Inspiring Conversations: Mark Strong

Inspiring Conversations: Mark Strong

March 7, 2019

The Inspiring Conversations series continued with a captivating talk by Latymer parent Mark Strong on his career as a successful actor on the stage, film and television.

Starting by giving a short chronology of his acting experience, Mark described the challenges of being a young actor as being “like hanging on to a rising balloon” and seeing how long you could hold on. Mark “got the bug” for acting at university, and swapped Law in Germany for English Literature and Drama in England, before taking his Drama studies further at Drama School. While university was pivotal in his decision to study Drama and become an actor. Mark felt that being an only child meant he often analysed different characters in his life to create his own identity and that this gave him the ability to better absorb what he saw when watching the likes of Sir Ian McKellen and Brian Cox from the wings of the National Theatre early in his career.

The rest of the evening followed a casual format with questions from the audience followed by Mark’s honest answers. A View From the Bridge was unsurprisingly at the core of many questions as Mark won an Olivier Award for Best Actor for his performance as Eddie Carbone. Working with the esteemed Belgian theatre director Ivo van Hove on the play introduced Strong to new ways of working. The actors were encouraged to learn their lines before the first rehearsal, received costumes on the first afternoon of rehearsals and only rehearsed from 11-4 for three weeks. All of this was new for Mark. From that experience, he continues to learn all of his lines before rehearsing, refuting the opinion that this can interfere with their interpretation.

Other questions were about his most memorable filming destination and oddest film moment. Working on Black Gold, a film directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, in the Tunisian desert was a particularly dangerous but exhilarating experience due to the amount of extras and animals involved and was a time he would never forget. His oddest film moment was of course working with Sacha Baron Cohen on Grimsby. Mark recalled that there was so much content filmed, even one 43 minute take, that it would have taken an editor ten weeks, working for twelve hours a day, to watch all of the footage just once. What made the experience of filming Grimsby even stranger was the fact that it was juxtaposed with his rehearsals for the very serious A View From The Bridge at the Young Vic.

Aside from the titles he has worked on, Mark focused on the different skills needed for the big screen and theatre and how they cross over during filming. Mark insightfully explained that if a shot is a wide shot, the actor can make movements to fill the frame, but as the camera zooms in, they would need to adapt their movements to the smaller frame. He also revealed that some actors can be “too big” for the camera as rather than performing to the back of an auditorium, they need to be paying attention to the “minutiae of truth that a camera can seek out”. The role of the director was also discussed, as Mark replied to a question asking if he’d ever want to sit on the other side of the camera. As an actor, Mark is able to be involved in many different projects at a single time, as he was with Grimsby and A View From the Bridge, but as a director wouldn’t be able to have that freedom.

Mark is about to embark on a press tour for Shazam, the latest instalment in the DC universe. As he has in many films, Mark plays the villain. Each day will include many very quick  interviews, mostly involving the same questions. Fame was a topic brought up by a few audience members, and each time Mark explained that he considers himself lucky as he can experience a pretty normal everyday life, unlike some of his friends and colleagues. However, catching people secretly trying to snap pictures on the train and asking for selfies when they don’t know his name is a strange experience. Mark said he is usually happy to take a picture with someone if they really want, but values a conversation with a fan much more.

The Q&A finished with some advice for aspiring actors. Although Mark admitted that it is difficult to give advice as he considers himself lucky to have the opportunities he did, he told the audience that perhaps initially  “vanity might have been involved” in his decision to get into acting and that he had jumped into it with “a confidence that wasn’t borne of any experience”. One piece of advice that he luckily ignored, was the warning given by the Principal on his first day at Drama School - "if there is anything else that you can do, do that”.

In closing Amanda Scott, Director of the Latymer Foundation, thanked all for attending who, by purchasing a ticket, had donated to the Bursaries Appeal 2018/19 and contributed to the total of £2,500 raised from the event.