Well, it’s fair to say my plan of regularly updating my blog at uni went well.
I’m very aware that it’s been a couple of months since I last posted on here, and also that my presence on twitter has been similarly lacking recently. It’s fair to say life, and work, has finally caught up with me.
Since I last posted, a lot has happened. My performances in my shorts at UEA were well received, as was my episode of Casualty. I’ve since co-directed a full-length play, entitled ‘Custard’, which received some nice reviews, and am now co-directing a forty minute play about feminism, written by a close friend. I’ve also missed out on seeing The Queen of England in the flesh by a matter of minutes, discovered the genius of Harold Pinter and agreed to live with four amazing housemates next year.
In terms of film, I’ve been lucky enough to interview Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin and Asa Butterfield since I last blogged, and have been watching some brilliant films in recent weeks. For the record, I sit firmly in the pro-La La Land camp, but it’s also fair to say I was blown away by Manchester-by-the-Sea, Jackie and Lion. In considering these movies, it’s strange to consider how prevalent the theme of guilt is. In fact, sometimes I think that guilt is the strongest emotion we feel as human beings (yeah – getting deep here!). At the moment I’m planning my year ahead, and have decided that at some point in the 2017/2018 year I want to produce a production of Macbeth. Macbeth is a play that I’ve long adored, but am often frustrated by. Too often does its directors make power the principal theme of the play. I’m not saying that power is not a vital part of Shakespeare’s message, but I think the twin themes of guilt and grief are much more interesting to explore within the text – especially if you (like me) dearly adore the theory concerning Macbeth and Lady Macbeth having a child prior to the events of the play.
That paragraph went on a bit of a tangent, didn’t it?
I thought it would be best to start on this blog again, and you should blame a guy on my course called Seb Fear for constantly nagging at me to return to it. I’m hoping I’m back for longer than last time.
I know it’s been a few weeks since I’ve last posted on my blog, and for that I’m sorry – I have been really busy with starting university and all that, but as I’m now getting into the swing of things I’m hoping to post some new reviews and articles here over the next few days. But firstly I have a couple of acting announcements I thought you might be interested in.
Firstly, as I have been mentioning on my twitter for a while now, I am guest starring in an episode of BBC One’s Casualty; airing on 12th November 2016 at around 9pm. For obvious reasons I’m not allowed to say much about the episode or my part, but I will say it’s a truly amazing role that I was honoured to play. I got to work with some spectacular actors and I think it will be an incredible hour of British television.
Secondly, I am pleased to announce that you can come and watch me on stage (if you really want to). Minotaur Theatre Company, which is exclusive to UEA students on any of the three drama courses, are curating the 2016 Minotaur Shorts Festival, in which 12 original plays (each of around 20 minutes in length) are performed across three nights. I am starring in two of these plays, Gorilla (which is being performed on Friday 4th November) and Real? Honest? Justice? (which is being performed on Saturday 5th November).
Gorilla, written by a third year student called Pip Williams, contains some of the best writing I have ever read as an actor and, though it has nothing to do with Harambe, I think it might just blow everyone away. Real Honest Justice meanwhile, is based on the 2014 Isla Vista killings, perpetuated by a psychopath called Elliot Rodger – who I’m playing. This is a really chilling, dark story which I hope will explore the nature of evil and what we can do about it.
So, I’ve survived my first weekend as a uni student. I write this while eating shreddies and drinking tea on Monday morning, ahead of a day of administrative welcomes. The past few days have been a whirlwind of fast encounters and I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol (whether that’s an attempt to boast or a silent plea for help is down to you).
As part of the UEA Drama’s course, all 50 students across the three disciplines (Drama, Literature and Drama; and Screenwriting and Performance) are split into groups over the course of their opening weekend. We were given a challenge which I won’t spoil for those of you who might – you never know – end up going to UEA in the future, but I will say that it involved performing to our peers, the second years and third years and was a tremendous amount of fun. The atmosphere was jovial but in a mature kind of way, so that when a performance did go serious, the audience were willing to follow as well. This was fun to play against as I love trying to engage an audience – particularly when half of them have come straight from the Union Bar.
I think I’ve met most of my flatmates now, and I’m quietly quite pleased with the result. I have yet to meet someone I don’t like and that luckily includes the cleaner as well. My room, as you can see, is already feeling homely.
