Browsing Tag

british actors

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Uncle Sam – Expect Us

Samuel L Jackson broke a few British hearts this week with comments he made about Black British Actors possibly being less equipt to tell historically African American stories. British Actors everywhere were enraged and the discussion has been on-going on social media since.

I think Sam has a point and a right to his opinion. He is not the first to feel this way, it’s not a new phenomenon and this is a conversation we needed to have. Hear me out, whilst I give a little history lesson on Uncle Sam:

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In 1966, the height of the civil rights movement, Jackson enrolled at the historically black Morehouse College, the alma mater of Martin Luther King Jr

In 1968, when MLK Jr. was assassinated, Jackson attended King’s funeral as one of the ushers and then flew to Memphis to join an equal rights protest.

In 1969, actor Samuel L Jackson was expelled from historically black Morehouse College for holding board of trustees hostage for two days, demanding that changes be made in the curriculum, stating that they wanted more blacks on the governing board of the institution. Included in this group of people who were held hostage was MLK Jr.’s own father MLK Sr. Morehouse eventually gave in and agreed to change but Jackson was expelled for his actions.

That summer he became connected with people in the Black Power movement. “I was in that radical faction.  One day my mom showed up and put me on a plane to L.A. She said, ‘Do not come back to Atlanta.’ The FBI had been to the house and told her that if I didn’t get out of Atlanta, there was a good possibility I’d be dead within a year. She freaked out.’”

Jackson stayed in LA working in social services for two years and then applied to Morehouse and returning in January of 1971 as a drama major. “I decided that theater would now be my politics. It could engage people and affect the way they think. It might even change some minds,” he told Parade.

I say all this to say; Uncle Sam has BEEN in the struggle and working in the trenches since before many of us were born, of course he’d want to play MLK over a Brit, it goes without saying! Though I’m sure his comments didn’t come from a place of malice, he is however wrong.

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Britons have not been interracially dating for over 100 years ‘en mass’. Although there is evidence that people of colour have been in the UK since medieval times, this mixed race melting pot he speaks of isn’t true:

“The most recent Census in 2011 highlights that in England and Wales, 80 per cent of the population were white British. South Asian ‘groups’ made up 6.8 per cent of the population; black groups 3.4 per cent; East Asian ‘groups’ 0.7 cent, Arab groups 0.4 per cent and other groups 0.6 per cent”. irr.org.uk

Hardly a mixed majority Sam. In fact my Caribbean father came to England in the 50’s  (he’s 72 and still looks not a day over 40). I heard about the things my parent’s went through before I was born in the 80’s. Even as a mixed child, I haven’t been exempt from racism in UK.

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Denzel Washington – For Queen & Country

Sam’s argument was ‘not everything is universal’. A trope that’s often told to actors in training is that ‘I don’t have to be a drug addict in real life to understand and play addiction, or have had a sibling die to understand and play loss. As an ex (or current) drug addict, I would have a unique advantage, insight and affinity to the role but, would that make me act better? I dunno.

Because American systematic racism is hyper-visible across global media, it’s easy to say that the rest of the world hasn’t suffered like they have. This still doesn’t stop me knowing, understanding and playing suffering.

As many have mentioned on social media Americans have been playing British and other foreign characters for the longest

  • Denzel Wshinton – Cry Freedom/For Queen & Country (yikes!)
  • Morgan Freeman – Invictus
  • Whoopie Goldberg – Sarafina
  • Don Cheadle – Hotel Rwanda
  • Dennis Haysburt – Goodbye Bafana
  • Derick Luke – Catch  a Fire

The list goes on and even more so when looking at non-black Actors playing other nationalities. Would African Actors have loved those roles? Sure!

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No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

He also said we were cheaper, which really got people’s goat, because cheaper read to them as worthless but guess what? In some cases…we are cheaper.

  • Having an unknown British Actor play a lead, rather than a known Black American Actor = Cheaper
  • A ton of productions are filmed in Europe or South Africa. Europe = No Visa issues = Cheaper
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Ira Aldridge

Then last but not least; he said that the industry gatekeepers in Hollywood think we are better trained. This is true. I’ve been to Hollywood and had this said to me.

