It’s no secret that the road to making it as an actor is, more often than not, a hard one, peppered with rejection and long periods on the sofa watching daytime television. You’d think, therefore, having a Casting Director for a mother, with piles of hopefuls’ CVs a regular sight while growing up, might put you off, but not so for Isabella Laughland. Determined to give her dream of acting a shot, landing a role in the globe-conquering Harry Potter series at 16 may well have been an early sign that it was a risk worth taking; it sure beats Doctors as your professional debut anyhow.
Six years on and Laughland is building an impressive stage CV. Following an award nomination for Outstanding Newcomer and acclaimed appearances at the Royal Court theatre and the National Theatre, the young actress is speaking to Official London Theatre from another high profile London theatrical institution, the Donmar Warehouse, where’s she’s currently appearing in Nick Payne’s much-anticipated follow-up to the award-winning Constellations, The Same Deep Water As Me.
After an adrenaline-filled week leading up to press night, Laughland talks to us about reuniting with the playwright-of-the-moment on a piece about injury lawyers, why she has made peace with being unemployed for seven months of the year and how she’d rather be Anne-Marie Duff then end up on the pages of gossip magazines.
CV in brief:
2009-2011: Makes professional debut playing Leanne in three of the Harry Potter series
2010: Appears in Nick Payne’s Wanderlust at the Royal Court, earning an Outstanding Newcomer nomination at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards
2011: Makes National Theatre debut in Greenland
2012: Returns to the National Theatre as Summer in The Last Of The Haussmans
2013: Leads the cast of Hard Feelings at the Finborough
2013: Currently appearing in the world premiere of The Same Deep Water As Me
Where did you grow up?
I grew up and am still living with my mum in leafy Twickenham.
What first sparked your interest in acting?
Both my parents work in that world and my mum was quite wary about me going into it because of the job that she does [as a Casting Director]. I saw stacks of CVs on her desk just for one job, but that didn’t really put me off at all. I always knew it was something I wanted to at least try. I wasn’t allowed to do anything until I’d done my GCSEs and I hated my mum for that! But in hindsight it was the best thing she could possibly have done for me.
I went to a drama group every Saturday called Young Blood Theatre Company and attached to it was an agency, which I joined when I was 16 and got my first job in Harry Potter. That was slightly bizarre and surreal!
Did you go to drama school?
No, I learnt on the job. I did Young Blood and then I did National Youth Theatre as well. I take my own individual classes with two very, very talented actors and Annette, the Head of Voice at the National Theatre who I worked very closely with on The Last Of The Haussmans and Greenland. So, without trying to sound like an idiot, I am trying to create my own drama school [laughs].
Tell me about your character in The Same Deep Water As Me.
I play Isabella Reynolds, who is a delivery driver. Kevin, who is played by the wonderful Mark Wootton, has supposedly driven into the back of me and it all turns out to be a big lie. She’s a ballsy girl and won’t take any rubbish from anyone!
Did you do any research into the world of accident lawyers?
We did. We went on a school trip to Luton and saw where the accident would have taken place, and Jamie Rourke [the venue’s Artistic Director Josie Rourke’s brother, who inspired Payne to write the play] came in and spoke to us about personal injury scams.
This is the second time you’ve worked with Nick Payne. Is that what drew you to the play?
Yes, anything that Nick writes is going to be brilliant and, above all, he’s just a thoroughly lovely man. It was great working with him the first time around on a completely different play. Anything that he does will draw me to his work.
You were nominated for an Outstanding Newcomer Award for your work on his play Wanderlust. What was that experience like?
I didn’t quite understand what it meant! That was the first play that I’d done and I was very new to it all. Obviously it was a great honour and just to be nominated with people like Daniel Kaluuya, who I think is brilliant, and Shannon Tarbet as well, was really wonderful.
Did that open doors for you?
