You held down a job working for a surveyors in Nottingham while establishing yourself as an actor. How did you combine a “real” job with acting?
I worked in an office called Direct Valuations in Nottingham; I was there for eight years. They were brilliant – they let me go to auditions and I shot This Is England while still working there. I remember shooting a film with Madonna, and we did this global promotional tour in Madonna’s private jet. So I landed in London in Madonna’s private jet and the next day I was back in the office in Nottingham. And I loved that lifestyle.
What did it teach you?
This business is brilliant but very bonkers. And, as any actor will tell you, if you haven’t got to a place where you can depend on your career as a performer, then you need a job. You can’t just live off fresh air. I’ve had a job since I was 16, and I enjoy going to work and earning my own money. I come from a very hard-working family that gets up early even when you can have a lie-in. So it’s in my blood. Everyone in my family has normal, very secure, very respectable jobs. My Dad’s a joiner, for example. So it keeps me grounded and focused on what I’m trying to achieve – which is work and not fame.
When did you decide to go full-time with acting? Was that anxiety-provoking?
I left just before we filmed This Is England ’86, which was five years ago. Shane Meadows told me he wanted my story to be the forefront of the show, so I decided it was my biggest opportunity to date and it would be impossible to hold down my job as well. So I said to my boss: “Here’s my notice, but should it all go tits up I’ll give you a ring.” I haven’t made that call. I’ve got good friends in the industry now and I hope I don’t ever have to get a job that isn’t acting because it’s something I’ve worked for. But I wouldn’t change anything.
You must get sent a lot of scripts. How do you decide which to do?
I get sent a lot of scripts and sometimes you can’t even get through them because you’re not enjoying it. But I connected with Svengali very quickly. I didn’t [just] want to tick off the comedy box because I’m associated with darker parts, but at the same time I felt like I was dying for something like this to come around. It’s a rock ‘n’ roll comedy about keeping the people you love close-by, and it’s surrounded by incredible music. It’s got a really clear message.
If you could say something to the Vicky McClure who had just been cast in This Is England as an 18-year-old, what would it be?
Don’t let the bastards grind you down… I have the best people around me, and I need them for when I don’t get a part or things are hard. There’s a tougher side to the industry. It may look glamorous but often it’s not, and it’s easy to get too wrapped up in it. There’s life outside of the job; you need to embrace that.
What’s your advice to an actor just starting out?
There’s no set way to succeed in this industry, so be yourself: there’s nothing more interesting than someone who knows who they are. You could be picked off the street and get nominated for an Oscar. I remember going to auditions and trying to speak a bit better, but I realise now that was a silly thing to do. They’re not getting the real you, and that’s ultimately what your audience is going to respond to.
Svengali is released in cinemas on 21 March
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