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Paul Clayton: What won’t an actor do for money?

Photo: Shutterstock
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Looking back, I must have taken an afternoon off during drama school. How else could I have missed the valuable aspects of my training that taught me to depict wiping my posterior with hard and soft toilet tissue?

I really don’t remember the class that made me proficient at playing a bingo ball from Sheffield, or the one that gave me the dexterity to mime along to a soundtrack of sugar-filled, hyperactive children.

And yet, my working life has called upon me to do all three, and other bizarre roles in addition. All in the cause of an honest day’s pay.

Acting is my job and while I would like every piece of work I do to give my soul a warm glow, in practical terms, I have to use my skills to earn money. Being reasonably useless in call centres, and lacking all customer service skills, I have to try to make sure that my work comes within my trained profession.

But how far does that go? As an actor, when does it all become too much? What would we not do for cash? Personally, I tend to follow Mrs Patrick Campbell’s advice: if it doesn’t frighten the horses, it works for me.

While our continental colleagues won’t run through the snow in comedy underwear to promote a major supermarket chain, British Equity members are falling over themselves to do it

I have appeared in a party political broadcast for a party with which I was not affiliated. I had bills to pay. I’ve spent time in programmes I wouldn’t ever watch. I’ve even donned clothes from a well-known bargain chain to convince as a window cleaner at a casting for a TV commercial.

It is perhaps this willingness to accept any opportunity with gusto that leads to the large number of English actors used in foreign adverts.

While our continental colleagues won’t run through the snow in comedy underwear to promote a major German supermarket chain, British Equity members are falling over themselves to do it, as long as it comes with a few euros.

This particular example may well have to do with the need for humour, something which, I have heard, can be in short supply in the Rhineland.

I once spent a day in Rome dancing on a dinner-party table to the music of Take That. Surrounded by bemused Italian actors, I thrusted and throbbed my way to a paid tax bill and a holiday while the Italians looked on aghast. “How could he do this to his art?”

I have walked away from jobs and castings. Once I left a play in rehearsals due to its disturbing nature; I also left a commercial casting when a US director insulted my Yorkshire accent, having asked for a northern twang.

Basically, I do this as a job. It pays for my life. I love what I do and I’m lucky to do it. But it has to balance the books, and if that means lowering my standards occasionally, then show me the money.

Though there is always a limit. For the information of any directors reading, mine is this: don’t you dare insult the accent from God’s Own Country.

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