’10-MINUTE CHAT’ IS A SERIES OF INTERVIEWS TALKING WITH EXTRAORDINARY ‘NORMAL’ PEOPLE NAVIGATING INTERESTING CAREERS, LIVING REMARKABLE LIVES AND FOLLOWING THEIR PASSIONS.
If you could go back and ‘do it all again’, what path would you take?
Would you be an artist? A teacher? A mechanic? Or pay more attention in science classes and go on to study medicine? Even as young adults in our mid-twenties (babies forchristsake) the feeling of ‘you’re now too old to start something new’ gets shoved down throats on a daily basis. That if you’re not on track to reach dizzying heights of career success before you’re 30, well then just quietly dismantle those ambitions now my dear. Articles profiling the latest wünderkid in fashion / politics / business / tech, roundup ‘ones to watch’ lists of bright P.Y.Ts and tidbits of information your mum casually passes on over a cuppa about ‘Jane’s son is deputy head of his department now. And he’s only 25’ feed this societal narrative that if you’re going to seriously pursue something, you should’ve started chasing it straight from the womb.
Sticking two fingers up at that boring rhetoric at the grand old age of 21, Daisy Marsh halted on the conventional school-uni-work-death road and shifted her life course towards fulfilling her dream in becoming a professional actor. She took a giant scary leap back into education three years ago to learn her craft and hasn’t stopped since.
‘ I’ve always known that I wanted to work in theatre, but I think I was slightly confused maybe as to what it was I wanted to do. I thought I wanted to do backstage. I wrote letters to all the theatres in London – I had an Excel spreadsheet of everyone I’d applied to and all the contact I’ve had with them – asking to do some kind of work experience as a stage manager. I thought that seemed fun.
Daisy got her break when a theatre gave her the chance to learn the ropes of stage managing a production. But the realisation she wanted to be working in the spotlight, rather than the wings, hit three shows in..
‘ The director (Carl Heap) in the rehearsal room got all the production team involved the warming up exercises. I just wanted to carry on doing that instead of actually going out and getting props. Sometimes I had to read in for people and I loved it so much. But I thought I was too old, I thought I was too late.
I started talking very tentatively to the actors and questioning them ‘how did you get into it?’ and ‘do you think it’s too late for me?’ because I was 21 (which of course now seems silly to think that’s too old). And they said no, absolutely not, it’s never too late to go for it and you should absolutely do it. I probably thought about it, solidified it and then built up the courage to tell people that I wanted to do that through the next two shows I did there.’
Set on course to approach acting seriously as a profession and with a big old pinch of ‘fuck it, why not’, Daisy packed in the stage manager’s job, moved to Battersea, started working in a London pub and applied for drama school.
She didn’t get in.
Undeterred, she continued the rest of the year auditioning and learning as much as she could about acting. That tenacity paid off as in 2013 the Oxford School of Drama accepted her onto their foundation course.
‘When I got in somewhere, that sealed it for me. I was doing lots of amateur stuff and writing a bit, but no one in the profession had ever said ‘Oh you could probably do that’. When the Oxford School of Drama said ‘ You can come on our foundation course we don’t think you’re completely shit, maybe you could be a bit better and we’ll teach you.’ It was cemented even further when I got there and I fucking loooooovvvveed it. I could not get enough information, even now I can’t learn enough.’
And it’s that thirst for learning, improving and mastering the delicate art of acting that’s driving her ambitions rather than the trappings of fame (although Daisy notes her initial thoughts on acting were ‘it would quite nice to be famous and not work in an office’ – um, hands up who’s had that fantasy?!).
‘ I can see the places that I want to get to and I can see other actors doing it. There’s a great actor called Rory Kinnear, he has this certain style; very uncomplicated, direct, natural, simplistic style. I know that this is the style that I want to aspire to…I want to act in a similar way to Rory Kinnear but I can’t get there yet. I’m always asking what do I need to do to change it and I work really hard. It’s interesting to me that no matter how hard I work – that’s not it. I need to change my approach to everything. How people think, how people react to things and how when it works it can be so powerful. It can really affect people, I find that so fascinating. What makes someone watch someone else go through something and they, in turn, feel an emotion and find that entertaining. Some people go and see things twice or over and over again. What are you going back for? Because that film makes you feel an emotion, it’s an addictive thing where you want to feel that emotion over and over again. That concept is so so cool, getting people to come along with you in a situation – I want to be able to do that. ‘
One of her perceived biggest challenges is what those nearest and dearest to you will think once your secret dreams are brought to life by being spoken out loud.
‘ People were generally great. It’s so funny how you think people are going to react a certain way, I was so nervous about telling people – because in my head it was so ridiculous that I was going to go back to education but not only that, that I was going to go and do acting.’
Expecting to be talked down from the ledge, Daisy found her parent’s reaction even more surprising.
