I thought I did a pretty good tape but didn’t get the role… Clearly, they were looking for someone taller than me
My agent has a sign on her wall that says, “How tall do you want me to be?”
That’s all us luvvies need to know. Actors need to be adaptable, so when we write up our CVs we claim all sort of skills. Perhaps we may not be quite as proficient as we were in some of the areas we boast about, but if we once got a 20-metre bronze school swimming certificate or a first aid award in the scouts and it might help us get a job, then it’s going in.
Horse riding and sword fighting have got to be two of the biggest actor boasts, because we rarely have to do them.
Unusually, my very first job involved driving a pony and trap in a filum that was set on Rathlin Island. “Of course I can handle horses,” I told the director at the audition. After all I’d ridden a donkey on a beach in the Isle of Man when I was six, I had seen multiple episodes of Black Beauty and countless cowboy filums. It did require a bit of bluffing on the day but thankfully the oul horse knew exactly what to do and it worked out fine.
Stage fighting is never great and mercifully quite rare. It involves lots of grunting and rolling around and is hardly ever convincing. It can range from daggers and swords to fists and those brush shafts Robin Hood fights Little John with on the log over the stream. Those poles are particularly wicked and everyone avoids doing it because they always get their fingers hit between them.
I’ve managed to steer well clear of stage fighting professionally except once in a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night when I had to cross swords with Sir Toby Belch. Fortunately, the character of Sir Toby is a coward and between us we did a lot of running away acting.
Unfortunately, the actor was the late and great Declan Mulholland from Belfast. Declan was cast in the very first Star Wars movie as the original Jabba the Hutt. He was the human embodiment (later replaced with CGI and a one-ton puppet) because he was a big, big man. We did have to make brief contact with our swords and after every show the stage-manager had to straighten mine with a hammer from where big Dec hit it.
An aptitude for accents comes next, as does the abilities to sing, play musical instruments and dance, all of which can be a big bonus. Being able to drive even helps, although driving sequences are usually done on the back of a low loader or trailer and the last thing the actor has to do is actually drive.
Nowadays face-to-face auditions are becoming rare. With the advent of camera phones and the recent need for social distancing the new thing is the ‘self-tape’. That’s where you record yourself reading a scene for the filum or telly show you’re trying out for and then send it in to the casting people. It’s a whole handling trying to get a blank wall to do it against, light it with uplighters and lamps from the good room and then encourage someone in your house to read in the other lines and not laugh or be better than you.
A couple of months back I was asked to self-tape for the final series of Derry Girls. The role was a police inspector in the first episode who interviews the girls when they’re caught after hours in the school. I thought I did a pretty good tape but didn’t get the role. Then I watched the programme on Tuesday night keen to see who did get the part. It was Liam Neeson — clearly, they were looking for someone taller than me. If only I had known, I could have stood on a bax.