Rob Mallard Interview: On Set For Coronation Street

Rob Mallard is best known for his role as Daniel in Coronation Street which he began in 2016 and continues to play as a regular, much-loved character on the soap. In 2017, Rob was awarded Best Newcomer at The British Soap Awards, and following a harrowing but poignant cancer storyline at the end of last year that centred around Rob and his on-screen wife, Sinead (Katie McGlynn), Coronation Street has received a BAFTA nomination for Virgin Media’s Must-See Moment of the year.

As well as being a phenomenal actor, one of Rob’s most striking qualities is that he is a genuinely lovely person, and it’s easy to see why he’s found great success in his career so far. The world of TV soaps is unique from other experiences of filming for screen and Rob was kind enough to share his insight after four years working on Britain’s longest running soap.

What does a typical week look like when you’re filming for Coronation Street?

We get the scripts two working weeks before we film them and you can be working across many ‘blocks’ of scripts at once, filming episodes from different weeks. Each block has a director and often the actors will move forward and backwards in the storyline several times a day which means moving between directors and the place in story. We don’t have the luxury of always filming in sequence so you’ve got to understand your storyline in order to make sense of where you are each time you go on set. The benefit of this is that you become skilled at switching between extremes of situation/emotion. It keeps you in a state of creativity which I enjoy.

What are the biggest challenges of working on a soap?

A full 9 hour day on one set can make it hard to keep your focus. If you know you’re going to be there for a while you learn how to conserve energy. The temptation to have a laugh in the morning is outweighed by the prospect of being knackered by 4pm. You’ve got to save it.

How do you approach preparing for a scene and learning your lines with such a quick turnaround?

I don’t over-prepare. I read the scripts a lot, work out where the character has just been, what they want and then do it. Line learning is just a skill, you get better at it the more you have to do it.

Could you share some tips or tricks you’ve picked up for working on screen?

Stay still. Think, don’t blink. Know what the shot is. Stand where the camera can see you.

The shots are the remit of the director but it’s important to know if you’re in close up or a wide so you know how big or small your performance can be. I’d ask either the first assistant director or the camera operator.

How has life changed for you now that you’ve become a staple character in a major soap?

Not going to lie, it’s changed a lot. People react towards you depending on what your character is going through on-screen. For instance, when Daniel pushes Ken down the stairs people would near enough hiss at me in the street. Then when Sinead died I was showered with the sympathy of strangers. It’s funny.

Rob Mallard

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I think I’m another decade or so off calling it my career, I’ve only been working for six years! Without a doubt the cancer storyline on Corrie is the work I’m most proud of due to the ‘Goody Effect’. There was an increase in women getting smear tests as a direct result of the storyline we were telling on Coronation Street. Katie McGlynn, my on-screen wife who died from cervical cancer, received lots of messages from women who had managed to catch cancerous cells early because they saw the show and went to get tested. 

And on a personal note, landing the job on Corrie full stop has been a highlight. I love it.

If you could introduce a new family onto the Street made up of characters from any soap, TV series or film, who would you pick?

Hmmm… okay… All of The Nolans in a two up, two down. I’d watch!

#PlanetMonologues – The Actors Planet Monologue Competition

The Actors Planet is a support network for actors and creatives that I set up in 2018 with my partner, actor Katie Burchett. In these challenging times, we have teamed up with some of the top casting directors, directors and industry professionals to create #PlanetMonologues – a monologue competition with great prizes and fabulous judges.

To get involved, follow us on twitter @THEACTORSPLANET

FULL DETAILS & RULES: http://theactorsplanet.co.uk/monologue-competition/

PRIZES

Our prize list includes one-to-ones with top casting directors SHAKYRA DOWLING, PETER HUNT, PEARSON CASTING & NICCI TOPPING as well as an extensive consultation with social media expert JAMIE BODY. We’re also running a ‘Self-Represented Prize’ for actors who are not currently represented by an agent. This includes a one-to-one with an agent from COWLEY, KNOX & GUY and three month membership to DRAMANIC.

To top it off, our wonderful judge MEL CHURCHER has offered to give a one-to-one to ALL of our winners. Mel has worked with Hollywood stars like Angelina Jolie, Daniel Craig, Gerard Butler & Keira Knightley.