‘ I had just gone through three years of university and I expected them to blow up, telling me not to be ridiculous, you’ve got this degree, you’ve got to use it. I was so worried about telling them, I felt it would be embarrassing saying it to them because it’s seen as ‘not a real career’ when everyone around you is getting real-life adult jobs… But mum was like, well you’ll have to look it up and research and get information about it. They were so supportive. They were almost a bit like ‘we always knew you would do this, it was just a matter of when’.
And like 99.9% of us who fling ourselves out there trying to follow our dreams, moving away to Oxford, resetting the clock and going back to school for Daisy was utterly terrifying. So scary in fact that nearly four years down the line still is prone to ‘what am I doing wobbles’, especially when friends are excelling with ‘normal’ jobs and money to buy cars and clothes.
And what about the acting industry itself? A year ago Daisy was terrified at taking a wallop at *the* hardest career to crack above all else, but close relationships with peers who are freshly graduated and trying to make it inspire her and kind of ease the worries. As well as the realistic professional development that the school drills into its pupils.
‘ Our school isn’t very big or well-known compared to RADA or LAMDA or anywhere, but the professional development that our school drills into us is ‘you’re not going to get overnight success’ the realistic possibility of that happening is so unbelievably small. And you’ve just got work really really hard and be as good as you can be. Obviously, it’s going to be hard, it’s going to come in waves all the time. Maybe you’ll get an audition, maybe you’ll get like 20 auditions and you get three call-back, and then you might get one job out of that which could last a day or it might last 18 months. I know loads of people who’ve had parts in plays at the National, one of the most prestigious you can get probably and they haven’t worked for a year after that and then have got something. It’s a marathon rather than a sprint. Something our school keeps telling us – in 5 years a quarter of the class won’t be working in the industry any more and then 10 years, ¾ quarters and then there will only be 5 of us doing any kind of acting work at all. And that’s going to be true of any drama school class that comes out. I know that I have to be honest with myself and even though I’ve made this commitment and I’m loving it, doesn’t mean that in 10 years I could really be sick of it and go be a fucking yoga instructor or something.’
I asked her to expand on what she thought her safety net career option would be if she fell out of love with acting.
‘I think everyone should have ideas of other careers to try. I think it’s so silly to think that I’m going to do this one thing for the rest of my life and that’s all I’m going to do. That just shuts you down to so many things. I want to do loads of stuff. And doing this has made me remember that I really like psychology for instance. We have a teacher at school who takes a movement class called Feldenkrais and I’m finding that concept really interesting as it’s about how you move, your awareness of your body and how you present yourself to other people – I could talk about it for ages.’
We spoke at length on who she admires within her industry, who inspires her
‘ I admire Rory Kinnear, and the people who’ve come out of my school who work very hard. There’s a woman called Faye Castelow who’s now in the RSC. There’s Simon McBurney who founded and runs a theatre company called ‘Complicite’ and it’s completely unlike anything else that anyone has ever done. Just everyday people who make their own way in it, who work really really hard and go for it.’
Her schedule at drama school varies day to day but starts the same with getting a bus up to the school on a little remote Oxfordshire farm. Her first class is always a warm-up which the students run through only working on themselves, doing yoga and warming up their voices for the day ahead.
Subjects range from practising resonance and sound connection in voice class, applied movement and project work – e.g. Shakespeare in Film and how you would adapt a play like Macbeth for film compared to a stage production. Daisy delves into the minutiae of explaining the release of emotion can be a little smaller and more subtle on film which is interesting when looking in to the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth plotting murder and that they’d be played totally differently on stage.
As well as growing as an actor, she’s surprised to have discovered more of a ‘fight’ than ‘flight’ instinct.
‘I thought I was much more of a flight person, but actually, I’m beginning to be more of a fighter. I think I’m believing more that I deserve to be here. In everyday circumstances, even now you’re asking me stuff and I’ve got a million different thoughts and I think ‘Does she really want to know that’
Me: Answer is yes, yes I want to know everything!
‘But that’s my own inhibition, not knowing if I’m mumbling on a bit, am I swearing? Am I not swearing enough? Do I seem quite cool if I swear? I don’t know! My brain’s going at a million miles a second and just now very recently being able to put that voice aside. That’s literally only happened in the last six months. Being able to be completely yourself unapologetically and not really worry about what’s going on in other people’s heads. Because as long as you’re nice to everyone I don’t see any problem with really being yourself.’
Me: Is it an age thing?
‘Oh yeah absolutely. Do you think you’ve noticed a difference?’
Me: As soon I hit mid-twenties I felt very unaccomplished. Like ‘I’m 25, Taylor Swift had a whole empire by the age of 19 and what the hell have I ever done? I’ve done nothing.’ It was one of the big pushes quitting my ‘safe’ job and moving abroad and now I’m back, focusing more on writing… I don’t care if anybody laughs at me for trying to do this because I feel like I would want to read this, so someone else will as well.
