My body is my tool.

Last weekend, I did a self tape audition for an American movie which shoots in Spain this summer. It’s a Western, and the casting breakdown stipulated in block capitals that they would not consider anyone for any role who had “undergone cosmetic surgery of any kind”, and that they wanted body shapes true to the film’s period- ” No modern physiques”.
It’s the first time I’ve seen this so starkly stipulated, but of course it does make a kind of sense to me in that the Wild West was certainly not populated with buff gym bunnies with spray tans and was more about six guns than six packs, but it does illustrate a dilemma to the the actor, that of trying to guess the best physical condition to maintain in order to maximise casting opportunities.
Now I’ve explained here before the importance of fitness, certainly of stamina and mobility, in order to cope with the physical demands of the job, be it in Theatre, Musicals or in front of the camera, and I suppose it’s obviously true in all walks of life that the fitter you are, the better you function, but this doesn’t mean that everybody has to have a physique like Tom Hardy or Angelina Jolie, or be perma-tanned and have gleaming white perfect teeth.
If casting is to reflect actual people in society, then such standards are clearly ridiculous, as a glance at the majority of physical specimens in leading roles in any of the TV Dramas and soaps will prove- very little evidence there of the much publicised chronic obesity problems we have here and in the USA, for instance.
Do we actors have to accept that we’ll be cast on our looks before our experience and skill is considered? If we’re born a certain physical shape, are we only destined to play particular roles or genres? Given the infinite variety of looks and physical and mental capabilities, shouldn’t we expect to see that reflected better in our Dramas and Comedies, or are we all just happy to go along with the increasing trend toward cosmetic homogenisation? Answers on a £20 note to me, c/o Sussex Title.
It’s complicated. I’ve a very dear friend and extremely talented actor, singer and musician who, a few years back, shed six stone in weight in order that he would be healthier and able to play with his kids. He was feeling fabulous until he realised that the work started drying up because, in his words, he “Was funnier fat”. I was appalled when we spoke of it, and assured him that his talent was more important than his waistline, only to be proved wrong when he put the weight back on and became busy again. He doesn’t play much football with his kids but they’re all happy to have a better income.
I have another friend, a beautiful and statuesque woman, who has, she says, “No other option” than the surgeon to hold back the march of time and extend her working career, as she believes it’s her physique which gets her cast, not her brains or her experience. She has two First Class Degrees in different subjects. It’s worth saying here that for Women, this trend towards casting a certain type of physical beauty DOES reflect the actual pressures inherent in all levels of consumerism and in society, and i realise that the pressures are much greater for actresses, for all women, while maintaining that it’s on the increase for Men, too.

The differences are stark. We’ve all heard the stories of how Robert De Niro can get an Oscar for his ‘bravery and dedication’ in putting on weight to play Jake La Motta, yet the fabulously funny, talented and beautiful Amy Schumer was put under enormous pressure to lose a lot of weight in order to play the lead role in a film based on her own life. Not a day goes by, seemingly, without headlines telling us of actresses ‘losing their baby tummy’ or selling exercise videos of how they dropped seven dress sizes, or being vilified by the paparazzi press for possessing muffin tops, as if ANY of this affected their ability to do their job. It’s one of the -admittedly few- reasons that I’m happier to be a man, but I digress…

I am blessed with good health, a good head of hair and my Doctor says my BMI and blood pressure are bang on. I have thirty five years experience of playing all kinds of characters across all disciplines, and I believe I’ve earned myself a reputation for being reliable and good to work with, as well as gaining mostly favourable reviews for doing so, and a good standing in the profession. However…
I spoke with my agent this morning to ask how an audition I’d had, for a lead guest role in a major and very popular two part BBC Drama had gone. It was to play a retired Police Officer, aged 60, and was a lovely nuanced part that I’d felt sure I could really enjoy and do well, only to be told that I didn’t get it because, according to the casting director, ‘I looked too young”. I shall be 59 in July. They could age me eighteen months in make up, surely? A few late nights would do the trick, no?


Hi Diddly Dee.


