The star of Twilight, White Heat, The Descent and Kill List shares her advice on drama school, working with directors and what to wear to auditions….
You studied at LAMDA. Do you think you could have had your career without going to drama school?
I think drama schools are great; it’s fantastic to take three years to figure things out, especially when you’re young. If you’re 18, it’s as much about learning to live alone as it is about learning your craft.
It’s also useful in an industry way – you know that agents are going to come see your shows. I got my first agent through drama school, although I’m now on my third. It can take a few tries to find the perfect person.
You’ve taken part in Channel 4’s Coming Up project this year, which teams emerging writers and directors with established actors. What was it like?
It was an amazing experience. I’ve known about Coming Up for years – I caught it once randomly on telly and was really blown away. This year I got a call from [the director] and immediately wanted to be involved. It’s such a great platform for up-and-coming talent.
Do you have any advice for aspiring directors, as an actor?
The first bit of advice is just go and do it. Shoot on whatever you can get your hands on – even if it’s an iPhone. The more we do, the better we get. Don’t think that your first attempt has to be perfect.
All actors work differently. You have to keep an open dialogue. That’s true of any collaboration.
When you’re doing film and TV you don’t have a lot of rehearsal time, so it’s good to get some experience of working with actors beforehand, by doing workshops.
Also, don’t create too much of a separation between the people involved on a project. Everyone has their niche – directors, actors, sound designers etc – but opening yourself up to other people’s ideas and helping them to feel included can produce much better results.
Finally, remember that actors spend a lot of time working on a script and a character. It gets to a point where the person who knows a character best is the actor playing them. Obviously that character is just a small cog in a bigger wheel, and the director has an overview of everything, but the actor has a very detailed view of the character.
How do you pick your projects?
First of all, I think it’s a real myth that actors have the ability to pick things. When someone says, “that was a bad choice,” I think, “It was £20,000! I needed the money! I didn’t have any other offers!” I’d rather be working on something that isn’t deemed creatively amazing, but learning, than not doing anything at all and waiting for the phone to ring.
Did you notice a change in the kind of parts you were being offered after Twilight?
Two things happened; I did Kill List, which was a micro-mini budget project, but it got a really great response in the UK. I then got Twilight, while I was doing Kill List. They came out within two months of each other, and the combination had a massive difference. Twilight meant I was attached to a big franchise, which opened doors, and Kill List was one of the first opportunities I had to really get my teeth into a rounded, three-dimensional part.
I get to audition for things that I wouldn’t have even got into the room for, three years ago.
Preparing for auditions: What to wear
Read the whole script, not just your scenes. Take the time to learn your parts off by heart, so if they want you to, you can improvise around it.
Don’t be afraid to make strong decisions, but not so solid that you’re not able to adapt in the room if you’re given notes.
In the States, it is much more common for people to dress in costume for their auditions. I had a callback for a TV pilot over there, to play a lawyer, and the casting agent actually asked me if I had a skirt suit to change in to. My heart just sank. Luckily another girl had a spare, which she leant to me. But the casting agent said that I wouldn’t have got the part if I’d walked in in what I was wearing.
To find out more about Coming Up, visit the Channel 4 website.
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