As BAFTA winning drama Misfits kicks off a second series on E4, Benjamin Potter meets lead actress Antonia Thomas to talk about her blossoming career.
Rising star Antonia Thomas has never taken her eyes off the prize. Having trained with the National Youth Theatre and National Youth Music Theatre as a teenager, she soon gained deserved recognition and enrolled at Bristol Old Vic as one of the lucky twenty that year. Fresh from filming the second series of BAFTA Award winning drama Misfits, Antonia talks to Fourthwall about her last minute change from a career in visual art to theatre, and about getting her first job the day after leaving drama school.
FW: The character you play in Misfits (Alisha) can be bossy and rude. Are there any points where you found it hard to relate to your on screen persona?
AT: Yes. I mean there have been a couple of moments when she has done something really outrageous and I’m like; ‘why would you ever do that?’ I think that there are always challenges when I’m playing Alisha, but that’s what makes it fun. It’s about discovering a character that is so different to yourself and having to do research and the work to find that person and to find them in a truthful way. It’s important not to do a caricature of the person or try and compare them to someone you know, who might be like them.
FW: On a typical days filming, at what point do you become your character?
AT: At the beginning of the day you go in to work and you go straight to Hair and Make-up and you start thinking about your character then. I’m not a Method actor so I don’t sit in my character all day. That’s quite exhausting and not really the way I work. For me, it’s the costume- that’s the final thing and then I become Alisha.
FW: Let’s talk training. Where did you train?
AT: I trained at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, which was brilliant. I did the 3 Year BA Acting course and absolutely loved it.
FW: Where else did you apply and why did you choose Bristol Old Vic?
AT: I applied quite late because I was at art school doing a course at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design in Fine Art. I had got a place at Chelsea College of Art after my foundation to do Fine Art Painting, which I very nearly took. It’s funny because my foundation was in the same building as the Drama Centre and I spent all my time wanting to know what they were doing. And I realised that painting was great but the solitary life of the artist wasn’t for me and I missed the theatre. I applied really late to RADA, LAMDA and Bristol and in the end Bristol was the one I got into. With Bristol I was very worried about being outside of London because I had lived here all my life and everyone says it’s important to be in London. But it turned out to be the best thing I could have done. I really needed to get out of town and be away from it. I didn’t want to get caught up in the hubbub of ‘who’s doing what?’ with your other competitors at other drama schools.
FW: Did you find your course at Bristol Old Vic covered enough screen acting to prepare you for Misfits?
AT: Not really. I’d say I think it’s the same with a lot of drama schools but I think they may be changing the curriculum. We did a week of screen training and every now and then we had the odd screen lesson. The lessons would give you a chance at operating the boom and the camera and you’d practice doing a monologue to camera. We also had a week long television project where we got to make a short film. The course is mainly classical theatre training and I came out confident in theatre. So I totally expected that theatre would be what I did first, to feel my way into the industry, then maybe get a television job along the line.
FW: You were part of National Youth Theatre. How did that experience prepare you for your acting career?
AT: Training with NYT was absolutely integral to my development as an actor. I started my training at 14 when I joined the National Youth Music Theatre (NYMT) which is the more musical theatre side. They’re not the same company but they have the same sort of reputation. We took a musical called Pendragon to Japan, which was incredible. I was terrified because I was 14 and had never been away from home for that long. I did NYMT for a while and did a lot of singing and thought I wanted to go in to musical theatre, influenced by my sister Emma who is a musical theatre actress. I stopped at about 16 and did my GCSE’s and A-Levels. I got embroiled in academia then realised something was missing, so I joined the NYT. Then I got in to drama school and in the holidays I was doing plays with NYT and then going back to drama school to study. I worked at some great places. I got to do a three-hander play at the Manchester Lowry. As well as a couple of plays at the Soho Theatre and all the industry people came; casting directors, agents, producers.
FW: Do you have any tips for the drama school graduate?
AT: One thing I’d say, from what I have experienced so far, is that everyone has a different experience of the industry. You can’t compare yourself to your mates that you’re at drama school with. You have to be blinkered in that way and think, ‘this is what I’m doing and this is what they’re doing’. Another thing to remember is to keep yourself busy, particularly in the unemployed time. It’s a big wake-up call when you have spent your whole life institutionalised and then come out of training with no one to tell you what to do anymore. I had a break between jobs and you lack the structure. For weeks I was going, ‘what shall I do…I’ll just sit in the flat, watch a bit of television, walk down the street a bit’ and I kind of got really bored and then you have to start putting things in your day like going to the gym twice a week and being proactive; writing letters to casting directors and looking for work.
FW: What’s next for you?
AT: Well, Misfits Series 2 is on air now and so this is quite a scary time in my life. Series 3 has been commissioned and we’re all kind of in the process of deciding what to do and whether we should come back. None of us have yet come to a decision. It’s quite difficult so early on to make a decision for next year and to know what you’re doing. It’s stressful but also a lovely position to be in. Everyone is excited about Series Two and we hope, and think it’s better. Howard Overman, the writer, has excelled himself. The storylines are fantastic and the producers have said it’s looking great. The first series won a BAFTA for Best Drama Series and we totally didn’t expect it. We got nominated along with Spooks, The Street and Being Human. They are all, like, great drama series. We went along feeling really lucky to have been invited and then we won! We were gobsmacked. We thought that The Street had been tipped to win. The team that work on Misfits are fantastic. So it’s difficult to know whether to leave it at two or go on to three.