Aimee Kelly, Geordie-born actress set to appear in upcoming UK blockbuster The Personal History of David Copperfield, sat down with me to talk about the emotional roller-coaster of acting life, the pressures of being in the public eye and her exciting directorial debut!
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF GROWING UP AND HOW YOU GOT INTO ACTING?
I was born into a single parent family of non-actors. We moved around quite a lot I remember, but always in Newcastle upon Tyne. My twin sister Katie said I knew I was going to do acting when I was a kid, and she’s right, I did know. I did everything you can imagine, performances for mum and sisters, home videos, singing and dancing; I was a very odd child in school because everyone was getting into makeup and boys while I was forcing my friends into doing Avenue Q at lunch.
Mum put us into a dance class that for me turned into acting and dance all in one every Saturday, but I was always a massive bookworm and film buff too. Every Friday we went to the video shop to get the 50p rentals you could keep for the weekend, so I could rewind the bits I liked and mimic the characters.
When I was 16 and we were getting our A Level results, that’s when I began to think to myself that I just wasn’t meant to stay in Newcastle and have a normal education. I auditioned for Tring – an Arts educational boarding school, which was primarily a dance school. I auditioned for the drama course with a monologue, but they also tested me on my dance and singing skills and offered me a full scholarship on the musical theatre course! Not what I set out for, but I gave it my all and I was super excited. However, in my second year I realised I wanted to move to the acting course.
Around that time, I went to an open audition for Skins with my friend who asked me to accompany him for support – I didn’t go there looking to audition myself. Those types of auditions are a cattle call – they sort of take one look and say, “you two stay, the rest of you go”, it’s cut-throat. Since I had gone to the effort to come along, I ended up auditioning too, and I got through, but my friend didn’t. I was invited back to London for more auditions, and then they were flying me to Bristol! I got down to the final two, but then I got the phone call saying I didn’t get the part.
I was devastated, I was still only 16 at the time and as you can imagine by that point I kind of had my heart set on it! But about a month later my mum got a phone call from the Casting Director saying there was a movie shooting in London that she wanted me to audition for – the character was meant to be from London, but I got the part and so they re-wrote it as a Geordie. That movie was Sket. The film has great nominations and through it I was nominated at the BFI awards for Best British Newcomer. From there I got my agent and it’s been a journey ever since.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE EBBS AND FLOWS OF WORKING AS AN ACTOR AND HOW YOU COPE WITH THE DOWN TIME?
Acting is literally one of the loneliest careers. Even when you do get the job, if you’re an actor working back to back roles, the first day on set is like the first day of school – you don’t know anyone and then by the time you make friends you have to wrap and say goodbye! A friend of mine who I worked with recently gave me some good advice, he said “the downtime is just as important as work because you have to prepare yourself to be ready for the next role”, so that’s how I’ve tried to look at it.
It can really affect you though, in terms of anxiety and feeling low. I’m a chronic worrier, so if something’s not in line at home it’s the end of the world and little things set me off. It is hard having to be your own mentor, personal trainer, teacher, boss and so on, because you have to find the motivation to keep going from within, there’s no teammates or managers to tell you to get your act together. That being said, even if I’m having a big period of down time I’ll always be auditioning, so I’ll start my week with making sure all the chores are done and the dog is sorted, that way if I get an email with a script at any moment I can sit down and read it and focus.
I have to make a routine for myself. I work out a lot, I go to yoga class, I go to dance class and acting class, the dog is amazing because he takes my focus away from wallowing around the house.
I heard in a movie once that, “a bad day on set is better than any day in real life”, and I do agree with that. As long as you focus on self-care in the down time, you’ll be ok, and when you finally get back on set it’s like you never left.
DO YOU FEEL THE PRESSURE TO KEEP WORKING ON YOUR APPEARANCE TO MAINTAIN THAT “HOLLYWOOD” LOOK?
Absolutely. I can’t blame anyone for having opinions about me because at the end of the day I have the control to shut my Instagram down, but at the same time I have to make a living and it’s part of the job to maintain a sort of personal brand.
There’s pressure to update, to post, to make sure the content you post is right – especially if you’re getting paid to do it – to take care of your skin, your teeth, your hair and your body, and sometimes I just don’t feel like it! Sometimes it brings you down but then you have to remember that it’s your job and you chose this.
I’m feeling more self-conscious about my appearance as I’m getting older. Maybe I had the horse blinders on when I was younger, but now I’m more aware of it, it does make me anxious. But you’re always going to get good and bad reviews about the way you look, just as much as you’ll get mixed reviews about your performance, so you’ve just got to focus on you and embrace it.
DO YOU THINK THE AMERICAN FILM AND TELEVISION SCENE EXPERIENCES THOSE PRESSURES MORE THAN IN THE UK?
No, I don’t. I think it’s a global thing – what you find in their industry, you’re going to find in this one. Sadly, those are the things we deal with day to day. You look at Renee Zellweger for example, she’s gone through a lot of transformations – they called her fat when she was in Bridget Jones, they said she was too thin in Chicago – and now she’s had plastic surgery on her face and they want to comment about that. Well, I deal with what she’s dealing with, but just on a lesser scale. I just think everyone needs to do their own thing and try not to pay any mind to the media, but it’s easier said than done. What’s weird is that I don’t get nervous on stage or on screen when I’m acting in front of other people because I’m not being me, but the moment it’s about me as myself, I’m on edge. I started this to play other people, not to play myself!