On the other side I’ve deployed a small library of books, plays and dvds that should keep me entertained during the occasional luls of the years. However, I am quite excited by the presence of the Theatre Royal Norwich just down the road, where they run a £15 student membership scheme that gives me half price tickets to most theatre productions.
Starring: Sennia Nanua, Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton and Paddy Considine
Directed by Colm McCarthy
Rohan Gotobed, for Into Film
The Girl with all the Gifts is a film that doesn’t make you sit on the edge of your seat, but rather long to sink into its depths to get as far away from the action as possible. Adapted by M.R. Carey from his dystopian novel, Gifts tells the story of Melanie (Senniua Nanua), an infected young girl whose brain might hold the vaccine to a zombified Britain. Directed by Colm McCarthy, the visuals are certainly well constructed with some pertinent images throughout the London-set second half (I enjoyed seeing how national landmarks such as Wembley Stadium or the Gherkin had become overgrown with weeds). A scene in echo base where you see the ‘hungries’ at their most threatening, got me with at least one spectacular jump scare.
Compared to other films in the zombie genre, however, Gifts falls more often into being a drama instead of a horror and is sadly rather unsatisfying in its approach. Though Melanie provides a fresh viewpoint and a spark of originality in a crowded marketplace (how many films and tv shows focus on the z word?), the pacing is skewered against fully exploring what could have been an interesting array of characters. Glenn Close is wonderful as Dr Caldwell, so it’s a shame she’s side-lined for much of the film. The opening, which might ultimately be the most intense and dynamic sequence, ends just as I was becoming engaged while, if you miss much of the implied exposition early on then you’ll feel forced to play catch up throughout.
More positive is the British wit. Paddy Considine plays Sergeant Parkes with deadpan quips, so there are surprisingly effective moments of levity in what is certainly not a feel-good film. There is an artistry to Gifts’ tone that, in the long-term, could set it apart from more mainstream movies. However, even as the technical aspects excel the thematic ones feel more generic – I came out questioning the film more than I questioned myself.
Overall, The Girl with the all the Gifts is an enigmatic independent feature that, even after a good night’s sleep, I’m still trying to get my head around. It does wonders with a tiny budget, yet in the end I came away feeling like it could have been better than it was. So I recommend for you to see it and support British cinema, even if Gifts might not be a cinematic landmark like 28 Days Later or Shaun of the Dead.
So, over this summer I’ve been having lots of fun doing some creative writing. Some of you who have been following me for a while might remember some of my authorial intentions, so I thought I would share with you the prologue for what I am currently writing.
As it is the prologue, I don’t want to overload you with unnecessary exposition, so would prefer for the work to speak for itself. Though I am happy with it enough to share these pages with you, dear reader, please remember that ‘The Burial’ is still a work-in-progress. If you would like to have a read and let me know your thoughts – what you liked and what you didn’t like, then it would be much appreciated. You never know, if this goes well enough I might be tempted to share other bits of writing in the future…
In a weird way, I often think about how much my time during high school mirrored Harry’s time at Hogwarts. When I turned up aged 12 in 2010, I immediately became known as “the Harry Potter kid”, mainly because I had already introduced myself as being in the next Harry Potter film. Had Snape been my chemistry teacher, I’m sure he’d have prefaced our first lesson with “Rohan Gotobed, our new… celebrity.” Like Harry, I was an object of weird fascination.Then, once the film came out and everyone realised I was only in it for six seconds (my friends counted), I felt a lot like Harry probably does about 99% of the time. However, there were always younger Colin Creevey-esque students who were fascinated with me, and I probably split opinion between teachers as to whether I was lovely or arrogant. Then, came sixth form, I began to book more acting roles and all of a sudden I knew what Harry felt like at Hogwarts during Half Blood Prince. After my episode of Doctors aired in June 2015, I suddenly had people coming up to me saying “wow, you are actually a decent actor.” That was nice.