JUDGES


Mel Churcher

Mel Churcher

Having been an actor, Mel’s now an international acting and voice coach. She’s been resident voice coach for the RSC & Regents Park Open Air Theatre, runs international workshops, and has coached on over 60 major films & TV series (imdb.me/melchurcher). Her books are: Acting for Film: Truth 24 Times a Second (Virgin Books) & A Screen Acting Workshop + DVD (Nick Hern Books).


Donnacadh O'Briain

Donnacadh O’Briain

Donnacadh O’Briain is an Olivier Award-winning director whose productions have played at The Royal Shakespeare Company, in the West End, and internationally. In 2017 his production of Rotterdam received an Olivier for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre and went on to play at The Arts Theatre (West End) before embarking on a UK tour. His other credits include Always Orange (RSC), PEEP (a unique cross art form pop up theatre show) and the multi-award winning Electrolyte (Wildcard/Edinburgh/UK Tour).


Kate Davies-Speak

Kate Davies-Speak

Kate has been a working actor for 19 years and has worked in theatre throughout Europe. She now focusses mainly on screen work and loves to be involved in and support independent film. She is the founder of Showreel Share Day and is a major driving force behind the online acting community. When not acting, Kate works as a personal trainer and group fitness coach, and occasionally helps out as a casting director.

Laura Neal Interview: From Secret Diary of a Call Girl to Killing Eve

Laura Neal is a British writer whose TV credits include Secret Diary of a Call Girl (Tiger Aspect/ITV2), My Mad Fat Diary (Drama Republic/C4) and Tatau (Touchpaper/BBC). She has also written multiple episodes for Netflix projects including the Idris Elba series Turn Up Charlie and the international hit Sex Education.

Laura has written on the third series of Killing Eve (Sid Gentle/BBC) and has recently been announced as the lead writer and an executive producer for season four.

There are some people whose presence and personality fill the room and leave a lasting impression; Laura Neal is one of those people. I’ve known Laura for many years and it has been no surprise to see her career go from strength to strength. Most artists would testify that making your way in the creative arts industry is no easy task, and that’s as true for writers as it is for actors, directors and every creative in between. When Laura was at an earlier stage of her career, I recall how the all too familiar struggle of being an artist turned her eye to the Met Police. Whilst I have no doubt that she would’ve made a fantastic detective, I’m delighted that her perseverance has paid off and now sees her as an executive producer and the lead writer of BBC’s Killing Eve. I have every faith that her interest in criminal investigation will be satisfied through her work on the show’s MI6 security operative, Eve Polastri!

I was lucky enough to catch up with Laura in between trips to LA.

Could you give us an insight into the process of creating a high-budget TV show in the UK?

If you’re being trusted with a high-budget TV show, chances are you’ll have a few solid credits under your belt already. Even so, there will probably be several months, if not years, of development. You might come up with the idea yourself and pitch it to a production company, or a production company will approach you with an idea or, more often, a piece of IP they’ve optioned. From there, you’ll spend time working together to create characters, storylines and, normally, an episode one outline (or script). At some point in this process, a broadcaster or network will be approached to buy the idea and fund the remaining development. This is a big milestone! Once they’re on board, they can either “green light” the series straight off (rare) or ask for more development (common). Once a green light is granted, the remaining scripts are written (and rewritten!), either by you, the creator, or with the help of a team of writers. Later, directors are brought on board, heads of department are hired, actors are cast and the production begins. For a UK series, the filming process usually takes about three months, followed by a post-production period of a couple of months. The final product might not be on TV screens until two or three years after the idea was conceived!

Could you take us through the journey that brought you to where you are now?

I always liked drama at school, and did both acting and writing (but I was better at writing). I did the Royal Court Young Writers Programme in my teens, followed by various schemes for new writers run by places like the Old Vic and Paines Plough. Around this time, I also went to Bristol University to study drama and carried on writing there, both for university societies and for theatre companies back in London. One of the first full-length plays I wrote had a rehearsed reading in London, which some TV producers were at. Afterwards, they offered to mentor me and, months later, gave me my first TV commission on Secret Diary of a Call Girl. That commission, combined with completing some other more screen-focussed schemes such as Channel 4’s Coming Up, secured me an agent. After I graduated university, I carried on writing (and waitressing!) until I built up enough momentum to write full time. Gradually, my number of professional credits grew and now I work both in the UK and America, on shows such as Sex Education and Killing Eve.

