“Dip dip dip dip happy song
Talk about things you like to do
If you don’t have a dream
If you don’t have a dream
How you gonna have a dream come true?”
You are an actor if you act – whether it’s on stage as a lead at The National, as a regular in a TV soap, as a background actor in a radio drama, as a multi-million dollar Hollywood movie star or as an improviser devising a studio showcase with your fellow drama graduates. And when you’re starting out as an actor, take every opportunity that you can to perform and enjoy every second of it, because if, like me, you truly feel it’s your destiny to act, then you must get creating and get yourself out there.
Drama school is, contrary to popular belief, not the be all and end all of making it as an actor, but it does help to have been to one. Drama schools can provide wonderful training, grounding, insight and inspiration into the world of theatre, film, TV and radio, but there are just as many drama graduates who are paying their bills by pulling pints as there are actors on stage who never trained: you have to find your own way. Go forth and carve out a path of your own, and leave a trail blazing behind you, as opposed to following in others’ footsteps. Sometimes, following the tried and tested “drama school + showcase + agent + auditions = success” route works, but more often than not it doesn’t quite work that way. The acting industry is too crowded, nepotistic and under-funded to allow it… On top of that, life just isn’t fair.
Some of my most creatively exciting and artistically fulfilling experiences as an actress have been born out of strange “we met in a pub at the weekend” or “my friend from uni wants to put on a play and I really think you should meet him” scenarios. Embrace these. My personal favourite is a young female director who once said to me “I’m sorry, it was very close and you were my second choice, but I’ve offered someone else the part”, then called me up two weeks later in a panic to tell me that this “someone else” had dropped out of her show and would I be interested in taking the part? I believed in the play. I knew I loved the role. So I said “Yes” and our little two-hander went on to win awards and transfer to new theatres and lead to exciting future collaborations between myself and that young female director, who since happens to have become my best friend.
Go for the good stuff. The stuff that makes your heart flutter with both fear and excitement. Trust your gut. If you don’t like a project, don’t do it. Personally, I don’t audition if I don’t believe in the piece – I feel it’s a lie to myself, to the creative team and unfair to the other actresses who might want the work. But when you say “Yes” to a role, give your all to the project and allow yourself to grow with it. I have helped devise important new pieces at The Arcola and treaded the very glamorous and gorgeous boards of The Theatre Royal Haymarket; incomparably different, challenging and brilliant in their own right. Learn and grow from everything you do. Never stop learning. I can’t see much point in living if it’s not to love and to learn.
I work hard to get auditions and I work hard to get the job. Looking for work is a full time job in itself, and that is half the challenge of being an actor, of living the life of an actor. Don’t expect otherwise and don’t expect others to understand, but enjoy the sense of gratitude and relief that comes like the spring sun after a long winter when things finally start to go your way. When people know of you and your work, and you make your living as an actor. To me, this is my greatest achievement to date. It’s not about ‘making it’, it’s about working and earning a living as an actor, and loving your job and learning as you go. I take my hat off to all actors out there who strive for this.
Finally, you need a lot of emotional support to be an actor and I feel so grateful to those friends and family who have loved and supported me in my decision to live out my dream over the years. This, I imagine, cannot always be easy for them. Of course they tell me otherwise, but I know that I have a bad habit of investing just a little too much of myself into my characters, of taking my work home with me, of dreaming in character which leads to nightmares or lack of sleep, coupled with long anti-social shooting hours and intense scenes which leave me exhausted, burnt out and a bit of a weeping wreck. My friends never judge me for it. My family still love me for it. And my boyfriend still respects me for and supports me through it. So it’s important to be grateful, say thank you, send cards in your absence and buy really nice Christmas presents with your earnings.
Alix Wilton Regan is an award-winning British actress who has worked in film, theatre and television. She recently appeared as the lead female role in feature film Real Playing Game and in the BBC’s Come Fly with Me alongside Matt Lucas and David Walliams. Alix has also been invited onto the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Newcomers Programme.