Saturday, 8 March 2008


Every job invites certain questions. When I was at school, I couldn't imagine what the teachers talked about in the staff room and I would never believe that you could get sick of eating marzipan if you worked in the marzipan factory. Lawyers often get asked how they can defend someone they know is guilty, and "How do you come up with ideas?" has probably driven more than one writer back to the mini-bar. These are a few of my favourites.

How do you remember your lines?
This may be rhetorical, as in 'It must be difficult to remember all those lines'. It is. 

Do you get to keep the costumes?
Sometimes you can buy your costumes at a reduced price. If you are in a television series the costumes will have to stay in stock and the same often applies to theatre. For many actors, the costumes are associated with the character they have played and will have been bought or made with the character in mind. The last thing you want to own is a dress that you wore for a month while being chased around a submarine by an alien.

Didn't I used to know you?
Always hard to tell. Sometimes people think you were at their sister's wedding in Chicago or that you went to school with their son. Sometimes they have seen every film you ever made. It is best not to assume the latter; you really might have been to school with their son.

Doesn't your boyfriend get jealous?
Probably not. My partner has a rule that as long as the other actor and I are both being paid, by someone else, then we can do our job.

What was so-and-so really like?
It is a bad idea to form an opinion based on third party information. I will always say they were lovely. I play poker so I won't tell you how to know if I'm lying.

Are you resting?
If I haven't told you within 5 minutes of seeing you what I am working on than I am either not working or I have been abducted and an alien is inhabiting my body. Maybe the alien from the submarine. Best not to ask.

What are you doing next?

Is there a part you've always wanted to play?
The only time I really set my sights on a part, I was overjoyed when I was asked to do it. I was terrible. 

What do you do during the day?
I was asked this at a reception for supporters of the theatre when I was doing a play. It is true that once the play is running, there are only a few rehearsals called during the day; understudy rehearsals, line runs, get-ins to a new venue, or short rehearsals of the bits that aren't working, and there are usually only two matinees. So, technically there is quite a lot of free time during time during the day. Still, it is quite an annoying question because it makes you feel like a slacker. 

Have you read the book?
There might be a very good reason not to read the book, such as the director forbidding it, but usually it will be the first source available if you are working on an adaptation. If it is a faithful adaptation, then the book will be very helpful. If it is a radical re-working of the text then the book could be a liability. Since the script will already be written, the last words a director or writer want to hear begin "But in the book..."

And what are your FAQs?


  1. I enjoyed your post about (too) frequently asked questions. Maybe members of the audience are sometimes in a flurry when suddenly standing face to face with a 'celebrity' and then they ask questions like that. I am more amazed at the questions professional reporters sometimes come up with. I wonder if they make a list of the same 10 or 12 questions that they ask everyone ... At least in my country I’ve heard something like this many times: "How can a nice girl like you portray such a _______?" (my wild guess: maybe because you are a professional?), "How did you decide to become an actor?", "Who are your own role models among actors?", "Which question have you never been asked?" and one of my personal favourites, right after an actor has been presented with a major award and looks absolutely euphoric "How do you feel right now?"

    A few years ago a woman spotted a friend of mine who is an actor, she crossed a very busy street and headed straight for my friend, addressed him by one of his character’s names and told 'him' exactly what she thought of the bad behaviour the character had had. He told me it happened all the time during that period. I wonder if anyone ever talked to you as if you were one of your characters?

    I am a teacher, and it’s not so much the questions people ask that have become clichés, but the way they react, usually falling into one of the following categories: either they blame you, personally, for a sadistic physics teacher they once had, 30 years ago, or – more often, they’d get a sad and compassionate look, and I find myself trying to explain I do not suffer from a fatal disease, I’m just a teacher. What goes on in the staff room? Let’s not get into that. I’d hate to upset the weak at heart ...!

  2. It's not that there is anything wrong with the questions so much, just that those are the ones you often get asked. I'm sure they are the kind of things I would want to know myself :-)
    As for teachers, I knew they were up to no good in that staff room.

  3. Hi Sophie,
    This is Catherine--I made a fan site for you way back before Yahoo ate Geocities (which I've never forgiven them for, by the way). Anyway, I happened upon your blog and am enjoying your A-Z insight into an actor's life.
    I'm a journalist now and I have to say that I think "what actors are your role models?" is an interesting question because you might get some insight into the actor's artistic influences and technique. However, I do also believe that silly questions will beget silly answers, and reporters should whenever possible thoroughly research a subject before interviewing them.
    On that note, I'm wondering if you plan to do an entry on doing press junkets and interviews. I've always wondered what it feels like to be on the receiving end of an interview, and then see your words quoted for better or worse in print. I've been an interviewee a few times in my life, and I have to say it can be a pretty disconcerting experience.

  4. Hi Catherine, good to hear from you. I liked your question, 'Which actors are your role models?" It is a difficult one to answer when posed in an interview though, as the reply can seem arrogant when taken out of context. I am a huge admirer of Meryl Streep, for instance, but in no way think I resemble her in looks or talent, she just inspires me. As did Katherine Hepburn, a great comic actress with a steel core. Toni Collette is always good and Stockard Channing and Diane Wiest and Emma Thompson. So many wonderful, interesting actors.
    Thank you also for your suggestion about the press junket side of an actor's life. I will put that on the list. Did you ever see 'Notting Hill'? Hugh Grant was very funny pretending to be a journalist for 'Hare and Hound' at Julia Robert's press day.
    It would be interesting to know how it feels from your (the journalist's) perspective, too.

