Career Coach: Actor
I caught up with Mark Farrelly for a bit of career advice.
You’ve said that you decided to become an actor after playing Hamlet while at Cambridge. Did you undertake any formal training? Or is it a profession that’s best learnt on the job?
I didn’t go to drama school, mainly because I was 24 when I left university and had had enough of being taught. I’ve nothing against drama schools, but it’s important to be super-realistic - you’re paying a huge sum of money for something that might make no material difference to your career whatsoever. I’ve known several people who went to RADA and never got a single day’s professional work.
Was the reality of being an actor what you had expected it to be?
Nothing whatsoever! I couldn’t believe the savage, almost feral brutality of it. So little work, and what little there is being often so unfulfilling. I remember going to Pinewood Studios with several other actors to meet Stephen Poliakoff, who had us lined up like an inspection parade and barked a few random questions at a couple of us before picking someone for whatever the role was. It was disgusting. I had a breakdown when I was 31 because I was allowing it to rip my self-esteem to pieces. Be assured of one thing - it will drive you insane. And maybe back again, if you’re lucky.
Who are some of your acting heroes or inspirations?
A solo actor called David Benson inspired me hugely when I saw one of his shows when I was 19. I loved the spareness, the bravery of being alone on stage with just a chair and the audience’s imagination. I love certain individual film performances. Anthony Perkins in Psycho is something else, every performance in Jaws is deeply truthful, and most of John Hurt’s work is an object lesson in the two qualities any actor needs - courage and vulnerability.
You subsequently expanded your scope to also become a playwright - what gave you the confidence to start writing and performing your own work?
Heartbreak! I lived in a menage-a-trois for a time, and was deeply in love with both of them. It ended very badly, none of us have ever spoken to each other again, and I found myself living alone, in every sense, for the first time. Stripped bare, distraught, no distractions - truth started seeping out of me and onto the page. Good writing is a form of comfort, and you have to have been riddled with pain, your heart undefended and shot to pieces, to be able to offer that comfort. You need to have suffered profoundly and not dodged your way out of it. Most people suffocate their beautiful pain behind a fixed grin and a glass of Chablis. If only they knew what a friend their pain could be.
What are some of the skills and attributes that you need to become a successful actor?
You must know yourself incredibly well, and have discovered your own authenticity. You must be able to stand still and look yourself and other people in the eye and speak from the depths, and the heights. You must have a strong sense of self-worth so that you don’t base your happiness on being employed. You must believe that truth and authentic communication are the human race’s only priority - all other good stuff flows from that. You must be one of those divine fruit-loops who believes that one great performance is worth ten years of security in a more traditionally safe job. Not many people are like that, and there’s no shame in realising that that’s not you, because we all have something to offer. You must have no interest in fame and acclaim whatsoever.
Finally, Laurence Olivier’s answer to this question was - ’You need the body of a God and the voice of an orchestra’. That’s true too.
If someone was thinking about trying their hand at acting, what advice or guidance would you give them?
What have you got that no other actor has? Do you understand that you might not become an interesting actor until you’re 55? Can you write? Do you operate from ego or soul? Would you like a drink?