On the job.                                               I was   at work the other evening, sitting on stage in costume , slumped as if asleep in the chair as the audience filed in and took their seats. I’m in this position for about ten to fifteen minutes before the play actually starts, so I have time to ponder many things before my first cue. For the first two or three shows of the run, I’d use this time to focus on my upcoming lines, to consider any notes I may have had from the director, to regulate my breathing and ready myself for the upcoming performance, as you might imagine, but by now, a week into the run, the play was firmly in my memory and in my body, so my mind is free at these times to take a little wander, so on this evening I sat there planning what I might say in this very column, among other things.

The audience see me, dressed as a cowboy (‘Like the brooding figure of Death in a Stetson” said one reviewer, I’m strangely proud to say) but they would probably be confused if they could hear what runs through my mind. On this particular evening, for instance, I had a persistent ear-worm soundtrack- the song ‘Crush’ by Jennifer Paige, if you must know- and it was all I could do not to sing or hum along, which clearly wouldn’t be appropriate. I found myself thinking, too, that I wish the audience would hurry and get to there seats quickly as I was sitting in a very chilly draft from the door near to me which opened onto a Soho rooftop- I needed the audience as much for the heat of their bodies and breath as much as their artistic appreciation, and I thank all of you that were there on that chilly night for your warmth.  I was just thinking about the hot meal I might have after the show, when the music cue informed that I had to start the show. Game on.

My first action is to get up out of my chair with the music playing, then enter the main body of the set in a moody and imposing walk to herald the ghostly overtones of my character, thence to my second position, where I sit down on top of a TV set at the front of the stage, fold myself up into another cowboy position, switch the TV set off to start the dialogue from the two other actors who have appeared on stage, then sit there, silent and still, but in character, for about 15 minutes before my next cue. Yes, more time for me to slip back into private reverie.

In this second position, I’m practically in the laps of the front row, so I keep my downstage (audience side) eye closed, but I’m free to peer from my other eye and in my very small field of vision I can see, from under the brim of my Stetson , a few legs and feet of our audience. Tonight’s footwear includes three pairs of sensible court shoes ,a very handsome pair of brogue boots that I covet, and a disreputable pair of NIke trainers that were last in fashion in the 80’s- in Hull. I can also see a handbag from which an iPhone is sticking out, and I hope that the owner has taken care to switch it off- there are few things more inconsiderate and annoying than a performance interrupted by a call.  ” It’s just a little crush” sings Jennifer, in my head, and I change my breathing slightly to avert an imminent cough… all good.

I focus back fully on the play for a second- still about 5 minutes till I need to speak, I reckon. Everything seems to be going well, my two colleagues are firing on all cylinders and the audience are rapt and attentive. We’ve all worked hard for the three weeks of rehearsal and the work shows – the characterisations are fully three dimensional, the American accents are spot on , we all know our lines- not just in what we’re saying, but why we’re saying them, and the dialogue flows like it was freshly minted thought. Speaking of mint, I can see a big sprig of it on top of the ice in a cocktail that sits on the floor next to those handsome brogues in the front row. I hope he doesn’t pick it up and slurp it during one of my speeches, I muse.

My inner thoughts turn back to the subject of the few empty seats I can see- it’s not a full house, then. Mind you, it’s only a couple of days after Press night, and the reviews are still filtering in, and word of mouth hasn’t really had time to kick in yet, I tell myself, it’ll be better next week. I now seem to be listening to “Just a Gigolo” by the great Louis Prima- nothing if not eclectic, my ear worm DJ, and I consciously stop my pointed cowboy boots from tapping the delicious swing rhythm under the nose of the lady nearest my size 11 feet- this is not a musical. I then ponder what songs you could put in the show if it was “Achy Breaky Heart? Don’t be daft. Hank Williams might work, Waylon Jennings, maybe, or Johnny Cash… I’m also thinking seriously about food again. I’ve got a pack of sushi back in the (communal) dressing room which I shall probably inhale before I leave the theatre to catch the tube home. Yum.

I tune back into the show, unconsciously, from some sort of professional instinct, and I realise my cue is imminent. I feel a low level surge of adrenaline, I look down to check my flies- all secure- I ready myself, my cue arrives, and as I speak my characters lines and unfurl myself to my full height (plus Cuban heels) and commence my characters first speech , all other noise and distraction fades away and I’m in the play, happy in my work and rejoicing in my choice of career. Nothing makes me happier.

Hi Diddly Dee

The audition.