  5. This is very interesting and great fun, Sophie. These may not necessarily fall under your usual FAQs, but here we go anyway:

    What is your most ambitious idea?
    What is your greatest fear?
    What are the chances of these two happening simultaneously?

    And you're right, writers are asked a lot, 'Where do you get all those ideas?' but mostly when people ask that what they really are after is 'How?'

  6. Oh, Jan, how right you are; the chances of the first two happening simultaneously are far too high. Under the category, Be Careful What You Wish For, I would love to write a good screenplay that got produced. And there lies a multitude of possibilities for My Greatest Fear.
    'How?' indeed.

  7. I was an English major (with a minor in film) when I was an undergraduate at university-- your posts are giving me a perspective I would never have known from my (I admit) sometimes very academic courses.
    I also admit that your FAQ about 'reading the book' would probably be the first question out of my mouth. It never crossed my mind that a director would *not* want cast and crew to read the book. Thanks for the enlightenment.

    My favorite FAQs:
    *"No offense meant, but couldn't someone do a librarian's job with just a high school diploma? Why do you need a Masters?"

    *( Question is paraphrased): "You're writing your undergraduate honors thesis on a children's literature series? Why?"

    My answer to the first: "It'll help in the long run."

    My answer to the second: "Because this series I have loved since childhood. It taught me the love of reading and now I owe it something in return."

    The snippy answer to both questions I would like to give: "So that I can find the book your child is looking for-- the one that you can't seem to find, much less be bothered to read, more's the pity."
    And no, I haven't figured out how to say that kindly, so I haven't actually said it. Yet.

    My apologies if this posts twice.

  8. I think I have a somewhat idealised notion of libraries; as places of refuge and discovery. I used to work in a children's bookshop so I should know better; it was chaos. But there were those moments when you united the right book with a child and it was all worth it. And I didn't have cope with the Dewey Decimal System. Mary, I salute you.

  9. I am not sure if you have already been asked this a zillion times, but I do have a question. I remember the episode of 'Heartbeat' in which Dr. Trent’s father turned up, and I wondered if it made any difference at all for you to play those scenes with your real father, and if so, would that make it easier or more difficult?

  10. Hi Emenel,
    No, that's not a FAQ. Once we were filming it felt like a regular episode except at the end when my 'dad' was leaving and was clearly unwell. I have a small obsession with 'The Railway Children' and to see my father get on the train and leave at the end instead of getting off and coming home was upsetting. I had to try not to cry as Sophie because Helen sure wasn't going to.

  11. Hi Sophie--Sorry for not replying earlier! Thanks for your very nice e-mail. As for what interviewing is like from a journalist's perspective--I haven't had a lot of experience interviewing actors but in general interviewing is a juggling act that involves balancing your need as a reporter to get interesting anecdotes and information from your subject that has not already been printed in competing publications, what your editor has in mind for your article (which often differs from your own concept), the chemistry between you and the interviewee, and the need to be wary of the invariable gaps in communication that tend to arise. I was surprised that we didn't get more interview technique training at journalism school because it's such an essential part of reporting, but we were trained to ask interviewees to illustrate statements with anecdotes and examples, which we would then structure our articles around. We were also trained to always call for a fellow-up interview to clarify and confirm points. I've been on the receiving end of interviews (as class exercises and for real articles) and I HATED the feeling of getting a grocery list of questions rammed down my throat without any sense that the interviewer was actually listening to what I have to say, so I try to avoid doing that to other people, but it can be hard, especially when you are on a deadline or feeling stressed.
    I hope this reply isn't too meandering! I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts on being interviewed, especially since I'll most likely be working as a features reporter after I finish studying Mandarin here in Taipei (and as such, will be writing more entertainment articles and profiles).

  12. I'll add to the journalists commenting here. "Journalist" is not a very accurate description of what pays me at the moment but it's what I was trained in so I'll approach it from that perspective.

    The perception of journalism which can be hard to deal with (and which covers pretty much any FAQ I'm likely to get) is that a) we're all "out to get" people and b) We have no vulnerability or humility whatsoever. This is true for some but certainly not all and a lot of these perceptions arise out of miscommunication. Perhaps in some deep-rooted way a lot of people are drawn to the career as a way of hiding their vulnerabilties (I'm shy about approaching performers as a fan at stage doors but having a professional reason to approach someone feels different, etc).

    I'm pleasantly surprised to see that a few of the "basic questions I've never got around to asking an actor because they seemed embarrassingly basic" are not in your FAQ.

    - How do you define "success" as an actor?

    - What do you think of people who approach actors at the stage door after a performance? Do you see it as flattery or a naff imposition?

    - Ditto the NT's plans to open up selected rehearsal sessions to the public. I'd find it interesting but I'm sure some actors find the idea awful.

    - How much of the audience's reaction can you process when you're on stage? Would you rather know if people you know are in the audience or would you rather they came without telling you first?

    - As a friend, what's the politest thing to say when an actor asks what you think of their less-than-fantastic show?

    - Do you tend only to discuss work with other people once a job is actually confirmed, or do you tell your friends the minute you get an exciting audition?

  13. I seems even athletes often get the same questions and have to answer more or less the same way, over and over again. But I enjoyed the way this tennis star managed to 'stir up' her press conference a little during the Australian Open 2011: