The Acting Diaries: Badgers and Cigarettes

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...

the wind in the willows Tom ColleyMy first filming experience was an intense one; leaving me craving and hungry, like a William Burroughs figure in Junky. The cigarettes stayed with me in a desperate attempt to hold on to the project (I'm still shaking them off eight years on...). I sauntered around in the same leather jacket I filmed in, still read the same books the character did, and still had that cigarette hanging from the corner of my mouth. Sometimes I find things difficult to detach from.

Acting projects have definite endings; they vaporize into the ether just as suddenly as you were physically immersed in them. That's the nature of the beast. I struggled to understand this after my first project, and my yearnings manifested themselves in day dreams and frustration. I was no longer on a film set. I was no longer working with the director, playing with the other actors. At times like these, let's remind ourselves that these peaks and troughs will form the foundation of our existence. It's the caveat for the artist. And, if you don't like that; well, tough.

I rented a box of a room up in North London, and started working in a pub around the corner. I have very little memory of it, other than a couple of fun South African colleagues. I quit almost immediately, and instead started working on an adaptation of The Wind in The Willows; a Christmas show to run for three weeks in December. I was to play the Badger, so off came the leather jacket, and on went the black and white make up. I resembled something of Gene Simmons from Kiss. I went from an independent black and white psychological drama, to a live music family show with animals. It demanded a change of requirements from me as a performer. Don't underestimate the value of variety.

The process of creating a piece of theatre is inherently different to that of a film. I am thankful to have learnt that early in my career. Weeks of rehearsals galvanises a company towards a common vision, and it is this common vision that you share with the live audience. The morning ritual of a tube ride sipping a Starbucks Gingerbread Latte, learning lines and remembering animal choreography, was quite a joy. Things were starting to fall into place a bit; the mud that was thrown at me in drama school started revealing itself as little nuggets of gold. It seemed that prowling around as a hyena for seemingly excessive amounts of time wasn't a waste of time after all. None of it is. It's all diamond worthy, even if disguised as a lump of coal for a while.

The theatre run is different every night you do it. Audience numbers, connectivity between the cast, fatigue, technical hitches; the list is endless. This is what makes it so special; when you are on stage anything can happen! And it often does.

For The Wind in The Willows I remained curled up in a box onstage for the first twenty minutes of the play, in a costume comprised of fur and wool. I fell asleep during one performance, waking up just in time. I figured that a badger emerging from a box, with black and white make up streaming down his face, delirious as though coming up from hibernation, would be an interpretation that I could get away with. I'm glad I still remembered my lines.

As with the film, this project came and went in a whirlwind of activity. Before I knew it the last show came to an end, the last bows done, and it was goodbye to the Theatre 503 in Clapham. Even though I didn't have an agent, I wasn't being called in for TV dramas, and I wasn't talking to Martin Scorsese on the phone, I had had two opportunities to exercise my creative muscles. I figured that wasn't bad going. I celebrated Christmas that year pretty happy. I guess the grass can always be greener, one can always want more, and that can drive you forwards and keep you ambitious, but it shouldn't devalue past accomplishments. And with that in mind, it was onwards and upwards.