I’m often asked the question, ” How can I get a job, I’d love to get into acting?”, and when I can give an answer, I usually say, “First you need to secure an audition”.

It’s an odd thing, the audition, peculiar to my profession at least in its frequency, and one which will always bring with it both both hope and fear in equal measure. The hope, obviously , comes with the possibility of a job, the fear from the possibility of being overlooked -the sharpest of double-edged swords with which to be either dubbed worthy or cut down in the act, as it were.

It’s widely known that there are many more actors than jobs, so it’s easy to see that the process for casting those jobs are going to be oversubscribed and therefore highly competitive and fraught with tension. Imagine if two hundred plumbers, say, turned up to give you a quote, a run down of their recent jobs, and a short précis and demonstration of how they would do the job on offer, and you can begin to understand the time, logistical nightmares and plethora of choice which surely only serves to make any decision more difficult rather than exacting. For starters, there are a lot of people to impress.

The process goes roughly like this- there’s to be a new production, be it stage, tv, commercial, or film and it needs to be cast. Usually, but less often with theatre, the Director and Producer of the project will engage the services of a Casting Director, who will then issue a Casting breakdown. The casting breakdown is a list of the parts to be cast, with a short description of the type of character required in each role, alongside any specific attributes or skills needed -eg Driving, Horseriding, regional accent, stage fighting, musical instrument or macrame. The breakdown is then sent out on various Trade Casting Bulletins to which all actors Agents subscribe. The agent then scours the breakdown, cross references their client list with the breakdown for any potential matches, and then sends the photo and cv of these actors back to the casting director, who will then work to cut all suggested actors down to a shortlist to be seen in audition and inform the respective actor’s Agent. It’s a truism that for every part advertised there will be a heartbreaking amount of hopefuls who don’t make it past this stage, and they’ll probably never even get feedback as to why- this is frustrating, obviously, and illustrates the fact that without a good agent representing you, your chances of getting an audition are slim to none. True story.

Those lucky actors who actually get called to be seen are then informed by their agent of the audition, and they’ll be issued with the information about the role, and usually a script or at least a scene or two from the project to be prepared for the meeting, along with MP3 of songs and sheet music if required and, most importantly, the time and place of the audition. This is always a good feeling, seeing a script for the first time, learning the scenes and/or songs required, and mentally spending the money that you’ll get when the job is yours, as it surely must be ( We all do it).

On the day, all prepared, you go to the meeting. I always get there early to see who else is being seen and so try and get an idea of what they’re looking for. This isn’t always helpful – a little while ago I was early for a meeting about a part in a new musical and found out that I was the only man they we’re seeing that day for the part, the rest were women. I confess this threw me, as I couldn’t guess what might make their minds up, and consequently I underwhelmed with my non gender specific performance, and I could feel mild pity from the seven or eight people in the room as I left- not my finest. Moving on.

It’s difficult to tell how many people you’ll be seeing at the meeting – sometimes there’s just one casting assistant who does the dual job of reading in the lines from behind the camera as they’re taping you doing your finest, other times it can be just you, the director and an actor employed to read in with the hopefuls. There are auditions for big musicals which will be split into three – dance, singing and acting, which will involve learning routines in front of the choreographer, then performing a prepared audition song- if you get through those rounds, you get a crack at some acting. In some auditions, it’s like meeting old friends and colleagues for a laugh, in others it’s like being In front of the Law Lords for a Death Row repeal. You can never tell which it will be till you get there.

All auditions involve the conundrum of trying to guess what it is you can do that will catch the eye of the decision makers and so will land you the job. There are some obvious things that can help; you can dress like you believe the character would, for instance ( difficult if you’re auditioning for Lion King or Game of Thrones), or style your hair, grow or shave a beard, but you need to be subtle, if only to preserve some dignity. I had a friend who once used makeup to alter his blonde, blue eyed, Caucasian looks because there was another, larger part than the one he was being seen for that he’d spotted in the script – a character who was described as Asian… He didn’t get either part, and the story went round the business faster than a cute kitten meme on Facebook, to much hilarity and many nervous coughs of recognition.

