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Former students

Below you will find a few extracts from press and other profiles of some of the best-known graduates of the Drama Centre. They are chosen to give you a sense of the range of work our graduates undertake, as well as of the wide range of backgrounds from which they come and of the various, sometimes unusual, routes they took towards training. As you will see, they are all united by their desire to approach their art sincerely while not taking themselves too seriously.

Paul Bettany Paul Bettany

Despite the fact that he was raised in a theatrical family, acting was not Paul’s first choice of career. When he was small, his dad was a drama teacher and his mum a secretary. But both were former actors, and his dad is still on stage. He originally wanted to be a rock singer and drifted round London for a couple of years in his late teens, busking. “I wrote lots of songs, still do.” But he gave it up, he says, because he could never imagine bearing his soul as his hero John Lennon did, with lyrics like “Mother, you had me, but I never had you”. “I bless him for saying it, but I would never want anybody to know that much about me. Acting gives you the freedom to be behind a mask. Nobody knows if it’s really you.”

Paul trained at the Drama Centre between 1991 and 1994 – “Drama Centre taught me how to read!” Paul then made his stage debut in Stephen Daldry’s acclaimed production of An Inspector Calls. Early stage successes also saw him spending a year with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He followed that with a number of stage, television and film appearances before his career really took off with Gangster No 1, followed soon after by his first big Hollywood movie the rocked-up medieval romp A Knight’s Tale. He went on to world recognition with his performance in A Beautiful Mind; a central role in Dogville - a three hour marathon co-starring Nicole Kidman and directed by the Danish film maker Lars von Trier. He gained wide acclaim for his key role in the film Master and Commander, opposite Russell Crowe, winning a BAFTA nomination for Best Film Actor; an Evening Standard Best British Actor Award and a Film Critics Circle Best Actor Award. Most recently he starred in The Reckoning and in Wimbledon.

Paul is very good at not taking things too seriously. I am very confident that the quality of his acting will allow him to get away it. While shooting Master and Commander he reportedly opted out of the director’s mandatory tall ships’ drill for the cast. Everyone else was put through his paces for days, hoisting sails in their heavy naval costumes. Bettany showed up on set in shorts and t-shirt and sat in a corner smoking: his way, he claimed, of suggesting his character’s intellectual distance from the ship’s crew. But also, you imagine, a good way to sit in the corner smoking.

(Extracted from The Evening Standard Metro Life February 6-12, 2004 and The Observer Magazine January 25, 2004)

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Pierce Brosnan Pierce Brosnan

Pierce Brosnan was born in Navan, Ireland in 1953, but moved to London with his family in 1964. He left school at 15 “I was one of the lads, I was sarf London, y’know, but somehow I felt different. All my mates were going off to be painters or plumbers, but I kind of invented myself to be a commercial artist and then I found acting…When I found acting I found a certain refuge…sanctuary…home…sense of belonging.”

While at the Drama Centre between 1973 and 1976, Pierce appeared in Fuente Ovejuna well before the National Theatre put the Lope de Vega play back in the public eye back in 1989; was Brachiano in Webster’s The White Devil and appeared in the German dramatist Gerhart Hauptmann’s little known 1911 The Rats. Soon after leaving Drama Centre he undertook professional theatre work at the Glasgow Citizens Theatre, worked in repertory and took a role in Franco Zeffirelli’s Saturday, Sunday, Monday in the West End. In 1981 Pierce went to Hollywood and in 1995, after a distinguished career in film and television, he became the 5th actor to play James Bond.

“At the Drama Centre we were taught the discipline of the job and the responsibilities you have as an actor. The Drama Centre was my university, my church, my salvation. Before I went there, I’d done some fringe theatre and, in my ignorance and youth, I thought I was above it all – but I really didn’t know anything. When I am on a set with some director who is rudderless and ill-prepared, I hear the words of my teachers coming back to me. The most important lesson they ever taught me is that you will never be directed. The great directors, the good ones, are few and far between, so you’d better be prepared to direct yourself.

You were challenged to investigate yourself, to educate yourself – it was not for the faint-hearted, but if you survived Drama Centre, you could survive any ordeals in your career.

(Extracted from The Independent on Sunday January 27, 2002 and the Evening Standard January 22, 2002)

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Louisa Clein Louisa Clein

Graduating in 2000, Louisa went straight into a BBC drama called Judge John Deed. Four years later, with a fourth series promised, it has provided invaluable experience in front of a camera, exposure and opportunities. In between filming, Louisa has worked in the theatre on play such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Jack Shepherd, My Children! My Africa! directed by Dana Fainaru (both alumni of the Drama Centre) and most recently The Lady From The Sea at the Almeida Theatre directed by Trevor Nunn. For this latter role she was nominated for an Ian Charleson Award – the most prestigious national award for actors under 30. Louisa has completed filming a 6-part Granada TV programme called Island at War.

