Harrison Sansostri is a child actor known for films Creation – starring Paul Bettany and Benedict Cumberbatch – as well as a string of TV, theatre and commercials work. Here he tells Mandy News how he started out, the realities of juggling acting work – and writing books – with school and more.
How did you start out as a child actor?
I now understand that a lot of kids get into acting because they have done modelling work. That goes for me too. I started work at the tender age of three months old and did all the baby stuff and worked for a few years as a little model.
It all changed quickly as I was put up for a Petit Filous commercial when I was four years old. I got down to the final two boys and so my final casting was with Julia, the then Petit Filous girl! We were on our own with the casting director in the studio, and she had a chat with mum and said she would recommend me to a very good agency as I had what it took to be a good little actor. I changed agencies and worked a lot with them.
I have worked in theatre, TV, commercials, short film and voice overs and have loved every experience I have been lucky enough to have. My favourite jobs being Creation my first cinema film, in which I played Lenny Darwin and Paul Bettany played Charles Darwin, my Dad. Benedict Cumberbatch played our family doctor! (He was so nice.) Another great experience was Lord of The Flies in the Open Air Theatre - Regent's Park in which I got the press night and met lots of great actors too!
I became an author by accident. Yes, by accident! In primary school, I was pretty good at English and won lots of awards for creative writing. Also, unfortunately, I was bullied, so I put my creative writing to good use by writing about my way of coping with what primary school can throw at you. (Though this was after the whole bullying episode was sorted out by my mum and the school.) I wrote The Little Dudes Skool Survival Guide which I never ever expected would become a book and also a best seller in Primary Schools.
I wrote it because it helped me work through what was going on in school and it really helped me as it was very therapeutic to write. I still get emails from kids telling me how my book has helped them too! RESULT! I was only 11 years old when I wrote this book and I'm now 16!
My second book, The Chronicles of Derek Dunstable, I wrote when I was 12 years old and finished it, two years later, at 14. This is my first fiction and it's doing really well too. I have also, for the past three years, gone into primary schools on a regular basis to talk and inspire kids to read and write more – and talk about my books of course. Here is a link to my website which explains all more in depth.
What do you prefer – film TV or theatre?
Theatre – I love live. A live performance and live audience. The whole experience of meeting the cast, readings, rehearsals in many venues, then moving into the theatre, tech runs, then dress rehearsals leading up to the press night...MAGICAL!
How do you keep on top of it all?
I'm quite a geek and an academic – not sporty at all! So I have a good work ethic and study hard. If I have a casting, I make time for it. If I have a booking for my books, I catch up with studies in the evening. I embrace both acting and writing and know that I have to make sacrifices also.
How important has it been to have supportive parents too?
Wow, I'm truly blessed, I really am. Mum was cabin crew and stopped flying as she felt that she needed to be home to support all that I do and she does. She makes sure that I'm never too tired, helps me with my studies, runs me everywhere and makes sure that all is well with me at all times. Dad is great too and, though not a big talker, he is there when I need him. We go to church together and, afterwards, go to breakfast where we catch up on the week :)
What's your process of preparing for the roles you're given?
When I prepare for a role, I fit any script work into my day in preparation for when filming starts. Last year, I did a Christmas horror film in Kent, Nightmare on 34th Street. It was two days filming. I arrived, knew my script, met the cast and crew, and hung around a lot, waiting for my scenes, as you do in film. I stayed the night in a nearby hotel with mum, filmed again the next day, and job done!
At the moment, it's hard to get a job as I'm sixteen and they can't place me as neither a boy or man! I'm looking forward to when castings pick up again though.
You do talks in schools about following your dreams. What are the main pieces of advice you impart to aspiring actors? What's the main thing you get asked too?
Yes, I visit lots of schools and sometimes my audience is 320 kids strong. I am aware that I must choose my words wisely because the children are very young and impressionable and that is a big responsibility to have. I try to, first and foremost, make the children understand that we are all good at something, whatever that something is and that they must believe in themselves.
I do get lots of questions regarding acting and I realise that not all kids can have an agent, for many reasons, and that most castings come through your agent. So I advise them to join any and every drama club on offer, whether school, or their local church hall, or a performing arts school, and work hard at their drama classes. One thing will lead to another, if they pursue what they love to do (some kids are spotted by agents in plays etc.)
I also tell them that, even if you are well represented, the acting business is a hard one and you need to have a strong mindset to accept all the rejections that come your way. This is why I want to continue acting as a second job and go to university and study. Who said the two can't work? I'm more than prepared to work a script, alongside my studies.
What's coming up next?
Right now, I'm in the midst of my GCSEs – a whole month of them! I'm on full study and examination mode. I've put myself as N/A to my agency whom are Abacus. I have some marathon bookings for the end of June/July for school book talks.
And at the end of June take off my N/A status with Abacus and hopefully get some castings, while I eagerly await my GCSE results on August 23. I hope to nail a casting and work as an actor this summer!
Then in September I start sixth form and driving lessons when I turn 17. The perfect scenario would be...some theatre work, a new book out and a new car!
And now some from words from Harri's mother Deborah about how she has navigated the world of acting with her son.
Well, wow! What can I add to that?
I have supported Harri in all his ventures, and I still do now that he's 16. Children need as much support as possible, as they combine their school studies with acting/castings. There are lots of trips after school to central London and afterwards lots of catch up too, with homework!
When I've been on set, my role has been to nurture my son, make sure that he's fed, he's watered, he has some downtime too and doesn't get stressed with long hours. I make sure he is happy and, most of all, am there for him while, at the same time, being almost invisible to the other actors/crew. I just keep myself to myself, with a keen eye on my son!
We also have a great philosophy with castings. We see them as an added extra to our already busy lives. Harri usually does get recalls. In fact, at home, we call him 'The Recall King'. We have had so many close calls to big roles and so many big let downs, however if they happen "brilliant, fabulous and all that" and if they don't we congratulate Harri that he got so far and that's that.
We also say that every casting is a mini drama lesson and that's what we take away.
I think that Harri is a gifted, young actor and, believe me, I'm his biggest critic too! However, in the acting business, it's not just talent that nails a part. It's timing, luck, the right people and the right place – and, of course, a sprinkle of talent! What will be, will be for my son and I'm already very, very proud of him.
Harri and Deborah are kindly offering five of each his two books – The Little Dudes Skool Survival Guide and The Chronicles of Derek Dunstable – to readers!
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