Now, I’ve been doing this a long time, and in truth, more than 50% of my jobs come as straight offers without audition, so I’m luckier than many, and over the years I’ve done enough auditioning to forgive the presumption that I’ve become good at it, but it really doesn’t work like that. Ive done auditions I thought went badly where I’ve got the job, and those I thought I’d nailed but not heard anything after leaving the room. Actually this is a common pet peeve in the business – in the majority of cases, you’ll only hear from the people you’re auditioning for if you’ve actually landed the job- if you don’t get it, you’re often not informed, and instead wait out days of dwindling hope until you get something else to audition for, and the whole process starts again. I don’t know why this lack of courtesy and respect has become so commonplace, but that’s how it is, and it can be crushing.

It’s true to say also that in the the vast majority of cases theses days, the lead parts in a production, especially in Film and TV will be cast before the audition stage, so you’ll be auditioning for support roles at best, or for roles where the brief is broad enough to allow some creative or surprising casting, casting against type, or for small featured parts. At the other end of the scale, I’ve heard of a Producer of a panto who charged people to audition for the chorus, and then didn’t pay the ones who were successful , as they were getting “exposure” by appearing in the 10 sell out shows a week. Yes, gentle reader, he cast his panto, and made a profit on the backs of the talent,commitment, and desire of some of the people who deserve most credit. I make it a point never to work for free, but there are many, many misguided people who will.

Every now and then there will be, accompanied by much fanfare and hype, an Open Audition, literally open to all comers. We’ve all seen the long, long lines of hopefuls queuing for the X- Factor try-outs, so you’ll have a fairly good idea of the cattle market these things can be. Hundreds of desperate people, of various degrees of talent, all hoping for a big chance. The idea makes me shudder, and I respect every single person who has ever got a job that way, and readily admit that I couldn’t hack it- I’d be off to find another career instead.

So, there you are, that’s how you get an acting job- you don’t even have to be an Equity member, like in the closed shop days of old, anyone can have a go.

So, see you at 9.00 sharp at the audition room, bring two prepared speeches, a song – with sheet music for the accompanist, your tap shoes, a packed lunch, your most winning smile and join the queue. It starts round the block.

Hi Diddley Dee.

Out of work

Out of work…
Let me start by clearing something up once and for all :- Nobody in the profession ever calls it ‘resting’. Resting is what you do between sets in the gym, or in an armchair after a carb overload, or for most of a working evening if you’re an orchestral timpani player- being out of work is not resting,  it’s frantic.

Aside from all the obvious financial downsides, being an out of work actor requires enormous readiness of mind and spirit, self-discipline and unswerving dedication to one’s noble path. If you lack these qualities, it is still possible to get by, but for that you’ll need a trust fund, a property portfolio, or a partner with a proper job, but where’s the fun in that?

All it takes are a couple of auditions to go badly for the self-doubt to creep in. That voice in the mind – mine for some reason speaks like Alan Bennett – starts to say things like “Ah well, it was nice while it lasted, but you’d be better off being a lollipop man” Then when I’ve missed three or four, my head gets filled with “Oh dear, oh dear” and the sound of constant, echoey  tutting at my every attempt to maintain a positive outlook. It’s anything but resting.

I met a dear actress friend at a party the other day , she’s the same age as me and we spoke of how our careers were changing- she spoke beautifully about how she was now playing different parts- Grandmothers and Matriarchs, and that she was back at the National in a hit play, then going on to her next role in a West End Musical, playing another powerful Amazonian… I was genuinely happy for her, and we spoke of how we’re lucky to be in such a wonderful and creative profession and blessed to be able to make our living at it and how it kept us young, and fit ( ‘and skint’ , said Alan Bennett, in my head), and I said that I’d go and see her in the West End, and we parted. I was glad for her. I thought ‘bitch’ but didn’t say it, as per professional protocol, and I wondered what I could do to change my own fortunes.

I’m not a religious man, nor would I say that I’m superstitious, but at these times I confess I spend a lot of time pondering my luck, and my horoscope , searching all the time for celestial clues as to how best to move forward. I have thought long and hard over many years on where to look for inspiration and guidance at these times and the other day, I thought I’d hit upon just the deity. I should look to the God of Theatre himself, Dionysus, I thought , after all, all acting originates from the Greeks, and their theatre started as offerings only on the feast of Dionysus- he’s practically in the Business, for goodness’ sake, so he’ll recognise my needs, like some celestial Super Agent. Boom. California here I come.

