My first job was in Othello at London’s Riverside Studios. The casting director Jane Deitch gave a talk at ArtsEd before we graduated and asked me to audition a couple of weeks after our showcase.
I was a little nervous, but it helped that I already had a couple of good friends in the company. Gemma Stroyan was in my year at ArtsEd and gave a phenomenal performance as Emilia. Sam Blythe was one of my best friends at university. When we moved to London, we made a pact that one day we’d do a professional gig together. It was a lovely bit of serendipity that we ended up together on my first gig.
Everyone on the job was lovely, I met people on that show who are among my closest friends six years later. One thing I would do differently now is recognise that sometimes less is more. Not everything has to be high-stakes. Back then, I really wanted to impress and maybe I felt the best way to do that was to do certain scenes at absolute maximum intensity. In some scenes I might have benefited from someone telling me I didn’t need to do quite so much.
We were on £50 a week and getting paid intermittently, so I really learned how to manage my time and money. I was doing close-up magic in Hamleys and Selfridges in London to make ends meet. You have to learn pretty quickly how to get your admin and finances in order. If you can take care of those things you’ll be able to give more of yourself to the work.
I didn’t have the biggest role in Othello, so I had ample opportunity to watch some of the more experienced actors, which was incredibly instructive and I still do it today. There’s no substitute for experience in this profession. Experience doesn’t necessarily mean age; I learned tonnes from actors who were younger than me. Be a knowledge sponge — watch and listen. That job was like an apprenticeship and I’m very thankful for it.
Training: Arts Educational Schools London
Theatre includes: Beauty and the Beast (Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch), The Tempest, Othello (Stafford Shakespeare Festival), The Woman in Black (Simply Theatre, Geneva), Amy’s View, September Tide (Paul Taylor-Mills in association with Bill Kenwright), Rope, The Great Gatsby, One Man, Two Guvnors (touring productions)
Agent: Esta Charkham Associates
James Lawrence was talking to John Byrne