As first acting jobs go, starring in a film alongside David Tennant, Elisabeth Moss, Michael Gambon and Gabriel Byrne is an impressive way to kick start your CV – especially when you’re still in your teens.
Young actor Alexandra Finnie makes her big screen debut in Mad to Be Normal (out now), the story of controversial Scottish psychiatrist, R. D. Laing and the community he created in London in the 1960s.
It’s Alexandra’s first foray into films and she credits classes at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland for preparing her for the role. She began participating with the Conservatoire’s Lifelong Learning department in 2015, starting on the Film Production course which she followed with a week-long spring course in Acting Performance in 2016. Every Saturday, Alexandra, who turns 16 in early May, attends the drama class for 15 to 17-year-olds where students learn from the Royal Conservatoire’s expert tutors.
“The classes have been absolutely amazing and hugely beneficial,” says Alexandra.
“I’ve always loved acting and I wanted something that would help me develop more. I really think I’ve improved a lot since I started at the Conservatoire.”
Children, young people and adults can choose from around 300 courses across drama, dance, music, production and film. Alexandra’s Saturday class, which began in September last year and ends in June, teaches core drama skills and builds on increasing confidence and imagination. There’s also the chance for students to study a specialist module project, such as Contemporary Scottish Play or Making a Short Film, which culminates in a performance or screening for friends, family and peers at the end of term.
“It’s a fairly small class so the teacher is able to focus on everyone. The atmosphere is so welcoming and we all help each other and share ideas.”
Alexandra, who lives in Houston with her parents and two brothers, joined a theatre group at the age of seven. She signed with a casting agency who put her forward for the role of R. D. Laing’s daughter, Susan, in Mad to Be Normal: “I was really lucky to be picked. It helps a lot when people see that you’ve been at the Royal Conservatoire.”
Alexandra’s first taste of being on set was as an extra on the BBC Scotland soap River City and she says she was ‘in awe’ at being part of a movie production: “It was very different being an extra and having lines. I kept going over them again and again – I’m pretty sure my mum knew all of them too!
“I began filming Mad to Be Normal in February 2016 and did one day in York and returned a couple of weeks later for three more days, which included time in Leeds.
“Most of my scenes were with David who was lovely and unbelievably kind. I remember the first time he walked in the room and struck up a conversation with me. I thought, ‘oh my god, I am speaking to David Tennant’!
“It was really interesting watching the other actors on set and everyone was really nice. The director, Robert Mullan, took time with me and David would give me tips, things like how to be more natural on screen because that was one of the things I worked on the most, trying not to appear too rehearsed or staged. I spent a lot of time with the other children who played my siblings and have made really good friends who I still keep in touch with.”
Alexandra, who is in fourth year of high school, said it felt ‘rather odd’ to see herself on a cinema screen for the first time: “I didn’t enjoy it and was incredibly critical,” she laughs.
“I’ve seen it a few times now and I’m more relaxed, even when I’m sitting next to my friends. Watching yourself helps you pick up on things that you could do better next time.”
So what’s next? “I’d definitely love to act but it can be a hard industry to break into. I’m prepared to keep trying and I have an audition for the Junior Conservatoire Drama this month, and I’d love to join the BA Acting programme in the future. The Conservatoire classes have really helped prepare me for my Junior Conservatoire audition. I have my monologues, we’ve done a lot of technique and we’ve recently started improv.”
Her message to other young people interested in pursuing classes or weekend courses at Scotland’s national conservatoire?
“Do it! It’s so worth it. You learn so much, even if acting is something you just want to have fun with. Whatever happens, it will be a great experience.”
Find out more about classes and courses at www.rcs.ac.uk/lifelong-learning