From Our Archives
YOU PLAY ENGLISH?
Arnar Geir Bertelsen - On Being
a Foreign Actor in England
To me the notion
of being an actor brings out a feeling of uniqueness. Not everybody
is inspired by the thought of being an actor. When I think about it
and look at the people who are and have been actors I see ambitious
and determined people who are not afraid of being different from the
rest of us. Everybody wants to be able to earn money and to spend it
in their own way. For actors, such as me, this however is not enough.
To be an actor is to be an individual who has conquered things and desires
that other people leave alone. I feel that if a person is ready and
willing to work erratic hours, be unemployed at times, sacrificing all
the trappings of a regular job and still feel they are accomplishing
something, they must be and are amazing tribe. This type of work is
not open to everybody like other jobs. It takes a certain kind of person
to endure all the ups and downs that go with it. Acting is for lunatics
The attractions of working abroad for me outweigh the attractions of
staying in Iceland. The options you have are the National Theatre, The
City Theatre, various local and national independent theatre companies
or set up your own company. The pay is not good unless you get into
the two big theatres. Now there are at least two casting agencies in
Reykjavik. There are still no agents of any kind, only word of mouth
can help you or if you know a director personally. This is changing
but still if you know people then you are half way in. Working in England
has its advantages. The employment market is bigger and the pay is higher.
You have agents, casting agents, theatre producers etc. The opportunities
are out there in plenty. The chance of working in such a diversified
field is to good to miss out on. The reward can be beyond your dreams.
The drawback is that there are to many actors fighting for the same
role. That is the trend across the industry wherever you go in the world.
That is what makes the world of entertainment both exciting and difficult.
Language, Agents and Foreign Actors
To be on the books of an agent is a step up for all actors. To get there
is difficult. The agent only has so many actors on his books. For foreign
actors like me it is vital to have an agent, otherwise we are left in
the wilderness without any hope. I have tried to get an agent without
any success. Part of the problem is that I have stated on my CV that
I am Icelandic and used my own name as my stage name. That is not a
good idea if you want to get an agent. The minute agents spot that you
are a foreigner then that is it. The reason for this attitude is that
agents are selling a product. They take between 10-20% for getting you
a part, be it in a play or a film. There are not many parts for foreigners
as foreigners and those parts usually go to English actors who look
the part. Foreign actors who do get parts are typecast as foreigners
and that gets them nowhere. English is the language in any medium and
if you do not have a good to excellent accent, be it RP or a local dialect,
then you do not get anywhere. This is the main problem for foreign actors
wishing to work in England. Therefore I, as a foreign actor, would have
to get the accent right and Anglicise my stage name to be able to get
an interview with an agent.
Once I had finished my Postgraduate course in Acting I set about applying
for parts, advertised in the PCR which is the job bible of the actor.
The parts I have gone up for have been those of either Scandinavians
or Germans. I have done one student film, playing a Swede. Otherwise
it has been a struggle. The one year course is not suitable for foreign
actors. It is too short. In order to get on level with the home-grown
competition the three year course is the only option. That is the time
and effort you need to master perfect RP accent and other English dialects
on the way. The other option is to get lessons from a private voice
coach but that is expensive.
The competition is hard in the acting profession and not everybody can
withstand the pressures it creates. I know of several Icelandic actors
who have given up trying to make it in England. Those with connections
in the Icelandic theatre use them to get in back home. Though the pay
is not special, at least they have a acting job. This I think is down
to determination and opportunities. It is easy when you can call upon
others to do you favours. How far are foreign actors willing to sacrifice
themselves abroad for a dream that may never materialise? I think you
need to be pretty stubborn to stick it out in hope for a miracle. I
do not want to spend the rest of my time applying for foreign roles.
I want something more, a lot more.
It is clear that there is lot to be had from trying it out on both sides
of the Atlantic. Foreign actors are at an disadvantage when they decide
to seek their fortune in England. The competition is hard and foreign
actors have to be able to compete with their English colleagues. Foreign
actors are enticed by the potential of becoming big names abroad. The
reality is that the market is full of potential stars in the making
and they have a head start, their first language is English.
If you read this and need a good actor for a London play or TV Arnar
is your man.