Upcoming Talent Leanne Rowe talks to Caroline Bishop about the pros and cons of life in theatre.
CV in brief:
1994 Zeffirelli’s Jane Eyre
1999-2002 Attended Laine Theatre Arts
2003 ITV’s Boudica
2005 Nancy in Roman Polanski’s Oliver Twist
2007 May in the BBC’s Lillies
2008 Makes stage debut in Dirty Dancing The Classic Story On Stage
2009 Talent at the Menier Chocolate Factory
What got you interested in acting?
Because I trained at a dance college [Laine Theatre Arts] it’s always assumed I must have been a dancer first but it was actually all equal. I danced after school but I had an agent as a kid and went to drama classes, and my first professional job was a film which was straight acting. It was just that at 16 I could stay on at school and do my A Levels, which I had no interest in, I was too young to go to drama school at 16, but I could go to dance college so I went there. And then when I left, I was with the college agency and they were just sending you off to dance things all the time and I thought actually I don’t want to just dance, if I had to choose one or the other I’ll choose the acting route. So I decided to leave that behind and go the straight acting route and then seven years later I did Dirty Dancing and danced again so that was nice!
First acting role after training?
It was TV and it was a one-off adaptation, Andrew Davies’s adaptation of the story of Boudica, the warrior queen, so that was an ITV one-off drama thing. I hadn’t done stage until Dirty Dancing, that was my first theatre job, apart from things as a kid you know.
First stage role?
I really wanted to do theatre. I had been doing TV and film and I really wanted to have that experience of theatre and having the live audience. All my actor friends who had done it said it’s brilliant, it’s great, and I just wanted to have that experience of it.
And then Dirty Dancing came along and it was not what I expected it to be, my first theatre job. I thought I’d have a tiny little role, come on, say one line somewhere cool and small like the Bush or Royal Court or some fringe production, but no, it was straight in at the deep end, which was a great learning experience.
It is great, your first night, the first time you go on, I found that so much more scary than my first day on a film set, because you’ve got that comfort of always knowing that if you do mess it up you can always go again, and it’s fine, you know, But here it’s that pure, oh my God, if I mess it up I’m on my own and I’ve got to dig myself out of it. And the audience you get for Dirty Dancing are quite loud and make their presence felt! I just didn’t want to mess up in front of that audience.
Most obscure job?
I’ve done plenty of jobs when I’ve been out of work in between for a long time and obviously you still have to pay the bills. Of course I’ve been a waitress – every actor must have been a waitress at some point. Bar staff, promotional work, telesales, all the usual suspects that most actors do when they are out of work.
Best thing about being on stage?
It’s just getting to do the job you want to do. You wake up in the morning and go to work and… it’s a very nice feeling to wake up and go to work and like going to work, because I’m sure there’s millions of people in the world that get up and go to work and get on with it and it’s not really what they want to do.
…and the worst?
Everything has its pros and cons. Obviously when you are working in theatre, especially with this job, we haven’t got understudies, so obviously you can’t miss a show. So what you could say is a con to it is you miss out a lot of things. I have two friends getting married this year and unfortunately it just clashes with the show so one of my friends I will miss her hen do and wedding, and my other friend I’ll miss her weekend away, her hen do. You know these are friends I’ve had for a long time. But it’s one of those things, part and parcel of the job.
What do you do to relax?
Well for example yesterday, I had a day off yesterday and stayed in and just watched movies all day! Usually I just like to try and chill out and catch up with friends, people who you won’t necessarily see all the time, it’s always nice to catch up with friends. I’m very close to my family so at home I spend time with them.
Essential dressing room item?
My family are great and they send good luck cards and first night cards and things, so I like to have those up, pin them up. I like to have flowers in my room, I’m quite a flowery person. But I’m not superstitious or anything like that. I don’t need the room to be painted white and have only white things!
If you weren’t an actor what would you be?
I’ve no idea because I never thought about it. I didn’t ever think ooh what can I do for a career because I always knew I wanted to do this, so I just assumed as a child that oh, that’s what you decide to do so that’s what you can do, so I don’t think as a child I realised what a struggle it is and how many other actors there are out there who want to do the same. Now I don’t know if I couldn’t be an actor what I could do because I didn’t go to university and train in something else as a back up. I like watching crime dramas and films, courtroom stuff, and I always think being a lawyer would be quite a cool job, but I don’t know if I could do the studying for that! A bit too much hard work for me.
Best advice anyone has ever given you?
A brilliant actor called Steve John Shepherd who I’ve worked with twice, said to me ‘remember it’s not a race, it’s a marathon’. If you want to have a good career and do good stuff then you will be out of work; take it slowly and it will come, it’s not a race to get everything done, and if by whatever age you haven’t done this that and the other, it’s not ‘oh god I’ve not done this by this age’. It’s just a slow burner, just keep going and keep working and eventually you’ll get good work and you’ll keep working.
When I worked on Oliver Twist I had good advice every day, I learnt a lot on that film. Every day I learnt something. I had great actors and the director [Roman Polanski], everything that came out of his mouth was good advice.
Do you get stage fright?
No, touch wood I’ve never had stage fright, but on first nights and things I do feel very nervous, and this job is the first job where I’ve had to sing. I wouldn’t say it was my comfort zone, it’s not the thing I’m most confident doing. The first thing I do in the show is sing, so that’s quite scary, and if you’re nervous it can show in your voice.
What has been the highlight of your day today?
To be honest, I didn’t wake up that long ago! I went to bed very late so I didn’t wake up until… definitely it was pm, and then I watched a movie and then I came to work, and that was that. I watched Juno this afternoon, which I’ve wanted to watch for ages and that was very good. So as of yet, watching a good movie was the highlight! It’s quite sad really.
I just have got into that cycle of theatre life where you go to bed very late because your work really only began at 18:30 when the warm up starts, so it takes a while to calm down after work, so everything’s upside down, going to bed really late and then getting up really late.
Talent plays at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 14 November.