Meanwhile, I want to skip back to Year 8; my first year at Grammar school. My excitement began in October,when my family and I were invited to a cast and crew screening of Deathly Hallows Part 1. This sticks in my mind for two reasons; partly because I met one of my heroes (Stephen Fry) in the cinema, and he was so lovely; and partly because it was the first time I got to meet some of my fellow young actors. Our mums had all been chatting, so it was that Me, Ellie, Benedict, Arthur (Albus), Will (James Sirius), Daphne (Lily Luna), Bertie (Scorpius), Ryan (Hugo) and Helena (Rose) shared a massive table at the Pizza Hut in Leicester Square. See the pictures below as evidence:
As we were lucky enough to keep our screening tickets, I still have one stuck to my desk, while another one was shut in my school’s time capsule; giving me one reason why I have to live to 2060. So I can get it back!
It was also around this time that I first got twitter. It took me a while to become vaguely interesting (tell me when I get there), but I do think I’ve been lucky enough to see very little of the ugly side of social media – thank god. Twitter did have its definite advantages at the time, for as soon as I began to build up a group of followers was I invited to Leaky Con 2011 in Orlando, Florida. Five years on, and this is still the only time I’ve been to the United States of America (or out of Europe for that matter), but that’s always liable to change. School were somehow happy to let me take a whole week off to effectively go on holiday, but before I could sun myself in sunny Florida, I had the little matter of the premiere to attend.
In the course of human history, I don’t think many people have had better excuses than me for missing my school’s sports day. Why aren’t you here? Because I’m going to be on the biggest red carpet of all time – that’s why!
The first half of July 2011 remains the best ten days of my life. It began with a tumultuous cast and crew screening on a sunday morning, where a big revelation came during the rolling credits. There I was, waiting for my name to appear in those white credity-letters, only for it to never appear. For whatever reason, the actor credited as playing Young Sirius Black in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 was, in the cinema release, James Walters (who played the same character during Order of the Phoenix). That’s provided ammunition for my friends for years, though I don’t really mind. It’s pretty funny in my opinion. As soon as the producers heard of the mistake, dvd production was halted worldwide so that it could be corrected and, because it was too late to change the cinematic release, gifted me three more tickets to the world premiere and after party. Though I wanted to invite David Beckham, my mum forced me to bring my two sisters and dad.
I must be the best big brother ever.
The premiere itself was so amazing, words can’t describe it perfectly – though I’ll give it a go as this blog would be an anticlimax otherwise. I think we first step foot on the red carpet just after four, and the three hours it took to get from Trafalgar Square to my seat in the Odeon Leicester Square (sat just in front of Nick Moran and opposite from Jonathan Ross), were the craziest three hours of my life.
I plunged into the autographing chaos, signing anything and everything.
I got to say hi to some old friends.
and create an autograph collection to die for
Helena Bonham Carter was so lovely to meet, and I’ll always remember her apologising to me for killing Sirius Black!
I promise I don’t always name drop, but my autograph book from that day is really really special. Not to brag, but it contains: Ruper Grint, Damian Lewis, Ralph Fiennes, Warwick Davis, Evanna Lynch, Jessie Cave, Helena Bonham Carter, David Thewlis, Alan Rickman, Andrey Arshavin (the footballer), Nick Moran, Jonathan Ross, Tom Felton, Imelda Staunton, Mark Williams, James and Oliver Phelps, Emma Watson, Graham Norton and another three names that I can’t identify.
From that list, there are a couple of obvious missing names: Gary Oldman and JK Rowling. Sadly I’ve never met Gary Oldman, which becomes more of a shame as you grow up to realize just how great an actor he is, but missing out on meeting Jo is still a bit of a regret of mine. I came close to saying hi during the ultra-exclusive after party on the banks of the river Thames, but she was surrounded by her entourage to such an extent all I could get was a brief glimpse of her. Luckily there was a free candy floss stand and chocolate fountains aplenty to distract me from my sorrow. Here’s a photo of me at half one in the morning, a bit tired out.
Needless to say, I wasn’t in school the next day. But when I turned up on Monday, I was namedropping like hell.
On Tuesday I went to Orlando.
Even now, every single memory I have of those few days is soooo positive. Even though I’m still cringing from my clothes in the above photo (that became a running theme for the next three years), the panels with the other kids were really fun and exciting. And for the first time in my life I really got the sense of what a fandom’s like.