Fiona Shaw as Carolyn Martens, Sandra Oh as Eve Polastri - Killing Eve Season 3
Fiona Shaw as Carolyn Martens, Sandra Oh as Eve Polastri – Killing Eve Season 3 – Photo Credit: Nick Wall/BBC America

How much/often do you get to work with actors? And what does that entail?

Traditionally in the UK, TV writers don’t have a huge amount of interaction with actors. The scripts are generally written in advance of production starting, so conversations with actors are often done by the director or executive producers. If you’re the creator of your own TV show and you hold an executive producer credit, you’ll have much more involvement but for your average jobbing writer on a TV show it’ll be minimal. However, this is beginning to change. British writers are having increasingly greater exposure to the American system, where writers are much more involved in production… and that idea is beginning to take hold here. 

Here’s a hypothetical: I’ve written a TV pilot that I believe has huge potential, what do I do now?

Firstly, make sure it’s in the best shape it can possibly be in. Leave it for a few days. Read it again. Rewrite it. Get other people to read it. Rewrite it. Know what happens after the pilot finishes. What is it about the series that’s unique and different? What journeys will your characters go on? How does the series end? Is there a series two? Three?! When you know the answers to these questions, send your script out! If you have a literary agent already, get them to read it and distribute it. If not, there are several schemes out there designed to give new writers a leg-up into the industry. Kudos, BAFTA, Channel 4 and the BBC all have them. These schemes are often the best way to get an agent. The BBC Writersroom website is also a valuable treasure-trove of advice and opportunity. Don’t give up. If this script doesn’t yield results, write another one. It’ll be better than the last.

What has been one of the highlights of your career so far?

Getting a job as a writer on the third season of Killing Eve and being able to write lines for Fiona Shaw, who I love.

Who and what inspires you?

Early on in my career I was inspired by playwrights like Lucy Prebble, Sarah Kane, Dennis Kelly and Anthony Neilson. Once I started working in TV, I was inspired by the people who mentored me through my first jobs; great executive producers such as Roanna Benn and Jude Liknaitsky and writers such as Tom Bidwell. Great producers make a huge amount of difference to a writer – they can help bring an idea from your brain onto a page, they can advise on structure, characterisation and plot and, most importantly, they’re responsible for actually getting the thing made! When I started watching American TV, I looked up to show runners (writer-producers, who do both the job of a writer and an executive producer) like Vince Gilligan, Jenji Kohan and Liz Flahive. Nowadays, I’m inspired by shows with great female characters, dark humour and unique takes on the world, like Killing Eve and Sex Education. I’m also, like everyone, obsessed with Succession. If I could create and write something like that, I’d die happy.

Finally, if you were assembling a team of superheroes, which TV characters would you put together (no actual superpowers required)?

Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale for her bravery, Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation for her can-do attitude, and Midge Maisel from The Marvellous Mrs Maisel for her GSOH. Oh, and the Hot Priest from Fleabag just… because.

Jodie Comer as Villanelle – Killing Eve Season 3 – Photo Credit: Des Willie/BBC America

Olivier Award-winning Director, Donnacadh O’Briain: “The Drama is Always First for Me”

Donnacadh O’Briain is an Olivier Award-winning director whose productions have played at The Royal Shakespeare Company, in the West End, and internationally. In 2017 his production of Rotterdam received an Olivier for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre and went on to play at The Arts Theatre (West End) before embarking on a UK tour. His other credits include Always Orange (RSC), PEEP (a unique cross art form pop up theatre show) and the multi-award winning Electrolyte (Wildcard / Edinburgh / UK Tour).

I first worked with Donnacadh on Time and the Conways by J.B Priestly at The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in 2012. He was the first director I’d worked with that expressed no desire to block the play. The philosophy (it seemed to me) was that if we immersed ourselves in the landscape of the play and knew every inch of it in vivid detail – both psychologically and somatically – then, with solid stage craft supporting us, the blocking would take care of itself. With no set staging to adhere to, we were free to remain open to our impulses and that meant you couldn’t stop listening, not for a second, because you were never quite certain what might happen next. Whilst we did collabortively establish some structure to our movement and action by opening night, we never lost that sense of freedom and spontaneity. To me, as a young actor, this was liberating.

Another technique which enabled such freedom in rehearsal was a total ban of scripts on stage, right from day one; something which Donnacadh discusses further in this interview some eight years later. Here’s what he had to say:

Could you give us an insight into the creative process behind Rotterdam, your Olivier Award-winning production?

