Joanna Vanderham: ‘You Gain Nothing by Comparing Yourself to Others’

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Photo Source: Aldo Filiberto

The following career dispatch essay is written by Scottish actor Joanna Vanderham, who stars opposite Dougray Scott in Irvine Welsh's’s six-part drama Crime, currently streaming on BritBox.

Dearest me-of-the-past,

There are so many things I want to share with you. I want to see you wonder at all the beautiful places we’ve travelled under the guise of ‘work’. I want us to jump up and down together when I tell you what roles we get! To hear you laugh when you learn who we get to work with and all their little secrets…

But I would also tell you, with more urgency, to trust your instincts; you know in your gut if something feels right. Whether that’s the delivery of a line, a movement, a gesture (you have to repeat these things over and over and your choices will very quickly drive you crazy if they aren’t motivated). I’ll say it again: Trust Your Instincts. If someone touches you in a way that feels inappropriate, say something. Loudly.

I so dearly hope that times have changed and this won’t even need to be said, but perhaps the more we announce we won’t stand for it, the less it will happen.

I want to tell you to stop worrying about the size of your thighs or arms or waist. To give you the courage to tell that woman that you don’t need to be photoshopped. How much more fun you will have when you accept and love your body. Especially because you’re going to injure it. Your body is a tool, it will allow you to transform yourself and transport your audience. Love it, don’t push it, don’t harm it.

Go to therapy. I understand why, when that charming man told you to go, you laughed. But darling one, do go. The trauma you carry around is not what makes you a talented actor, you will fly even higher without its weight around your neck. I promise you will still be able to access that deep well of emotion, in fact, it’ll be even easier!

Appreciate other people’s vulnerability. Whether you’re listening to someone presenting their work for the first time, or a fellow cast mate not knowing exactly how to play a part, be kind. Forgive them their imperfections and forgive yourself too. To learn is to grow, don’t expect everyone to be magnificent from day one. You’ll only meet a handful of people like that, and what makes them that way is that they don’t expect perfection.

“Always ask yourself if you really want to tell this particular story. Let that guide you when you’re lucky enough to have a choice. ”

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Auditions are joyous. That sounds crazy, but you will love them. Preparing for them will be time consuming and often last-minute but as soon as the camera is rolling you get to be that character, even if it’s only for that brief moment. Spend the majority of your preparation time on the lines and the character. You will book jobs wearing no makeup, but you’ll never book a job when you forget the lines.

Self-tapes are hard. You will have to learn to love these, and perhaps still need to learn to stop snapping at your partner who’s only trying to help…. But have faith, you will land the roles in which you truly let go. Ignore the rules of ‘mid-shot’ ‘close up’ ‘in focus’. Just inhabit the character. And send more than one version. When there’s no one there to redirect you, give them options.

Every job will be different, directors will work in different ways, with different expectations. Respect this. And go to therapy, so that in between roles you can let go not only of the character, but of how you worked. If one director loves for you to watch playback, great. But the next might not.

You gain absolutely nothing by comparing yourself to others. You will find so much joy in supporting your peers. Be a champion of good work, even if you’re not in it. Stamp on the little green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on (you will always be a Shakespeare nerd but you will meet fellow nerds and be nerdy together and it’ll be great).

You will learn to be alone a lot. But you will fill your time with new challenges, like learning the violin. You will walk alone through strange and beautiful cities and follow art installations from London to Vancouver to L.A. You will also learn that you have to do more than ‘just act’. If you really want to have a voice, and not just be a mouthpiece, you must learn to produce, to write and maybe eventually, direct too. You will have so much to say. Don’t worry if you don’t think you do right now, you will. Keep an eye out for stories as they really are everywhere.

You will continue to be fascinated by humans. The way we interact, the choices we make, how we say things and why. You may not always like the choices we make (watch out for Brexit), but if you can, understand where people are coming from. That compassion will allow you to stay positive and productive.

Do not be afraid of your anger. Use it. Do not go silent. Do not run away. Have those difficult conversations, even if they’re with yourself, to figure out why you’re angry and what can be done about it. Verbalise your anger into real change. You will be so proud of yourself. You will make a difference to those who come after.

Always ask yourself if you really want to tell this particular story. Let that guide you when you’re lucky enough to have a choice. Remember you were never in this for fame nor money.

Please don’t be scared, because I wouldn’t change a thing. I cannot wait to meet you, to meet the calm, confident woman you will become. To watch you overcome obstacles as you learn these lessons. But most of all, I want to see your face when I tell you we got nominated for an Emmy for our first professional role, but this time round you would know what the Emmys are!

Check out Backstage’s UK audition listings!