By the time Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 was released, I had already seen it three times. Once at the cast and crew screening, once at the premiere and once at Leaky Con. Each was special. The cast and crew because you really saw the pride everyone had in the finished film, the premiere because it was the first time so many people had watched Deathly Hallows, and at Leaky Con the fans’ reaction blew all of us away. During the screening, Benedict, Ellie and I (already in a playful mood after spending the day at Universal Theme Park), made up a game where we each tried to start a round of applause wherever there was a moment which we thought the crowd would like (such as Ron and Hermione’s kiss in the chamber of secrets). I think Ben won.
The audience was awesome, and watching that film in that screening remains the best experience in a cinema I’ve ever had. Even the subsequent episode of Muggle Cast felt obliged to mention it, such as a guy who kept blowing his nose between floods of tears, while that moment during The Prince’s Tale where Snape holds Lily’s lifeless corpse was especially shattering. For those two hours, let alone the fun I had around Orlando at the convention and theme parks, I will never forget LeakyCon 2011.
Writing this series of blog posts was, like most things I do, a spur of the moment moment. In this case, the moment was spurred by my visit to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour last week, where I had the eleven o’clock tour on the 1st September. Though I was able to visit back during Leaky Con 2013, this time I got to show my friends around in full ego-satisfying mode. Though it was a great day, one of the greatest moments was the wand room at the end of the tour.
For those of you who don’t know, the wand room contains thousands of wand boxes – each one dedicated to someone who worked on the Harry Potter films. In 2013 we were running behind, so our visit to the room was over in a minute or so. This time I was able to spend ages and ages there, looking at all the boxes and pointing out the names of people I knew. Some of them were obvious, like Ellie or Ryan, but there were other names of cast or crew members who I’ve worked with on other programs. Then there were mine.
Yes – I have two. I don’t know why, and I might not be the only one, but it’s cool while it lasts.
Seeing your name in that magical room does take your breath away, because it makes you feel so proud. I spent two days filming at Leavesden Studios, but I was made as welcome there as someone who had spent two thousand days filming. People have spent their lives making the Harry Potter films, and I’ve always felt an obligation to justify the trust and love I’ve felt as a result of playing Young Sirius Black. At LeakyCon 2013 a French fan called Laetitia gave me a present of a Man Utd branded pencil case and writing notebook and I came close to breaking down in tears – so moved by her generosity.
So, how did Harry Potter change my life? If you look at it externally, then maybe it didn’t. It was one small acting job, and I didn’t get another major project until Hoff the Record, which filmed exactly five years after my first Potter audition. But then again, internally, being part of the Harry Potter world has made me the person I am today. Without even concentrating on how the books have changed my life, just being a tiny tiny cog in the cinematic franchise has taught me so much about fame and fandom. I’ve met some lifelong friends, learnt some valuable lessons, and wouldn’t trade it away for a million dollars. Honestly, all I can say to you, dear reader, and to you, dear harry potter fan, is…
Thank you. For a dream come true.
This was the final part of a series of three blog posts I’ve written about my time on the Harry Potter series. The first, “Harry Potter and Me” concerns how I was cast while the second, “Harry Potter and I” tells the story of my days on set. Both can be found elsewhere on this website – enjoy!
So, I had the part. Now I actually had to play it. Though Ellie and Benedict had the luxury of a locations shoot (to cover their pre-Hogwarts scenes), Alfie and I were only shooting for two days; scheduled a week apart. Still confined to “absolute secrecy”, my time at school reminds me of one of the best Dumbledore quotes: “What happened down in the dungeons between you and Professor Quirrell is a complete secret, so, naturally the whole school knows.”
However, just as I was getting ready for my role, disaster struck! Out of nowhere, I lost a tooth. Not literally – I just mean it fell out of my gums. Though on the set of nearly every other film every made, the producers wouldn’t bother to bat an eyelid, on Harry Potter it was agreed to send me over to Fangs FX, as a missing tooth could cause continuity problems.
For those of you who don’t know, Fangs FX is Europe’s major provider of false teeth – the ones you see in movies/TV at least. Their work includes Dracula, Doctor Who, Little Britain and, naturally, Harry Potter. Earlier on in the series, I was told, Fangs FX had had to create lots of fake teeth for the young cast as each one fell out, so off I went to their labs to get fitted.
