INTERVIEW WITH Isabella Speaight - Actress

Isabella is an English actress from London. She graduated from the Oxford School of Drama in 2018, following a BA in Theatre and Performance at the University of Leeds. Whilst at drama school Isabella’s theatre credits include Machinal (Sophie Treadwell), The Heresy of Love (Helen Edmundson) and King Lear. She won the CIFE award in 2015 for outstanding performance in Visual and Creative Arts. Isabella recently set up a production company, Backscatter Productions Ltd, with the view to nurture new work and give voices to rising talent.  'Clementines' is Isabella’s screen debut.

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Tell us about your background and when did you decide to become an actress?


I have been acting for as long as I can remember as I come from a theatrical family. My grandfather was a puppeteer and we had a puppet theatre in the living room at home where we'd put on weekly shows. But it wasn't until I played Lady Macbeth in a school production at 15, that I really felt the pull! I cried inconsolably to my mother when the production was over, I had developed a deep love for that woman (I'm sure anyone who played Lady M would say the same) and it was heart-breaking saying goodbye and going back to the reality of school and science lessons.


Films that inspired you to become an actress?


I know it's a cliche but Vivien Leigh's portrayal of Scarlett in Gone with the Wind had a pretty huge effect on me growing up. I remember reading that when casting Scarlett, George Cukor said ‘The girl that I select must be possessed of the devil and charged with electricity’. This description always stayed with me -- imagine being able to have that impact in your work! I also grew up watching all the old classics at home, like the Sound of Music, Singing in the Rain and Meet Me in St. Louis. Those films inspired me a lot. 


Who is your biggest influence?


Lauren Bacall. I'm infatuated by her! It's the deep, sultry voice and unflinching affinity she has with the camera. She moves with such ease and has this natural, effortless charm. She's totally self-assured in the roles she plays and has this extraordinary strength too. To Have and Have Not was the first film I saw her in. She was 19 yet so worldly and intriguing. 


What were some of the challenges you had to face in making your films?


Clementines is actually the first film I've done since graduating, and surprisingly everything ran pretty damn smoothly! We were warned by many to expect all sorts of disasters and dramas on set, but the shoot was stress free on the whole- we had an amazing production manager who had a big part to play in that. There are always a few bumps along the way but nothing catastrophic. 


Do you have a favourite genre to work in? Why is it your favourite?


To be honest, I do love a good drama! I've dabbled in a bit of comedy too, I was in a comedy sketch show at the Edinburgh Fringe a couple of years ago which was very fun. But I love anything quite dark, psychological thrillers are very up my street. I love films like Hide and Seek, with Robert De Niro, I'd also love to play a character like Amy in Gone Girl -- that's a real goal!


What’s your all-time favourite movie and why?


Such a hard question, it really depends on my mood. Fellini's La Strada will always be a favourite as it's unlike anything I've seen before. It gets me every time with it's stark imagery and tragic beauty. Giulietta Masina's performance, especially towards the end, will forever haunt me. Some Like it Hot also holds a special place in my heart. I would watch it with my cousins growing up and we would sit transfixed. Marilyn Monroe is such a force of nature, she lights up the screen. We'd bawl with laughter, but it also has so much heart and the performances are knock out. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis are pure genius. 


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If you could work with anyone in the world, who would that person be?


I'd love to work with David Fincher. I love the evocative darkness and mystical presence in his films, the themes of obsession and determination. He also seems to have this incredible ability to connect with actors and bring out such real performances. Although the themes in his films could sometimes be described as slightly bleak there is always a deep humanity that grounds his work. I'd also LOVE to work with Greta Gerwig -- she's amazing, I absolutely adore her work. 


Tell us something most people don't know about you.


I have a bit of an other-worldly obsession with birds. I first went birdwatching in a group at school when I was 11. I got so into it that I ended up clambering up onto a bench in the woods to get a better look, fell off it backwards (most probably from sheer over-excitement) and broke my shoulder. So that was the end of that activity for a little while. But I am currently working on a film about a girl who goes birdwatching to deal with a previous trauma, which has re-sparked the flame! I've been reading this incredible book about a man who used birdwatching to help him deal with various mental health issues. It is really powerful stuff and birds definitely have a very healing quality. I usually feel less anxious after spending time in nature. 


