My daughter wants to be an actress. Words that should strike fear into the heart of any right thinking parent. I’ve gently tried to discourage her from what I perceive as a harsh life, but she comes alive on stage and has held on to this ambition to the exclusion of other childhood dreams. Luckily my daughter is only seven and there is plenty of time for sense to prevail, but were she to continue on her path, what should she know?
Speak to any actor or actress and they’ll tell you times are tough. As fewer feature films are being made and the quality of television improves, major Hollywood stars who would never previously have reverted to the small screen are now found crossing back and forth between film and television. Whether it’s Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in True Detective, Tom Hardy in Peaky Blinders, or Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Honourable Woman, there is no longer any perceived stigma to doing television.
This has made things tougher for actors and actresses who are building their careers, as bigger names take roles that would have traditionally been breakthrough parts for emerging talent. With the volume of film, television and digital content being produced, all is not lost and there are still plenty of things actors and actresses can do to further their careers. I spoke to Lucy Cudden, a very talented British actress who has starred in a number of feature films and theatre productions, about the things actresses can do to thrive.
1. GET TRAINING
Paul Roseby, head of the National Youth Theatre, famously said that drama schools are a waste of time and money for most actors. “You don’t need to learn how to act,” Roseby said, “You need to learn how to sell yourself. You can either act or you can’t.”
Roseby advocated shorter modules rather than three year courses. His view seems to echo my own personal experience. Most of the actors I’ve worked with have completed some sort of formal training, but only a handful have attended three years of drama school. However you get it, some form of training seems to be a must have.
“I wouldn’t be without my training,” says Lucy. “More than anything after graduating it just gave me the confidence to walk into a room and trust my craft. You can always learn more, but it’s good to have solid foundations to build on – whether that comes in the form of drama school, or learning on the job, having a process that you trust gives you a starting point to fall back on.”
2. DETERMINATION COUNTS
Paul Schrader once said of screenwriting, “If you can find any happiness or satisfaction in another field of endeavor, you should do so, because the real reason to get involved in the arts is because you have no choice.”
My daughter has been set on being an actress since she was five and it seems that such youthful determination is not uncommon.
“As far back as I can remember I was always putting on little plays with my sister and our friends when we were kids,” says Lucy. “My poor parents had to endure our rather thrown together ‘shows’ which would often interrupt their ‘grown up’ coffee time with their friends.”
3. BE RESILIENT
“Give me a couple of years, and I’ll make that actress an overnight success.” Even a legendary mogul like Samuel Goldwyn was forced to recognise that it takes time to succeed. Virtually every creative professional has struggled and sacrificed for their art, and anyone embarking on an acting career should be prepared for the long haul.
“It’s a very competitive profession and it’s not always a meritocracy,” says Lucy, “but when you get to perform, to do what you love, there is nothing like it. I’ve been incredibly lucky, that even when I’ve been tearing out my hair at losing out on a role at the last post, my family have been very supportive – even though they probably wish I had a more stable career. My sister and my partner are also actors, so they know exactly what it’s like, the highs and the lows – it’s great having people who really understand the roller coaster ride.”
4. KEEP PERSPECTIVE
Anyone who’s seen Tropic Thunder will understand ego at its worst, and it’s important for actors and actresses to keep a sense of perspective.
“Don’t play keepy-uppy,” Lucy says, “My tutor at Central used the football analogy to try and stop us from being indulgent actors. He drilled it into us that our role as actors was to serve the story. I think sometimes as an actor you can get carried away with how you’re ‘feeling’ when that’s not really our job, it’s just a byproduct. He would remind us that our focus should be about affecting the person opposite, to tell the story, play the scene.”
Echoing Roseby’s words, one of the most important thing any actress needs to learn is how to promote herself. Careers can be built on a single role, so it’s crucial to make sure you get into the right rooms to be seen. Sometimes opportunities can come from the most unlikely sources.
“Respect your colleagues, be professional, be passionate and don’t be afraid to keep in touch,” says Lucy. “I often write to people I’ve worked with in the past if they’re doing a new project to see if I might be right for something and vice versa – I often recommend colleagues for other work. It’s a small business and it’s important to maintain relationships.”
6. BE PASSIONATE
Wherever your career takes you, it’s important to enjoy every step of the journey.
“There’s nothing like performing on stage, stepping out in front of hundreds of people, your heart in your mouth and hoping the right words come out,” says Lucy. “I was lucky enough to play Antigone last year at an open air amphitheatre on the Southbank and we were performing in front of up to 900 people each night. It was exhilarating talking directly to the audience, some of them were so close I could have reached out and touched them. That was a truly special experience, particularly as their reactions directly affected my performance – it was a Greek drama so I had the chance to read their faces, and speak to individuals directly. It was magical.”
Follow Lucy on Twitter: @lucycudden
Follow Adam Hamdy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/adamhamdy