The process was quite simple, a mold was filled with horribly tasting gum for me to hold in my mouth for several minutes. Once that was done, it would be taken away and turned into, effectively, a gum-shield that was utterly transparent apart from the new tooth. All I’d have to do on set was to slip it on. Then, when the time came in my fitting for the mold to be removed, it was pulled out for us to see – with shock – that a tooth had come out with at the same time. Now I was missing two teeth and had to come back the following week. Second time lucky proved the charm and, when I first tried the teeth on in the makeup department a couple of weeks later, I was swiveled in my chair to see Daniel Radcliffe, beaming and as caught up in the excitement as everyone else. Unfortunately I didn’t get to keep my fake teeth, and have no idea what happened to them. Perhaps they’re in a Warner Brothers’ vault somewhere, or maybe they were destroyed after filming? No idea.
My first day on set was a weird one. We were shooting the Great Hall scene, which was pretty amazing, but Alfie and I weren’t needed until later on in the day. As we were missing school, by law the film had to provide three hours of tutor-based education. This was comfortably everyone’s least favourite thing. Though the tutors were lovely people, the last thing you want to be doing is boring middle school homework when Hogwarts is literally a few feet away – and we certainly weren’t jealous as Benedict and Ellie were called away to do their scene with Maggie Smith (the short bit when Lily is sorted into Gryffindor). As lunch came and went, we’d done nothing.
A little aside, I do have to say how amazing the food on Harry Potter was. We would be guided to the Leavesden cafeteria (which I think was knocked down as part of the Studio Tour renovations), and effectively told to help ourselves. Needless to say, I would be pretty full an hour later. Cooler than the food though was the fact that all around the cafeteria were six massive cabinets, each one filled with props from a particular HP film. I saw the philosopher’s stone, the grim and several horcruxes as well as a huge stack of designs by Mina Lima. The grim teacup is the only prop I haven’t seen on the studio tour though.
Evening came, and with only an hour left to shoot (due to legal restrictions on child actors), we were summoned to the great hall for the shot. By this stage, I think most people were quite tired, but it was amazing to see the Great Hall in action. The torches were being lit with real fire every five minutes while, on our way inside, you couldn’t help but notice that the Entrance Hall was in ruins (they had already started filming the battle of hogwarts). There was a fair amount of pressure, but all I had to do was sit there and clap – what could go wrong? (Don’t answer that).
So, feeling happy with my first day, I went home to be called back the following Friday. Our final day of shooting was, it’s fair to say, much more exciting…
Though at the time this image hadn’t surfaced, there was a little thing on my bucket list that I felt obliged to complete. On the day of my screen-test, once we’d arrived back home, I had begun to reread the Harry Potter book series, cover to cover. I’m a fast reader, so to achieve my goal I did have to slow down a little – particularly for the last couple of books. It was worth it, so that I turned up to set on Day 2 and finished rereading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on the set of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I think that was pretty cool.
For me and Alfie, our second day involved being a lot more active as we had to run up and down a corridor about a million times. When we shot the scene, Alfie and I were actually chasing a first year slytherin, but that detail was omitted in the edit. It seemed like a pretty cool shot – a reverse track that saw us run down one corridor before crossing into the one where we smash into Snape and Lily. On the first take, which one of my friends thinks was the one that made the final cut, Alfie actually tripped on one of the fallen books and fell over. Luckily that was one omen that didn’t set the tone for the day. After barely seeing him on the first day, David was at his most approachable when we were working on the scene. Though originally the scene was without dialogue, I suggested to him that I say “Snivellus” as we pushed through Snape and Lily. David agreed that was a good idea, and even gave me a second line later on in the day, where I was supposed to say “come on James” at the end of the brief scene. As you already know, both lines were cut for release in favour of Dan’s voiceover, which makes more sense in terms of the entire montage.
So, I was done. Wrapped. I said my goodbyes, even though that wasn’t the last time I’d visit Leavesden. You see, my family had been offered a special behind-the-scenes tour around the studios, which was even better than the subsequent tourist attraction. On this tour, they were still filming, so I was able to see Robbie again – say hi – and tell him that my teacher loved Krull. To this day I’m not sure if he believed that. We were lucky enough to see the different departments, as well as seeing sets being built and destroyed all in one day. Had my association with Harry Potter ended there, I’d have died delighted.
