'I didn’t think people like me could be an actor' Eastenders star Lorraine Stanley on acting
EASTENDERS new character Karen Taylor was described by the soap's producer as “a 20-a-day lioness, bringing up her kids with no support, no money and a very loud mouth.”
Since arriving on the square, Taylor has made a huge impact, becoming a fan favourite fast.
Here Mandy News talks to actress Lorraine Stanley about joining Eastenders, how she started out acting and advice to those dreaming of being on the screen.
Tell us a little bit about how you got into the industry.
When I was at school, a drama teacher said that I should go on to college and do some performing arts, which I loved. I was always the class clown at school. I didn’t like English and maths, but I loved drama. I did a BTEC diploma when I was 16 until I was 19, thinking that I could maybe be a Butlin's Redcoat. I met some friends there and got into Shakespeare and Ibsen and all kinds of stuff like that and took it a bit more seriously. I decided I could actually be an actor.
I didn’t think people like me, from a working class background, could be an actor. I thought it was out of reach. Then I applied to drama schools in London and got into Arts Ed. I went there for another three years and left when I was 23. I had a great time there. It was very method acting based at the time there. I’ve been acting professionally for 18 years since.
Did you ever get to be a Redcoat?
I never got to be a Redcoat! That’s all I thought I could be. I thought that was as far as it could take me. If we went on holiday camps as a kid, I used to always get up on the stage and sing and dance. I thought I could be a Redcoat like them. I found out along the way that I was actually really serious about it and could pursue it. Watching Kathy Burke made me realise that working class actors can do it. She was a big inspiration for me.
So when you left studying, what was your first job? Which direction did you end up going in?
We did a show case at the Criterion Theatre. That’s what you do in your final year at drama school. You invite lots of agents to come and watch you. I got an agent from that. I was lucky, I had quite a few to choose from.
While I was in my last year at drama school, my first job ever was a film called Gangster No. 1. Blink and you’ll miss me; I was called the Attacker’s Friend, so when he shot David Thewlis in the film, I just had to scream and run off. My mum went to see the film— she couldn’t even recognise me, and it wasn’t even her sort of film, either!
Then my first theatre job was at the National. Fiona Shaw directed the play. We had done a tour around England. It was a boring play, actually. Bernard Shaw’s Widowers’ Houses, but we turned it upside down and had a lot of fun doing it.
Having done film and theatre, did you have a preference between the two?
I suppose I trained theatrically. We only had a few lessons on film work. They both excited me in different ways. I loved theatre because it was live and you’re doing the process for a month, working as a team. You’re all in it together and you become like a family; you work together so closely, so you make good friendships.
But filming was exciting. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. The first time they said we were going for a line-up, I didn’t know what that was. Someone came up to me and took a photo, so I posed with my thumbs up. But it was a picture for continuity, so I was a bit embarrassed. So I kind of learned about filming along the way. I love them both but theatre is my passion.
You said you got your agent in your last year of drama school. Have you been with the same agent for your whole career since then?
No, I was with an agent for about seven years, and then I was kind of struggling. I was getting bits and bobs, little bits of theatre, an episode of this or that… Then I was in a film, London to Brighton, and from that I got an agent who was a bit bigger and well-known, Lou Coulson. I’ve been with Lou Coulson ever since then. She’s great. Then I started getting a bit more work.
You mentioned London to Brighton. It’s an amazing film. How did you get that part and how did you go about putting yourself in the mind of the character?
That’s what changed my career. I was only out of drama school a couple of years when Paul Andrew Williams got me in for an audition. It was an improvised audition. There were about ten girls there. It was originally for the short film Loyalty, which was the same concept of a slice-of-life set in Kings Cross. It was about a prostitute and a pimp. I went to the audition and did lots of improv around it. Johnny Harris was there as well. We really bounced off of each other. We were there all afternoon and I was told I had got the job.
So then we did the short film of it, and that did really well. It was brilliant, very guerrilla filmmaking at the time. I don’t know if you could get away with it now, rocking up with a camera at Kings Cross. It was a bit dodgier back then and it’s quite nice there now. It was at 3 in the morning. The back alleys and all that added to the whole ambiance of the film.
A couple of years later, I was doing a play in Colchester, To Kill a Mockingbird. I was playing Scout, the eleven year old girl— best part I’ve ever played. Then I got a phone call from Paul and he said he had turned the short film into a film. He wrote it over a weekend. Then we shot it in 18 days. I think the budget was £80,000. No one got paid, we were all just getting the bus to work. It was guerrilla filmmaking again; scruffy and messy and no dressing rooms. I think that’s what made it so brilliant, really.
Everyone was in it for the work, as opposed to the money. You didn’t have a trailer, you didn’t have anything like that. You had to bring a bit of your own costume. Really rough around the edges, which added to it I think.
So then you went onto Made in Dagenham, Top Dog, Legend…
Yes. Did lots of theatre along the way too. Lots of one-off dramas, Law & Order, Trial & Retribution, all that kind of stuff. My friends would call me "One Episode Lou" — I never had a whole series of anything. I just appeared in lots of things. I’ve always done waitressing along the way, which is quite important for anyone starting out, even if you’re doing some really good stuff.
One minute I’d be going to watch a screening of London to Brighton or at a première of Made in Dagenham, and the next day I’d be wiping coffee off the floor. It was kind of a parallel world for me, and it’s always been like that, since I was at drama school really.
