With an acting career that spans Our Friends in the North, Line of Duty, Atonement, In the Loop and Michael Grandage’s King Lear, Gina McKee could be said to have done it all. We talk to her about how NYT changed her life, why she didn’t go to drama school and why she should have never worn those polka dot trousers…
What advice would you give to a younger actor starting out today?
Ask yourself why you want to be an actor. As well as training to be a performer, learn about the industry. Find out about who is making productions and how they are making them. At every step of the way keep answering the question, “Why do I want to be an actor?”
How do you think being in the National Youth Theatre affected your career?
Being in NYT in the late 70s and the 80s wasn't about becoming a professional actor. Many of the members wanted to be professional actors but the values it gave us went beyond that. I think it affected my life as opposed to my career!
I learnt a huge amount in the initial two week course, but the most valuable thing I learnt was that I had choices in my life.
You didn't go to drama school - do you think that's had an affect on how you approach your work? Do you think young actors should go to drama school?
I had an Equity card (which you needed to get work) because I had been in a TV series when I was 14 years old. I'd been a member of a local youth theatre in the North East from the age of 13 and I joined the NYT when I was 15. I also studied Theatre Studies at A-level. Beyond that I wanted to learn more. At the age of 17 I tried for three drama schools and didn't get in.
At 18 I managed to get some work as an actor and I enrolled for classes in voice production, dancing, juggling, improvisation workshops; anything that I thought might be useful and that I could afford.
Everyone is different and what suits one will not necessarily suit another. There is no right or wrong way but, whatever your route is, you need to be prepared with skills to back up your talent and have an appetite to learn and adapt.
What's the single best piece of advice you've ever been given by a director?
On opening night: “Now you can enjoy it.”
Do you have any tips on approaching auditions? Do you approach auditions for TV, film and theatre differently?
My aim is to give it my best shot and not to waste the opportunity. So I put in the time beforehand. I learn sides [cut down versions of the script], I research the story, the character, the time it is set, the director, producer, casting director etc.
Sometimes you don't get much notice but I still do as much as I can.
Do you have any advice on coping with rejection?
If you ever get asked to read at or take part in an audition session, do it. It helps you understand that there are a number of things beyond your control or influence that go into the final decision of who is cast.
If you hadn't become an actor what do you think you'd be doing now?
Ummm... errr... going to art school to study set design? Who knows!
If you could go back and give your younger self a piece of advice what would it be?
Trust your instinct and throw away those polka dot trousers: you look like a clown.
To find out more and to apply for NYT auditions and interviews, visit their website.