Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…
Emily Cohen is in her 20s and works in theatre and TV as well as running her own theatre company. She is an associate member of a national company
|Vivian Lee is 38 and has played leading roles at the National, the RSC and the Royal Court, alongside regular TV appearances|
Albert Parker is 60 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA-winning sitcoms, theatre and TV
John Pepper is 31 and for the past 10 years has worked as an actor in regional theatres, the National and in radio, television and film
Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has played leading roles at the RSC, worked on new plays, and toured both nationally and internationally
Peter Quince is a 72-year-old actor working in theatre
Annie Walker is 25. Since graduating from drama school, Annie has worked predominantly in regional theatres and is a writer and street performer
Peter Some of it is obvious: such as economy and stillness…
John Shutting your mouth and opening your eyes.
Vivian A big head. Big-headed people look normal on screen.
Peter The camera just loves some people. They can be quite ordinary in real life and look fabulous on screen.
Albert Doing nothing but doing it interestingly.
Beryl Absolute presence, as in thinking the thoughts really in the moment.
Albert Let the camera find you and your thoughts. Don’t demonstrate them.
Peter I envy actors who are brave enough to be big on screen and get away with it.
Jon That makes me think of Andrew Scott. His Moriarty was so brilliant because he thought: “Fuck it, I’ll give a theatre performance, see what happens.”
Annie For me, this is all about on-set etiquette. Be quiet when the crew is working, introduce yourself, acknowledge everyone and be there for the other performers.
Vivian Energy control is important. With the long days and the waiting, the ability to ration out your energy and to turn out a performance at a drop of a hat is really important. That’s totally different to theatre.
John A good screen actor delivers when the camera isn’t on them.
Beryl That’s about being a good human, John.
John Agreed, but I understand when there has been 10 takes on that actor for their big scene, and they need reaction shots from another on the turn around, being able to deliver repeatedly is a talent.
Beryl For sure, John, it should be a given, it’s part of our job… Digging holes in a road in the rain is hard work.
Albert It took me ages to master screen work. I always used to think of the camera as an audience and made sure I played to it.
Jon A mate of mine did his first TV job with a very famous TV actor and asked for advice. The advice was: “Think of the camera as your best friend. That means it’s on your side, it loves you, but it knows when you’re lying.”
Emily I like that.
Vivian I remember when I first started doing TV, I was aware of the camera as a huge threatening and oppressive thing. Now, mostly, it’s not that I forget it’s there, it’s that I acknowledge it and move on – like the audience in a theatre. I know this is rather obvious to say, but I’ve only realised it recently.
Emily I got taught to inhale, not exhale because you don’t want to release the tension. I find it so interesting how technical it is.
Jon I also think it’s worth having an ‘acting is acting’ mentality. We can get too hung up on the differences.
Albert Yes, don’t be ashamed to speak up. Despite what some drama schools might teach, good screen acting isn’t just about mumbling and not blinking.
Jon I haven’t done much TV and on the last one I did I was so anxious about keeping it subtle that they had to tell me to stop mumbling. Those of you who have seen me on stage will know… I am not a mumbler.
Emily You definitely aren’t. I did my first TV job this year and was so amazed how fast it all was.
Peter Vivian is right about rationing energy – it’s the ability to sit in a trailer for hours, eating biscuits and doing the crossword, but still being ready to deliver when you’re called at the end of the day.
Jon I do get a bit mesmerised by a brilliant screen actor. Like, how do you know precisely what your eyes are doing?
Beryl Some folk work with mirrors. I can’t do it, I get too judgemental about how I look and it becomes about vanity rather than story.
Peter As they say, get the thoughts right and everything else follows.
Beryl Yes, thinking the thinks.
Jon Being able to do small scenes out of sequence is quite a skill, too. To hit the ground running in what otherwise would be the middle of the scene.
Beryl That is mostly about doing your homework, I guess.
Jon When my dad directed single studio plays for TV, he used to film three complete runs and edit them together. His camera scripts were bigger than our house.
Vivian Wow. There’s not much call for that nowadays though.
Jon Vivian, there isn’t the budget for it either. He also used to have three weeks in a rehearsal room.
Beryl Wait, editing them together?!
Jon Yep, the best bits of each take.
Beryl That’s brilliant.
Jon So we have economy, stillness, support and energy… if I asked you for a number one tip, what would it be?
Vivian Knowing your lines. This is where I mess up all the time. I keep approaching it like: “We will have time to rehearse and discover new ways of doing stuff.” But no, it’s “action”, do your lines, and leave.
Peter Often with people you’ve only just met – I hate that. And the last-minute rewrites are a killer.
Vivian Sometimes they can change the schedule and you have learned the wrong lines.
John Yup, Vivian. Know. Your. Lines. Know them unicycling on your head, backwards.
Jon Dryden Taylor is an actor, writer and editor of The Green Room. If you work in theatre and would like to join in the conversation, email email@example.com