Dexter Fletcher's startling confession: Being drugged up, bankrupt and homeless was my best career move


01:11 GMT, 30 March 2012



01:13 GMT, 30 March 2012

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Growing pains: Now middle-aged, Dexter Fletcher has dozens of roles under his belt

Since then his film credits have included The Elephant Man, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Topsy-Turvy and Kick-Ass, and he has also starred in hit TV shows like Press Gang and Hotel Babylon.

But in the last couple of years he has gone behind the camera to co-write and direct Wild Bill, a compassionate, bittersweet drama about a wayward ex-con who finds himself looking after his two adolescent sons single-handedly.

Released last week, with Charlie Creed-Miles in the lead role, the film has received rave reviews. Dexter, who was born in North London, says: ‘Essentially it’s a story about growing up, but it’s the father who has still to grow up, not the sons.

‘I have a natural affinity with children and adults who can’t accept adult responsibility. Bill lost his youth to drink and drugs and he is trying to build a new life. It’s something I experienced in my own life — it took me a long time to grow up.’

Up-and-coming: Dexter as a young Bugsy

Up-and-coming: Dexter as a young Bugsy

Fletcher spiraled into alcohol and drug addiction in his 20s, and became bankrupt and homeless as a result. ‘Everything started to unravel,’ he says. ‘I was on drugs and out of control. I had money but no sense of how to handle it responsibly. I was acting like a reckless teenager and couldn’t function as an adult.’ His troubles, he believes, were caused by the curse of child stardom.

The youngest of three brothers, Fletcher trained at the Anna Scher Theatre School in Islington, where he was spotted by Bugsy writer/director Alan Parker.

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Versatile: Dexter as John Martin in the hit TV show Band Of Brothers

He started dating co-star Julia Sawalha, who later played Saffy in Absolutely Fabulous. But after Press Gang’s end, Fletcher fell apart. He says: ‘I was getting into serious debt because I’d never paid taxes and I didn’t know how to manage my affairs.

‘I was 28 and my career was in freefall. I lost all interest in acting and I went off the rails, doing drugs, buying cars and stuff I couldn’t afford and partying until I ran out of steam.’

Saddled with debts of 90,000, he lost his house and started sleeping in his car.

It was only a chance meeting with old friend and actor Alan Rickman that saved him from oblivion. Dexter recalls, ‘I was still going out with Julia and I saw Alan at a recording of Absolutely Fabulous. I hadn’t seen him for ages. He could see I was in a bad way.’

Rickman encouraged him to work with Lithuanian theatre director Dalia Ibelhauptaite in a tiny theatre in Islington.

‘At first I thought I couldn’t do it,’ says Fletcher. ‘Another aspect of being a child actor is you start to doubt your own abilities. I hadn’t studied the craft, I did it by instinct, so I had to go back to square one.

When I met Dalia I was a complete wastrel and she turned everything around. Once I got back on stage I began to believe in myself again, and that broke the cycle of addiction. I managed to chuck the drugs . . . and fall in love with Dalia at the same time. Turns out going bankrupt was the right move for me.’

They married at Marylebone Register Office in 1997, with Alan Rickman as best man.

Dexter says, ‘It was the best thing I’ve ever done. Dalia put me back in touch with reality and kept me grounded.’ He started getting top-notch roles again, like Band of Brothers and Hotel Babylon.

And in the past few years he has also been popping up on his chef pal Jamie Oliver’s shows. ‘I met him six years ago at a party and it turned out he’s a big fan of Bugsy Malone,’ explains Dexter. ‘We hit it off right away and support each other as much as we can’

When Dexter was working on Wild Bill, it was Jamie’s opinion he sought on the early cut. ‘He really liked it and said, “What can we do to spread the word” He came up with the idea for a special screening.’

Jamie got his team to do the catering at an event for an invited audience, and it was a big success. Now with the critics wowed and his 15th wedding anniversary approaching, Dexter feels he has finally come of age.

‘During the past 15 years I have became an adult one way or another,’ he says. ‘I’ve still got a way to go, but I was lucky. Thanks to Dalia, I was given another chance at life.’

Wild Bill is in cinemas now