Pictures courtesy of Sparrow Photography (October 2012).
Happy Easter in advance. This month’s edition of the BUFF Blog is guest-written by actor Jay Brown who can be seen over the next 8 weeks on E4’s new drama ‘Youngers’. The series premiered on Wednesday March 20 with viewing figures of 350,000 viewers. It was also the 5th most tweeted about programme on TV that day beating ITV’s ‘Coronation Street’ with over 35,000 live tweets during transmission. Follow @JayBrownActor and @buffenterprises on Twitter…
It’s a Thursday morning and the sun has vanished again in London…no surprises there!
An email pings into my inbox: it’s from Emmanuel a.k.a Mr BUFF, asking how I am and, how the promotion for my latest film, The Fall of the Essex Boys, and the new E4 TV seriesYoungers is coming along. In true Emmanuel fashion he says with one breath, “why not write this month’s blog about what you’ve been up to lately and how it all began?”
So here goes, my first blog and the story of my journey.
Since a young age I was always singing, dancing and acting, in plays, concerts and cabarets. My dad recalls his earliest memory of me at three years old going missing in a Spanish resort, only to be found on stage with the band strumming a little guitar that was designed as a wall decoration.
Film and music were a big part of growing up. I remember my mum always having music on in the house, from The Pet Shop Boys to Eurythmics, Bob Marley to Michael Jackson. The latter was the biggest influence in my life. I would watch endless VHS tapes of Michael, even to the point that my party trick would be the whole dance to Thriller. Looking back, the films I grew up on were ‘The Children’s Golden Age of Cinema’, ‘The Goonies’, ‘Back to the Future’, ‘Flight of the Navigator’, ‘The Princess Bride’, ‘Indiana Jones’, ‘Ghostbusters’, ‘The Karate Kid’and ‘E.T’. My brother and I would always dress up as the characters, and re-enact the films in our living room.
I started off in a dance group and was in many shows around London including the first Christmas parade on Oxford Street. I then started dancing in music videos and at one point, I was also in a boy group, but my heart was always in acting. Dancing for me was something I loved to do, especially in the Garage club scene where I became known as “Dancing Boy”. When I acted though, I found myself taking on a different state of expression. Dance is ever so much an expression of oneself, but in acting you’re living the life of someone else, and telling their story. My first professional acting credit came pretty late, I was 21.
My younger brother (Duran) was living in the States, and his agent at the time called our house to confirm a casting he had for a short film. As he was out of the country he couldn’t attend, but without hesitation I jumped at the chance, and filled his place. Little did I know that this casting would change everything.
The short film was Tube Poker, a screenplay about playing poker on the London Underground but with people instead of cards. People of different age range represented different card values. I read the script in the waiting room and it really appealed to me with its edgy dialogue and a fantasy story, which could actually be real. My sight reading at the time wasn’t good and I stumbled over the script in the audition. Simon Levene (the director) could see I was having trouble and asked me to cast aside the script and that we were going to do some improvisation instead. Simon asked me a question and I, in character answered; he asked a second; then for the next eight minutes I went on a tirade as the character until the cameraman sheepishly put his hand up and said he ran out of tape ‘minutes ago’. I took this as a good point to exit; I shook hands and thanked them for their time. That evening I received the call that I had been cast in the film; not only that, but that they had changed the ethnicity and I was now the lead character. To say I was over the moon would be an understatement. Tube Poker went on to win many film festival awards and received global acclaim.
In 2007 I met Rikki Beadle-Blair, the multi-talented man who started Noel Clarke’s career and many others. I saw a play he directed and knew from the moment I met this high energy, blonde dreadlocked man, I had to work with him. I started going to the Actors Centre, and did classes with Rikki to learn more and to work under his guidance. One day I received a call from Rikki to meet him at BAFTA for lunch. I was gobsmacked. Not only was I going to BAFTA, but mainly Rikki was asking me to come and talk about a play that he was planning to write. We had a long chat and at the end he offered me to join the production of Screwface. I knew this was going to be special as Rikki casts his actors first and then writes the characters tailored around them.