I set out on my 21st century pilgrimage to find Dionysus. I googled him. As I read I could hear the sound of Alan Bennett pursing his lips into a sneer. I tried to ignore it, kept looking for someone to direct my prayers to, but the voice was beginning to enjoy himself “I see he’s half -mortal, then?  Not the full deity, no? Mind you, he is also the God of Fertility, Divine Madness and Wine- he sounds more like a Director ….No, hang on- Cult of Unrestrained Consumption? He’s an actor alright.” Not helpful at all.

I’ve been here before. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve nearly bought a cab licence or a newsagent. I’ve had other jobs over the years, but I’ve always dropped everything and run back at the first sniff of an audition, and I probably always shall. There are silver linings, of course, to unemployment, especially in the summer months, and I do have two job offers for next year, but I don’t mind admitting that I’d rather be working at the job I love- the job that is currently treating me like an embarrassing ex – than at any other thing I can imagine.

I’m off for a walk, then I shall cook the dinner and wait for the agent to call. But I’m not resting, is that clear?
“Hi diddly bloody dee” says Alan Bennett Voice…

Trust me, I’m an actor…

Trust me, I’m an actor. As a teenager, when I first expressed my desire to be an actor, the most common response was that I should consider a ‘proper job’ instead. Even now, 40 years later, my reply to the enquiry ‘and what do you do’ most often elicits a response of mild pity or, worse, a horrified, muttering withdrawal of the enquiring party lest they be bored senseless, left with the bill, or suffer some drunken molestation. I can think of few other professions which suffer such a universal, clichéd and wildly inaccurate reputation. I understand, of course, that clichés don’t evolve without a grain of truth, but my experience of the huge majority of people in my profession couldn’t be more different and i shall try, in this column, to illustrate that the skillsets (to borrow an HR buzzword) required to make a living in this honourable profession are more deserving of respect than derision, and at the same time,try to give you the skinny on what the job truly entails

To begin, let’s deal with the notion of the actor’s over inflated self obsession. Acting is different from being, say a Musician, an Artist or a writer in that as a general rule, you cannot practice your craft alone. Learning lines is, for the most part, a solo grind, but then we need other actors, stage management, directors, wardrobe and then an audience. In short, it’s a team game, and I’ve seen otherwise talented people fall away from the profession because they didn’t grasp this simple fact. In performance, an actor who does not listen to, or truthfully communicate with, the rest of the cast will pull focus and so distort any sense of the convention of a believable world onstage- even the greatest of plays will be diminished by such onanism and at worst it just becomes a bore-fest.

To be a working actor needs good people skills, an ability to get along with and develop relationships with fellow actors so that everyone is -literally- working on the same page. Admittedly, this can be tricky. Rehearsal rooms can sometimes be full of attitude, and the clashing of cheekbones can be heard down the street as the insecure and needy among us tries to thrust themselves more into the focus than the writer or director had intended. I’m not for a moment saying that all successful actors have no ego- its certainly true that a healthy sense of self is required in order to play the less showy but integral parts of any script- ‘They also serve who only stand with spears’, you might say. Even a burning desire to be the best you can be, while admirable in many ways, needs to be tempered with the ability to recognise and execute what is best for the job that everyone is there to do. If you’re in it solely for yourself, be prepared for bitter disappointment- you’ll not be asked back. This balanced sense of self is also vital if you’re going to weather the enormous amount of rejection all actors experience. It doesn’t matter to anyone that you believe with all your heart that you were born to play the part or that -in X-Factor parlance- you know that this is your life-changing opportunity you and your Mum have known would be yours- you might simply, for one of many reasons, not be the actor they want. Ive lost more than one job for being too tall to pair with the actress playing opposite me- it’s frustrating but understandable that theres never going to be the time/money to dig a trench every time they need to fit us both into a two-shot. We learn to accept it, process the disappointment, and prepare ourself for the next opportunity.

These constant lessons in life promote a healthy pragmatism among the best of us and keeps us away from the all too common modern notion that simply by wanting something enough we will cause it’s manifestation. The people in my profession who have learned these lessons are among the most well rounded and capable people I know, and so vastly different from the cliched view as to be polar opposite. I’m not embarrassed to say that I’m rarely happier than in the company of others in my profession, playing make believe, which for 35 years has been my proper job, my education and, more than once, my salvation. Which is another story.. Pass me my fedora and cane, and I’ll see you next issue.