Well, I read a lot of unproduced plays until I found a gem. That was a big part of it – had the play not been so accomplished, very little else would have happened. After that there’s no doubt that finding actors who could bring it to life was equally as important. Once I had those key elements the next phase was about creating an environment that would nurture a deep understanding of the characters, and a relentless commitment to representing them fully and honestly in the work…and finding the laughs! It’s a very funny play, though finding the comedy came later in the process, the drama is always first for me. In terms of getting the company to really make the play sing, I use a series of approaches and exercises that I’ve developed over the years; a mix of things I’ve picked up. One important element is that I use line feeding instead of scripts so that whenever actors are on their feet, their bodies and eyes are free to connect and be present, rather than have the distraction of the script which can shut down both intimacy and one half of the body. The simplest way of putting it is that I try to embed the possibility that anyone can do anything at any time, through a combination of improvisational elements and a disinclination to work towards staging in the first couple of weeks. I want to get a company working together with real immediacy, understanding and playfulness, and once they’re there, directing the play is easy.

Are there any particular qualities that you look for when auditioning actors, irrespective of the role?

I suppose any director wants to get a feel that someone will bring a positive, open and creative energy to rehearsals, both because you need that yourself and because the other actors need it. How you judge that is hard to express in words. Also, I look for someone who is bringing empathy for their character, who is finding a connection.

Many proactive actors like to contact directors. Would you generally encourage actors to reach out to you or is it better to go through casting directors for specific productions?

I don’t have any objection to being contacted directly. I try to respond when actors do. It certainly increases the chances of being noticed but inevitably you can only meet a small number of actors for any role.

When you’re casting a play, do you have any audition room bugbears that actors do?

It’s frustrating when someone is underprepared, it can feel like they’ve not given themselves a fair chance or me the opportunity to really know whether they’re right or not. The more prepared you are the more of yourself you can show and the more you can connect to the material. If someone’s borderline suitable but they’ve put in the work, learned the text etc, then they give themselves a better shot at getting a call back. I know how time consuming learning the text can be, but I do think it gives you an advantage.

Always Orange (RSC, 2016)
Always Orange (RSC, 2016) Photo by Richard Lacos

What has been your favourite production to direct and why?

Impossible to say really. In recent times, I really enjoyed directing Always Orange for the RSC. I really felt that I was able to work exactly the way I wanted to. And also Philistines for RADA, due to the challenge of directing such a huge play – made all the more huge as I added a whole off-stage abstract movement element. Day after day we worked on character through table work and improvisation and pushed ourselves in the scene work to go emotionally and intellectually to the places the characters go. I was able to keep testing my aesthetic and pushing at the boundaries of the style to see how far it could go. We were playing with naturalism, expressionism and metatheatricallity with a bit of music-hall and melodrama thrown in; it’s a mad play and I wanted us to be able to serve all its contradictions. It was relentless, but the level of ambition and determination in the room was incredibly exciting.

What’s next for you?

Next up I’m directing a new play I’m co-writing about border control for Ice & Fire, then opening Electrolyte in London and New York before sending it off on an international tour. I’m also making a new show, Arms Flung Wide, about helping, with Bella Heesom and our company All About You, and directing a one person show for Edinburgh called A Story of Destiny. And spending as much time as possible with my kids – 3, 0.5 & 0.5 (ages not names).

What do you mean when you say that Arms Flung Wide is about helping?

Well, it’s in part a biographical piece about a woman with MS who progressively needs more help as her illness develops. Her daughter, amongst others, helps to manage many of her most basic human needs. More broadly it will be about the fact that we as individuals need help – or to use a more politicised word, co-operation – to do anything. In part, we may dramatise that idea by the audience needing to help Bella in order to actually complete the show itself.

Finally, just for fun, could you describe the secret to acting in a cryptic, abstract metaphor?

Drop your shopping, take off your coat and show us your secret dance.


0/7/02/2020 Weekly Acting Workout With Donnacadh O’Briain: Donnacadh is running laboratory-style rehearsal days over the next seven weeks. A chance to stretch the muscles for the new year, geared towards anyone in a period of auditions but missing the rehearsal room. The days are a drop-in style so you can attend as many or as few as you like.

https://www.wildcardtheatre.co.uk/artist-development/workshops/