Even without the gift of hindsight, I think there was always something inevitable about me and the world of Harry Potter become entwined. Growing up, like most people I was a huge Harry Potter fan. Every night I’d sleep to Stephen Fry’s impeccable audiobooks, and Prisoner of Azkaban was the first film I ever saw in a cinema. As the aforementioned cinema was only a small, independent one (a local theatre that enjoyed moonlighting), my mum managed to get me the massive display posters of both Azkaban and the Goblet of Fire, which served to decorate my room until they were replaced with Stuart Craig’s sketch of the Hogwarts Bridge. In fact, I won my nintendo wii (back when they were the next big thing) in a Harry Potter related competition. National Geographic’s magazine for kids was ran a ‘simple’ question to tie-in with the release of Order of the Phoenix. Asking me to identify the headmaster of Hogwarts, I (being me) immediately named Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Severus Snape and Dolores Umbridge – probably throwing in Armando Dippet, Phineas Nigellus and Professor McGonagall for good measure. Needless to say, a couple of month’s later I received a massive package. The actual Order of Phoenix game was pretty rubbish, but the Wii was pretty amazing to say the least. While I’m discussing the HP video games, I have to say that; as much as I enjoyed the playstation versions of Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, or the Quidditch World Cup thing, my favourite remains the PC edition of Prisoner of Azkaban – that was fun.
So, all things considered, you can understand my delight when I was asked to audition for Deathly Hallows in October 2009. I hadn’t been acting for very long, and though I’d had castings for reasonably well known projects, this was the big cheese. At the time, long before any whispering of Cursed Child or Fantastic Beasts, I also thought this would be my last and only chance to be involved with JK Rowling’s world.
The first audition, with Fiona Weir, was at an office in Portobello Road, London. Though I was being seen primarily for Young Sirius, they also wanted to see me have a go at Young Snape. In the casting, I was tasked with an adaptation of the train scene from The Prince’s Tale. Whether or not this was ever actually going to appear in the final film I don’t know, but what’s certainly true is that we never filmed it. The only thing I can really remember was how I was asked to try playing the role less theatrically, as this was a long, long time before I really got the hang of naturalism on camera (please tell me when I do). I left the casting pretty pleased, but it wasn’t for another 2 months before I was asked for a recall at Pinewood Studios, on Monday 25th January 2010.
Though my younger sister Hattie would later film elements of Snow White and the Huntsman at Pinewood, I was most excited about the recall because Pinewood was where they shot the James Bond films (and Mamma Mia). This was a special part of the process (all of it was), where I first met Alfie McIwan, who eventually played Young James. Interestingly, it was at this stage that Benedict and Ellie also worked together for the same time, though Alfie and I were acting with other auditionees. I remember that there were a lot of people waiting their turn in a big holding room, with loads of potential Jameses, Siriuses, Snapes and Lilies. When we were called, I met David Yates for the first time. Though I know that not every Harry Potter fan admires him, and even I didn’t like Order of the Phoenix first time I saw it, as an actor he was an absolute pleasure to work with. Even when we filmed our scenes, he was always willing to listen to our ideas and you clearly saw his affinity for the relationships between Sirius, James, Lily and Snape. In the recall we were asked to improvise a couple of short conversations, and at the end (when everyone else walked out) I did something that I’d never ever do nowadays – I asked David Yates for his autograph. As a ‘proper’ actor, I’d never ask for that now, but I was young and happily ignorant. So ignorant, in fact, that I ignored the fact that he signed my autograph book “to young Sirius”.
All the way through my Harry Potter experience, I really enjoyed getting autographs from my fellow actors. At one stage I broke one of those ancient unwritten rules about getting autographs in the makeup room, when I saw Robbie Coltrane. Robbie, being a gent, was happy to sign my piece of paper, and also gave me the brilliant advice of “never getting a signature in biro, as it’ll eventually rub off.” Even now I still have a dedicated Hagrid doll that he would later autograph, as well as weird Harry Potter one inked by Dan. My favourite autograph, however, is probably from David Bradley. Growing up, Filch was one of the scariest characters in the world, so when I met him one day in full makeup and costume I was pretty amazed – even more so when he scrawled this:
Anyway, after the recall I still had to wait a couple of months before I was asked to go to Leavesden for a screen test, as well as an associated costume, hair and makeup meeting. Having been forbidden from cutting my hair (I didn’t complain) for about 5/6 months previously, that’s why it’s so incredibly long in my photo with Dan, which was taken when I was at Leavesden for the makeup.