The idea of a quintessential, classically, drama school trained Actor is hot over there. Hollywood doesn’t have the same drama school history we have in UK, they have some top class practitioners but, the schools aren’t the same. Our schools have been around for over 100 years churning out stars. The course/class structure here is also very different.

They also admire UK theatre history and rep training (whether we have done any personally or not). Hollywood has virtually no theatre and Broadway is a closed shop.  “They’re well-trained. They came through on the stage not on a music video or whatever. So their acting’s impeccable and then they go into films.Spike Lee

People have rightly pointed out that Uncle Sam should be mad at the system and not us. I think that’s what he was saying, if not somewhat haphazardly. Non-white British Actors ‘can’t get arrested’ for love nor money in our own country’s industry and Hollywood is the film mecca, so it’s only natural that many of us are migrating.

To even get a US Visa we have to prove we possess “Extraordinary Ability” in our field of work and then we have to prove it in the audition and as I’ve told you  in What is Pilot Season, the US audition system is much more vigorous than the UK system, so those of us who have been cast in US productions have frikken earned it.

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I understand Sam. This representation thing is a struggle and we only want to see our fellow artists do well. I can’t count the amount of times ‘posh’ southerners are cast in ‘working class’ northern productions (as northerners). The way we cuss every time!

That’s not to bash the actor at all, but we always wonder what a northern actor, who’s from that background (and is often overlooked) would have brought to the role. Especially when the reverse casting virtually NEVER happens; northern playing southern.  (see Change Your Accent pt 2 & 3).

Uncle Sam you have the work, we are coming – expect the very best of us.

 

“It was not a slam against them, but it was just a comment about how Hollywood works in an interesting sort of way sometimes.”

He added: “We’re not afforded that same luxury, but that’s fine, we have plenty of opportunities to work.”

He also said of British actors: “I enjoy their work… I enjoy working with them when I have the opportunity to do that.” Samuel L Jackson NME

 

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Top Sket: A Look At ‘urban’ TV

Imported from old blog at tanyavital.blogspot

Sket: “Short for Sketel. Caribbean term for Super Ho” (Whore)

Sketel: “Caribbean Creole word for a class-less, tasteless, loose girl, who characteristically displays slutty, animalistic or beast like qualities.”

With the new Film Sket due to come out in cinemas and Top Boy about to launch this evening I think it’s time I wrote this piece.

There’s been a lot of hype on Twitter and other Social Networking sites and it’s clear the audience are in 1 of 2 camps. You’re either in the camp of “Yes we love it, can’t wait to watch them both, how excellent”. Or you’re in the camp of “Why oh why do the media and Film Industry keep churning out these negative misrepresentations of our youth, with no counterbalancing alternatives”.

As an Actor my ‘World’ is very small. I know people that have worked in and on both productions. I know one of the leads in Sket and I know someone who worked on the Production of Top Boy. The problem is this. I know that both of these people are hard workers. They take their job seriously, they have both worked in this industry a long time and they are both excellent at their job. So when anticipating what’s to come from both productions I know that they will have been made to the highest quality and will both have the best Acting. But how constructive is it?

 

As an Actor there is a difficult decision to be made when taking parts. This is not Hollywood and most of us are not yet in a position to pick and choose our roles. We have to take what we are given and if the Tax Man is on your ass or the rents due, you better take whatever you can, be it the role of a prostitute or a gang member and you better smile and like it. That old saying “fake it till you make it” is definitely an unspoken understanding in the Acting world. For career progression, Actors (including me),  most definitely take what they can and act to their best ability, to eventually make a name for themselves so that they can then pick and choose roles more carefully.  But how constructive is it?