And what about the future of theatre? Daisy makes it clear theatre is the medium she wants to end up in, but with platforms like Netflix and YouTube churning quality content for free the impact on the theatre-world could be significant.
More and more it’s changing with the times and making shows more accessible. The RSC has past productions available to watch online, The National Theatre and the Royal Opera run a lot of live screenings of their shows to be watched in the cinema or over the internet. However, she firmly believes that traditional theatre will always be relevant.
‘There’s a thrill… and I don’t think you could ever deny that when you go into a theatre, whether it be musical or a serious play. The adrenaline that you get from just being present – you’re with them. You’re moving through it. You’re connected to them if they’re good. You feel things, and when the lights go down and there’s an atmosphere. You just can’t beat it. I think it’s really special.’
Daisy and I have been friends for roughly 16 years and always felt free to chat about anything under the sun together. A couple of times when we’ve been down the pub she’s mentioned the importance to stick to a certain weight, but has never (as far as I can tell) found it to be all-consuming like so many actors before her. I ask how she combats those pressures and has she honestly found herself succumbing to a less than ‘normal’ relationship with food and her body.
‘I have always been fine in that regard. It’s so easy to go down that dark path and I thank my lucky stars that I have dodged that bullet. Because ohmygod it must be horrendous to battle. I think connected to acting, it is really easy to think like that. I look a certain way, I know that when I walk into a room, it’s a hard business and people are going to be looking for someone to cast against a particular type or aesthetic. I’m a little bit older too, so I have to think about that. The only thing that I’ve changed is moisturising regularly now.’
Thankfully her school is hyper-aware, looking for any hint that a student could be slipping into unhealthy habits. Daisy goes on to describe how family-oriented and protective the school is, giving pupils 3 or 4 private meetings with senior staff members and the principal to check in with how they are feeling and getting on.
Daisy is keen to keep her repertoire versatile, she wants to do lots of things and embrace changing her mind. When she first started, she wanted to do period dramas ‘Like 1940s type dramas, middle-class people going through issues etc. And now I like completely off-the-wall movement stuff.’ she laughs.
‘ Acting is addictive. When you get it right, it’s fucking mental. There are times when I do things and then think ‘Fuck I really became a different person there’. I felt completely different, completely mentally and physically free – and, ohmygod, it’s like surfing. I don’t surf but I imagine it’s like surfing – you catch a wave and you’re riding this wave, you feel unstoppable and you’re in the moment completely. It’s incredible. And then when someone else recognises that in your performance and comes up to say ‘Shit man that was really cool.’ That feeling…There’s always so much more to learn. You’re trying to learn how to change yourself essentially. That’s so difficult to grab hold of, that it’s addictive to try and get hold of it. There’s always something to chase after. There will never be a day where I feel like I know everything about acting.’
It’s abundantly clear that following the love of the job for Daisy holds more value than chasing the cash. But she acknowledges how privileged she is with supportive parents and means to always have a roof over her head. And to be brutally honest, her personal circumstances are a factor in allowing Daisy the opportunity to follow what she wants to do in this rocky profession.
Would she have done any of it differently though? ‘I don’t regret going to uni, or regret the path that I’ve been on. Uni was three of the best years ever of my life. I had so much fun. I did lots of naughty things that I shouldn’t have done and learned from. If I hadn’t of gone to uni, I wouldn’t be the person I am doing this and I wouldn’t of had all the life experiences I’ve had. Depends what kind of person you are. Some people want to do the school-uni-job-kids-then die. Some people don’t. I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other. I think people are different and are presented with different opportunities and everyone learns from whatever comes along in their life. Any time I doubt it, and feel bummed that everyone else has a ‘proper job’ I think ‘you could honestly die tomorrow’. If I died tonight (touch wood) at least I can look back and think ‘Fucking hell, at least I’ve made a really good fucking go of it.’ I’ve got great friends, career isn’t everything, I’ve got a wonderful family, I’ll fall in love one day and there’s so many special things in life that aren’t tied into a job. I know people who are chasing money but have sacrificed so much happiness. They are miserable, even though they have a lovely car, flat, money to spend but no friends because money is all they’ve chased – it’s hollow. At that stage it is a hollow existence. I’m really poor, and it doesn’t bother me at all. Sometimes I buy toothpaste and I think ‘I don’t know if I can afford toothpaste.’ Which sounds pathetic but at least I can call you and laugh about it, it’s funny.’
Our conversation is rounded off talking about advice to our younger selves, how would Daisy address herself at 18-years-old. ‘Don’t listen to any negativity, because it’s such a waste of time. Be honest with yourself and then fight for it. Say ‘I want to do this, I want this, I’m not happy with this’. No one else is going to get you out of the situation, you’re in control, be in control and everything is going to be ok. Everyone else can shut the fuck up and you’re going to be just fine…. And always be nice to people!’
Well, who the fuck wants to peak at 30?
Daisy is performing her graduate show, ‘Conditionally’ at the Soho Theatre this week. Buy tickets here.
Interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.