JAKE CANUSO is the man who turned down Kylie Minogue. The dancer-turned-actor, who plays barman Matteo in ITV's comedy hit Benidorm, toured the world performing with the likes of Take That, the Spice Girls and Prince.

But there came a point when he wanted to pursue acting. It wasn't an age thing that made him quit dancing. "I could have worked for another six or seven years but the time was right to stop," he explains. "I came back from the Spice Girls tour after a year, then worked with Mel B a little longer but I really wanted to act. It was too late to go to drama school so I did a lot of workshops and went to the Actors Centre in America.

"I did various acting courses. You could play around and see if you liked it. I decided to just not dance any more and not take any dance work. I was offered a Kylie Minogue tour and turned it down. I thought if I wanted to act seriously I had to do that.

"I took my first normal job, working in a restaurant. I was 30 and never had a normal job before. If you really want to act you have to be realistic because 99 per cent of actors only work for a few days each year. I went from the top of the pile in dancing to the bottom of the pile in acting."

Born in Switzerland to immigrants from Southern Italy, he began his stage career at 16 as a dancer – as the youngest member of Zurich's leading contemporary dance company. At that time Switzerland didn't offer much in the way of stage schools, but he'd been influenced by watching old Gene Kelly movies on the TV.

"I was doing it because I liked doing it. I didn't realise you could earn a living from it. I wanted to act as well, but when I first came to this country I got stuck in dancing," he says of his move to London via Paris and New York.

After working with leading dance companies, he climbed aboard the merry-go-round of big commercial pop tours as a choreographer and dancer. It took him all over the world. "I was living a very exciting life, jetting around in private planes and staying in incredible hotels working with everyone from Madonna to Prince. But it's not really your life. The band are the stars and you're there to make them look good," he says.

Benidorm, the comedy series about British holidaymakers abroad, has kept him busy. He was newly-returned from four months in Spain filming the seventh series – due for screening next year – when we spoke about his pantomime debut playing Abanazar in Aladdin at Billingham Forum this Christmas.

He's still enjoying making Benidorm, although when they did the first series no one could have predicted just how successful and long-running it would be. He says it's a great company of actors and crew, and that the locals embrace the TV film-makers. Brits holiday there to catch a glimpse of the stars.

Barman Matteo is "so much fun" to play. "He gets to do ludicrously silly things and gets to be very stupid. He's always trying it on with someone but it never happens. That's part of his charm – he always fails at everything," says Canuso.

His English isn't very good unlike Canuso who's fluent in five languages. "When I'm in Spain I'm quite happy rabbiting away in Spanish. Or I can be in the middle of a conversation and slip into German. There's a funny dynamic with my family because we speak all these different languages. At Sunday lunch I might throw some Italian to my parents, Swiss to some of the children and Spanish to nephews."

Between series of Benidorm he competed in ITV's diving show Splash! in which celebrities were mentored by Olympic champion Tom Daley. He's glad he did it but it was petrifying, he says. Not least because he was caught up in the 2004 Boxing Day Thailand tsunami while holidaying with his sister on a small island off the coast.

He was on the beach when the gigantic wave struck and at one point was trapped underwater beneath a fallen tree as he started to lose consciousness. Eventually the tidal surge pushed him back to the surface and he managed to grab hold of something that was floating. He found his sister, also unharmed, after about 40 minutes.

He didn't go back in the water for several years. "The first week on Splash brought a lot of those memories back because all of a sudden you were deep underwater and memories in your subconscious come back. I had to concentrate so hard on the diving," he says.

On his first pantomime Canuso says: "If I've survived Splash! I can survive anything," he jokes. "Of course to start with the idea is terrifying. I've been on stage in front of 70,000 people in concerts but panto is a very different experience. It wasn't part of my experience as a child although I've seen a lot of them."

Aladdin: Billingham Forum, Dec 6-Jan 4. Box office: 01642-552663 and forumtheatrebillingham.co.uk