The Actor’s Diet

The Actor’s Diet.
I was sitting in a studio the other morning, during recording of an Audio Book, and the session was repeatedly stopped as my stomach was grumbling, and the noise was being picked up by the mic. This made progress understandably slow, caused frustration and can potentially be costly- there’s only a certain amount of studio time booked, and my fee is fixed, which means I would be out of pocket if the session were to overrun, not to mention that the publishers may not ask me back if I can’t complete the book in the allotted time. I knew what the problem was, and it was my responsibility.

You see, I’d made the schoolboy error of skipping breakfast, and my stomach was now telling me – and my producer in the booth- that it needed fuel if I were to be able to carry on concentrating and reading clearly for very much longer without sounding like I had bassoon accompaniment, or my voice getting more and more droning and my diction faltering as my reserves ran ever lower. Not ideal in the situation, as you can imagine, but rectified in this instance by an early lunch ( I had pasta and salad , with water and a coffee) and a properly fuelled session in the afternoon where I was able to make up lost time and my energy levels were sufficient to complete the book slightly ahead of schedule. Phew.

Eating properly is important in all walks of life, of course, but it might not be obvious to inexperienced actors, or those outside my profession, just how much the food we eat and when we eat it can affect one’s ability to do the job -and can also adversely affect other actors around us. We need to be both good to ourselves and considerate of others we’re working with. Many years ago, in a matinee of a theatre job, I was playing a dying knight, whose head was being cradled by my leading lady in a touching opening scene which was spoiled when the actress dropped my head with a loud bang on the stage, causing many giggles and shattering the mood. As I’d turned to her face to utter my dying words, the poor woman got the full force of my breath, stinking of the garlic and chilli bread I’d enjoyed with my lunch, and she’d turned away in an effort to save her eyebrows being burned off by the toxic cloud. I was mortified and vowed it would never happen again. 

Food is important. I was filming in Romania just recently, on a big US TV miniseries, big budget, high production values and a really top class cast and crew. I arrived a week into the production and everyone I met warned me to take my own food to set as the catering was described in no uncertain terms as inedible swill. Working 12 hour filming days with no decent food can quickly cause unrest and even insurrection among cast and crew alike- the caterers were giving warning, failed to improve, and were very quickly and unceremoniously replaced. I was filming on the day of the change of caterers and arrived at my trailer at 6.45 am to find a hot breakfast, a bowl of fruit and some granola bars to snack on- much more like it. The whole mood on set that day, a very difficult day with 200 extras and various technical challenges, was greatly improved and there were many remarks about the improvement in catering. There are some areas of the budget where to cut costs is counterproductive, catering being high on that list. 

Acting on stage, even in sedentary roles, and especially in roles where there’s a great deal of standing around waiting between dialogue , may not appear to require a huge amount of energy, may not appear to be physical labour, but trust me, you don’t want to get caught sugar low in performance. In a musical I did at Christmas, there was one show where I watched my leading lady, an actress of great talent and experience, just wilt and physically crumple toward the stage in instalments, right in the middle of a huge dance number. I was able to hold her up till the end of the number, and made it part of my warm up routine for the rest of the run to feed her, or at least badger her to make sure she’d eaten.

You see, even if you’re just on stage and saying nothing, you need to be concentrating so that you don’t miss cues, and alert enough so that you at least look like you belong in the piece. All of this burns energy quickly, and can catch out the actor who isn’t properly fortified. I’ve been in several situations where actors have fallen asleep in the middle of scenes, even snoring and farting while doing so, which is hilarious for the audience- briefly- but detracts terribly from the intended job , as well as being disrespectful both to one’s colleagues and to the paying public. Most people wouldn’t dream of affecting their performance by going onstage after a few drinks, but it’s just as reckless to go on without a sensible meal inside you.

Speaking of alcohol, this has more effect on those around you than you might realise. I’m not being a killjoy here, to each their own in terms of responsibility, but no amount of breath mint or mouthwash can stop last night’s excesses from seeping out through the pores. I toured in Guys And Dolls a couple of years back, and during the dance routine in ‘Luck Be A Lady’ -a very demanding bit of choreography- it was possible to name what most of the lads had been drinking as they exerted themselves and sweated off almost undiluted beer, wine or whatever shots has seemed like a good idea the night before. Even before the attendant wind problems kicked in, this was still much less than a desirable working environment. The dressing rooms smelled more Twickenham than Tinseltown, but then they almost always do. 