I still remember far too much about this meeting, as it was one of the best moments of my life. My mum and I were being led from the costume department to the makeup department, as our guide mentioned that Dan was shooting that day. Already I was excited, amazed that I was in the same building as Daniel Radcliffe! Next thing I knew, we were in the corridor outside hair/makeup and a short-looking guy was talking to a little girl (who would later play Young Petunia). He turned around and – OH MY GOD – it was Harry Potter. Though I like to think that I don’t get starstruck that often, I could add little more to the subsequent conversation than a couple of nods. Dan welcomed us to the Potter family, and had to be literally dragged away when he was needed elsewhere. From that moment on, we were on first name terms.
After the screentest, everything went silent for a while. Though now I presume my mum was still in contact with the other mums (Ellie, Benedict, Alfie and I were now all acquainted), we didn’t hear anything for a few weeks. I obviously wanted the part, but at that age so much of it was fresh and fun, I didn’t really appreciate the stakes.
Then one day I came home from middle school to find a soft owl toy in the lounge. It had a piece of paper taped to it, which read “to young Sirius, congratulations on getting the part.” I still have the paper somewhere, and I definitely kept the owl. One thing I certainly didn’t have, however, was any idea of what would come…
Yesterday was a tiring, but utterly triumphant 13 hour round-trip to the little town of Stratford-upon-Avon to watch what might be the greatest play of all time. Actually, scratch that – THE greatest play of all time. William Shakespeare’s magnum opus, King Lear, this time starring the great theatrical actor Sir Antony Sher at the Royal Shakespeare Company.
For those of you who don’t know, King Lear is the story of a nation divided. It opens with an old king retiring with the intention of dividing Britain between his three daughters, according to which of them love them the most. His favourite, Cordelia, refuses to get embroiled in a war of words with her other sisters – Goneril and Regan, so is disowned. From then on, the entire play show the murky destruction of a land and the attempts of the old King to redeem himself even as he is overtaken by madness.
From an acting point-of-view, King Lear is often seen as the Everest of any career – the inescapable peak that has to be scaled. I’m reminded of the climber George Mallory who, when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, said “because it’s there.” Why does any actor want to play King Lear? Because it’s there. The part requires the actor to juggle multiple strands of character and storyline, while much of his backstory remains submerged in the unwritten past. Antony Sher certainly looks the part, with a wonderful grey beard and amorous wardrobe, but I sometimes felt he was too consistent in the role. He nails the madness and the humanist aspect of his character, and is overall pretty brilliant, though a part of me wanted to see more of the tyrant in Lear, particularly during the first scene and the legendary “Blow winds” speech.
What makes this particular production excel, however, is the strength of the entire cast and the epic scope of Gregory Doran’s staging. Paapa Essiedu, fresh from playing Hamlet for the RSC, is fantastic as the villainous bastard Edmund, while there is a definite roundness to the performances of Antony Byrne, David Troughton and Oliver Johnstone as Kent, Gloucester and Edgar. I also enjoyed Nia Gwynne as Goneril and Graham Turner as the fool. This is a big, complete play, and this version captures so many of the most important elements of the play brilliantly. The final scene, with Lear and Cordelia, is staged with genuine emotion and sadness. I really do highly recommend King Lear.
King Lear is playing at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre until 15th October before arriving at the Barbican in London for a month between 10th November and 23rd December.
As you might have seen on my twitter feed last week, this time next month I will be studying at the University of East Anglia. As you might have also seen, I have already become some sort of sensation in Norwich:
This time last year, I was quite close to having a breakdown over the agonising decision of which university to apply for. In retrospect, I do think there was a lot more I could have done to educate my eventual choices, like actually going to an open day. My AS level grades did give me a lot of options to play with, but it was really hard for me to pin down exactly what I wanted to spend three years of university doing. Sure, I’d also applied to a couple of acting schools (RADA, LAMDA), but they very rarely accept students straight out of sixth form. In my own egotistical head, I think I’d be comfortable doing any of 4 or 5 subjects at university. Honestly, I think I’m good enough at (and certainly enjoy) history, drama, english and archaeology to have done pretty damn well at uni.
