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Jonathan Harden: In anything at the minute? You’re not alone…

Jonathan Harden. Photo: Ori Jones Jonathan Harden. Photo: Ori Jones
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In anything at the minute? Would I know you? What kind of acting do you do?

We’ve all been asked. And we’ve all lied. Well, I have. But worse than that, I’ve misled friends and peers too. Often unintentionally, occasionally even to save their embarrassment, but always, always because it’s easier. Nobody wants to know the truth about how hard it is to be an actor. Nor do they want to hear about how much we love it when we’re lucky enough to be doing it. Right? Yeah, that’s what I used to think too…

From July 2013 until earlier this year, I had the quietest period of my career so far. I went from five months at the National Theatre to five days a week on a building site, and even though I knew I was in the majority – actors who are out of work – it was an incredibly lonely time. I read about actors suffering from depression and a watched tributes following a few high profile suicides, but when I got in from work and checked social media, actor friends seemed only to be talking about how well things were going. In many cases, I knew I was reading career ‘spin’, but I still compared my own achievements unfavourably to those that filled my Facebook feed. That, of course, was not their intention. We all feel the pressure to perform ‘success’ and hide the realities from view – in 18 months where I had approximately 25 days acting work, I met several people who commented on how well I was apparently doing. And so, ridiculously, I even found myself trying to compete with my very own fiction. At Christmas, on my way to host a pub quiz in Peckham, I had an idea: a podcast, featuring interviews with actors, aimed at promoting open and honest discussions about the profession.

The average interviewee in your average interview is an A-list millionaire, and questions therefore focus on celebrity, oft-told anecdotes and imminent releases. Don’t get me wrong, I occasionally enjoy listening to famous actors talk about what they’re doing and how they do it, who they played pranks on and who the biggest asshats in Hollywood are, but these sorts of interviews function largely as escapism, in much the same way as the blockbuster movies they tend to publicise.

For me, what’s more important than the work interviewees are currently doing or have done in the past, is what they do when they’re not working, what they’ve done to pay bills and stay sane between jobs, and what advice they’d give if they could somehow meet their younger selves. And those were the kinds of questions I wanted to start asking…

Six months, several hundred quid and about 400 hours at my laptop later, here we are: the podcast has the support of Equity, I’ve been asked to write an article about it for The Stage (which you’re reading), and the fortnightly teaser episodes that I started putting online in March (mainly as a means of gaining experience with the necessary software) have amassed over 15,000 plays. It’s been an amazing journey, a steep learning curve, and a challenge at times, and I couldn’t have done it without the fearless early support of the actors who agreed to be interviewed, including (to my delight) Tom Goodman-Hill, Denise Gough, Paul Higgins, Justine Mitchell, Sinead Matthews and Jessica Raine.

Someone recently described to me the feeling of camaraderie they got from listening to the teasers. And that sums up what I’m hoping other listeners (and readers of the blog) will feel too. Ultimately, I want to contribute to a better standard of mental health among actors. On the way, I’d like to at least make you smile with recognition at the experiences we all have in common.

I know what you’re thinking, but relax, this is not a pity party, not a cautionary tale and not a therapy session. I’m really just trying to restore balance to the conversations we’re having and hearing about acting. In Anything at the Minute? is about offering actors an insight into shared problems and, potentially, shared solutions, and it’s as interested in actors who are not working as those who are. Oh, and I promise not to ask anyone how they learn their lines, if they’ve thought of being in Eastenders or if they’d ever consider teaching.

Don’t take my word for it – have a listen…

The podcast In Anything at the Minute? launched on September 30. You can find further episodes and details on the website or on Twitter

 

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