Backstage and Beyond - Mark Iles, Actor
Welcome to Backstage and Beyond, a series of interviews in which we talk to theatre industry professionals to find out more about their jobs. Please join us as we quiz people in all sorts of cool theatre jobs on their work, what it involves, and how you could do the same. Our next guest is Mark Iles, an actor who has appeared in many shows in the West End.
Which shows have you worked on?
I graduated from Arts Ed London in 2003. Professionally, since then I have worked on Rent, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Singin' in the Rain, Me and My Girl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Elf the Musical. I've also done pantos, workshops, fringe shows, student films and other smaller jobs to fill in the gaps between the bigger jobs.
Which show was your favourite, and why?
My favourite show to be in was Rent. I played Angel in the first English speaking production in Germany, and it was a dream role. I had loved the musical since it was first released, and so to be a part of that cast was very special. It is one of those shows that makes you feel like you are part of something bigger; a community of people who have done that show and sung those songs.
How did you land your first West End role?
I think there are two answers to this question. My professional West End debut was in the original cast of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. My agent got me my first audition, which was a dance call, but before I was offered the part, I had eleven more auditions. It was an exhausting process that lasted about four months. However, almost twenty years earlier, when I was twelve, I had my real West End debut in Oliver! at the London Palladium. For this, I went to an open audition that was advertised in the paper. I queued around the side of the theatre for hours, until going in and singing one line from Consider Yourself. Luckily, I was recalled, and I had two more auditions before being offered the part.
What does your daily schedule look like?
It really depends on what job I'm doing at the time. Actors’ schedules vary so much depending on whether they are rehearsing, doing a show in the evening, filming something, or working in a bar (everyone does this at some point). Luckily, I don't have to do the horrible in-between jobs anymore, because I am head of the Advanced Diploma at Cosson's, a new drama school in Kent. So, when I'm working in the West End, I would get up at eight, ready to teach at Cosson's from ten in the morning until four. I would then head into the centre of London for warm-up, which is usually about six o'clock, grabbing some dinner on the way. The show would start at seven thirty, and come down at about ten. I'd normally make it home by eleven. Obviously, matinee days are different, and I wouldn't teach, I would just go straight to the theatre. It is really tiring, but extremely rewarding.
What are the best and worst parts of your work?
For me, the best part of my work is the people. You get to meet and create with the most incredible, funny, passionate, inspiring people. Most people have to work in the same place for a long time, but as an actor you are constantly jumping from place to place, giving you the opportunity to make new friends at every turn. Some of these friendships will be fleeting, but others will last you for your entire life. I suppose, really, that's the worst thing about acting, too: the uncertainty. You don't get much, if any, security. The most you can hope for is a year contract in a show, so you are constantly looking for work, and wondering where your next pay check is coming from. This means it's really hard to ever book a holiday. It also means that unless you are very lucky, you are going to have to do other work in between acting jobs. I have worked in a bar, a shop, a gym, Front of House at a theatre, I've taught all ages, and I've even handed out leaflets in the street. Sometimes you have to do whatever you can to keep your dreams alive.
What advice would you give to young people who are hoping to become West End actors?
Work really hard. Harder than you think you have to. However hard you are working now, double it, triple it. You can never work hard enough. I wish I could go back to my younger self and tell him to try harder, sweat more, read more, sing more, dance more. If you want to make it, you have to be fantastic. Yes, talent is important, but more than anything it is hard work that will get you there. Also, make sure it's your passion. If you love what you do, you will get through all the stress and the heartache and the leaflet giving, but if you don't love it, you will find it impossible.
What are your hopes for the future of London theatre?
We need to make more space for new writing in the main theatres in London. The West End is primarily controlled by a very small number of people and companies. These producers have a strangle hold on the industry, and it is therefore extremely difficult for new writing to ever get seen. If you look at Broadway in contrast, there are new shows by new writers opening every season. They are much better at nurturing talent. Thankfully we have a great fringe and regional theatre scene, because often the most interesting work comes from those houses. I would love to see London matching New York for creative output in musical theatre. Gone are the days of shows running for thirty years, and I'm glad of it. Out with the old, and in with the new.