The main problem here was that, through the UK University application service – UCAS – you could only write one 4000 character personal statement for all 5 choices. This ultimately detered me from applying for archaeology, while I chose against studying history formally at university after an open day visit (I did go to one!) at the university of Oxford, when I decided I didn’t really “fit in” but still decided to apply (for English). As I submitted all of my application forms in October 2015, my five choices read:
Oxford to do English
2. UEA to do Literature and Drama
3. Royal Holloway London to do English
4. King’s College London to do English
5. Southampton to do English
The Oxford application went wrong almost immediately. I nearly missed out on sitting the English aptitude test, while the sample essay I was asked to submit had been graded a B by my teacher (I would elaborate on this, but I’m not going to). However, elsewhere the news was exceedingly good. I received an AAA offer from King’s College London only a few weeks after finishing UCAS, while I also got offers from Royal Holloway and Southampton on the same day in October half term. By November I was no longer under consideration at Oxford (I blu-tacked the rejection letter to my bedroom door),though I did have an applicants/audition day booked for January at UEA. For this I was asked to prepare two monologues – one modern of my choosing (I went for a piece from Five Kinds of Silence; a play I had done as part of year 12 drama) and a Shakespearean monologue from a pre-decided list.
To be honest, I’m still a little surprised at the kind of monologues the panel had selected. Out of the seven, only three were male (which is understandable considering how many girls do drama at university). What was more intriguing were the characters they’d selected. None of them were what I’d class as A list, and all three would usually be played by middle-aged actors rather than 17 or 18 year olds. But still, one would have to make do, so I selected a speech from The Winter’s Tale (as I was seeing Kenneth Branagh in the part during December), and began to prepare…
The applicant day in the middle of January was truly brilliant, and it was that that ultimately made me choose UEA over King’s College. My dad, despite living in Dorset for twenty years, has never got round to leaving his Norwich-based optician, so made an excuse to visit him while I went alone. Though I didn’t learn much about the English side of the course, I barraged our tour guides (drama students) about the extra-curricular opportunities at UEA. The University has 2 drama groups: Minotaur theatre, which is exclusive to Drama students, and Drama Soc (which is much more inclusive). As you can probably guess, I’m planning to be a major part of both.
One of the best things I learnt during the tour was how UEA has a starring role in the biggest cinematic franchise of all time. The Sainsbury centre, which is a futuristic-looking art gallery on campus, doubles as the new Avengers facility in Age of Ultron, Ant-man and presumably some of the upcoming films. Whether or not this means Robert Downey Jr will come visiting for tea and biscuits I’m not sure, but it’s pretty cool isn’t it!
In the afternoon, I was one of the first (literally the first) to audition with one of the course tutors. We spoke over my personal statement at first, and I got to brag about all the drama stuff I’ve done, then I got up and performed. A week later and my letter of unconditional acceptance came through, which I immediately blu-tacked over the rejection from Oxford.
Don’t get me wrong though, it was still far from a done deal. When I visited King’s College in March, I was really impressed (even though I didn’t want to be). In the end, however, I decided that I wanted to study drama at Uni, which was not a subject offered by KCL.
As is mentioned in the Eastern Daily Press article, I do have a lot of family near Norwich. My Grandma lives on a disused farm about twenty minutes away, while my aunt and uncle work in the city itself. This means I have spent a fair amount of my holidays in Norfolk. The first time I saw Skyfall, for instance, was at the Vue in Norwich, while the first time I watched Man Utd play (live) was when Ryan Giggs scored a 90th minute winner at Carrow Road (best birthday I’ve ever had). I know my way around most of the sites of Norfolk, whether it be the market, the waffle house or the beehive (the much acclaimed bookshop), while I also like Alan Partridge. I’m very much hoping that the match was made in heaven, especially if I decided to stay with my Grandma for my second and third years.
The only problem that I do see, which is utterly unavoidable, is the certainty that the drama students tend to enjoy partying. University is famous for its drinking games, but that only makes me worried. You see, I don’t like alcohol – genuinely can’t stand it. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on much, based on some of the embarrassing situations my friends have gotten themselves into, but I am certainly not a clubber.