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c/o shamelessmag.com

I think there was a need for ‘urban’ (hate that word) cinema. There was a need for gritty, ‘street’ drama. There was a yearning, definitely from my neck of the woods, to see people like us on screen. To see places like ours and to see lives like people we knew and then the flood came. We were inundated with gang crime, ‘urban’ life, drugs, violence, sex, poverty, guns, slang, addiction, more sex, disease, rebellion, hate, anger, more sex and we eat it up fast like a Sunday roast.

We loved it, we yearned for it, it was fresh, it was funny, it was ‘in your face’, it was shocking, and it was – depending on your background – our everyday life!! So we fed and they fed us and we fed until we got fat and the film industry got rich. But how constructive was it?

As an Actor your damn right the best roles are the horrible, mean, nasty, gritty roles. Who wants to be the romantic lead? Boring! So even I am not sure I could have turned down a role in either production. A) My Bank Manager wouldn’t allow it and B) no gonna lie – it would have been fun! But how constructive would it have been?

To break the illusion of cinema for just a quick minute. MOST of the Actors are not from the background they’re portraying. They’ve never been in a gang, they are middle class and never lived on an estate. They talk fairly posh normally and have never sold drugs, their body or anything else. Again it’s ACTING – PLAY. And most of the time they play it very well! But nonetheless it’s playing a fictional life very removed from their own or anyone else’s for that matter. The writers – not always, but often – are also middle class. Never actually experienced this kind of lifestyle themselves, but do a great job in research and produce sometimes brilliant pieces of heightened reality – drama.  But to what end?

Usually there is a storyline where the protagonist is in a world of hell. They have to assert themselves in some way, end up losing everything and learning a lesson and moving on. Many young people can relate to that and a positive end message leaves the audience fulfilled. But how true to life is this positive ending?

These past few years young people, especially the lower classes, have been demonised, targeted and stricken off by the Government and the Media. I’m no sociologist but I would say that this has in turn lead to the old self fulfilling prophecy thing. I don’t know, was it the chicken or the egg? Did our kids become bad 1st or were they pushed? Either way this constant barrage of negative representations in the media can’t be helping. Do I contribute to this as an Actor by taking roles that are negative representations? Probably. Is my bank balance at a level where I can take the moral high ground and refuse roles? Absolutely not! We all have to work, were all just trying to get by.

As an Actor my life is complete when I act so whatever the role I guess I’m going to be happy as long as I play it authentically and I’m sure the Actors in Sket and Top Boy feel the same. Is there blame to be dealt? Yes I guess so, on ALL sides. Actors could choose better. Writers could write more positively. Production companies could commission other types of writing. Audiences could demand other things and educate children on the difference between real life and screen life. I think we all have a part to play.

 

 

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How to be an Actor

I often get asked how to get into the acting industry and sometimes get asked by those fresh into the industry, how to be an actor and get further with an acting career.

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c/o gapingvoid

Adapted from original blog at tanyavital.blogspot.co.uk

The first basic rule is training. As some of you know I went to Drama School late because I was ‘fortunate’ enough to go straight into professional work. That is not to say I had no training in those years before Drama School. A dedicated Actor must learn their craft, just as you would for any other career.

In the early years, because I didn’t have Drama School intensive training, I was constantly playing ‘catch up’, to those that had. I’d regularly take classes, workshops, read books, and watch DVD’s. Anything I could to learn techniques and disciplines. It’s all well and good to be talented but, talent alone will not sustain you in this industry.

For example, traditionally stage work required an Actor to be able to project their voice into the auditorium as far as the back row of seats (mics are becoming much more the norm but still  not used in every theatre). This can cause strain and after a few performances can even lead to a lost voice or worse permanent damage if you don’t have the technique to do so safely. Fight scenes, or movement heavy scenes can be dangerous without proper technique, this must be learnt. Even in TV and Film, you can be doing take after take of an emotional scene and your voice must stay strong. This applies to everything: posture, breathing, relaxation, diction, character work – everything.

So the very start or your foundation must be built upon some form of training or practical experience  e.g. amateur dramatics, National Youth Theatre, Stage School etc.

