The Actor’s Questionnaire: Edwin Flay

January 30, 2014 | Filed Under Uncategorized 

So here’s a thing: every week, I’m going to be sticking up answers to a questionnaire I wrote from a different actor whose career is at about the same stage as my own. Hopefully, they’ll give an illuminating sense of what it’s like to be an actor in the trenches. If you would like to take part in the questionnaire, drop me a line and I’ll send it to you. And to show how painless it is, I’m going first:


Name: Edwin Flay
Location: London
Playing age: 30-45
Type: Intellectuals, professionals – journalists, scientists, politicians, etc. Also period stuff.

Why did you become an actor?
I’ve wanted to act since I was first on-stage at the age of 5: I remember being in a production of The Pirates Of Penzance with the (then) Oxford Operatic Youth Theatre at the age of 17 and realising I never felt as alive as I did on-stage.
Acting is the chance to tell stories; to delight, to entertain, to thrill. It is communication set free: acting means becoming part of the narrative, rather than simply relating it. Acting allows you to explore grandiose subjects like grief, and death, and adversity, in safety. It is the opportunity to lead a completely different life for the length of the story.

How long have you been acting professionally?
3.5 years.

Do you prefer stage/screen/spoken word?
I’ve been working towards screen since I started, with only occasional plays. I want to do more theatre this year, though.

Is acting your sole form of income/creative expression?
I work freelance at BBC Parliament, and I also write screenplays. I’ve tried writing prose and play scripts, but it just doesn’t seem to work as well for me. I’d like to have another crack at writing a play this year, though.

What role/project are you proudest of to date?
I played a wartime French engineer called Jacques Stosskopf in a drama-documentary last year, and the role was entirely in French. I wasn’t as fast as I would have liked to be, but having not spoken the language in about 15 years, I was proud of my performance.

What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do on-stage/set?
I faked rubbing myself to orgasm with a thigh-high patent leather boot while covered in high heels on stage in a one-man show last year. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel as awkward as I expected!

How do you find roles?
Most of my paid auditions come through my agent. Other than that, I apply on Casting Call Pro, poke through Star Now/Talent Circle/ for the (vanishingly few) paid opportunities that crop up. I am trying to network more this year – I like to try and point friends at opportunities that I see that I know they’ll be right for, and hope that they’ll do the same for me.

How do you approach a role?
Research, research, research. I’m very intellectually driven. I like to know and understand the circumstances in which a character operated, everything from social mores to big current affairs events of the day.
I played a Pathe News Reporter on Grace of Monaco, which is coming out later this year; a tiny, tiny role, but for the audition, I spent the week before going through Pathe news archives, looking up all the Grace Kelly/Rainier of Monaco stories I could find, to see how they were presented, to pick up quirks of pronunciation, and so on. Know your character inside out, and you’ll behave authentically.

What is the most you’ve ever invested financially in an aspect of your career?
Aside from the cost of three years studying? I just paid £3,800 on getting my horrible teeth fixed. I’ve hated them all my life, and it was pointed out to me that I never smile in headshots – they’re why! So I paid for braces, as much to give me more confidence and free my face muscles up as anything else.

What would be the single biggest piece of advice you would give to any actor?
“Do not confuse the imperviousness of the marketplace for the possibility that you’re not doing enough.”
There’s a stage with a screenplay, when you’ve stopped changing it, but it’s still not selling. So you start to tinker. And you change a scene here, an individual line there; you add a scene, because maybe it’ll make it funny, or thrilling. And suddenly you’re left with an unwieldy, nonsensical mess.
An acting career can be like that: you get your headshots, your showreel, your website, your business cards; you get an agent, you start making contacts, you apply for everything you find. And still nothing happens. This is not because you’re not doing enough: it’s because the marketplace is overstuffed, there are not enough roles to go around (certainly not good, exciting, or high-profile ones), and you’re still establishing yourself. There’s no point spending money on new headshots, getting showreels filmed, etc, because all you’re doing at that stage is tinkering. Get your brand sorted out, stick with it, and have patience.

How do you cope with quiet times/self-doubt?
Very badly, sometimes! I get the black dog something awful. To combat it, I write shorts and feature-length screenplays; I occasionally go to casting director workshops; I learn a new skill, like stage combat, or archery. I keep busy, to try and stop brooding.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hopefully, earning enough by acting to do nothing else. Whether that’s through voice-over, screen work or whatever, I don’t mind. I want to act, that’s all.

What is your greatest ambition?
To have a solid character actor’s career, like John Hawkes or Stephen Root; to be modestly well-known, and to have enough paid work offered me to be able to pick and choose my roles.

Wild card! Give us an opinion on ANYTHING that you love or hate about the job.
I love the sound of film running through a camera. I’ve only done two projects on film, but it’s hypnotic: it takes you instantly into the moment, instils an immediate hush on an entire set, and maintains it for the length of the shot. It is literally entrancing.

Do you have anything coming up?
Nothing concrete; I’m waiting to hear back from a few auditions. There’s the possibility of some voice-over work next month; and I’m doing pre-production on a short film I wrote that’ll hopefully be made, called Flat Of The Blade.


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