Niall is an award-winning director and the Artistic Director of Lonesome Schoolboy Productions. He has taught at some of the best drama schools, including RADA, Italia Conti, Birmingham School of Acting and IDSA.
Read below to find out how Niall Phillips made it in the arts industry.
How did you start in the industry?
So I got my first agent when I was about 12 or 13. I went to an Italia Conti Saturday School I did a few films when I was a kid and then I decided that I really wanted to be an actor so I went to the, at the time it was called the Birmingham School of Acting, now it’s called the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. So I trained there for three years, then moved back to London and worked as an actor, did some theatre, did a bit of TV, did a couple of films and then I found myself getting really aware of my lack of self-belief and my own lack of self-worth. I decided to go into directing and producing and then I set up my own theatre company called Lonesome Schoolboy Productions which I’ve been running now for around 12 years. We make theatre in the UK and oversees, we’ve done stuff in Africa, Turkey and Sardinia.
But the process of being an actor I found really difficult. I found it affected my mental health in quite a big way because I didn’t realise, or didn’t know or didn’t work with places like iampro or good, well organised drama schools. Ones that look after your mental health, checking in with how you’re feeling and if you’re uncomfortable, concerned or have issues – I never knew what to do with that. Now because we’re at a certain place in the industry where we’re more supportive, we’re more nurturing, we’re more caring, I think people can blossom, people can grow. But when I was working as a job in actor that wasn’t the case.
So I made the shift to directing so I could run a room, and I could organise and guide people in more of a supportive way. That’s what I’ve done for nearly the last seven or eight years now. I work with actors on new plays, predominantly new writing, brand new voices, brand new writers and exciting, new, vibrant stories that make audiences laugh, audiences cry and make people feel something. I think that’s a really important part of what storytelling is.
What issues did you have to overcome in the industry?
I think the biggest issues or struggles that actors have to overcome is the constant knock-backs and rejections and not knowing where your next job or next offer or next opportunity is coming. I think that can sometimes get on top of actors because you don’t know and you are sometimes left out in the cold, rarely ever – again this has changed a lot recently – but rarely ever are you told that you didn’t get that job. So you are just left waiting and that wait can go on for just weeks because you’re never told. So I think the issue is rejection, it’s about checking in with your mental health and the fears, the anxiety and the worry of when your next pay cheque is coming in. But again, if there’s organisations like iampro or good well-grounded, well supported drama schools, actors can overcome those fears and those issues and those struggles and work on themselves while they’re not acting or while they’re not in work as an actor.
What advice would you give to actors wanting to break into the industry?
The advice that I would give anyone going into the acting world is you need to believe in yourself. You need to wake up every morning and believe that that job, that role, that part, is your job. I think there’s that kind of constant awareness of self and if doesn’t work there’s a reason it didn’t work. I’m sure the next opportunity is around the corner.
But the biggest advice is don’t let any negative energy get you down because eventually it’ll take over and it’ll make you decide to quit or go and do something else and if you’ve worked this hard and spent all this time and money and effort and passion – all of this, then keep going. And yes there’ll be knock-backs, yes there’ll be days where you wish you could go into banking. But no! You’ve got this desire, this burning desire to create or tell stories or communicate or connect, then pursue that and don’t allow anyone in the world to tell you that you can’t do it. Believe in yourself. Check yourself.
Any advice for actors when they’re not working?
Read as many plays as you can. You can get second hand plays off eBay or second hand bookshops. Go and study, go and watch new plays, go and read some classics. Go and get to grips with Shakespeare, watch films, watch good films, watch good directors make good films, watch directors work with actors that they want to improvise with, or play with or keep those actors working in that present moment. You don’t want actors with green screens, you want to look at films like really British, well made films. Any work by Mike Lee, Ken Loach or Larry Clarke. American workers like Gus Van Sant, Lars Von Trier even though he’s a bit controversial but what his relationship is with actors is where you as an actor will grow, it’s where you’ll find choices you can make.
But what I would say is do stuff everyday that makes you an actor. Whether it’s reading or learning a speech or a poem or a piece of text or watching a film or sending some emails. You’re an actor, you need to act like an actor and you need to work on your craft because it won’t come to you. You’ve really got to want it and you’ve really got to get out there every single day and grind and work for it, cos once you get it – which you might get it, there’s a big chance you could get it if you work that hard, it’ll be worthwhile. And you’ll get those jobs and you’ll be in those rooms and you’ll feel comfortable and you’ll deserve to be in those rooms. You can’t blag this industry. Go and work your socks off and when it comes and you’re ready you’ll smash the life out of it. So keep going.
Learn to act with Niall
In Niall’s debut iampro course ‘Actor in the present moment’ he explores connection, truthfulness and play. Focusing on the gift of what we have right now- a live moment that we can discover and play and create and most importantly, we can connect with.