SOME REASONS WHY I’M AN ACTRESS
Members of the acting profession are experts at moaning. We are the hardest of all professions to please. People often tell me that they could not be an actor; it’s too difficult. I usually reply that acting is easy; it’s getting work that’s tough.
Whenever I encounter an actor going into moaning-overdrive, I like to remind them that no one put a gun to their head and said, “Larry, you have to be an actor.” Parents, careers’ teachers, neighbours and even the local newsagent all advised me (and any other prospective drama student) to get a proper job and stick to am-dram.
My headmistress asked, “What type of actress do you want to be, Carolyn? One that advertises in phone boxes or one with a boudoir up several flights of stairs in Soho?“
Actually, she didn’t say that, she just looked as though she might.
My parents disapproved with all the fervour of the disappointed. Yet, in true parental style, they never missed one of my plays apart from the one I omitted to invite them to in the early 70’s. It was set backstage of an “Oh Calcutta” parody, up two flights of stairs above a pub in Soho. (No, we didn’t perform nude but the language was little racy.)
From the age of 14 to 21 I acted with The Renegades Theatre Company in Ilford. The company put on a play a month plus pantomime. After a playing a good number of maids I graduated to leading roles and, despite being able to neither sing nor dance, appeared in several pantomimes, including being a baby giant in Jack and The Beanstalk where I got to run around the audience scaring children.
As a professional actress I rarely get to play leads to be honest but that doesn’t matter. The low pay doesn’t really matter although the lack of respect from those who should know better does grate. I am now at an age when “stardom” is not on the agenda and it is the quality of work that attracts me. The roles for older women are few and far between but they do tend to be interesting; Juliet is such a wimp whereas the nurse has real character.
What is important about acting work is that when it does come along (whether it be a challenging role in a Shaw play, a cameo in a film or simply being silly as Dame Creepy Crawley The Lady Violent in Downfall Abbey via a murder mystery company) there is nothing to beat it; nothing to make me feel more alive. Even a rehearsed (or usually unrehearsed) reading of new script is exciting because it might just be the script that will get produced, the part that will intrigue or something that will make me laugh or cry.
Working on a commercial often is fun – we all say it’s only for the money, as if that was a bad thing – but (not so) secretly the hour in make-up, the fiddling with costumes and the whole atmosphere of a shoot can be very fascinating. It’s like being a member of a secret society because most people don’t realise that over twenty takes were needed to get the hand holding the bottle in the best possible position. The last commercial I did (blink and you’ll miss me in a Tesco’s wine one) was really tedious for most of the day but the runner fetchd me a lovely breakfast whilst I was in make-up, lunch was superb, my hair looked so phenomenal that I didn’t wash it for days and the gossip was great!
Then there is the wonder (well for me cos it doesn’t happen often enough) of the car coming to pick me up in the morning. Me! A kid from East London having a chauffeur! As for the money, well, thank you ever so much Specsavers for giving me the freedom to do two fringe shows this summer.
The very very very very best bit about being an actor though is ………. oh, I don’t know.
- Is it the curtain call when a show has gone to plan?
- Is the big laugh when a line is timed to perfection?
- Is the magical sort of silence in a theatre when you cannot help but be aware that the audience is listening, eyes moist, as your character shares her sadness?
- Or is it the moment on a film set when you nail a take?
Or perhaps the best bit is getting that phone call, the one you pretend you haven’t been waiting for, telling you that you’ve got the part?
It is for those moments that most actors put up with the foibles and injustices of our profession.
However, whenever loads of us are moaning that we didn’t get the audition, didn’t get the job, didn’t get a reply to our application, it has to be realised that somebody did get the job; one of us is working!