TELL US ABOUT YOUR LATEST FILM – THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD?
Yeah! So, the latest movie I’ve been working on, and we’ve just gone to TIFF with it, is The Personal History of David Copperfield, directed by Armando Iannucci. It is a modern take on a dickens classic starring Dev Patel, Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton, Gwendoline Christie – a hefty line-up! That premiered at the BFI London Film Festival on October 2nd. It was great – a period piece, lots of wigs, I wore two types of corset, one is regency which flattens everything and makes me a child, and when my character grows up, I’ve got an Italian corset which gave me a really nice shape. It will be released in cinemas in January 2020, so go and see it!
VERY EXCITING! CAN YOU ALSO TELL US ABOUT YOUR DIRECTORIAL DEBUT?
I’ve written a mocumentary called Cry On Demand (working title) – I can cry on demand, worryingly. Anyway, it’s a mocumentary following a bunch of unemployed actors or “rested performers” at their day job, which is in a call centre called Lights, Camera, Transaction! It’s a patronising, grim place to work, depressing and gaudy, and we follow the characters quite closely. I’ve just shot the pilot and it’s knocked about 5 years off my life expectancy worrying about it, I’m going grey. I went to see a talk at the BFI with Asif Kapadia, and he said, “filmmaking is like firefighting”, and I totally know what he means now that I’m doing it. Constant issues, but we’re being positive, and I’ve got a superb cast; everyone’s an expert and they’re hilarious so I’m really excited.
WHO ARE YOUR ROLES MODELS IN THE INDUSTRY AND IN LIFE?
Industry would be Jessica Chastain – she’s a brilliant role model not just for actresses but for all women and girls. I love how composed she is, how she handles herself; she is tenacious, and I love her ethos. I’ve never met her; I just look up to her.
In life, I take inspiration from my people. My closest friends are all role models to me. My mam who is a single parent, I think she’s done a pretty good job doing everything single-handedly and she’s taught me how to take rejection and move on. That’s resilience, and that’s really important, particularly in my industry.
FILM OR THEATRE?
Ugh! Nobody’s ever asked that before… I’m going to say Film because that’s my earliest memory. Film got me into theatre, you know?
ENGLISH FILM OR AMERICAN FILM?
Because of my favourite movies, I’m going to say American… but that’s just going to come back and bite me in the bum, that! How about WORLD film? I love La Haine! How about City of God?
Once upon a time in America – not to be confused with Once Upon A Time In Hollywood – it’s about 5 hours long and is probably one of my favourite movies, but then I also love True Romance, which is my all-time favourite… actually, there are so many!
OK, SO TOP 5 FAVOURITE FILMS?
- Once Upon A Time In America
- True Romance
- Reservoir Dogs
- Stand By Me
- The Batman Trilogy by Christopher Nolan (that’s 3 movies, I know)
- Special entry: The Batman Returns movie where Danny DeVito played the Penguin, Michelle Pfieffer was the Catwoman and Michael Keen was Batman by Tim Burton – it was the best thing ever!
I guess that was really like a top 8, sorry. It’s a list I’m working on constantly.
FAVOURITE ACTOR OR ACTRESS AND WHY?
I have some notes for this, is that ok? Frances McDormand is my number one favourite actress. Ruth Wilson is an English actress, and I also think she’s one of the greats. We already spoke about Jessica Chastain. But I also think I need to mention Toni Collette, I think she’s a mind-boggling actress. Actors, Paul Dano is a damn good actor, Miles Teller in Whiplash was brilliant, and I also love Robert De Niro.
Sorry… I know these are meant to be short answers.
MOST BINGE-WORTHY TV SERIES?
FAVOURITE DOCO OR GENRE OF DOCO?
I watched Icarus last year, it’s about the Olympics and how the Russians were cheating with steroids. That was really good. I’m also going to also be really basic and just say anything Louise Theroux. Everyone needs to watch Blackfish which is about a killer whale at Sea World in Florida. The creators of that made another documentary called The Cove, which is about the Dolphin meat industry in China. I think these are really important things to see.
FAVOURITE PLACE TO SHOP?
And Other Stories – it’s classic because you’ve got your smart, you’ve got your cool, but you’ve also got your pretty. I do a lot of window-shopping there when I’m out of work. And Free People – love it.
FAVOURITE PLACE TO GO OUT?
I’m so boring. I don’t go out. I’m a hibernator, I don’t like going out, I like to watch a series in the comfort of my own home, I even like to drink in my own house, or I like to go to the cinema. I’ve got a membership for the Curzon and week to week I think about who I can find to look after the dog while I go to the cinema. I used to love a boogie back in my day but I’m old now.
NEWCASTLE OR LONDON?
London, because I’m here, aren’t I. But I love Newcastle. I would like to pick up Newcastle, put it in London and make it its own little borough.
You know what, it’s nice to just go there and switch off. This is the city that never sleeps – even when I go to sleep, I hear trains and cars and sirens – but when you go to Newcastle at night the streets are pitch black, it’s silent.
FAVOURITE PLACE YOU’VE BEEN IN THE WORLD?
It’s a temple called Angkor Wat in Siem Reap in Cambodia, such a beautiful place.
MOST FOND MEMORY OF HOME?
It’s got to be the video shop! I’m not kidding. Every Friday when we finished school, I was going to that video shop to get my 50p rental. Sometimes I’d try my luck with a £2.50 rental – the new releases, but my mam would be like “no, 50p section. If you get a 50p, I’ll get you two.” I was pretty happy with that.