Drew Mulligan Graduated from RADA in 1999 where he played Hamlet in his final year directed by William Gaskill. Since then he has starred in Peter Greenaway’s trilogy of films titled The Tulse Luper Suitcases, worked with Declan Donnellan in Antigone at the Old Vic, spent several seasons at the RSC and National Theatre and performed in venues across the UK. He is currently Head of Acting at The Institute of the Arts, Barcelona.
Here is his advice for the aspiring actor.
Some rough notes on acting
Always keep acting. It sounds obvious but the more stage time you get the better actor you will become. No amount of acting lessons can teach you what it is like to be in front of an audience. The most important tools you have as an actor are your voice and your body so you must make sure they are in the best condition possible. Attitude may get you some way but only for a short time and it cannot make up for being physically prepared.
When on stage always commit to the other actors, always look at them when they are talking. It is the connection between the people on stage that the audience react to, and it is that which tells the story – not your own self-centred monologue. It is your interaction with other actors that will define you and your place in the scene or the play as a whole. Every word is important, make sure the audience hears them. They are the bricks that make up the wall of your character – no words are irrelevant they are an opportunity for actors to express themselves. Don’t worry about complicated objectives or clever subconscious storylines; these are red herrings. The obvious way to play a line is always the best; just choose a good fun action. Two good books to read about acting are “True and false” by David Mamet and “The actor and the target” by Declan Donnellan. Both directors stress simplicity and directness – the best advice possible I think.
Always talk to other actors and make sure you know what’s going on, what’s being cast and who is directing what. Keep a book on all the people you meet and make sure you know what they are doing. Check the websites for all the major theatres or get on their mailing lists. Shows are usually cast 8-10 weeks before they open, it would not be seen as cheeky to send in your CV and photo uninvited to the director or casting director. Remember that you are running a business so treat your career as such. Get PCR, join Castweb (HYPERLINK www.castweb.com) and keep talking to people – let them know what you are up to.
Chance meetings will get you as much if not more work than your agent. I reluctantly went to a friend’s birthday celebration over 2 years ago. I had been out of work for 6 months and the last thing I wanted to do was to chat to a whole bunch of working actors with their new phones and new trainers (the two signs of a working actor!) Anyway I got chatting to a friend from RADA who was just finishing at the RSC and he told me they were still casting for the new season. I thought they had finished casting weeks before and had cursed my agent for not getting me in to see them. He said I should drop them a line. Next day I sent in my CV and photo along with a cover letter, which was short and to the point. The day after that I got an audition and the day after that I was offered a 16 month contract which started the following Monday. It was chance, yes, but you have to put yourself in the position to be lucky. I was so close to not going that night, thank god I did.
What I really want to say
Don’t do it, it is not worth it. You will probably have more opportunity to act if you stick to amateur dramatics. Certainly don’t do it if you want fame and money, if you are lucky you may get it for a short while but it won’t last. The problem with being trendy is that at some point you’ll go out of fashion. Talent is certainly no guarantee of success, though without it you won’t get far. Most jobs are cast by the way you look, something you can only do limited thing to change. This was always the case in film and TV, but now it’s the case in theatre too. Don’t get disappointed by rejection, mostly it is out of your control, but it will still hurt. So unless you have a burning passion for the work, don’t do it, it will make you middle aged and miserable. Being rejected nearly every day of your life mostly for a thing you can’t change is just not easy.
However, if you decide to go ahead and pursue a career then make sure you stick to it. Give yourself a chance, you can’t expect to get the parts you really want for a good five years. You must be patient, the longer you stay around the more of your contemporaries will fall by the wayside. Just keep working, eventually you will have met just about all the people there are to meet and they will know you. Most importantly, be yourself and be happy with yourself. Nothing is more attractive to a director or casting director than an actor that is happy to be who they are, where they are. Only by knowing who you are and what you want can you connect to other actors on stage truthfully, and that’s the ultimate goal. So, don’t try to be what you think they want you to be, you can’t make yourself taller or thinner or blonder for each audition. Just go in and be yourself. As David Mamet would probably say,
“Speak up, stick to your guns, believe in what you say, and be proud of your choice to be an actor.”