Little and often, that’s the way. Avoid garlic, beans and Jerusalem artichokes and you’ll be fine and fragrant, and never , ever, skip breakfast. 
Trust me, I’m an actor.

Him off the telly

One beautiful spring day last week I was sat outside a cafe with the dogs and had noticed some attention from the table of two middle aged couples sat next to us. The enquiry soon followed; “Excuse me, didn’t you used to be an actor?

In truth, It’s been a quiet month, work wise, they happen from time to time. There have been a couple of voice jobs which have paid the bills, I’m grateful to say, but even if I include the journeys to London and back to do these jobs, I’ve not spent more than seven or eight days in actual gainful employment, but this chap was under the impression that I’d given up completely, since he’d “not seen me on telly for years”. This kind of thing happens quite frequently, and as a younger man, I’d have probably bristled at the suggestion of some kind of failure and put him straight, now I just smile and nod and try to resist the temptation to justify my position by listing any of my cv or explaining that I love the theatre, actually, and no, I don’t think that going into the jungle with Ant and Dec would sort my career out…

A little fame, such as mine, is a very odd thing- just last year I was asked, very politely, by a well dressed 40 year old woman; ‘”Excuse me, didn’t you used to be Joe McGann?” . I still am, and am still stuck for an appropriately witty answer, for any answer other than the one I gave, which was, I believe, a simpering, resigned, “Yes, that was me”. I think I faked a phone call to stop any further conversation, and hurried away, puckered with embarrassment for both of us. It’s tricky.

I’ve signed three autographs this month, two as my brother Steve, and one as my brother Paul- I always sign the name people ask for, it’s easier than the awkward conversation putting people right, I feel, which can be excruciating for all parties. It’s been going on for years now, fluctuating between brothers dependant on who is enjoying most screen time. It’s amusing to be mistaken for Dr Who and Dr Turner, in any case, but you’d have to be there, I suppose. I’m recognised as “‘one of those McGann’s “most often which is both true and also vague enough to allow a simple nod and smile in reply, without having to bear total responsibility or talk any more about it, which is always awkward.

I was invited for a Chinese meal in Manchester by Billy Connolly a few years back- my leading lady in a theatre show was a lifelong friend of his and I was excited and honoured to be asked along to meet the great man. As we were chatting, the buzz of recognition went round the restaurant, and eventually one man got up and headed towards our table, holding a pen and paper. As Billy noticed this, he stood and shouted “F**k off can ye no see I’m eating??”while pointing at the man. In the ten long seconds of silence that followed, the man turned away to rejoin his table, and several other pens and papers were returned to various pockets and handbags all around the room. Billy was unphased, saying “Sorry about that but trust me it’s easier if they think I’m a mad bastard and stay away, and we can chat in peace” I’m not claiming anything like Mr Connolly’s global fame, but I’ve seen enough for myself to appreciate the wisdom in his actions, borne of experience as they obviously were , and can easily forgive the fact that I dropped noodles in my lap as he swore so loudly, and the stain never truly went away.

I can tell you this much, when I hear people say that they want to be famous above all else, I invariably raise a single eyebrow, bite down gently to still my tongue and compose the best non committal expression I can muster. It’s a foolish thing to chase, fame, being as it is equally bestowed on the glorious and the ghastly, the Kanye West AND  the Fred West, and is both a boon and a curse, whoever and wherever it touches. I think it was Robert Downey Jr-who has achieved both fame and infamy- who said that he does the job of acting for free, but charges the big bucks to deal with the rest of the shit that goes with it. But I’m not Iron Man, and I need to eat, so I wait for the phone to ring.

This morning I’ve received from my agent the lines and character breakdown for a screen test next week. It’s for a major TV series and the contract would be for a year, so it’s an amazing opportunity and one which of course I will try my utmost to bag. My agent , and she’s correct of course, says that the exposure will be good, but I can’t help casting my mind back to the times in my career where I was very exposed indeed, and not altogether liking what I recall of the affects it had on my life. I’m older and more experienced now, of course, and back myself to take it in my stride, but the truth is, if I don’t get this job, the relative calm I get to maintain in my life would be enough of a silver lining for me to be able to shake off any disappointment. I welcome the opportunity to work, but I’m wary of the distorting prism of the PR and gossip machines that go with it, and that is my admittedly first-world problem.