“I guess if there is one thing I can say I have learnt about Drama Centre since graduating, is that Drama Centre is everywhere! It’s quite incredible what an influence it has had and is still having on theatre, TV and film both in Europe and across the Atlantic. Drama Centre actors are exciting to watch, exciting to work with and I feel enormously proud to have Drama Centre on the top of my CV.”

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Anne-Marie Duff Anne-Marie Duff

Anne-Marie is well on her way to becoming that modern curiosity: a serious actress whose growing prominence is founded on quiet years of graft. Recently she starred in Shameless, Channel 4’s clever, quirky drama by Paul Abbott. But Anne-Marie’s big breakthrough came in 2002 with the film The Magdalene Sisters, in which she gave a powerful performance as Margaret. Peter Mullan’s film won Best Picture at the Venice Film Festival and the UK Film Critics Award for Best Film.

Herself the product of a council estate and a comprehensive education, she adored shooting Shameless, an aggressively funny play about family bonds on a Manchester housing estate. Anne-Marie was born in 1970, the younger of two children of Irish immigrants, her father worked – and works still – as a painter and decorator; her mother in a shoe shop. The family lived on the Southall estate in West London and Anne-Marie, the archetypal, shy, preoccupied child, attended a local youth theatre in order to do battle with her nature. “I was quite shy. I used to write stories all the time and I think that was a worry for my parents. They thought attending a youth drama group might make me a bit more extrovert.” Anne-Marie soon became hooked on the stage.

In her mid-teens, involved in an amateur theatre company, she began to think seriously about applying to drama schools. Her first application was rejected. “At the time, I was desperately unhappy about it, but I just wasn’t polished. I got too nervous in the audition. It wasn’t a world I was familiar with…” So she went away and did some more A levels and studied Film and Theatre Studies. “I felt I would be more articulate, better-versed when it came to re-applying.” At 19 she ended up alongside John Simm, Anastasia Hille and her good friend, Paul Bettany at the Drama Centre – “A very intense training, quite relentless and brilliant” - at which point everything came into sharp focus. She felt at home there almost immediately. “Everyone had the same want, and that’s a relief. If you really crave something, it’s a relief to meet people who are like-minded…It was exhilarating, but a tough training. If there had been a yearbook, I’d have been the person least likely to succeed. There were so many sexy, talented pupils there.”

Despite her misgivings, in 1993 it was Anne-Marie who walked straight out of drama school into touring theatre and then spent 3 years at the National Theatre, playing among others, Cordelia in King Lear opposite Ian Holm, for which she was nominated for an Ian Charleson Award. She has worked almost solidly since in the theatre, in television period dramas (The Aristocrats; The Way We Live Now) and in films and was nominated for an Olivier Award for her work in Collected Stories opposite Helen Mirren. Garry Hynes, who is currently directing her in the lead role in Playboy of the Western World at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin says: “She’s not careful of herself.” Howard Davies, who has directed her twice on the stage of the National Theatre, agrees: “She throws herself into the part, almost as if she is bruising herself against it.”

(Extracted from The Sunday Mail December 28, 2003 and The Observer February 8, 2004)

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Colin Firth Colin Firth

Colin’s favourite showbiz anecdote concerns George Bernard Shaw’s visit to 1920s Hollywood to meet Sam Goldwyn. After 3 days, Shaw informed his host that they couldn’t possibly work together. But why, enquired the shocked movie mogul. “Because you’re only interested in art and I’m only interested in money”, replied Shaw. For Firth, that inversion of expected characteristics says everything about Anglo-American movie détente, and he has definitely crossed the Atlantic that separates cash and culture.

Colin Firth is the elder son of liberal academics, his father a lecturer in history and his mother in comparative religions, who raised their three children on books, conversation and no ITV on the television. As a child he spent a year in Nigeria, another in St Louis, where he was disliked and isolated at school. Neither of these interludes helped Colin assimilate at his hated secondary modern in Winchester. “I didn’t want to grow up and wear a suit. I wanted to be rock and roll.” His escape was Saturday drama classes, and then a place at the Stanislavsky-inspired Drama Centre. His teachers at the Drama Centre acclaimed their protégé as “a young Paul Schofield” and warned him of the moribund destiny of the matinee idol, which they could all too clearly see as a possibility. His was the only Hamlet the Drama Centre ever staged, remembered by one in the audience as “incredibly dark and glamorous”.

Colin Firth has worked consistently since leaving the Drama Centre in 1982 and walking straight into the play of the year, Julian Mitchell’s Another Country, in which he replaced Rupert Everett as the public-speaking proto-traitor Guy Bennett. “That fairy godmother never appears again. He dwarfs what ”Pride and Prejudice” felt like. I went from nobody knowing who I was and everyone doubting me to my dad taking photos of the poster on Finsbury Avenue.”