Could you tell us a little bit about how those periods of time between working as an actor and working a day job? Can you explain that it can be built upon and is actually quite important?
You’ve got to be so determined. You’ve got to really want it and have a lot of faith in yourself. You become thick-skinned. You go to audition after audition, not getting them, and you just have to not take it personally.
When I was waitressing, I would almost become a character at work just to get through it. I’d put on my little black pinny and say, I’m now in the role of the waitress. Just try to not get down about it and not give up. So many of my friends didn’t pursue it any further. You’ve got to really, really want it. That’s all you’ve got to want. I always knew that that was the thing that I wanted to do. Otherwise, I would have given up years ago.
Eventually, if you keep pursuing it and you’re determined, you’ll get there in the end.
Do you have any tips of your own that you use to shine at auditions or to cut through the myriad of people that come through the door?
Be yourself. Go in there with a confident attitude, but not overconfident. I just keep it real. I try to learn as much as I can about the character. Do as much researching into that part as you can, so that you’re going in there knowing your stuff. Be prepared.
A couple of times, I’ve gone in underprepared and it’s embarrassing. I’d never do that again. One time, I just didn’t have enough time to do it— I just felt myself sinking in the room, going redder and redder because they were asking me questions about the character that I couldn’t answer. Be prepared and be yourself.
How did you get your part on Eastenders? Tell us a bit about what it’s like to be graced into the Eastenders family.
Eastenders had done a spin-off called Pat and Mo about thirteen years ago, where they went back to the sixties. I played Mo when she was 18. That was great. I’d met Julia Crampsie. She had come to see me in a show in Arts Ed when I was at drama school. She’s always liked my work; she loved London to Brighton and she always got me into castings ever since. She cast me in Pat and Mo. Everyone was asking me why I wasn’t on Eastenders. I suppose I was waiting for the right character to come up. Julia had brought me in for other castings that I never got. She’s always had my back, so I owe her a lot.
A year before I got this character, I played another character called Thelma. I didn’t have to audition for that. My daughter Nancy was only six weeks old at the time. I played Thelma for about eight episodes over the course of a couple of months. Dominic Treadwell was the producer then. I did that, thought nothing of it, then didn’t work for eight months. Then I got a phone call out of the blue eight months after that aired. They said they wanted me to come in and audition for another part, Karen Taylor.
I went to see Julia Crampsie and I went for a casting. I thought it would be weird for me to play another character, but the character was perfect for me. So I got a recall, I read with my two sons and got the job on the spot. That was with Sean O’Connor, ex-producer. I was filming two weeks later. Having a year’s work, knowing I didn’t have to worry about paying rent and stuff like that, was just like heaven. It was brilliant.
Did you know at the time when you were auditioning for the part that Karen was going to be the head of the family?
Yes, I did know that. I knew a bit about the character, and that they were trying to create this new family that was coming in. It was really exciting. I did see the potential of the character. I think I was the skankiest actor they could find!
What’s next? You’re the head of a family in Eastenders, that must be quite ongoing?
Yes! I’m loving my storyline. Obviously, I can’t tell you anything about that. At the moment I’m happy there. I’m having a great time working with some really good actors. It becomes like a family, and that’s what I like about theatre— you all work together to make this thing happen. I suppose I’m enjoying that and the stability. It’s consistent work. It’s great.
How does having a family affect day-to-day life and acting? Does having Nancy in your life change the way that you do your job?
God, it is life-changing to have a baby. It gives me more inspiration. It makes me want to work harder. I can’t be lazy at all. Everything I do now is for Nancy. Everything. When I’m struggling, in the back of my head I’m thinking, “Come on, this is for Nancy and Mark. This is for my family.”
It’s really challenging being a full-time mum in full-time work. The only time I get to learn my lines is when Nancy’s in bed. When she goes to bed, I’ve already done a long day. When she goes to bed, the last thing I want to do is sit down and learn lines. I just want to chill out, but I can’t. That’s challenging, but it is what it is, you get on with it and you do it.
Sometimes, it’s tiring. Especially at my age – I’m 41 – to have a two year old and a full-time job. Some days I just think, “Oh my god, I’m too old for this.” But it’s so rewarding and inspiring. It’s amazing. I still can’t believe it. The other day, Eastenders was on and she ran to the TV saying, “Mummy!” It was such a lovely moment. She was all excited, jumping up and down.
That’s so cute! Is there any advice you have for budding actors?
Yes. I’d say you’ve got to be so passionate about your craft. Don’t take it for granted. Do your homework for each character that you play. Do a lot of subtext as to who you are and why you’re there, so that your character is not one dimensional. Always create layers to your character, and keep it true to yourself.
Those layers that you give to a character, is that something you talk to the team about or is it something that you create?
I think it’s quite personal. With Eastenders, you don’t know what’s coming next, so you build your own layers in your head. With theatre it’s different, because you’ve got a script and you can delve deeper, I suppose.
Try to make the characters as real as you can. A lot of actors that I see, I can tell they’re not very good actors because they’re working from how they want an audience to see it, as opposed to actually feeling it. I call it, “The lights are on but no one’s home.” They’re not feeling it, they’re just putting it on. Look deep into who your character is and make real choices.Tags: