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"Failure is your friend" - An Interview with Tom Wilson

This conversation represented a slight change to the first few that I’ve done in that Tom is a working actor. He has been through drama school and come out the otherside into the professional world of acting. We spend some time discussing his trajectory to his current position, touching on a number of interesting topics along the way. I continued my search for some validation of drama school as a tool for shaping and developing actors today, while Tom dove into his thoughts on what else actors need to consider in order to refine their talents.

We talk about raw talent vs technical training and the importance of life experience. Tom believes the training he received helped hone his skills and made him a more effective actor, but is well aware that having a path to your inner experiences is an amazing skill to have at your disposal. He is also aware that it is much easier to refine rawness than create it from nothing.

In order to do it he laid out a number of things (outside of purely gaining some lived experience to draw on) that amateur actors should be considering with every role that they take on.

These included:

  • Actors should seek to “be the part”, not just play it. Make every effort to fully understand your character's motives and then be in the moment whenever possible. Stop thinking about your character's next move or interaction and allow the scenes to envelop you as you respond to the action (Tom mentions Uta Hagen as a good practitioner to consider here).

  • You should stop copying - be inspired but don’t impersonate. An impersonation is a very different thing from a performance.

  • Access pools of emotion - Actors have to be interested in people, starting with themselves. Actors need to create a pool of emotions that they can channel when needed. They need to constantly be monitoring that pool of emotions and making sure they can channel it into their performances. Use the scene to guide you in what your body's responses will be. Be aware of your personal emotional responses. Notice your body's physical responses (hands, face, body, breath) when you get emotional and store those manifestations for later. You’re learning to “be natural in an unnatural environment”.

  • Be vulnerable - In order to discover new ideas and approaches you have to be open to them. Being vulnerable means you are letting down barriers in an attempt to uncover a new part of yourself. The fact that you are being asked to do this in front of others and in a way that will surely result in some failure makes it extremely difficult, but a must.

  • Fail lots because failure is your friend. You learn so much from what you did wrong and will become better as a result. If you don’t try anything new your performances will soon become stale and repetitive.

  • Be bold, be brave - This idea stems from being vulnerable and failing. However, it also encompasses decision making on the part of the actor. Being bold with your ideas and their execution will bring you to new ground much quicker.

  • Try not to overthink it. Analysis is great but it can also be stifling or even act as an excuse not to execute. Do the work but don’t allow the theoretical to suppress the practical. It’s true you can answer questions that arise through studying other people and their findings, but to get up and discover your own feelings by testing them out, is much more powerful.

  • Access your inner child - This idea is linked to Tom’s thoughts on how we are conditioned to dispense with our childlike behaviours. He believes actors need to keep as clear an access to childish instincts and emotions as these offer the perfect mindset and oblivious nature needed for an actor to do good work.

  • Don’t give a shit (I’ll just leave this one here for you to decipher)

The eternal bliss of an actor is the synergy between technical understanding and raw intuition and this is where Tom believes drama school comes into play.

Drama School

Although Tom readily accepts that there are some issues with drama schools he does still have faith in their ability to train the next crop of professional actors. We discussed the stats on actors working professionally (below is one of many articles that discuss the meme figures) and how it was possible that entry is still so competitive.

Tom feels that drama schools need to invite actors that are struggling, not just those that have made it, back in to discuss the reality of the business. They need to give their students a clearer picture of the professional world. He disliked how they instead focus on the “buzz” that students feel about getting in and stoke this throughout the first year. This in turn stokes competition to be the best in your year, which can actually stifle your work and learning.


Discussing auditions Tom advised that amateurs be prepared to be flexible once in the audition room, but also make sure you’ve done your prep work. This preparation included first reading the play so you understand the context and then beginning to try to find the truth of the character you wish to portray.

More specifically, Tom says you should make clear character decisions. Think about what is going through the characters mind and channel their emotion (Tom mentioned using Meisener techniques). Think about your movement and the use of silence, as it's a powerful tool that actors are often scared to incorporate into auditions.

On Stage

When on stage Tom likes to keep a clear focus that feeds from his work in rehearsal. He is always looking to “play the moment” and react to new information as it comes. You should have discovered the overriding objectives during rehearsals and now be reacting/responding to “new” information that the scenes present you. He went further by saying that if you are the one presenting this “new” information, you need to think about what the impact will be and how your relationship to the person will change or affect how it’s delivered.

Uta Hagen -

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