Doctors and Gorillas – 12 December 2016

Caroline Frewin has been on Doctors – and it has something to do with a gorilla mask…

When Rob asked me to write a blog post about my recent foray into television my immediate thought was “What can I possibly say that will be useful to anyone?” Many of you fellow Redders will be old hats at TV, whilst I, despite working across film, radio, commercials and theatre for many years, am a newbie at this. Despite all the submissions, TV drama castings have consistently evaded me.

I received the first piece of good news, that I had been invited to audition for BBC’s long running daytime soap, ‘Doctors’ three weeks ago. A nice guest part, it would feature in a substantial storyline in an episode which I can’t say anything about at this point due to confidentiality.

Now, if you don’t know, the show is filmed in Birmingham and has been for 18 years, but despite numerous letters and emails over the years from me to the casting directors (never mind the submissions from my agents in the past and now, our lovely Agent Extraordinaire, Rob) I have never previously been invited to audition. Imagine my surprise, therefore, to be invited in to the illustrious towers of Elstree Studios, the home of Eastenders, to do my thing.

My attitude towards the casting really was one of being completely prepared whilst simultaneously not optimistic.

I did my homework on the show, watched recent episodes, swotted up on past storylines, the directors, the characters and of course, learned my lines as well as I could and analysed the character’s intentions and inferred background. But I didn’t think for a minute that I would get the part, as the character was written as being 46 years old and virtually every audition I have been to in the last ten years has had the casting director or director comment, disappointingly, “oh, you look a lot younger than I was expecting.” I looked at the audition as an opportunity to showcase myself, not necessarily, to get the part.

When the day came, I was delighted to find that the casting director of the episode was a a lovely lady who I had met some nine years previously at BBC Radio Drama, when I got through to the finals of the Norman Beaton Fellowship. Lesley Allen remembered me and gave me a big hug as though we were old friends. She remarked that she didn’t realise I was from Birmingham and was delighted to get a Birmingham actor in to audition for the show.

I auditioned well and felt happy that I had shown myself in a good light, whatever the outcome.  Two days later and Rob called me with the good news that they wanted me and then on the Monday I found myself on set, working within the well-oiled machinery of a long-running series.

Now, what, if anything, have I learned from this experience?

1. Casting Directors are your friend.

If you are good, they will remember you. If you keep in touch with them, they will remember you sooner.

2. Keep writing those letters and emails to casting directors. They won’t know about you unless you introduce yourself and your work to them. Invite them to see your work. Work in London if you can, and invite them along, as this is where most of them are. Network.

3. Be nice to everyone. You never know when that person in the admin department might start work as a casting assistant.

4. The crew on ‘Doctors’ are friendly, helpful, professional and want you, the actor, to do well. Every single person I met on set and at base helped me feel secure and valued in my work. Seriously the nicest production I have ever worked on.

5. A director will direct you when you need direction, not when you don’t. Put away your fragile ego and go with the flow.

6. Sometimes a director will lighten the mood on set, even if this isn’t necessarily conducive to your role and performance. S/he might, for example, wear a beer mat with a fake gorilla mouth on it when talking to you about the next shot like these (I kid you not!)

You are of course, expected to deliver your emotional scene regardless.

7. It’s all about luck. The industry is not fair. It is not designed to be fair. It is based, largely on luck. We can complain about its unfairness all we want but it is not going to change any time soon, or at least, not until commissioning and casting roles are brought out to the regions. All we can do is create opportunities for ourselves and do small things to increase our chances of luck going in our favour: I won’t harp on about how necessary a fab headshot, showreel and all that is, as I am sure you know that.

The biggest thing I learned from this experience is that I need to be better at preserving the fleeting relationships we make in our work. Lesley Allen remembered me from nine years ago. Perhaps if I had kept in touch with her during that time, I might not have had to wait all those years for her to cast me in something. Or, perhaps, it was just my time for a bit of luck.

Who knows.

Caroline Frewin

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