What is it actually like to be a working actor in London? In this blog-series, our Screen Acting Tutor and professional actor Tom Colley gives you the lowdown. Welcome to the Acting Diaries...
I pressed the buzzer outside a door on Wardour Street in Soho, next to one of those cafes likely to serve their artisan coffee in scooped out avocado skins. With trembling knees, I walked up the two flights of stairs to the office. The agent wanted to meet me off the back of seeing a showcase I had done a week or so before.
I had no idea what to expect, what to ask, and most importantly, what the ‘right’ answers would be in response to their questions. With no show reel to offer, I clutched a plastic wallet with my headshot and sparse CV, like a priest with a Bible, hoping that it wouldn't be a source of humour for them. Walking into that office remains one of my most terrifying experiences. The confined space housed a team of agents typing away on computers framed by post-it notes, taking phone calls every five minutes and doing deals with aptitude and precision. It was impressive and intimidating all at once. What I remember most was a wall of framed headshots that hung like a vast tapestry of success.
The agent I had met at the showcase looked up, finished a phone call and came over to welcome me in. After brief introductions and swift hellos to the rest of the team I sat in a chair at his desk awaiting the onslaught. A few minutes later I realised that the world I was hoping to dive into was very different to the one I had been in, or envisioned for that matter. The acting business is exactly that - a business and I always see it as that now.
And so the questioning began. 'What films and TV shows do you see yourself in?', 'What is your best attribute as an actor?', 'How do you see yourself fitting into the industry?', 'What kind of work do you want to do?', 'Why did you choose us?' - hang on I thought, you chose me didn't you? - 'Tell me about the work you've done so far', 'What was the last show you saw?', 'What was your favourite show you've seen in the last month?'. The questions went on and on for the next hour. I'm not sure that my answers harboured any sort of substance, but I came away with a task; film a monologue and a casting scene for a film, and send them over next week. The agent did, however, say that he was confident about the possibility of an ongoing working relationship, but would have to consult the rest of the team first.
I rushed home, called some friends who had trained with me at drama school, picked my monologue and learned the lines for the film casting. I booked a filming slot at Spotlight (the UK casting hub) in Leicester Square and headed on over. With help from a couple of friends I filmed what was needed and sent it to the agent. That evening I dreamed up all the best scenarios; a new agent, getting cast in the film, and starting a busy career on the screen. I felt light and energised when I climbed into bed that evening.
I didn't hear anything for a week. Radio silence is the enemy of the actor. I'm used to it now, but back then it was all too true for me. Eagerness turned to anticipation, then waned to frustration and anxiety. It felt like the length of the summer had been distilled into one working week. I guess they were pretty busy people. Then on a Friday afternoon an email came through. It was wordy and felt apologetic from the off; not the best sign. Instantly I knew the decision was not going my way; 'the casting scene wasn't as strong as your monologue,' and 'we've taken on an actor we've been following for a while and you clash with him,' were the two sentences that really stood out. An efficient double blow to the stomach. The dreams dissipated in seconds, sharply tugged out of reach. There I was in my box room with a pile of plays and books by my bed and self doubt creeping under my door.
I still had 'Call The Midwife' to keep myself afloat and I clung to it like a life raft amidst a Nor' Easter off the coast of Newfoundland. When I got the call to say I was confirmed on the show I felt the storm calming and busied myself with the preparation for the role. It was the perfect reason to push the bad news to the farthest recesses of my mind. My character, an East London dockworker whose baby is stolen in the episode made for some exciting dialogue and character development. I drowned myself in research in order to step on to set with the fullest character I could.
The costume fitting was exciting. It was my first time at CosProp (a popular London costume hire venue) and I felt empowered in the period dress of trousers, braces and checkered shirt. As I looked at myself in the mirror, I was immediately transported back to the 1950's. The costume just felt right. I was booked to start filming on a smattering of days over a three week period in September. I was ready. The car picked me up as the sun still teased with the horizon and we drove to the set in East London. I was greeted by the second assistant director, shown to my trailer and there I sat with the 'sides' (on-the-day shooting script), flat cap in hand, waiting to be called. I said a silent thank you to someone and no one as there was a knock at my trailer door…
Tom Colley is a Screen and Method Acting tutor. City Academy run Acting for Screen classes across central London. Find your class below:
- All Screen Acting classes
- Screen Acting - Introduction course
- Screen Acting - Level 1 course
- Screen Acting - Level 2 course
- Screen Acting - Level 3 course
- Screen Acting Intensive courses
- Professional Showreel Package