ACTOR Leon Ockenden is going from plastering the boards to treading them - not to mention being likened to George Clooney along the way - as he takes up a theatre role in London's West End.
The 30-year-old, who lives in Cricklewood, is managing to combine his film, TV and West End stage career with learning to be a plasterer at the College of North West London, in Brent.
He enrolled on a one-year course in basic plastering at the Willesden campus last September after finding TV fame as the suave, sophisticated Doctor Chris Oakley in ITV's Heartbeat - when he was described as a 1960s version of ER hunk George Clooney.
But his acting credentials do not stop there.
Leon starred in the BBC One drama series Heroes and Villains, Channel Five soap Family Affairs, and last year played a leading role in the fringe theatre drama Plague Over England, playing thespian Sir John Gielgud.
Leon was keen to take up the role again when the play moved to a different theatre, but also wanted to stay at the college to finish his qualification, so staff at Dudden Hill Lane, Willesden invited him to drop in when he could to finish the course, which he has been doing.
Tim Weston, trowel trades curriculum manager, said: "Leon has an excellent speaking voice, a bit like Richard E Grant from the film Withnail and I.
"The play has a small cast but has done fantastically well. Leon is a very nice character, and he's also a very good plastering student - he has a good work ethic and gets stuck right in."
Leon grew up on a council estate in a Cornish fishing village near Looe with his single mother and younger brother Ryan.
He left school at 16 to train as a baker and pastry chef, but later decided he wanted to act and enrolled at Plymouth College of Further Education. He won a scholarship to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and from there went straight into small TV roles.
So why turn to plastering? Because, he says, there are so many 'swings and roundabouts' in the acting profession he wants a hands-on trade that would allow
him to be self-employed and move him a step nearer to building his own house one day.
He said: "Getting normal work in between jobs is difficult when you are an actor, and I don't enjoy waiting tables. Plastering is very therapeutic and quite soothing, and it is not too far removed from making dough and icing cakes.
"I also chose this trade because I thought I could start earning money more quickly. I definitely want to continue to level two next year, because I love coming to college, although at the moment I am still working part-time in a bakery.
"The college is like a little oasis where I can do something practical, in complete contrast to what I do for a living. The tutors have been brilliant at accommodating me, and the students too have been really supportive."
As the play, which is now showing at The Duchess Theatre, is finishing on May 2, Leon will start more acting work.
His understudy will take over a few performances while he goes to Prague to film a small role as an American Air Force pilot in a new war film, Red Tails, written by the legendary George Lucas.
You can also look out for Leon in a new horror film called Dread, to be released later this year, in which he plays an American again, but this time a student.
And if that is not enough check out the new PlayStation 3 computer game, Heavy Rain, which sees Lucas making an appearance as one of the four main characters - a psychological profiler working for the FBI. But for that you have to wait until Christmas.