You might recognise Karla from Misfits, Prisoners Wives, Under the Dome or even one of my favourites You, Me and the Apocalypse. I mean the list is endless, as is her talents. She’s become quite the star of stage and screen and more importantly she’s an amazing friend of mine, even doing an incredible Shakespeare reading at my wedding a few months ago. So, I thought I’d take full friends advantage and force her to do an interview with me for my blog. I say force, it didn’t take any persuading and she jumped at the chance to help me out! So, here it is:
What inspired you to be an actor?
I don’t think it was any particular event or discernible ‘thing’. I always wanted to perform. When I was younger I was obsessed with musicals- Annie, Oliver, Grease. I wanted to study musical theatre- but I’m a terrible singer, so I had to rethink that pretty quickly. I knew my strength was acting. I settled on the idea of going to drama school quite early, possibly at 14 or 15. By the time I applied, my only experience of theatre was TV musicals, a couple of big west end shows I’d seen and what I’d learned at school.
What was your time at drama school like?
I didn’t enjoy High school, but I was always really excited by the idea of professional training. I wanted to meet like minded individuals who shared my passion. I trained on the BA Acting Course at Italia Conti. I made amazing friends, learned loads and matured a great deal. That’s not to say it wasn’t challenging. I had my fair share of tears and tantrums- I very nearly left in my first year- but I think this is typical of most peoples experience. The hours are long, emotions are heightened and the stakes feel very high. I think if you can get through that, you are probably well prepared for the industry at large.
What was your first role out of drama school?
It was a TIE tour of a play called Breathing Country. TIE often gets a bad rep with actors, people often turn their noses up at it. It can be seen as ‘bottom of the barrel’ work but I really reject that. It was an intelligent play about the ethics of medical databases, and we were able to bring that debate to young people. To see them respond to it was inspiring. Being responsible for set, travel and props forces you to be disciplined. It gave me proper insight into the hard work that goes into theatre production.
What advice would you give a newly graduated drama student?
It’s a long game, so don’t get disheartened if it doesn’t happen straight away. Try not to compare yourselves to friends who appear to be doing better than you. Thats irrelevant, and no reflection on your talent. Focus on improving yourself. Create your own goals- challenge yourself, but don’t be unreasonable. A reasonable aim might be- ‘I’m going to write to my top 5 favourite directors’, or ‘I’m going to work on that creek in my voice’. ‘I’m going to win an Olivier by the time I’m 23!’ … Not so reasonable.
What’s been your favourite job so far?
Thats really hard as there have been so many. ‘Murder’ a single drama I did for the BBC was a highlight. It was my first lead, played in direct address to camera. ‘Murder’ won Best Single Drama at the 2013 BAFTAS- I was lucky enough to go on stage to accept the award with the production team. That kind of recognition is unbelievable. I was so proud.
What do you do to prepare yourself for a casting?
Firstly, I read the entire script. Then I will familiarise myself with the audition scenes. This means looking up anything I don’t understand, ‘actioning’ the script and thinking about the emotional journey. If it’s not my native accent, I’ll listen to voice clips or watch a film in the dialect. It sounds like a lot of work, but I’ve found the longer I do this, the easier it is to apply my process. When I’ve done the ‘ground work’ I get started on learning my lines. I record the other characters lines into my phone and leaving a gap for me to read in mine on the playback. That means I can rehearse the lines on the go – walking around town, on the bus, at the gym etc. I definitely get some funny looks on the tube;- but I always try to learn the script off by heart before a casting. I think it shows your enthusiasm… and it’s a good indicator of how hard you’re willing to work.
What is your process on set or backstage to help you get in to character?
Before a performance on stage I always do a vocal warm up. It’s no so much about getting into ‘character’ but more about getting ‘focused’. It’s a good way of leaving that everyday stress and baggage at the door. If you find yourself wondering about whether you paid the gas bill and fed the cat then you just need to take a few deep breaths and let it go. I think that’s important. On set, if I have a particularly emotional scene of a dialogue heavy day, I will find a quiet corner, go over my lines and just get my head together.
I know you’re multi talented and that you also write. What got you in to writing?
About 5 years ago I wrote a one act play called Baseline. It wasn’t very good – but i entered it into a competition. I was lucky enough to be invited to do a writing mentorship with the National Youth Theatre. About 10 of us did the course, and this lead to writing on a number of projects for the company. It really built my confidence, but i still wanted to focus on acting. In 2013 I finished playing a regular role in an E4 series called Misfits. I did two series on that show, and I had no job to ‘go back to’ after such a long period of employment. I needed something to keep me creatively and intellectually stimulated. I met up with an actress friend who pitched a loose idea for a play about interfaith relationships. I was really excited by it. We teamed up with a director and conducted lots of interviews, and thats how ‘Mush and Me’ was born. We secured funding and took the play up to the Edinburgh Fringe for a month. It was hard work – shortly after I started writing it I got a 6 month job in the US- but it payed off in the end. We won an award in Edinburgh which meant the play transferred to Adelaide Fringe Festival in Australia. Off the back of the plays success, I got a literary agent. I recently completed my first TV writing gig, an episode of ‘Hooten and The Lady’, which will air on Sky One in September.
Career wise, where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
Hmmmm. Good Question. I’ve never done a feature film, so I’d love the chance to do that. I really want to try my hand at ‘writing for myself’. It’s encouraging to see women like Phoebe Waller- Bridge (BBC3 Fleabag) and Michaela Cole (Chewing Gum E4) creating roles for themselves in theatre and TV. That said, I think it’s really important to have an idea that you are truly passionate about. Writing can be painstaking- in order to get your work commissioned you have to convince a lot of people that your project is ‘the one’ that’s going to work. I don’t know what i want to write about yet…perhaps I will have a better idea in 10 years time?
What advice would you give an aspiring actor?
You will hear this a lot because its true- if your not completely passionate about acting, then don’t bother. Do you know more than half of actors in the UK are living below the poverty line? Ask yourself if your willing to live like that. If not, save yourself the heartache. That said, there is still nothing more exciting to me than going to the cinema, watching a play or a good tv drama. I’m still a total nerd about it. It’s the passion that keeps you optimistic and pulls you through the rough patches.
And that final question every actor always hears! What are you working on at the moment?
I have just finished playing the lead in an ITV drama called The Level, which will air in late September/October. I begin rehearsals shortly for ‘Amadeus’ at the National Theatre. I’m really excited!
Thanks so much Karla for that fabulous interview. That’s certainly inspired me and I’m sure it will to everyone else! Catch Karla in Amadeus at the National Theatre. Tickets available here: National Theatre and keep your eyes peeled for The Level coming to ITV soon!