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Death in Paradise star Ralf Little, 42, wasn’t always as smooth as he now seems and, 20 years ago, the stuttering actor was almost “hyperventilating” during an audition with Tom Hanks, 66, for a part in Band of Brothers. Desperate to make a good impression, but blighted by nerves, he ended up blurting out that the A-lister in front of him “looked like sh**”, right in front of his face.
Tom laughed off the insult but perhaps unsurprisingly, Ralf – who was then 22 – didn’t get the part.
At that time, he was inspired by the rock ‘n’ roll attitude and “swagger” of the Gallagher brothers, and was determined to play it cool from the start – until he slipped up.
In his pre-audition prior to meeting the Forrest Gump star, he recalled seeing “50 lads all sweating, dead nervous”.
“I’m not gonna be like the rest of them [sweating, shaking and sitting there reading the script] so I pulled out a copy of Loaded and started flicking through it performatively,” he elaborated.
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“I’m not really reading it but I’m not gonna look like I’m nervous. I was overly confident in a way that was a lie,” he told Kate Thornton, as he guested on her podcast White Wine Question Time.
Recalling the pre-audition itself, he admitted: “Within 30 seconds, I’d walked that line between confidence and arrogance, a little bit cheeky, a little bit of banter.”
Ralf was praised for his British sense of humour and the staff witnessing his audition invested in him so much that they even sent him to a voice coach, before he’d so much as snared the part.
It was a clear indicator that they were seriously interested in him for the role – but then Ralf played up to his humour a little too much and “drowned”, despite Tom Hanks trying to “rescue” him.
When he first met Tom two weeks later, during the next audition for shortlisted candidates, he recalled that the star was welcoming and kind to him.
“He comes running across the room [saying] ‘God bless you Ralf! It’s so good of you to come!'” he elaborated.
“He was just the most gorgeous man ever. He’s only read my name on a piece of paper a couple of seconds ago, he doesn’t know me, but he’s made this effort to welcome me and make me feel comfortable.”
When the actor asked if he was okay, he cracked a joke, telling him: “I’ll be honest, Tom – I’m sick to the pit of my stomach!'”
Asked by a concerned Tom if he was feeling ill, he confided that it was merely nerves, only to win the seal of approval from him for his “honesty”.
Then, surprised to see Tom “emaciated with a big beard and long hair” due to his role at the time in Castaway, he complimented the star’s “beardage”.
The American was confused by what the slang term meant, leading a shamefaced Ralf to repeat himself several times before he was understood.
“I’m panicking now because this moment has passed and things are getting cringey and awkward and I’m starting to sweat,” he continued.
Tom then revealed that his beard was less for his film role and more for “fashion”, chattily asking him whether he liked his look.
Then he blurted out the insult that left him feeling as if the ground would swallow him up.
“He knew it was a joke, he wasn’t offended, [but] I was just standing there going ‘Did you just stand in front of Tom Hanks and tell him ‘You look like sh**?!'” Ralf incredulously recalled.
Reading the script afterwards, the flustered Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps actor admitted he’d “choked in the biggest way you’ve ever known”.
Today, Ralf is considered one of Britain’s most accomplished actors and is regularly asked if he has advice for others hoping to break into the industry.
The first thing that comes to his mind? “Work really hard and don’t tell really big Hollywood stars that they look like sh**!”
Ralf’s full interview with Kate Thornton can be found here.
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