My first job came about while I was still at drama school in 2010. The casting director for the National Theatre of Scotland took a class towards the end of my second year and she asked me to audition for a new world tour of Black Watch, a massive success at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006.
She flagged up that if I got the part I would have to consider dropping out of drama school and asked me to give it some thought. I absolutely loved my training at Drama Centre London, but this was definitely not a play to be turned down, so I didn’t think twice.
It was one of those jobs where you felt part of something special and end up with mates for life. We all felt this weight and responsibility to do justice to the young men of the Black Watch, many of whom had lost their lives, and to tell their story with as much truth and passion as possible.
On the first day of rehearsals our movement director said: ‘If you’re not completely spent by the time the lights go down, you didn’t give it enough’
That was never more true than when we played to audiences in Scotland, including members of the regiment and their families. We were incredibly nervous; from the wings you could see all the uniforms. I’ve never felt more conscious of being an actor rather than the real thing.
But the play really spoke for itself. All we had to do was go out and give it everything. On the first day of rehearsals our movement director Steven Hoggett said: “If you’re not completely spent by the time the lights go down, you didn’t give it enough.” I still think about that advice a lot. It can be applied to anything.
The preparation we underwent for every performance was an experience I haven’t come across since and is something I still incorporate into my own process. We held tough group physical training sessions followed by yoga – and that was before we went on and did the show. It gets you to a state of physical and mental readiness that you really can’t achieve any other way. I had to learn to pace myself a little – I ended up breaking my ankle and hand on two separate occasions from overdoing it.
My biggest piece of advice is preparation. Have you done the work? It’s what will allow you to be free as an actor and more able to play around. It’s all about confidence. Your prep will give you that.
Training: Drama Centre London
Theatre includes: Black Watch (National Theatre of Scotland); Yerma (Gate Theatre, London); Macbeth (Sheffield Crucible);
The History Boys (Sheffield Crucible)
TV and film includes: Unbroken, The Silent Storm, Macbeth, Crawl, The Liberator (Netflix)
Agent: Luc Chaudhary, International Artists Management
Ross Anderson was talking to John Byrne