Anyone who has been part of character development from the beginning will know how special this is. While we were rehearsing for Screwface, Rikki cast me in his second play which was part of the trilogy of plays to be performed in the one week run. This was my first professional theatre experience and I did, not one, but two plays in the same week. Acting on stage is totally different from acting in front of camera. You have to listen so much more, not only to your fellow actors, which is a given, but to the audience. For instance, when the audience laugh in a play I’ve seen many actors just carry on with their lines which get drowned out. Letting the audience settle for you to carry on is a must as every word is important to the story you’re telling. It all comes down to timing as you can be directed where to pause but it is very much down to the actor to learn and listen. Every night is different so be prepared for the unexpected. I personally feel every actor should be honed with the skills to act for stage and screen. They are two different disciplines and should both be respected and worked on together in equal measure.
I’ve since collaborated many times with Rikki over the years, and regard him as a close friend and an inspiring role model.
Fast forward to The Hunters, the big budget feature film, which I was cast as an American, my first role as a non-Brit. I played one of the hunters alongside Steven Waddington (Last of the Mohicans), Tony Becker and Terence Knox (Tour of Duty) and Dianna Agron (Glee) who played the love interest.
To be working, watching and learning alongside such a high calibre of actors was an amazing experience. Practically the whole film was shot in a disused fort in beautiful Metz, north-east France. It was directed and produced by two young French guys who had never made a feature film before – they pulled it off big time. When the film was released in the States (2011), it was one of the fastest selling films during the Christmas period.
The same year The Hunters was filmed, I went to Los Angeles, the Mecca of the film industry. I was in town for the screening of FIT at the Directors Guild of America. Anyone who knows of the DGA on Sunset Boulevard will know what an incredible and historic venue this is. To have a little independent UK Film screened at such a prestigious building was a triumph for all UK film and, to be a part of that was just breathtaking. Standing on the stage at the end with the rest of the cast and Rikki, who directed the film, and seeing the standing ovation of a sell out crowd – I will treasure that forever. FIT follows six characters studying dance and drama at college and how they cope with growing up and finding where they fit socially. The film tackles bullying on all fronts, especially homophobic bullying in schools. The UK government now use the film as an anti-bullying educational tool in every school in England, Wales and Scotland.
My time in LA really opened my eyes to the industry as a whole. LA works totally different, for one, there are so many more job opportunities than the UK. Of course this is because they have a much bigger industry with more production studios, but financially they have more of an infrastructure than we do. The main thing I took away was how upfront American industry people are. This is something I loved, as I believe honesty is the only way to move forward.
In LA the US creatives I came into contact with reinforced my exact thoughts; creatives should get paid to create, simple. You wouldn’t ask a plumber to come and fix your pipes and not pay him, ‘Hey, I’ll tell my friends about you’. Actors should be treated with the same respect. You want an actor to work on your production, pay him/her for their skill that they’re bringing. Los Angeles is definitely somewhere I see myself working and believe there is work for me; it’s now all about timing…
Back to good old Blighty!
Lately I’ve wrapped on three productions. The Fall of the Essex Boys, now on DVD, and the other two soon to be shown, Youngers (at the time of writing) and Big Bad World.
But this March it’s all about Youngers, Big Talk and E4’s brand new dramedy TV series which I play Bangs. Bangs is the older protective brother of Jodie, who is involved with the MC of the show. The series follows best friends Jay and Yemi’s journey, becoming the next big thing in the music industry. On the way they meet Davina, and become a threesome known as “The Youngers”. It has been billed as ‘The Inbetweeners’ meets ‘Skins’, by the press. The script (written by Levi Addai) is witty, gritty and truly brilliant. The series isn’t sold on sex, drugs and young people up to mischief, but on friendship, chasing dreams, and growing into adulthood. The series has no swearing, which is brow raising, yet still stays real to its youth surroundings. Nothing this exciting has come out of Peckham since ‘Desmond’s’.
What’s next? Well I’m back in the audition pool with everyone else, but I’m also producing. A friend and I have a production company together and we’re creating our own scripts and searching for scripts. I feel that going into different fields in the business is a natural progression, but my first love and passion will always be acting.
I’ll leave you with two key things I tell every actor when asked if I have any advice:
‘Know your worth’ and ‘Make the dream a reality’
Stay up to date with Jay by going to his website: http://www.jaybrown.tv
Follow him on Twitter: @JayBrownActor
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