared on Gossip Girl and Law & Order.

Leo auditioned for One Day while still filming The White Lotus. He hadn’t read the book, only just managed to watch the panned 2011 film (starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess), and could barely walk as he’d slipped a disc. 

At this stage, he was still a total unknown, but says he knew he’d got the part when he spotted the casting director in tears during one of his screen tests.

Woodall (pictured with his girlfriend) has also gelled back his long hair at a number of red carpet appearances, just as 60-year-old Pitt used to do

Woodall has also gelled back his long hair at a number of red carpet appearances, just as 60-year-old Pitt (pictured) used to do

Woodall has gelled back his long hair at a number of red carpet appearances, just as 60-year-old Pitt used to do

Getting used to the attention his newfound fame brings has been hard to deal with. Today, he lives in London with his brother, spends plenty of time with family and friends and — for the most part — avoids self-promotion.

As he puts it: ‘I think work is the reason we do this and… there’s some fun to be had. But apart from that… I hang tight to the best people in my life and I don’t get too attached to the hoo-ha.’

He ended up watching The White Lotus, which contains several raunchy scenes, with his brother — a mistake he wasn’t going to make with One Day, which he viewed alone, logged in to the Netflix account he shares with his mum.

‘I was so nervous about what family would think of me as an actor,’ he admits. ‘I’ve always felt this personal pressure to make it. And they’ve always been wonderful and supportive.’

So, with his thespian family firmly behind him, and acting in his blood, what’s next for this red-hot young star?

David Nicholls has compared him to some of Hollywood’s leading men: Robert Redford, Mark Ruffalo and Ryan Gosling. One reviewer described him as ‘a tornado of charisma’. He’s even been tipped as the next James Bond.

And Leo? When asked about his future, he replied: ‘Now that I get asked this question, I should probably think of an answer.’

Perhaps fittingly for the boy who never wanted to be an actor, he’s got absolutely no idea.

ᴀʀᴛɪᴄʟᴇ ꜱᴏᴜʀᴄᴇ

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