Waterloo Road star on intensity of bulimia story and Preston and Kai's future

The return of Waterloo Road is proving a hit with fans, and the character of Preston Walters is already a fan favourite.

The student has been facing a tough time of it, with Noah Valentine’s character hiding a battle with bulimia, while his family has also endured some serious financial issues.

Noah has been relishing his time with the show so far, despite the exhausting nature of filming such an intense story, and Metro.co.uk recently caught up with him for a chat.

Here, he discusses the future for Preston and Kai, what he expects from the next series of the hit drama, and the bonds he has developed with his co-stars.

How has your Waterloo Road journey been so far?

It’s been amazing. You start on a really big series and you’re playing a really important part of it and you’re surrounded by amazing people and you’ve got a really precious character – he’s very precious to me at least. So it’s been an amazing experience, sort of surreal, really, from the start. Obviously seeing how well it’s been received so far, it’s been really nice.

The reaction to the show has been great

There’s always a worry that something’s not going to quite land as well as you’d hope. Even from series 11 when we all watched the first episode together, we felt like we were part of something that was really good.

It felt good to see it in its final form on a screen and see how great everyone is. Everyone’s performances, combined with the directing, it’s been really lovely to see it. It looks great. I enjoy it as a viewer, if I try to remove my bias.

The show tackles some serious issues. How does it feel to be given the platform to tackle those?

My character has so many different things going on that so many different people can resonate with. Just one message will make my day, so to see the many that I’ve got from people that can relate and resonate with Preston is amazing.

As a collective, everyone knew what they were being asked to do. Everyone took it incredibly seriously – which you would expect, but people were really committed to crafting something that mattered and something that people can watch and find peace in and find hope in and all that lovely stuff.

Everyone brought their A game and I think especially in series 12 people have grown into the characters, it seems like it’s settled and everyone’s just smashing it and understanding what they’re being asked to do and taking it very seriously.

And knowing that their storyline is going to be really positive for someone on the outside that’s going to see it as a viewer. That’s amazing, that we can hold that platform and really help people.

Because if someone watches an episode and the episode finishes and one person feels a bit more hopeful or they love their family a bit more or just something like that, that’s amazing. So the fact that we can do that is incredible and it feels great.

Has your own experience from school helped you with Preston’s character?

When I started as Preston I was 19 so it had been coming up to 4 years since I left school. It’s not really that long. For some people it had been longer – without age-shaming anyone!

I’d also done college as well so being a part of that environment and that academic environment was definitely helpful and it was just sort of second nature. You put your uniform on and you’re transported back a couple of years.

In terms of it being accurate towards school I think in terms of pupil interaction, interactions with teachers, sometimes you have a teacher that you have a really good relationship with and it’s really reflected in the show.

From the first series Preston and Lindon, he’s almost like a father figure for Preston and that’s really nice that that can be there. That represents something that I would imagine is true to many, many different pupils at school. There’s always one teacher that you really get on with, and is your favourite.

Also in terms of subjects and exam stress. I think what the show does so well is because when you’re in school you’re having your own individual experience, you see it from your own perspective and you’re not seeing everything behind closed doors.

Whereas when you’re watching a show like Waterloo Road you can see everyone’s individual perspective, and everything behind closed doors in their lives, and you can see how that manifests itself in the confines of the school, which is really interesting. It’s definitely accurate. The show’s just great, isn’t it?

Would you say you’ve formed some long-term friendships while working on this?

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I get on well with everyone. I started when I auditioned. There were people I met when I did my audition. Alicia Ford, who plays Kelly-Jo, I’ve got a really good friendship with her. She’s incredible. She’s so inspiring and I look up to her a lot.

We started out in the in-person auditions, I met her in my first one. She got cast before me and I got cast a couple of months later or something. I could tell that was always going to be a friendship I would really cherish on the job and further on. Not just cast, because I love everyone.

People behind the scenes as well, I’ve met some really great people in the crew. All in all it’s been like a big family because it’s pretty much the same people for a full year. Crew, it changes sometimes but it’s quite rare in TV that you’ll get a job that goes on for a year that you film three series altogether over the course of 15 months.

So you end up forming quite close relationships with a lot of people and you’re spending time outside of filming with them as well because everyone’s in Manchester and everyone’s really close.

You’re spending a lot of time with them and they’re seeing you on your bad days, they’re seeing you on your good days. You’re becoming quite vulnerable to be around specific people for a long period of time.

It’s something I’ll really cherish. It’s a very individual experience, it’s very singular. I don’t think there’s going to be an experience quite like it. All experiences in filming are going to be different because you’re doing different things with different people, but I think this was so specific.

Consistently seeing the same people and playing a major part in the story. It’s definitely been an experience I’ve cherished a lot.

Throughout both series we’ve seen Preston dealing with bulimia. How have you felt dealing with such a tough topic?

When I started auditioning I didn’t know about his bulimia. When I found out, I’d heard of it but I didn’t even know what it was. We set up meetings with a specialist and I did a lot of my own research, because I’m trying to do it justice as much as I can.

It was something where I’m an actor and I want to be challenged in the best way possible and also to be given such a privilege and a gift to be able to represent something like that on screen that I’ve not seen represented, especially in a male, I think that was really exciting and just felt special that I was being entrusted with something so sensitive and unique in its own way.

I just had to try and do my best to try and give a really accurate portrayal and I was really committed to that. I think as an actor when you become really passionate about trying to deliver something that means something, obviously you want to look great and you want to be regarded as a good actor and someone who can be natural and do this, this and that.