If I do get the job, however, I shall be tempted to sit at that same cafe for as long as it takes till I see that man again , show him the Press Release and prove to him, and to myself that I’m still an actor, and it’s true because I’m on his telly. That wouldn’t be odd at all…

We’ll see, won’t we, if I get the job? Till next month, then, I shall mostly be channeling Micawber, Dickens’ garrulous optimist , ever sure that “something will turn up”, and remaining vaguely recognisable, but anonymous enough not to have to go behind the VIP rope with the Freds and Kanyes.

Hi Diddley Dee.

Actors and the self -tape 

Actors and The Self-Tape
In recent years, it’s become a regular part of every professional actor’s life. The call from the agent comes- a casting director would like to meet you for a part, but for whatever reason you can’t make the meeting in person, so they’ve asked you to self-tape the audition and send it on to them, so that they can consider you for the job, is that ok?  

I have to admit that my heart always sinks a little. I’ve sent off at least 15 of these and have yet to get the job- I like to meet people face to face if possible, I tell myself that’s the best way for me to convince people of my worth. I have tended till now to complete and send these tapes under sufferance, even disdainfully, so as not to get my own hopes up unrealistically ( the constant existential tussle of the jobbing actor- the thin line between confidence and self delusion). 

The call came 10 days ago, I was on holiday in Goa,  could I please self tape the scene that they had emailed and get it back in 24 hours? Ir was for a part in a US TV mini series about the men behind Harley-Davidson- a good gig, in other words, so I resolved to give the self tape thing another go, and to do it in good heart.

I had three A4 sides of a scene to learn, with three other characters involved in the dialogue, so I knew I would need a friend to read in from behind the lens. I would also need to hint at the character and the setting (1920’s America) so I needed to find something in my suitcase to wear- I plumped for a blue chambray shirt and a vintage Paisley bow-tie, with a linen jacket- I would shoot the scene in medium close up, anyway, so my beach shorts and flip flops would be out of shot. The daytime temperature was reaching 35, so I knew I’d shoot it in the cool of the morning- the light at about 8.30 am on my balcony would be perfect, a nice bounce off the river, too, to light me kindly. 
Next morning, after yoga and breakfast, I arranged the chair on the balcony and asked my friend Mollie to sit in it while I set up the camera and framed the shot. In other words, I arranged books, cushions and various toilet bag items in such a way as to keep my iPhone steady and level on the table so that I could shoot the scene. After a few minutes and some swearing, we were set. The crows and monkeys had stopped their morning cacophony, so we a window of quiet. Action.

We did three takes and I quickly picked what I thought was the best- this is a difficult exercise in itself as, in truth, I haven’t got a clue what might swing it for me in any case. I plumped for the one in which I thought looked least needy, then sent it from my phone to my agent in London, and went off to the beach and put it out of my mind. Que sera sera, as Doris wisely sang. 
The tape went from my cottage in Goa to my agent in London, from there to casting director and Producer in London and the US, then onto the director who was on recce in Bucharest. I went on with my holiday .

I arrived at Heathrow three  days ago and while I was in the immigration queue, I opened the email from my agent informing me that I had been offered the job- 2weeks filming in Romania in March. Well, woo-hoo! I’d broken my self- tape duck, improved my average. I was glad, obviously, but also a little perplexed- I couldn’t see what had made the difference here- was it my delivery, my accent, the cleft in my chin? Was it the beautiful setting that had swung it this time, or respect for my 35 years of experience ?  What had I learned?

I reckon it was the Paisley bow tie. There’s something about a man who ties his own bow tie, I like to think, a solidity, a trustworthiness alongside savoir-faire, that harks back to the great days of Hollywood , and this was the quality of actor they were looking for, were they not?

Perhaps. It’s just as likely to have been that I was cheaper to employ than others considered for the role, but I shall take it as a sign to maintain both a positive professional outlook, and my habit of shopping for quality vintage gentleman’s accessories. 

Hi Diddley Dee…