I met Jonathan, over a year ago when I took his headshots. My location wasn't great back then and I'm surprised he didn't turn and run when I took him down by the canals! Then the lovely Mr Taylor edited sections of my first novel for me, which was very much appreciated as....well I am not the best at English but for some reason thought it would be a good idea to write a book....
Anyway, Jonathan is a supporting artist and I asked him to share his knowledge:
What made you want to become a Supporting Artiste?
I've been a Supporting Artiste now for 9 years - an old school friend of mine, who had done it for a couple of years in London, suggested the idea after I had decided to go 'part-time' with teaching and so needed another interest. My first ever booking was as a villager in a short scene in "The Woman In Black" movie - I even made the final edit...! But, despite having to turn up in the middle of nowhere on a pitch black morning in November, then freezing myself to the bone all day, I was absolutely hooked. I am a big movie fan so to see the commitment to detail and the level of complexity of camera angles, lighting and 'atmos' that goes in to making even this short scene was remarkable.
What has been your greatest accomplishment as a Supporting Artiste?
There are literally 10s of thousands of people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds doing this work. TV dramas might use upwards of 300 or 400 Supporting Artistes during their production run, so the chance of you being selected for any given production is understandably slim. However, when a 2nd AD says to you "I asked for you specifically, because I know you can get the job done right..." it makes all the countless rejections and disappointments worth while. In that moment, you know you have, quite literally, "stood out from the crowd" and made a positive, professional impression.
Tell me what you are working on now.
Ha Ha... Actually, we all sign the obligatory 'Non-Disclosure Agreements', so I can't...! Besides, unless you are one of the very lucky ones, who get chosen for a specific, continuity role filming over a long production run, then every day of every week could be something completely different - a 1930s period drama one day, followed by a futuristic, utopian movie the next, then on a national 'soap'. If you are fortunate enough to be working day-in, day-out, it certainly is not boring, that's for sure...!
Who is your favourite actor, and why?
WOW... That really is a tough question...! Thinking about it, though, I do admire actors who challenge themselves with a wide range of roles, rather than just sticking to a 'safe-bet' character. So, someone like Jake Gyllenhaal sparks my interest - he really pushes his character roles, sometimes to real extremes, which is always very exciting to watch. And, of course, Meryl Streep who is simply amazing, flitting effortlessly from tear-jerking dramas, to comedy, to musicals, to political icons. What's not to love about her...?
What role / production has been your favourite?
The excitement of being a Supporting Artiste is that you do get to work on almost countless, different productions, so finding a favourite is quite a challenge. However, I'm going to be cheeky and suggest 3, but,all for different reasons... First, in the 2017 TV drama "Paranoid", I was playing a uniformed Police officer throughout the 6 month production run, so the sense of 'family' among the small group of regular Supporting Artistes on that was just lovely. My second choice was being part of a crowd of Supporting Artistes filming the iconic Winston Churchill political speeches for "Darkest Hour". The Director, Joe Wright, orchestrated an on set, group sing-a-long to "Hey Jude" - to hear around 500 voices at full tilt was simply spine-tingling. And, finally, my third choice was playing Hitler on the 2018 Bollywood movie "Gold". It was a day's shoot at Doncaster Racecourse - with me surrounded by around 200 other Supporting Artistes. But, it really gave me an insight as to what being a main cast member on a production would feel like.
When you suffer a setback, or you don’t receive the part you want, how does that emotionally affect you and what do you do to get over it?
With just so many other Supporting Artistes out there, being rejected by productions is a daily occurrence. Yes... you do have to have tough skin. But, I've got used to using the 'down-time' days to clean the house... do the washing... iron... make the meals... You get the picture... My wife loves my days off... ha ha...!
How do you prepare yourself for a shoot day?
Sometimes, you only find out you have been selected for a shoot the night before - so it pays to be well prepared, just in case. Packing thermals, snacks and drinks is a 'given'. And taking something to occupy you during those, often, long hours in the Green Room is sensible - I take crosswords and regularly end up 'hosting' a group crossword-solving session with my fellow Supporting Artistes. Also, using Google Maps to plan out a driving route to location is always a good idea, rather than just rely on your Sat Nav - you don't want to end up driving in to a river, now, do you...! Finally, since most are VERY early morning starts, getting a good night's sleep is essential.
How do you keep your spirits up when you haven’t had an booking in a while?
As said before, I'm a big movie fan, so my wife and I often take time out to go to our local cinema - although I often find myself looking 'behind' the main action on screen to see which Supporting Artistes I recognise...!
What websites would you recommend for other Supporting Artistes to use? What have you found to be helpful?
There are dozens of Facebook groups which are really helpful, especially to those who are new to this line of work. If I had to single out only one, then a really good, general information group would be Heavy Pencil. Using the group page Search function in the left-hand column is an easy way to find the many answers / opinions to the many questions people may have.
What honest advice would you give to other Supporting Artistes?
"Know your worth": don't be tempted to do an 'unpaid' opportunity hoping for '15 minutes of fame' or for the promise of 'showreel footage' - the more people do unpaid work, the more unpaid work is offered and that simply lowers the earnings opportunities for everyone else. Plus, sadly, in my experience, getting any usable footage out of a such low pay / no pay production companies after a shoot is near impossible.
Get good quality, professional photos done of yourself - because production companies are usually selecting you based purely on your 'look', then it pays to present yourself in the best possible way.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Being a Supporting Artiste can be an exciting, ever-changing line of work - you will never get rich doing it, but enjoy each day as it comes, make friends and be open to new experiences.