You know when people say things like “It’s been my dream for as long as I can remember” well I was one of those people. I’ve loved acting and performing my whole life. My earliest memory is doing after school drama club at the age of 4 but it probably went back even further. I was in all the plays and poetry reading competitions and whatever else I could do to get myself on stage in front of an audience.
Weirdly, a few years later I became very shy. If we were ever at an event or family gathering I’d struggle to leave my mother’s side, I hated talking to people I didn’t know well, I didn’t like making friends with random kids in the park and this stayed with me to varying degrees (eg: I’d still have to get my friend to ask for directions or sales assistants for things if we ever went shopping up until the age of, like, 13.)
In secondary school I took up Speech & Drama again and for the first year or so, while I had friends in the class I loved it. Then my friends lost interest and the class was suddenly full of girls from other years that I didn’t know, who all had friends with them. I was alone and terrified. I didn’t enjoy it anymore so I stopped going. Then one year I was compelled to audition for the school play and I got in. Come the first day of rehearsals for Pygmalion I found myself yet again terrified and not wanting to go. I was cast as Nepommuck, the big Hungarian guy with a ‘tash that confirms Eliza’s Noble status at the Embassy reception. It wasn’t a big part in the grand scheme of things but it was in that particular scene. I had to do an accent, it was a school play so as long as it sounded vaguely foreign I’d get away with it but the idea filled me with fear. I don’t remember much of the actual rehearsal process but I do remember my English teacher coming up to me and saying that the Drama teacher had expressed her concern about how I was handling the part. In order to help me she set up a sort of workshop with two older girls who were brilliant actresses that I really looked up to. This was my idea of HELL! They were so nice and clearly just trying to help me but I just froze with embarrassment. I kept saying to myself that I knew it would be ok on the night but funnily enough this doesn’t fill a director with confidence.
Come opening night I absolutely smashed it. I did the accent, I cracked the jokes, I turned myself into a 6ft something Hungarian man even though I was a 5ft something school girl and I had the audience in the palm of my hand. The show ran for four nights and I had students, teachers & parents congratulating me after each one. On the last night everyone signed each other’s programmes and I cried all the way home. I still have that programme in a drawer along with my AS Level Theatre Studies devised script (which was awful).
I was absolutely 100% hooked on a feeling again and I had to do it forever, for the rest of my life. So I left that school because they didn’t offer Drama as an A Level and I went to boarding school for 6th form, one that had an incredible theatre! I took AS and A Level Theatre Studies. I got a B and was told by one of my teachers that I’d never get into Drama School because I didn’t put enough of the extra work in. “It’s not enough just to be good at acting, you have to be willing to work on the boring stuff too.” His words rang in my ears so I didn’t apply to Drama School, instead I applied to do Drama at Uni.
I studied Modern Drama Studies which was obviously more of a theory, essay based course but I worked hard and didn’t try to blag the boring stuff and I graduated with a 2.1. But I was still too scared to apply to Drama School, the idea of auditioning filled me with dread. So I spent nearly a year feeling sorry for myself on the sofa, not doing much of anything while everyone around me began their career journeys.
Then my aunt got me a meeting with Jessica de Rothschild who founded the production company, Sweet Pea Productions. They were putting on a Pinter double bill at the Comedy Theatre starring Richard Coyle, Gina McKee, Charlie Cox and Timothy West and took me on as a runner. It was directed by Jamie Lloyd who is now absolutely massive. I GOT TO MEET HAROLD PINTER. It was a giant turning point for me and I’ll never forget it. The rehearsals were at RADA and the more time I spent there, often seeing a group of people singing in reception or running lines in the halls (very Fame-esque) the more I wished I had the courage to apply. I looked into schools with one or two year courses aimed at older students but I never got further than reading about them.
Then a friend of mine from Uni said she’d auditioned and got a place on the two year course for one of the schools I’d been looking at. I suddenly just thought “if she can be brave enough why cant I?” I had my old Drama teacher’s words ringing in my ears but this time all I could hear was the part about being good at acting, which I’d heard so often before but never really believed. So I applied and had auditions lined up for 3 schools and when I told Gina McKee at the after party of the play’s opening night she high fived me. After my job as runner came to an end I wrote a letter to Jamie and the cast thanking them for changing my life. My name is in the programme for Harold Pinter’s The Lover & The Collection which was shot by Sam Taylor-Johnson (nee Wood) who I also got to meet. I sent an email to my aunt gushing about how much I loved the job and thanking her for setting up the meeting but sadly she died before reading it.
Having thought I’d totally balls’d up the interview portion, I got onto the 1 year course of the first school I auditioned for and I loved it so much that I accepted without going to my other 2 auditions (the deadline for acceptance was before my other auditions and I didn’t want to risk losing my place.) It was basically one of the best years of my life. It was really hard, really tiring and took up most of my time but I absolutely loved every minute. I was given bad parts and excellent parts, was told off and praised, given good feedback and bad but I was giving something my all for the first time in ages. They taught us how to fake fight, how to move, how to sing, how to dance, how to do accents and taxes. There were history lessons, therapy sessions, career planning talks and practice auditions in front of real life casting directors and of course, lots of performing. Nothing was really as it seemed at Drama School. They’d build you up just to knock you down, they’d cast people in romantic scenes that they knew had been in relationships, you’d get bad crits for something you thought you’d totally nailed (my Gwen Cedar in For Services Rendered guys?! I’m still not over it!) They told us most people quit within the first year because they aren’t prepared for how hard it is. I scoffed. Who doesn’t know how hard it is to become an actor?! The competition is absolutely off the chain but I know I’m good so I’ll never give up and I won’t have to. At our graduation ceremony I wept.
My end of year show was definitely my best performance ever to this day. I still mentally thank the powers that be for giving me that role because it was a brilliant one. I made my friend in the audience cry and, perhaps more importantly, I managed to get an agent out of it so you could say I was pretty bloody chuffed. I booked the first job I ever auditioned for professionally and so it began… (To be continued.)