Not everyone grows up to live out their childhood dream, but Nicholas Pinnock did just that.
The British actor, who has starred in U.K. series such as Top Boy and Marcella, is set to make his official debut across the pond in the upcoming sci-fi spy thriller Counterpart, starring Academy Award-winning actor J.K. Simmons.
Ahead of the Jan. 21 premiere, PEOPLE caught up with Pinnock, 44, to discuss the much-anticipated series, created by Justin Marks and ordered straight-to-series for two seasons by Starz way back in the spring of 2015.
“I knew from the age of 4 exactly what it was I wanted to do,” Pinnock says. “I had this dream of what my life would be like. I mean, we all have an idea of what we want our life to be like, and years later, that’s my life. It’s just f—ing awesome.”
The espionage series follows Simmons’ Howard Silk (a lowly cog in the bureaucratic machinery of a Berlin-based United Nations spy agency), who discovers that his organization safeguards the secret of a crossing into a parallel dimension. Pinnock plays Ian Shaw, the love interest of Silk’s wife, Emily, played by Olivia Williams.
“It’s a really exciting, fun, thriller of a show,” Pinnock says. “J.K. is a master at what he does, and he makes everything look so effortless. His presence on set — sometimes you wouldn’t even know he was there. He’s also really generous. There’s no ego at all.”
“Everybody, in fact, was just so happy to be there and wanted it to be the best show that it could possibly be,” he adds. “So egos went right out the window — we all just got on and did it. And whoever had a great idea, we went with that one.”
Read on for five more things to know about Pinnock.
1. He was a child actor.
Pinnock, who went to a stage school for kids, landed one of his first jobs at age 12: a small part in Frank Oz’s beloved 1986 musical Little Shop of Horrors. Though his scene was ultimately cut, the experience alone was enough to mark his memory forever.
“It was amazing,” he says of time spent at Pinewood Studios, where the James Bond franchise is filmed. “I spent six weeks on this set just watching Rick Moranis and Steve Martin and Frank Oz, who was directing.”
“One day I just sitting there on this makeshift pavement in one of the studios, and I heard this voice,” he recalls. “It sounded like Kermit the Frog. I turned around and it was Frank Oz, coming to talk to me. Me!”
2. He’s an active proponent of mental health awareness.
Pinnock, who has been open about his experience with depression, works with U.K. mental health charity Mind.
“I didn’t know anything about any organizations , and I wish I did, because I think they would have been a great help to me,” he says. “And because I didn’t, it’s important to me to make sure that people who don’t know, know that there are organizations out there that are there to help you. Because that could be the difference between saving someone’s life, bringing someone out of a dark, depressive state, and being a source of support they can’t find anywhere else.”
“One of the things about depression is if someone hasn’t been through it, it’s very difficult to understand,” he says. “When you have a group of people supporting you that totally know how you feel, and know why your moods are up and town and understand why your behaviors are slightly erratic, it really does make a difference. You feel comforted.”
“Not that I wish it on anybody else at all, but it’s nice knowing that I’m not the only one,” he adds. “I want people to know they are not the only ones. So anything I can do to help raise awareness and put it out there, I will quite happily do.”
3. He writes poetry.
“I started writing when I didn’t realize I was depressed,” he explains. “When I put my feelings down on paper, I managed to articulate them in a way that people one, could understand and two, thought was beautiful and three, had a poetry about them.”
4. He’s working on a book.
Pinnock has been putting together a book of poetry and writings — but, as he says, “it’s all a work in progress.”
“As a writer, I write when I feel inspired,” he says. “When I’m working and I’m finding my character through my scripts, I find it quite difficult to focus on anything else because I am all about that character in the moment. But on my days off, if I feel like I have something to say or something has happened, I’ll write.”
“I’m not the type of writer that sets two hours aside every day to try and get it done — it’s either there, or it’s not,” he adds. “For me, when it comes from that instinctive, inspired place, my language is better.”
5. He doesn’t watch himself on TV.
“I want to keep acting, and if I keep watching myself I’m going to convince myself that acting is probably not a good idea because I’m so terrible,” he says with a laugh. “So it’s probably best I don’t watch myself, and I feel it instead.”
“My theory is you don’t watch yourself back in theater, you feel it — and if you feel good, you probably were good,” he explains. “So I’ve translated that to television and film. Scene for scene, if it feels good, then I’m happy.”
Counterpart premieres Jan. 21 at 8 p.m. ET on Starz.