This is a very hard post for me to write.
I’ve recently finished reading two autobiographies. Both cover the same story. A boy – a nerd – has success in the fickle world of acting. Both stories tell of series of choices made. In one, the boy soars to great heights. In the other, the boy is bought back to Earth with a thump – seemingly never to succeed again.
What’s so hard is that both stories feel like they could have been written about me. Both make me question the choices I’ve made. Both leave me wondering if I am where I want to be in the world and – if not – how I get there.
Before the Internet, before mobile, before girls, before all the things which make me who I am today – I was an actor. I trained to be an actor. I was in shows, I went to classes, I passed examinations, I did interviews on the radio, I was a happy kid following in my parents’ acting footsteps.
After one summer show, my brother and I were both picked up by Hobsons International – a leading voice-over agency. We were over the moon! This was it! The chance to free ourselves from the shackles of amateur dramatics and into the big leagues!
So, every few months I would race up to a studio in London and record a voice-over. Usually for a commercial, sometimes for an audio book, the occasional training video. Nothing tremendously glamorous – but oh so exciting. Being able to skip school because I had a gig! Payment – sometimes £300 for an afternoon’s work – was a fortune for a kid. I was on my way to becoming a star.
The Scottish Play
One Friday in 1996 I got the phone call that would change my life. Or so I thought.
Earlier that week I’d auditioned at BBC to play a part in their upcoming adaptation of MacBeth. They said yes. THEY SAID YES! I was to start on Monday.
I don’t know if you can imagine it. Only fifteen and off to play Shakespeare for the BBC. To have my name immortalised next to Ian McKellen & Judi Dench. To be working as an actor. I was dizzy.
That Monday, I made my way to the rehearsal rooms. As I walked down the escalator at Waterloo, I noticed the giant poster for the just-released film “Twin Town”. I only remember, because every day I passed that poster – and every day I got to work with Rhys Ifans.
Rhys FUCKING Ifans!
We spent a few days rehearsing – fancifully I imagined that it was where they used to rehearse Doctor Who. Then we went to film in the abandoned Grand Hotel above St Pancras – where the Spice Girls had recently shot the video for Wannabe. I managed a sneaky zig-a-zig-ah on the staircase in between takes.
And then it was over. A heady week of seeing Rhys Ifans act everyone else off the screen, watching the crew complain about the actors, listening to the actors complaining about the food, wearing Alexander McQueen designed clothes and shoes. And then…. Nothing.
I have a fading VHS of the resultant show. I have an angsty teenage diary that I kept during the rehearsals and filming. I won’t show you either.
The truth is, I wanted to be an actor – but I just wasn’t very good. All of the happy memories that I might have had from filming are erased by a single sentence.
I happened to glance over the producer’s notes after one rehearsal. It was there in black and white:
“Older boy needs work.”
That killed me. I had no objective idea of how good I was as an actor. I knew that I was quick, funny, had the technique and the desire – but I was obviously lacking the ability.
I bunked off school one morning when the show was broadcast – I don’t think I told my friends it was on. I watched in abject terror. The producer was right; I did need work. My diction was sloppy, my timing was off, my body language was wrong. In short, I was unconvincing.
I decided to take a break. To regroup. To find out what it was which made me such a bad actor. I don’t remember if it was a conscious choice – but I never acted professionally again. My confidence was gone.
And that’s the story behind my sole entry in the IMDB.
I didn’t quit acting. I performed once or twice more at school. I did an A-Level in performing arts.
Rather than use that as the springboard onto a drama course at university, I took the safe option. I went for a fall-back career in IT.
Cannily, I chose a University with a great Drama school and pedigree – UEA.
I was active in the drama society – I was in a few plays which seemed to be roaring successes. I wooed my future wife by convincing her to audition for a role in The Royal Hunt of the Sun, in which I played Old Martin.
But, since university, I’ve not learned a line, recited a poem, or – to use the clichéd phrase – trodden the boards.
I, An Actor
I still consider myself an actor. When I stand in front of a MobileMonday or BarCamp crowd, I am performing. I am timing the laughs, craving the applause.
Before a big presentation at work, or a job interview, I do vocal warm ups and practice tongue twisters.
When I host an event and feel that I have no confidence, I put on a character and let that do the work for me.
If I need to convince someone of an argument in a meeting, I look them in the eye, stay engaged with their character, modulate my tone of voice, and whisper the actors’ prayer: “Let them find me convincing.”
I miss it. I don’t want to be famous. I don’t even want to be a jobbing actor any more. I just want to be on a stage – any stage.
Today is my 33rd birthday. I wonder how much longer I’ll be stuck playing this particular character…