EXCLUSIVE: Coronation Street star Nicola Thorp on how she landed the role, TV acting tips and more
Nicola Thorp plays Nicola Rubinstein in hit ITV soap Coronation Street, a now major character who was shot by father Pat Phelan and is due for a showdown with Gary Windass. Recently nominated for a British Soap award – alongside EastEnders star Lorraine Stanley – here Nicola tells Mandy News how she started out and what it's like working on Coronation Street along with some tips for actors.
Nicola, introduce yourself and tell us how you got involved with acting and the TV and film industry?
I started acting when at school in school plays at the Grand Theatre in Blackpool. I really fancied a boy who was in The Sound of Music and that’s how I got into acting originally. I ended up doing a two man show with him three years later and I was more interested in the show than I was him so I decided to go to drama school. I spent a year auditioning and then attended Arts Educational School in Chiswick, London.
What was your next step after that? What was your first foray into TV acting?
I got an agent in my third year after one of our third year showcases. I’m still with them today and they have been wonderful and have looked after me throughout my career, which I think is quite rare. We have a very good bond and they look out for me in the good times and the bad which I think is essential. I think my first ever job was an Activia commercial – I was the stomach! I got the job and they didn’t even want to see my face. That was great and I thought maybe the rest of my career would be as easy as that – sadly that wasn’t true.
You talked about having such a good agent and the same one for a long period of time. What makes a good agent in your eyes?
Regardless of the agent, what remains important for me is that people remember that it’s a two-way relationship. Even with my agent, for years I was terrified of calling them, bothering them or getting them to work for me. What’s wonderful about Joe and Bill at BWH Agency is that they know me as a person, therefore they are more likely to put me up for jobs that actually suit me. I’m sure you know, through working with Mandy, how many people feel disillusioned and how many people are represented by agents who have never seen them before and don’t know their casting type.
It’s essential to have a relationship where you can be honest with each other and talk. There seems to be this weird unspoken rule that all agents are to be feared and they’re superior in some way but that’s just not the case, it’s a two-way street.
How did you get involved with Coronation Street?
I initially auditioned for Coronation Street three years ago for a different part. It was all through my agent and they put me up for the part of Kate Connor. I got screen tested and all excited and got to do a scene with Kym Marsh in The Rovers Return. I was really nervous and I didn’t get the part. As I was at that audition, there were five other girls up for that screen test and one of the other girls told me that it was her fourth screen test and not to get my hopes up. So I got rejected in the end but that was that.
However, I got on really well with the casting directors and they said to me that if anything does come up that suits me then they will get in touch. Two years later, I got seen for Nicola and that was the right part for me. The aforementioned girl in the original audition actually ended up being cast for a character for six episodes and is now a new regular on the Street.
If the casting team on Corrie see something they like and meet people they think are good to work with then they will find the right part for them. I think that really shows in Coronation Street due to the longevity of the job. You have to cast people who are going to get on with each other.
What is the process like and what is the time period of working on an episode of Coronation Street, from receiving the script to finishing filming?
We normally get the script two weeks before we start shooting the block. At that point, we start learning lines but usually you’re already filming a different block – it all happens at the same time with not many breaks in between. We shoot relatively in sequence but we did just shoot a scene this morning that was for about six weeks ago. Therefore, you really have to stay on top of your character’s continuity and where you are emotionally in any particular scene or story arc and it is very important to stay on top of that.
Does a typical day change quite a lot?
Definitely! I’ve never had two days the same. We’re contracted here from 7am til 7pm Monday to Friday but it won’t necessarily mean that we’re filming all of that time. So it’s all about trying to stay energised and active in the breaks between scenes but also keep it fun. It will be filmed on location, in the studio or the outdoor set. Depending on the storylines, it varies where you’ll be shooting. You’ll go through episodes too where you’ll be heavily featured in the story and there’ll be episodes where you’re just ordering drinks at The Rovers. As a result, it’s important to maintain your character’s integrity throughout all those different scenes.
What do think of your character and what have you brought to your character?
Well, I’ve been given a gift really in the fact that I was brought in and thrown straight into the Phelan storyline which everyone had been talking about. It’s so dramatic and it’s kind of a first in Corrie’s history that something is so intense but gripping at the same time. When I’m going about my business, people come up to me in the street and ask me about Phelan which is wonderful. You can’t just rest on your laurels - or yannies - because you’ve got to do something interesting with it.
What’s so unique about continuous drama is the episodes you’ve filmed, you will watch back and air before the storyline has even finished. So you don’t necessarily know where the storyline is going or know the direction you character is heading towards so you have to offer up as much as possible. The writers watch the show back as well so if you do something or offer something up in a scene then the writers can use that and embellish it for future scripts so you do have a lot of input in that sense.
You never know your character’s arc. If you’re doing a film, you have a full script and know what’s happening with your character whereas with a soap, you have no idea.
How far in the future are you shooting? How do you avoid spoilers and letting things slip to family and friends?
It’s really difficult! A while ago, I nearly let a spoiler slip because I came home with blood all over me. My mum was asking me where it had come from and I tried to cover it up but failed miserably. You have to try to forget everything but I do enjoy teasing my family and friends with completely fake things. It can be so confusing though as there are so many different timelines to forget or remember. I don’t even ask the other cast members what they are doing because I watch the show and I want to watch with all the surprises intact.
What advice would you give to up-and-coming actors who want to get involved with the industry and perhaps follow in your footsteps?
There is nothing more boring than an actor that just acts. In my personal experience, through watching friends of mine become successful in the industry, it is not necessarily the acting that has gotten them to where they are – it’s usually something extra that makes them unique or memorable. It doesn’t necessarily have to be another performance skill but something about them as a person. We all know that when we go into an audition and if we’re really desperate for it that it’s likely we won’t be relaxed and it might come across as desperate. Whereas if you have another passion, it can lessen the load.
I grew more confident as an actress when I started to do more public speaking and got involved in political events and activities. Suddenly, going to an audition with words that have already been given to me seemed less scary.
There is a friend of mine who is an actor and who hasn’t worked for five years. He mentioned to his agent that he played saxophone and now he constantly works as an actor/muso. Before that, he just thought he needed to be taken seriously as a straight actor but now he’s got work from having something extra about him. It’s not necessarily something that you would put on your Spotlight CV but things that are interesting and more diverse about you. How are you supposed to tell stories about real people if you yourself have been stuck in an acting bubble?
You mentioned you do public speaking and take part in political activities such as the petition you started that ended up in Parliament, can you tell us a little bit more about that?
It was two years ago, I got fired for wearing flat shoes in an accountancy firm. I, obviously, thought that was ridiculous and I took it the Citizens Advice Bureau. They told me there is a grey area in the law and it’s not very clear whether what my employer did was legal or not but I could take it to a tribunal. Tribunals at the time cost around £1200 and I couldn’t afford that so I decided to start a petition to ban women being forced to wear high heels in the workplace. It was never just about shoes though. To me it was about discrimination of both the gender and racial kind.
At the time, I was working in as many in-between jobs as actors do for different temp agencies and they were telling women of colour that their hair should be chemically-straightened, their natural skin colour needed to be covered with white, flesh-toned tights and that kind of thing. I had enough of it and, particularly for actors in between jobs, it’s really important they know what their rights are as we don’t have a union.
Obviously we have Equity but when it comes to temporary work, there is no union or HR department to go to. That was me trying to highlight that and trying to seek better representation for temporary workers. I’m glad to say that two years on, the Supreme Court deemed employment tribunal fees to be completely illegal and have scrapped them all now.
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