The one person who has truly believed in you throughout your career.


My Mum. She was an actress before she had children and always encouraged my acting as a child. She and my father would take me to see plays and ballet which massively inspired me growing up. She does all my self-tapes with me now, which I am eternally grateful for, as it can be hard to find another actor at short notice. Certain scenes are a bit weird to do with your Mum but she always rises to the occasion! She's always been there in hard times to pick my spirits up too- I owe a lot to her. 


What was the most important lesson you had to learn as an actress?


To let go totally and follow your instincts. I went to the most amazing acting class at the Susan Batson studio in New York last year. The energy in the class was electric, everyone was so passionate and willing to let go of baggage. There were no egos in that room for those four hours. We did this exercise called the 'dance circle' at the beginning of class where you go into the middle and just move to however you're feeling in that moment- everyone in the room picks up the energy and moves with you- there are certain points where everyone is totally in sync with each other's energy and it's pretty exhilarating! Sounds woo woo and VERY drama school but when you surrender to it, you really do get a lot out of it. 


Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?


Both can be really hard. I went to University first as I was slightly apprehensive of fully committing to the lifestyle at a young age and wanted to explore some other things first and grow up a bit. I knew how hard it could be having seen family members who were actors. My Mum was always straight up with me about it. However, it's the decision you make when you choose to be an actor and it's totally worth it, there is nothing I'd rather be doing. I think finding other things that bring you joy in between acting jobs is really important, making sure you're always feeling inspired and creatively excited when you're not working. This has helped me a lot over the past year, but I'm still learning so much- I don't think you ever stop learning! 


What keeps you motivated?


I think just keeping as busy as possible, reading, going to exhibitions and watching lots of plays and films. There is so much to see and do in London without having to spend a lot of money, and I love exploring new things. I've recently taken up bouldering which is great- it requires a lot of focus so I find it quite meditative. Also working on independent projects with fellow filmmakers keeps me motivated. 

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How has your style evolved?


Oh God I don't know if I really have a 'style' as such, it's early days so I think I'm still figuring that one out! 


On set, the most important thing is:


Coffee! I am an addict and I think as long as there is an abundance of tea and coffee people tend to stay happy! Also staying calm and open to play and try new things. Laurie, the director of Clementines, was a great influence on me. He has the most calming presence on set whilst also honing in on his very specific vision and holding the crew together. 


The project(s) you’re most proud of:


I'm really proud of Clementines as it was such a passion project for myself and my co-star Molly. It was wonderful to work on something that tells such a personal story, and we also produced it, so we will always have a special connection with the film. 


The most challenging project you worked on. And why?


I once devised a very physical production at University which can only be described as a train wreck, albeit a beautiful learning curve! Give me a script and I'm off, but devising a dance-based piece of theatre from scratch I found pretty challenging!


What are your short term and long term career goals?


Short term, I'd love to keep creating work that excites and challenges me. Having had a strong theatre background, I'm really enjoying film and definitely want to keep developing my work on camera. But throughout my career I'd love to go back to the stage, I'd just love to do it all, and I've got a long journey ahead of me so hopefully it's all possible! I'm also keen to produce again as I love the freedom and creative license that it gives you. 


Are you currently working on any exciting projects?


I'm working on another film, Birdwatcher, with the director of Clementines, Laurie. Having worked together before, it's been really easy to just jump back in and be really productive early on. I loved working with him on Clementines so I'm really excited to be collaborating again! I have a couple of other projects in development right now but Birdwatcher is next up. We're shooting in September in the Mendip hills. 


Please share with us where people can find you on social media, so our readers could keep track of your career


My instagram is: @bellaspeaight 

Twitter: @Bella_Speaight

My production company website: https://www.backscatterproductions.com/