I am no new bright young thing in acting. Indeed, I am not young at all. Though I might have turned to professional acting at the same age as women’s roles essentially run out, I comfort myself with the thought that most people my age have either got to the point where they’ve got really successful and are not competing for the same roles as me or have given up acting and got into teaching. With this thought powering me through I blindly convince myself that this is the right thing to do. I did the teaching thing (accidentally) for a good ten years and so I’m just living my life the other way round. Instead of spending my twenties living in poverty in a hovel in London trying to be successful and competing against every young brunette twenty-something graduate from drama school, I have spent my twenties earning a fairly good salary, buying a house in Birmingham and getting all settled. Now I’m ready for the poverty to set in. But having a home and a husband means that I’m actually freed up to travel all over the country, always knowing I have somewhere to come back to.
I’m a bit of a cultural mongrel with no real way of defining where I’m from. I was born in London but brought up in Birmingham by my Scouse parents. Liverpool was always the place that we returned to and I returned there to go to University. But Birmingham has given me all my training and opportunities. To Liverpool I give my familial loyalty but to Birmingham my artistic loyalty. London, though I love it, gets whatever is left over. Yes, the jobs are there, the agents are there, the casting directors are there but, you know, I feel compelled to remind people that Birmingham is the second largest city in the country; dead centre with links to every other city. Let’s face it, it’ll soon just be a suburb of London and you’ll all envy my foresight in buying property here!
There is no easy way to introduce yourself as an actor without sounding like a bit of an idiot. It’s all pretty cringeworthy because you need to sell yourself – literally yourself – you are your business’s greatest (and only) asset. And that will always come across as smug and self-serving. But I’m coming from a place where as a child I was under the impression that the greatest sin a child could commit was to be vain, to seek attention or to think yourself talented. I had little or no confidence for years. In my first job in a call centre I was supposed to make outgoing calls all day. I would get through only two or three per day, usually making out that the line was engaged or had rung out, just so I wouldn’t have to speak to anyone – or more importantly, have anyone in the office hear me speak to someone.
As a teacher I would have minor panic attacks before every single lesson, taking a good ten minutes at the start of the class to stare deeply at the register like it held some salvation and always ‘forgetting’ books or pens so that I had a reason to leave the room and the judgey eyes. Because any actor might feel the audience judges but believe me, you’ve felt nothing until you’ve had to teach a bunch of people from all over the world, doctors, lawyers, journalists, architects who see a young woman bluffing her way through a lesson. Especially as these people, these incredibly intelligent, highly qualified people, were deemed idiots everywhere they went in the UK as their only lack of skill was in English. Ooh, they took their frustrations out in the classroom. They complained that I was too young, too female, too inexperienced and they judged me.
But hey, look at me now. How did I get to this point? Teaching those wonderful taskmasters. They forced me to learn about myself and grow up and develop a truly thick skin and sense of bloody-minded authority mixed with a huge respect for the group. I stepped up and once I got to the point where I could walk into a classroom of strangers and command their attention and respect I knew that comparatively, acting is a breeze.