Making It – Charlie Brooks

Charlie Brooks is an actress and public figure based in London. She is best known for her role as Janine in the British soap, Eastenders. Charlie’s award-winning performance made a lasting impression on the show and its viewers, with various storylines involving murder, prostitution, and drug addiction to name a few; more than proving her talents as an actress. In addition to Eastenders, she also had roles in Wired, The Bill, and Bleak House. Charlie’s latest drama, With Intent, hits our screens later this year.

Since her role as Janine, Charlie Brooks has gone on to take part in popular reality TV shows including I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here and Strictly Come Dancing. Throughout her career, she has won numerous awards including; Femme Fatale, Villain of the Year, Best Soap Actress and countless others.

Her most recent project is co-founding iampro. After experiencing first-hand the difficulties of breaking into the industry and the financial commitment needed, Charlie helped to build the learning platform dedicated to making the arts accessible to all.

Read on for our interview with Charlie Brooks detailing the journey of how she made it in the industry.

How did you first get into acting?

I didn’t even know that drama schools existed until I got the Yellow Pages out and literally got on the phone and started calling and requesting prospectuses. My family weren’t in the business at all, so when I found out that such a thing existed I was like “that has to be where I’m going to go”, and from then it took me two years to persuade my parents [to let me go].

We want iampro to be that brother, aunty, mum, dad – that person who can really help you get to where you want to be with your training or with breaking into the industry. A one-stop-shop basically for everything you need to know. At 13 I just didn’t have that. I had to figure it out with no computer, can you imagine!

I was only 13 when I went to drama school, and was there until I was 16 so I had great big plans of going to Guildhall or Bristol Old Vic or one of the big ones – that was my dream. I started at Arts Educational and I did one year there. I was doing my A-levels and then the casting for Eastenders came in. I’d only done little jobs before; a Bold commercial, an episode of The Bill and an episode of London’s Burning which I used to love back in the day. When the Eastenders casting came in I wasn’t technically allowed to go – you’re not meant to go for castings when you’re at college so… I ignored that and went anyway – they didn’t tell me until the second or third audition that the role was for Janine. That’s when I got the job!

So you know, for me having not been to one of the well-known drama schools from 18 onwards where you do a big diploma – do I feel like I missed out? I do a little bit actually. I have carried around a bit of insecurity around for quite a lot of my life even though we may argue that I learned on the job and there’s no better place to have a training ground. This is all really true but there was just something I think when you’re thrown in at the deep end like that to have not studied any of the practitioners – I went off and did a little bit in my own time and it’s why I’ve been so keen to do theatre so much. I definitely missed out on having a place where you can really explore different ideas and learn to trust yourself in a really safe environment so for me it was like, my growing up was all in front of the cameras and there wasn’t that much room for mistakes. Which was wonderful on one hand but a little stifling on the other.

How long did it take for you to break into the industry?

So I got really lucky. After I’d done one year at Arts Educational I then got the part in Eastenders at 17 and it was terrifying. I was a massive Eastenders fan, huge! I loved it back in the day and so you can imagine how daunting and intimidating that was. But I was also super confident and really eager. I remember I was doing a play at nighttime and in the studio during the day so I was really immersed in it. But it was scary, really, really scary. Everybody there was really lovely and I felt really supported by the BBC, but it’s a lot you know, to go in a show like that when they had over 15 million viewers, it’s a big life-changing event and amazing in so many ways but yeah, pretty scary.

What are some of the difficulties you’ve encountered?

I think some of the main difficulties I’ve found was actually trusting myself – that goes back to being thrown into the deep end which is utterly brilliant but also terrifying and so I really had to learn, and it’s still a work in progress, how to trust my own opinion and be brave enough to make certain choices, so I’d say that that’s been quite difficult. You know being typecast after being in a show like Eastenders can be tricky, I was very lucky with the character she’s amazing. I loved playing her. But you almost sort of shoot yourself in the foot slightly as well because all you’re ever seen as really is ‘Janine’. But that’s where the theatre work has been really important and really exciting for me to explore different characters onstage. Also, building iampro and trying to give back to the industry I feel I was lucky to have in so many ways. Exploring the different potential and bringing something else to life to help the artists of the future, so that’s exciting for me.

What advice would you give to someone trying to get into the industry?

So the advice I would have for young people today is there is so much on offer if you look for it and find it. With iampro there are so many amazing opportunities, so many people have this at their fingertips and they don’t utilise it. Go out, make the short film, write the script, meet like-minded people, bounce around ideas, and think about what stories you want to tell and what means a lot to you. I would really say, try and get in touch with who you are and your authentic self. I think it’s really important to try and find your own voice and be really honest about who you are and what stories you want to tell. Be unafraid to try and go out there and make that happen and make your own work in whatever capacity is really where it’s at. And to have that to show to people whether it’s just on your phone, something you’re doing with a group of mates, hiring a room and putting on a little stage show – that is where you learn. You learn about who you are and what it is you want to deliver. So that would be my advice to you, take opportunities, take action, be unafraid to be yourself and make it happen.

How to make it in the industry?

Get onto iampro, have a look at what opportunities we’ve got, casting directors, open mic nights, agents, producers, directors. Get down and perform in front of them as much as you can. Learn about the courses, do all of our on-demand courses, sign up for the live modules, take action, take a look at all your local theatres, see what’s going on, that’s how you make it happen. I was from a really small town in North Wales and we had a local theatre and I knew there was more, I knew I wanted more and so before the time of computers or mobile phones I was in the Yellow Pages and seeing what the world had to offer. So be unafraid to explore, there’s so much at your fingertips, explore everything and be brave. Make brave choices, make brave decisions, step outside of your comfort zone, enter that rehearsal room, put on that play, call that person who might be interested in writing – it could be the new sitcom, this is where people start. It starts from a simple idea that you have either on your own or with friends, you develop and then you put it out into the world.

Watch Charlie Brooks talk in more detail about her journey below

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