Meet The Industry: Actor, Lydia West (It’s a Sin)
Arriving with a bang at the beginning of the year, it’s safe to say Channel 4’s It’s a Sin has been quite the hit. Russel T Davies’s critically acclaimed drama follows a group of friends in 1980s London, growing up in the shadow of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The drama was praised across the board for its powerful storytelling, incredible cast and bringing LGBTQ+ history to a mainstream audience. Word clearly travels fast, as the show amassed an average of 2.3 million viewers per episode, and has since become All4’s biggest instant boxset ever.
Jill Nalder, who lost three friends to Aids during that time, inspired one of the central characters in the show, portrayed brilliantly by one of show’s diverse cast of rising talent, British actress Lydia West. We were pleased to welcome Lydia to the School for a Virtual Masterclass, discussing her experiences to date working in the screen industry.
Here’s what Lydia had to tell us about her portrayal of Jill Baxter, auditioning and her top tips for dealing with competition…
IT’S A SIN
The response to It’s A Sin has been overwhelming; it almost feels like a public service which, as an actor, you never normally expect to feel or relate to. You choose to entertain but you don’t expect to entertain and educate, so when you can do both and positively, it feels really special. I knew immediately from reading the script and in particular the first two episodes it was going to be special, and the fact that Russel T Davies was the creator also stood out to me. I went to the audition and thought “even if I don’t get the part, I cannot wait to watch this show.” It just had such a great impact on me!
The moment Russell told me that my character was based on a real person I felt the responsibility of doing a successful job increased. I was honoured but I also approached the role slightly more sensitively. I had to remember to not mimic her traits or actions and bring my own approach to the role. Russell gave me completely free reign throughout to portray the role how I see fit, with added elements inputted by Jill on set.
I strongly believe there are parts for me and there are other parts which are not for me. It doesn’t stop me going for roles, but I know deep down I’m not going to get them as they just aren’t my personality and I always try and bring myself to each role. I only know how to be myself. When you get 48 hours to rehearse before auditions, I don’t have the headspace to do all the character research, bio and backstory. I choose to learn the lines so I know them as well as I can, throw the pages away and try to bring it to life myself e.g., put myself in the situation, figuring out the intention of the scene or intention of the character. It’s about delivering something authentic, not what you think directors want to see.
There came a turning point where I spent a couple of years auditioning; pretending to be something or someone I wasn’t because I thought that was what directors and producers were looking for. I decided to throw that all away and enter an audition with an open mind.
Top Tips for Auditioning!
1. I use an app called Scriptation to learn my lines. I then delete or rip up the script and delete my self-tape; as at this point, I’ve done all I can, so I don’t want to overthink it.
2. Try and not get too attached to auditions and parts. You can only bring yourself to the role and often there is so much out of your control, so don’t take it personally.
3. Nerves will never leave you as an actor, they are innate in us! Just know that everyone is feeling as nervous as you, regardless of how long they have been in the industry!
DEALING WITH COMPETITION
We’re all just normal people. I think it is so important to maintain relationships with other actors and support one another. You’re not in competition with any other actor; yes, there may be people who look like you or have similar characteristics that will go for the same role as you, but people need to remember that what you bring to acting is so much more than your physical appearance. It’s your spirit, it’s your heart and it’s who you are as a person.
THE ACTOR DIRECTOR RELATIONSHIP
Director, Jim Strouse who I worked with recently has a great approach of ‘What do you want from me as a Director, and I’ll tell you want I want from you as an Actor’, I didn’t know how to answer at first but when on set I like to know I’m on the right track and am doing the scene justice. I respond really well to clear communication. My top tip for actors is to go onto set everyday with an open mind. Don’t be too set in your ways and be open to direction.
STAYING CALM ON A BUSY SET
You have to have great stamina. You are working 16–17-hour days, getting home late and having to learn your lines for the next day. If there are certain stressful moments on set like time running out on location, I always try to keep the situation quite light-hearted and almost try bringing humour to the situation. For me this makes it less stressful when the time comes for me to do my take on camera.
HANDLING EMOTION & SWITCHING OFF
I try and remove myself and I don’t watch my performance or play back rushes etc. You know you have to prepare for the next day, so you almost don’t have time to over analyse or think about the heaviness and emotion of it all. Lastly, trust your director; if they are happy you will know it. They’ll either vocalise this, or you know as they are moving onto the next scene!