Possibly in theatre. Bijan Sheibani, who directed Greenland, had seen Wanderlust and brought me in for that. But I wasn’t really aware of it; in my very naive way I thought ‘Maybe this is how it’s always going to be, constant auditions’. And of course it’s not! You’re unemployed for seven months afterwards.
When you got the role in Greenland, did the chance to work at the National Theatre feel like a big break?
Yes, it did. It was wonderful that someone actually wanted to give me a job! Working at the National is huge and amazing; you’ll casually see Simon Russell Beale walking down the corridor and say good morning to him. That’s very surreal!
Having worked both on huge stages at the National Theatre and in more intimate theatres like the Donmar, do you prefer one or the other?
I did a play at the Finborough just before the Donmar called Hard Feelings and that was seriously intimate, and I kind of loved that in a way. Not when your friend’s sitting on the front row, that’s terrible! But what I find about those intimate spaces is that you don’t have to push your performance, it’s almost like working for screen, you can let it happen very naturally. But I also love the challenge of working on the Lyttelton and, especially since I haven’t been to drama school, having to learn that technique of projecting my voice and knowing how to make it as intimate as possible as well. It’s great that you constantly get to learn and alter your performance for whatever stage you’re on.
What was it like to appear in three of the Harry Potter films?
It was crazy! I remember having to go to the read-through. I was sitting opposite Michael Gambon, JK Rowling was there and it was just insane! But it was lovely; the main three [Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint] were just lovely humans and I still see Jessie Cave [Lavender Brown] and Anna Schaffer [who played Romilda Vane]; we came in together and we’ll always have that close bond as the newbies.
Did watching the stars of the films achieve a worldwide level of fame when you were starting out make you want a similar career?
Not at all. I always look to someone like Anne-Marie Duff, she’s sort of under the radar, but is constantly working and is really well respected within the industry.That’s the kind of career that I would love to have. That’s not to say… I saw Daniel [Radcliffe] in the West End the other week and he’s brilliant in The Cripple Of Inishmaan. I think it shows that he is prepared to work to show that he can do other roles, and he deserves all the praise that he’s getting.
What’s your favourite thing about being on stage?
I love that you only get one chance to get it right. I love the immediacy of it as well, the instant reaction, there’s nothing like it. And the adrenaline you get coming off stage… I can’t get to bed until about 02:00 in the morning because I’m so pumped up.
And the worst?
When you forget your lines! It’s mortifying!
What has been your favourite moment of your career so far?
I think getting the call that I had been offered the part in The Last Of The Haussmans. I remember I was in a supermarket buying washing-up liquid and my agent said ‘Do you want to play the role of Summer?’ and I put my basket down and ran out saying ‘Yes please!’. That was a huge thing, and to work with Julie [Walters], Helen [McCrory] and Rory [Kinnear] was amazing.
Did you learn a lot from working with that cast?
Definitely. Even when I wasn’t called for rehearsal, I would sit in and watch them because they’re just so effortless. You feel like from day one of rehearsal they’ve got it down. That was another learning curve, being surrounded by those kind of people where you have to really up your game and not get lost in it all.
Are there any roles you particularly want to play?
I’d really love to do some Shakespeare and I’m trying to work towards that. I’d love to play Cleopatra, but I think I’m a bit too young to play her right now [laughs].That’s an aim I’ll put to the back of my head.
Who would your dream Antony be?
Oooo good lord! That’s a toughie. I’m watching The White Queen at the moment and the guy playing Richard III [Aneurin Barnard], he’s brilliant, so him.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I take my classes, I go to the gym and I just got into cooking. I’m getting better at keeping myself busy when I’m out of work and realising it’s part of the job, being unemployed. Just constantly keeping your mind active is the big thing.
If you weren’t an actor, what do you think you’d be doing?
Well when I was little I always wanted to be a lipstick girl, which was a make-up artist. But I can’t even put my own make-up on, so I’d probably be very, very unsuccessful in that field.