Matthew Xia, artistic director of ATC, tells John Byrne about his first job as an actor on Sky TV short film series Tube Tales in 1999
My first paid job was as an actor in a Sky TV film called Tube Tales in 1999. It was a compilation of eight short films. I was in the film called Mouth directed by Armando Iannucci (he recently told me this was his directorial debut). I was a member of the Theatre Royal Stratford East Youth Theatre. An alumni member and friend, Clint Dyer, had some involvement with the production and was finding young actors to audition. I auditioned for two of the short films. My first audition was with an attractive man who I described to my mum at the time as “having a girl’s name” – that was Jude Law. The second was with Iannucci.
I was beyond nervous, I was travelling to parts of London I’d never heard of (such as Hammersmith and Carnaby Street) and auditioning alongside some incredible talents. In Iannucci’s audition for Mouth I had no words. I had to imagine I was eating a bag of chips on the tube when a woman vomits opposite me. I remember doing something understated – like finishing the chip in my mouth and rolling the top of the chip bag closed. If I were doing it again, I would have done a bit of research and gone in knowing who these accomplished directors were, but I quickly learned my desire to be an actor no longer existed. Having achieved that ambition, I started focusing on music, which gave me a whole other career, before delivering me back to the theatre first as a composer and then as a director.
My first job advice to others would be to absorb as much as you can, know who is in the room and pay attention. I was 16 or 17 years old and because of that I approached it with a slightly self-centred teenage attitude. I wish I had observed, in more detail, the incredible talents making the work: Daniela Nardini, Dominic Holland and of course, one of our greatest film-makers, Iannucci himself.
Theatre includes: As a director: Blue/Orange and Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, Young Vic, London; Wish List, Royal Court, London; Into the Woods and Frankenstein, Royal Exchange, Manchester; Shebeen and One Night in Miami, Nottingham Playhouse
Other credits: Associate director at Theatre Royal Stratford East; resident director at Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, Artistic director ATC
Credits as DJ Excalibah include: BBC 1Xtra, BBC Radio 1, Glastonbury, Ministry of Sound, Fabric, Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony
Agent: Nick Quinn at the Agency