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Headshots

When trying to get an Agent or work you must have a decent headshot of yourself. The price can range from around £90 to £500. This may sound expensive but the reality is – you get what you pay for. Your face (shallow as it may seem), is your money maker. Without a decent headshot showing who you are and what your ‘type’ is an Agent or Casing Director will not give you a second look. A cheap headshot suggests an unprofessional or un-experienced Actor. There are tons of great Photographers in the UK – they can all be found easily online. See Headshot Hunter for more suggestions

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c/o performingcareers.com

Read

There is a wealth of advice online, some good – some bad but, these following sites have helped me personally:

The Stage ‘How To Guides

John Byrne Career Advice

Spotlight website

Acting in London

Surviving Actors

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Buy

If you’re serious about the industry, expect to have to pay for certain things like books, promotional items, your Spotlight page etc. (Never pay an Agent for castings! Your Agent takes commission from work you obtain through them only).

These items will help you:

The Actors Bible!! it’s a complete listing of Agents, Casting etc Contacts book

Surviving Actors Manual 

 

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c/o Spotlight

Get On:

A professional Actor must be on Spotlight if they intend to book professional castings. It is the main Actors Database that Casting Directors use. IMDB is not enough!

If you are starting out Casting Call Pro is also good to try out – you can create a FREE profile and you can apply for jobs as well as wait to be cast. This can help you get more experience and credits to add to your showreel.

Casting Networks is also a great site to be on. Similar to Casting Call Pro in that you can create a FREE profile and apply for castings. This is also the top, most used casting site in the US, it’s fast becoming a favourite here too and is used by many casting houses eg Beverley Keogh Casting and Act4tv

Since I wrote the first edition of this blog post 5 years ago social media has gone through the roof. There used to be an elitist attitude to things like twitter by creative people but more and more people are getting on-board with the various platforms, some rumours have been floating around that people have even been cast via social media! Get on twitter, follow and make conversation with industry folk. The old saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” definitely has some stead in the Entertainment world so get networking and get yourself out there!

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Yorkshire specific stuff:

  • Screen Acting Classes in Leeds (taught be me): act4tv
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The 1st EVER MonologueSlam UK Leeds Launch

I Produced and launched the first EVER MonologueSlam UK; Leeds
At The Wardrobe on 6th June 2011.

Blog imported from old post here at tanyavital.blogspot.co.uk

It was an absolutely fantastic evening with some wonderfully talented actors on stage, proving that the North and even more specifically YORKSHIRE does have what it takes to make it in the Acting Industry.

Judges on the night included Madani Younis (Freedom Studios & Artistic Director of The Bush Theatre). Vicki Psarias (Award Winning Film Writer & Director). Jo Adamson – Parker (Casting Director) and Rik Makarem, well known Actor (currently playing Nikhil Sharma in ITV’s Emmerdale). Our wonderful presenter was Lewis Barker. Our Fantasic DJ was DJ Tigga and KODH came down to film.

For those who are unfamiliar with MonologueSlam UK, it is the “ULTIMATE Actors Showcase”, created to give actors an alternative outlet to display their talent to industry professionals. It’s FREE and it’s a great platform for Actors to practice their craft and improve their performance skills before an audience.

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Lladel Bryant Nine Lives c/o Leeds Studio

Lladel Bryant, a local Actor from Leeds was the winner on the night and has since gone on to do great things! He is now NYT allumni and a Co-Founder of the infamous CHICKEN SHOP SHAKESPEARE. CSS is collaborative project based in Leeds and the North of England, who bring Shakespearean words and scenes to unexpected situations, environments and new audiences. Lladel has toured with Leeds writer Zodwa Nyoni and had some TV success.

We hoped to bring another show in September 2011, however at the time it was extremely difficult to get industry professionals in the area to back such a wonderful project. The company was virtually still unheard of and we’re still making a name for themselves in London.

I guess we were just a bit before our time, however the company has since gone from strength to strength in London and Manchester so I’m positive it won’t be long until Yorkshire industry leaders finally open their eyes to this wonderful opportunity.

“Raise that bar!”