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Ideas Tap interview by Tom Seymour

Actor Tom Riley is about to star at the Almeida Theatre in the world premiere of Stephen Poliakoff’s My City, and was recently nominated as Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play for his role as Septimus Hodge in Arcadia on Broadway.

He tells IdeasMag how he prepares for auditions and whether or not drama school is worth the cash…

What is it about auditions that you find difficult?

I’ve always struggled with auditions a bit, but I’m getting better at them. I’ve just worked on Arcadia on Broadway in New York, and what was interesting was seeing how the many Americans handle auditions, which is very different from the standard British way.

The Americans jump in with both feet. They’re really bold. They say, "These are choices I’m going to make about the character. If you don’t like it, I’ll tear it up and start again.“ The Brits come in and say, ”I’m just dipping one toe in the water. I’m laying a couple of building blocks.“

Both are valid ways of working, but I think in auditions playing it safe doesn’t always help. They want to see something and go ”That’s it. That’s what I’ve been looking for.”

What’s your advice to actors who aren’t used to the auditioning process?

I’ve overworked parts before. I think it’s something that all actors have suffered from. When you come straight out of drama school there are so many people who really want a job and the desperation is never attractive to a casting director. I think something about that just turns people off.

So when you do get an audition and you work so hard at it that you know every single word and the motivation behind every single line, it’s not relaxed and it’s not real. In the desperation to get it right, you end up getting it wrong.

You went to LAMDA after university. Was it a big decision?

It was, but I loved it. It was a bit strange going into another course after reading English for three years at uni. I signed myself up for six years of solid education, but I didn’t really have any other way in. I didn’t really have any other way in because none of my family are actors.

I knew nobody in the profession at any level - no producers, directors, lighting designers, nothing. So the only way I was going to get a showcase was through drama school, and it had to be one of the prestigious ones that people come and see. It was a real gear change. I thought I worked hard at uni, but I got to LAMDA and realised what actual hard work was.

It was 12-hour days, six days a week. It was crazy, but it recalibrates your attitude towards the profession and your attitude towards getting paid work. I think for everyone drama school is 50 per cent useful work and 50 per cent bullshit. You’ve got to work out what works and what is useless, because you’ll keep the stuff that works for the rest of your career…

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