How ‘The Spanish Princess’ Star Georgie Henley Learned to Cut Herself Slack—Finally

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The following Career Dispatches essay was written by Georgie Henley, who stars on “The Spanish Princess” on Starz.

I remember my second audition for “Narnia” as well as the first. Is that normal? I’m not sure. I feel like our firsts and lasts are always more naturally conspicuous in our memories, and most of what happens in the middle becomes an amorphous blob. It’s not even the audition I remember but the day itself, going to London. London! I grew up in a small town in West Yorkshire called Ilkley. It’s best known for the cow and calf rocks, and the Tour de France went through it in 2014. It’s lovely, but quiet. I had been to London before, with my family. We’d seen Buckingham Palace and gone to Madame Tussaud’s. But this time I was going to the Tabernacle.  

I’d never heard that word before. Tabernacle. My drama teacher Mrs. Jackson was taking me down to London to the Tabernacle to do some acting. That was exciting enough in itself. I wasn’t really aware of what I was auditioning for, that it was a blockbuster film based on one of the most  beloved children's books of all time. When we got to Kings Cross I nearly tripped over my feet  looking at the ceiling. I still make an effort to look up every time I’m there. We got in a black cab (a black cab!) and I practiced my lines. I kept forgetting them because I was too busy looking out the  window. Even in the rain everything looked miraculous. 

Only when we got to the Tabernacle, did I start to get nervous, not because of the scene or any kind of expectations or pressure being put on me. It was walking into the waiting room and seeing that there were so many other girls there who were all auditioning for the same role. Mrs. Jackson had told me that there would be lots of other Lucys but I don’t think I’d quite believed her. What scared me the most was what they were all wearing: 1940s dresses with pressed collars, frilly socks, hair teased into perfect plaits. Lucy clothes. Suddenly I hated my favorite pink tie-dye t-shirt and my combat trousers, which were good for climbing trees in. In that second, I hated myself.  

This feeling of wrongness has continued to sneak up on me in the many audition waiting rooms  I’ve since found myself in. I look around and see people who are the same age as me, the same height, they maybe even have same color hair or eyes or skin, and yet because they are  someone else, I see them as inherently more interesting or appealing than I find myself. My inner  monologue turns from the mind-soup of lines I’m supposed to remember, to one of intense self degradation and negativity. This is not a helpful mindset. How am I supposed to go into a room and convince people that I’m the best person for the job when I’m sat here telling myself I’m the worst?  We put so many barriers in our own way as humans, that so much of an actor’s warm-up is just about getting you to relax. Remove the noise. Take off that heavy rucksack. Who are you now?  How can you transform? If I’m being down on myself, I’m never going to do a good audition. If I can puff myself up just a little, by telling myself I’m worthy, I’m supposed to be here, I can act, I can find some kind of equilibrium. A casting director isn’t going to get a sense of who I am and what I can do if I can’t even look them in the eye.  

I remember waiting outside an audition at university for a musical theater gala night. The girl who went in before me was a friend of mine. She sang the song I was going to sing. I was so worried  that I’d do a worse job than her and be judged comparatively that I decided to sing a different song in my audition, not the one I’d prepped, and it was an absolute trainwreck. She got cast, and I didn’t. And rightly so! I absolutely got in my own way.  

Why did it matter what those other girls were wearing, or what song my friend was singing? It  didn’t. Essentially, you can only focus on yourself. How can you give yourself the best chance of  doing your best work? Maybe it is a pep talk, or a quick superhero pose in the toilet mirror (I’ve  done this before lots of auditions plus my interviews for university and it really does work). Mainly I  think it comes down to shutting out the clamour of your inner critic. Tell it to take an hour off. We are all our own combination of idiosyncrasies, flaws, talents, and that in itself is a gift. This  industry is hard. Why make it harder by being hard on yourself? I’ve always been a perfectionist,  often to my own detriment. So when I was growing up, if I thought an exam or an audition went  poorly my mom would always ask me one question: Did you do the best you could do? Yes, I would say. Then that’s all you can do, she would say. It’s absolutely true. 

You can only do your best, the rest is out of your control. That’s what I try to carry with me—as well as the knowledge that the 7-year-old in tie-dye and combats got the job.

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