Last night, when I rearranged my breakfast time, I expressed my delight at being able to have a lie in on a shoot day.
“Your colleague just did the same. She played Blurkity Flobble in Harry Potter and she just changed her breakfast too. I changed it for her!!!” I can’t remember the exact character name so I’ve inserted it to reflect my experience in this. One of the Weasleys, maybe – she’s ginger? I was only half listening. This was someone geeking out about the actress I’ve just spent the day with. She was in those potters, sure. Likely as a child. Blurkity Flobble will do. We have all been somebody’s Blurkity Flobble, and hopefully we will be such again before we die.
“You’ve got a fan,” I tell her as we are waiting for the driver the next morning. “It’s amazing she recognised me,” she replies. It was like a decade ago and I was a child… but she’s got a Harry Potter tattoo – she showed me.
We talk in the car about recognisability and what it does. There’s work in the can now that will raise my cache, but nothing on the scale of her Harry Potter. My first job was high profile but I was clueless and just happy to be there. It’s hard to know what to do with a big first job and no support. I’m glad she’s still working – she recently did an MA at Central but the bulk of her training was in lockdown. We understood each other though – we both had to do English degrees first despite knowing we were actors. Parents. I was too slow to break from my parents. I was living with my mum and she phoned up Reading University and booked me in via clearing even though I didn’t want the degree. I was put into a position where I felt I had no choice but to comply. In retrospect I could have chosen that as my battleground but I was clearly told that I would be cut off immediately and have nowhere to live if I pursued the acting instead of going to the same uni as my brother. It honestly feels like the majority of parents from non-acting families, when presented with a child who IS AN ACTOR IS AN ACTOR IS AN ACTOR, they just hope that the poor thing will “get it out of their system”.
It’s connected to the same bad thinking that leads my colleague today to wonder what the heck is going on being recognised. People might think “Actors are specialmagichumans but my little boy does farts that stink.” People easily think of actors as being something “other”. Something “special”. Bless them for it, it works to our advantage. It means we often get to stay in lovely places in the best rooms etc. We are often absurdly fêted for doing simple things like announcing a raffle. We are often very well treated by lovely people with property who enjoy the arts. But… when your youthful relative shows the unavoidable signs of being ONE OF US you all become gatekeepers… Stop it.
I can only really speak from my own experience… The only actor my parents knew was Jack Hedley. He was wheeled out by mum, and was his brutally honest and cynical wonderful self. “Your mother has asked me to discourage you from being an actor. What do you think you’ll achieve by being one?” We spoke for longer than he wanted, at Chelsea Arts Club. I still hold that conversation up as one of the benchmarks. He was too disobedient to obey my mother’s request to discourage me, I was too stubborn and certain to be discouraged, as forever. He didn’t sanction it but he wouldn’t block it and I felt he mischievously saw me. I’ve always been in this game for the long haul and he saw that. Later on my half-brother had a planning permission fuck up with someone that absolutely buggered my RADA audition… Nevertheless I was seen and pulled in by Guildhall. I had no idea how lucky I was at the time. I wouldn’t have even auditioned if Jenny McCracken hadn’t suggested the place. I would never have got in if I hadn’t had some help from the wonderful Michael McCallion. He died too, shortly after mum. Fucking hell, when I think of it… That little period between 2002 and 2008… No wonder I fell apart. Death after death after death.
But If I can persist despite two loving parents fighting me every step of the way and they dying when I was in my twenties, I can easily resist the ups and downs and the vagaries of this annoying industry, and the fact that everybody died just as I left. I can put up with the disappointments since then as they all go into relief. My existence is still firmly in daily conscious defiance of the desires of the two people that made me, whose memory I hold dear. And yet I’m happy, which is what they would have wanted, even if they couldn’t imagine how I might be happy in this work and this life. I love them still for their care towards me. It was misguided, the way they tried to block me, but it was from love. I see that, even if I felt aggrieved and stifled back then.
It’s been an easy day on set today, but another day where I’ve felt very welcome and happy doing what I do. There’s a familiarity with me and the crew. There’s a shorthand developing. And I know my craft, just as they know I know it.
Tomorrow a full day off. I’m just gonna relax and maybe go visit the Eden Project. I’m so happy doing what I’m supposed to be doing. And the sea is roaring.