Getting started in acting

 21 June 2012

Owain Arthur played Francis Henshall in One Man, Two Guvnors in the West End. Initially James Corden’s understudy, he spoke about how he got his first West End lead.

Owain Arthur (Francis Henshall) in One Man, Two Guvnors at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Photo credit Johan Persson
Owain Arthur (Francis Henshall) in One Man, Two Guvnors at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Photo credit Johan Persson

Starting out as an actor

Some people start their acting careers when they’ve very young. That certainly happened for Owain.

“Very young means ten or eleven years old. I was on a soap opera for S4C called Rownd a Rownd. I did that for nine years.”

He was spotted by a casting director after taking part in publicity for a 'no smoking' campaign with his school in Wales. After seeing him on camera, they asked him to come in and audition for a short role in the soap.

“I got the job. I did that and they asked me to come back, so I did it for nine years! For the whole of secondary school, I was on that soap opera.”

It wasn’t a typical life for Owain, being a soap star while carrying on with school. He’d be out filming for a day or two a week, and for a teenager, he was earning a great salary! The role lasted him all the way through to the end of secondary education. Then he needed to figure out what to do next.

“I stayed out for two years trying to figure out what I was going to do. I decided that okay, I’d like to try and make this a serious thing. So I applied to drama school then, and got a place.”

Taking professional training for acting

Owain trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. This was a huge leap for him. He grew up speaking Welsh, and English was a second language. He’d learnt it in school, but like any new language, there’s a big difference between being able to speak it and being able to think in it.

“That was so terrifying! Because that it was the first time I’d ever acted in English. So the first year at Guildhall was me getting to grips with the language.”

Having confidence in your own ability is hugely important for any actor.

Professional training made a huge difference, even if it was a big transition. It’s tough to get into a top drama school like Guildhall.

Owain hadn’t had classes or acting lessons before. He’d learnt on the job, which is a great way of learning. Taking what he’d learnt himself and applying it in a school setting turned out to be a huge boost.

“To this day, apart from this job I’m doing right now, that’s one of the best things, the biggest achievements in my life. Because that was just me. Nobody had taught me anything, that was me, self-taught, going for it.”

Having confidence in your own ability is hugely important for any actor. You’re self-employed and you spend a lot of time representing yourself to others. Getting faith in yourself can really help you go forward.

Finding work as an actor

“I left drama school and I was lucky enough to get a job on the History Boys, straight from drama school. I was perceived to be of interest to quite prestigious theatres.”

Many successful actors talk about their luck in getting great first jobs. But there’s no doubt that presenting a great amount of skill and charisma, as Owain does, plays a crucial part. Owain went on from the National to work at the RSC, and to TV roles.

Some of this success comes down to being in the right time at the right place. But you must also work hard and be ready for anything, especially in a career as unpredictable as acting.

“You can have goals, but you can’t have a plan. You can’t expect every job to be great when you’re acting. Every job I get, I always try and make sure it’s a better one than the last one.”

3 simple rules for an acting career

1. Work hard

Successful actors are hard workers. Rehearsals can be a joy, but there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that you have to do on your own time.

In a career as unpredictable as acting, you must work hard and be ready for anything.

“You can’t just turn up to rehearsals and hope that something is going to happen. You can’t expect the director will just tell you how to do stuff.

"You’ve got to have your own ideas. You’ve got to connect it to what you believe the character or the play to be. And then if the director then asks you to take it another way, at least you’ve got a starting point.”

“When you’re at home you’re like, 'dammit, I can’t go for a beer, I can’t go to the cinema, I’ve got to stay home and work.' But then you know that when you go to rehearsals with this knowledge in you, it then becomes fun.

"It’s not working, it’s something creative that’s a joy to do.”

2. Be honest

“Make sure that you believe every single thing you say, and that you’re completely honest with yourself. If you’re not honest with yourself as a person, then you can’t be honest when you speak other people’s lines either.

"That’s how I’ve discovered myself as an actor, anyway. You have to be honest with yourself and you have to be honest with other people.”

3. Be nice

Owain has a great belief that how you behave off stage makes a big difference.

“This is a rule of life, be nice to everybody. You get so much further in the acting business and in life if you’re nice to people.

"If you’re talented and you’re a good person to work with, people remember that. If you’re talented and actually an idiot, people remember you for the wrong reasons!”

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