But when you’re given something so heavy-hitting and so sensitive, it sparks something else inside you.

It definitely did for me when I did episode 3 of series 11, when I started doing these scenes with – trigger warning for anyone reading this – when I was doing the bingeing and purging. You realise, even when you’re not even doing it properly, how difficult it is to simulate.

That in itself was an eye-opener. I was finding it really difficult to try and make this look authentic because I don’t want to tiptoe around it. If I’m going to commit to it I really have to try to do it justice, obviously keeping myself safe at the same time.

When I first did one of those scenes and I realised how difficult it was I realised, wow, this is so much bigger than myself. It’s quite daunting but it’s also something I welcomed and I was ready to go, okay, this really needs to be right.

Waterloo Road gave me the platform to do that and gave me the options. I had people I could talk to and that really, really helped as well.

Fans love Preston’s relationship with Kai. What’s it like working with Adam Ali?

Both of us were really committed to simulating a really authentic relationship. We did character workshops together. I think we both met it with our own individual view of how we see the relationship, how it’s been sparked, how it’s come to fruition. We took it from a character perspective and also a personal perspective of trying to get it right and make sure it’s accurate and it’s heartfelt.

I think we did a really good job. From the reaction on Twitter and TikTok and YouTube and stuff, I’ve seen a lot of edits. It’s really surreal but it’s great that people are finding comfort in both the characters and they’re shipping them, that’s amazing.

Adam’s got a very great way of thinking and it’s nice to add different approaches to how we perform as actors. We bounce off each other really well. It was dead easy to just get it, we didn’t have issues with it.

We obviously had meetings with the intimacy coordinators and we prioritised each other’s comfortableness and safety on set. Me and Adam just had a blast to be able to create something so unique with it. It’s been a good experience.

For people who haven’t binged the full box set yet, what can they expect from Preston and Kai’s relationship?

In terms of whether they’re suited to each other, I don’t think Preston at first really deserves him in the way he behaves. Obviously he’s got a lot that’s affecting his behaviour and that’s incredibly unfortunate but he does take things out on the people that he’s closest to, which does happen.

And I think the reason why the relationship blossoms is because Kai is the only person that listens to him properly, that makes him feel seen. He doesn’t carry any judgement with him and that’s such a beautiful thing for Preston to experience because he’s never had that.

He was dating Samia at first. From Preston’s perspective he likes her but there’s just not really much substance for him. He feels like he can’t be himself, he feels like he can’t be honest. At first he struggles with that with Kai.

In terms of what we can expect, we can expect them to be truthful and honest with each other, we can expect them to blossom. We can also expect them to have rocks in the road.

There are things that cause them trouble, there are things that Preston does that causes the relationship harm. I think that’s where it’s really beautiful. If you watched episode 3 of series 12, without going into too much detail there’s a big scene towards the end of it that’s really beautiful in the way that Preston decides to be open and honest because of the fact that he doesn’t want to lose him and I think that goes to show how much he cares and how much he’s coming to love him.

I think they have a beautiful relationship. I think they value trust and honesty and obviously there will be problems like there are for every young couple. You can’t expect them to be adults, because they’re not. They are both learning and that’s a journey that the audience will be taken on, which is really exciting.

We know that three series of Waterloo Road have already been filmed. Are you excited to stay with the show and see what the character of Preston does next?

Definitely. I love playing Preston, I love the experience of being on the show and I love the people on it. I’m definitely excited to be continuing his story, if that happens. I’m not done with him yet. I don’t feel Noah is willing to let him go yet because I don’t want to.

I’ve had him for longer than 15 months because when I started auditioning it was November 2021, so it’s been 17 months with one character and you come to love him for all the different reasons. I love him for what he is and what he isn’t. I like being in his skin, I like portraying him. And for me his story isn’t done yet.

What do you do to wind down after filming tough scenes or intense filming periods?

I think I underestimated how much it would take a toll on me. Not like anything deep but just in terms of being tired. You’re doing emotional scenes and you might be aware, your brain might be aware, it’s not real because I am Preston but I’m not actually Preston.

Your brain’s aware but your body isn’t. Your body thinks you’re going through a real experience every time you hear action and cut.

There was a point when I did episodes 3 and 4 of series 11 when it hit me because I was in most days and doing really intense things all the time. As great as that is, when i wasn’t really in episode

5 as much I had more time to myself and it feels weird not being in but it also feels like I just need a bit of a rest. With Preston it’s up here pretty much all the time.

With series 12 as well there were moments where it was nice, I could smile, like a scene where there wasn’t really much going on. That was cool as well.

In series 11 he was here, there and everywhere at a certain pace and then he sort of comes down a tiny bit. His storyline gets more serious but I think he’s learning as a person as well.

Winding down, I’ll be watching a show or a film. That’s my idea of detaching myself. Even then I find it really difficult to do that. I’m always thinking about it to some capacity. I enjoy thinking about it so I’ll be watching a show and I’ll be thinking about a Preston scene.

If I’ve got a scene coming up, how am I going to do this, what am I going to do here. My brain’s constantly working to that sort of level. I’m pretty obsessed! So I can’t really wind down because I enjoy it so much.

If I ever try it’s doing something like I have three dogs that give me a lot of peace, so that’s nice. Spending time with my family because they’re really supportive as well, which is a privilege. Having my own time, watching a show, watching a film, something along those lines.

You can get information and support around eating disorders by visiting the website of Beat.

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