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Stage and TV actor David Dean Bottrell: ‘I love becoming a new person every time I work’

David Dean Bottrell. Photo: Jason Kaufman
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How did you start off in theatre?
As a teenager, I fell madly in love with a girl in our high school’s drama club. I was far too shy to speak to her, so the only way to meet her was to audition for one of the school plays.

What is your best advice for students?
Get the best training you can. Take it seriously. Even when your professional career starts to take flight, stay in class. There’s a lot to learn.

Do you feel there are differences between how actors are trained in the US and UK?
I’m not sure whether it has to do with training or cultural differences, but most of my UK students have been wonderfully brave in class, whereas a lot of my US students can be oddly timid at first. Unlike here, the UK has the advantage of having the film, TV and theatre industries all primarily based in London, so there’s less culture shock involved when students begin to transition into new mediums.

What is the best part of your job?
Becoming a new person every time I work.

And your least favourite?
Not knowing when my next job will appear.

Which practitioners do you admire most?
Genuinely unique actors – the ones who were told they’d never have a career, but who ultimately triumphed. I would encourage any young actor to pay close attention to performers who are creating their own work. If you think you can write, try it. If you truly can’t write, start making friends with those who can.

What one skill should every successful theatre professional have?
The ability to listen and respond immediately and truthfully to what just happened. Our best work rarely comes from planning every move ahead of time but from allowing what’s in front of us to affect us, move us off-centre and force us to respond spontaneously and honestly. Listening can be incredibly fun. It allows the work to remain fresh and surprising.

David Dean Bottrell is a teacher at UCLA, Temple University and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and is the author of Working Actor: Breaking in, Making a Living, and Making a Life in the Fabulous Trenches of Show Business.

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