The one thing journalists love to ask actors is why they got into the profession. This week Hugh Dancy confessed: “I would never have thought of doing this if I hadn’t been forced into it, partly because of boarding [school] and partly because I was unhappy,” he says. “They had such wonderful facilities at the school … every time I say that, it sounds like I’m talking about the toilets.” Roger Allam talked of how he “became obsessed with drama, stomping around London and paying 10p for standing tickets in the gods, and reading a Great Acting book that he found in the school library. He haunted stage doors and watched actors walking into pubs.” People become actors for various reasons – escapism, “for the girls”, therapy or for the excitement of having the chance to experience lives that are so distinctive from your own. Whatever the reason, Derek Jacobi is of the firm belief that actors are born and not made and that drama schools can only nurture the nascent talent that the student already possesses.
In an interview in The Times, Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen talked of how they saw themselves in the acting profession: “McKellen casts himself as an actor who has had to labour at his craft, improving on the job over time until he reached his peak in his fifties and beyond. By contrast, he saw the young Jacobi as a natural. “Derek knew instinctively about the blank-verse line at an age when other people were having to learn about it. He was always able to speak Shakespeare. You’ve never thought about it, have you, in the way that Gielgud never had to think about it.”
Jacobi concurs, yet he thinks McKellen’s description of himself as a toiling yeoman, rather than a man with a gift, is disingenuous. “I don’t think a drama school can teach you how to act. That’s something you carry in you, to be honed and developed. And I don’t believe you, Ian, when you say you had to learn it all. I think you were a born actor, but you didn’t know it. I knew I was.”
Though McKellen is synonymous with the craft and has been knighted for his contribution to theatre, it is worthy to note that he still works at improving his craft. Whether he was born an actor or not, there is a constant hard graft to better himself as an artist even at the age of 76. This is the reason as to why Audition Doctor’s students are by no means purely drama school applicants but also working actors. The need to stay fresh and constantly sharpen and develop your skills requires discipline. Working with Audition Doctor means you can feel like if you were called for an audition tomorrow, you wouldn’t feel stale or daunted if you haven’t worked in a while.
There are no guarantees in this business, with Allam conceding that as a young actor: “I assumed in my grandiosity that in the fullness of time the good people of British television and the good people of Hollywood would of course hear of, or see, my brilliance and invite me to be in one of their marvellous films.”
Hugh Dancy is also proof that drama school isn’t for everyone, nor does it preclude you from the frustrations that come with being an actor: “Drama school might have given him a strong sense of purpose, he says, but he also worries that he might have felt that the world owed him a living…When you jump into this business when you’re 22, and you have that feeling, you could be in for a good kicking because it doesn’t always come so easily. I was lucky.”
Even the best in the business are unsure of what or when their next job will be; and if you are born with an “acting gene”, it will be useless if not trained. Whether you choose to go to drama school or not, acting is a vocation which requires practice, effort and of course – luck. Audition Doctor sessions ensure that you are constantly challenged to go to the edge of your limits. Like any muscle, the more you work it, the further the goalposts move and you find yourself being able to go the distant places in your psyche and physicality that you previously thought were out of reach.