While he was being cast in Another Country his drama school contemporaries were doing less starry work and they assumed he would change overnight. “In the end I bought the drinks for a long time. I had to be humble.” Colin went on to star in such successes as Pride and Prejudice, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Shakespeare in Love, High Fidelity, Love Actually and The Importance of Being Earnest.

(Extracted from The Sunday Times Magazine May 2003)

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Helen McCrory Helen McCrory

Thanks to her formidable range and presence, Helen McCrory, who graduated in 1990, is always being compared to Judi Dench. She is probably best known for playing Anna in a TV adaptation of Anna Karenina and for her recent appearance as the female lead in Charles II on the BBC. Amongst her fellow actors, her reputation, however, rests above all on stage performances, most recently as Nina in The Seagull at The National and Yelena in Uncle Vanya at The Donmar.

Helen studied at the Drama Centre in the late 80s and early 90s. “They rejected me at first, telling me I hadn’t lived enough. Undaunted, I went away to Italy for a year, then on my return I sent the Centre an envelope stuffed with photocopies of the letters I had written to other schools rejecting their offers of places. It did the trick.

It wasn’t just a foundation in acting,” McCrory remembers, “but a preparation for the job, which isn’t quite the same thing. It was a tough course, but it’s a tough profession. It teaches you to ask questions, how to look at yourself – which you need if you’re an actor – and how to keep constantly training yourself.”

Helen found Drama Centre’s focus on character analysis illuminating. “What you get are blueprints for work as an actor, which you can either reject or go with. When I was there, we learned 8 or 9 of the key approaches about acting, character analysis and psychology. Drama Centre is quite unique in that respect.

Drama Centre genuinely inspired me. It changed me in fact as a person, as well as an actress. Lots of people can act, but after a few years in work, there are so many genuinely unhappy people, because they hate being freelance or can’t take the criticism. At Drama Centre London you find out at 23 whether you have the stomach for criticism rather than at 45, as a card-carrying member of Alcoholics Anonymous.”

(Extracted from Time Out London May 2004)

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John Simm John Simm

John Simm will be familiar to television viewers from numerous films and series ranging from The Lakes, in which he played Danny Kavanagh, to Crime and Punishment, shown in 2003, in which he led as Raskolnikov. John first read Dostoyevsky’s novel when he was a student at Drama Centre, having arrived at the age of 19 from Nelson in Lancashire. “I came down from the north and I was surrounded by these people from Oxford and Cambridge who were extremely well read and that left me, you know… secluded. And I had to catch up. I had to be able to compete, so I read and I read and I read.” (The Guardian February 9, 2002)

He graduated in 1992. While at Drama Centre, John appeared in another Dostoyevsky piece, Camus’ adaptation of the novel The Possessed, alongside fellow students Craig Kelly and Joe Duttine. Film audiences will know him from Michael Winterbottom’s movie Wonderland, in which he appeared as Eddie. Most recently he played Cal McCaffrey, the journalist in the political thriller State of Play. Despite being one of the busiest of his generation of actors, he has time to appear with his band Magic Alex, which toured recently in support of Echo and the Bunnymen.

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Jamie Sives

The quality of Jamie’s acting in films such as Wilbur and the Highland comedy One Last Chance has earned him a place on the Shooting Stars Roadshow that tours film festivals such as Berlin and Taormina, showcasing major new European acting talent. Even as he stands at the threshold of stardom, Jamie admits it was football that was his passion while growing up in Edinburgh, not acting. As trials for Motherwell and Dundee led nowhere, it was creaking past the 20-mark that eventually forced him to concede he had missed his chance. “I cried myself to sleep for a few nights when I realised it wasn’t quite happening. In hindsight, I know it didn’t work for a reason – I just wasn’t good enough.” For a while he drifted from job to job working in a paper mill, then as a postman, an aerial rigger. He also trained as an apprentice electrician, and even did a stint as an Edinburgh bouncer.

Nothing he did satisfied him, until he recalled that he had secretly enjoyed drama at school. “Like most people from certain areas, I kept it to myself. They’d start taking your dinner money if they knew you liked reading aloud.” Jamie enrolled in acting classes, then “blanket-bombed” drama colleges with applications. He went to the Drama Centre between 1995 and 1998 when he was in his late 20s. “The whole thing was happening at a time when I wanted a big change so I just went for it.” Drama Centre led to a string of TV roles, including Pyschos, Holby City and climbing drama Rockface, as well as a part in Vinny Jones’s football vehicle Mean Machine, which led to his latest films. There is certainly nothing pretentious about Sives. He has charisma to burn, but hasn’t let the success of Wilbur go to his head. “Acting doesn’t come easy to me at all.”

It may not, but Sives has been compared to a young Sean Connery and it’s not hard to imagine him following in the footsteps of Ewan McGregor and Dougray Scott.

(Extracted from the Scotsman August 2003)

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