The Opportunity: A conversation with Amanda Redman
by Michael Volpe
Amanda Redman has been one of the most familiar faces on British television for the past three decades, starring in long running series like New Tricks, At Home with the Braithwaites and more recently, the hugely popular Good Karma Hospital. In between she has starred in many films, including a biopic of Diana Dors and most memorably, in the cult gangster classic (often voted in the top ten of best British films) Sexy Beast alongside Ray Winstone and Ben Kingsley.
‘My love of theatre began at a very early age. When I was young, I spent years in and out of hospitals because of serious burns I’d suffered and at the age of five, I was super hyperactive. My parents sent me to a ballet class which lasted no time at all — I couldn’t really dance. So they sent me to a little Saturday drama school and I fell in love with performing and acting. I guess that was my first real opportunity!’
Amanda’s teenage years became focused on her passion for drama, and her secondary school wasn’t helping to fulfil her ambitions (‘they were totally science focused’) and she carried on with her part time drama school until at the age of fifteen she began a degree to teach drama. This was no idle interest, clearly. At the age of 18 she applied to Bristol Old Vic school and was one of only three women to get places; remarkably, the company thought this was a fair reflection of society at the time.
‘They took you on as assistant stage managers and general dogs bodies, but would give you small parts in the productions — often just coughs and spits of parts, but you were getting experience and learning the craft. I loved it.’
Her big opportunity came at around the age of 20 when her agent sent her up for a part in a very significant movie, Richard’s Things starring Liv Ullman and directed by Anthony Harvey. An innocent and relatively inexperienced Amanda arrived at the casting to be told by legendary casting director Maggie Cartier that she was entirely wrong for the part and wouldn’t be successful. But Amanda wasn’t discouraged. ‘I just thought, oh well, at least they paid my expenses! But I walked in and before I opened my mouth, the director just said “Oh my God, that’s her!” I scarcely had to read the part to be honest. He’d made his mind up. That film really did give me the break and I was busy from then on.’
Landmarks in her career have not always come so apparently easily. If Richard’s Things had the smack of ‘right place, right time’ about it, two other significant moments were the product of risk taking. T’was ever thus. When the script for Sexy Beast arrived, it came with a stern warning from her agent that it was unlikely to be any good and that she should give it a wide berth, but once she’d read it she knew she had to take the part of gangster’s wife Deedee Dove. ‘It was amazing, and what a cast it was.’ The film became an instant cult classic. The same thing happened with the TV series At home with the Braithwaites; ‘I wasn’t sure about it all really. But I took it on holiday and I was reading the script on the beach in Spain somewhere. I thought that I was either going mad, or this really was one of the best things I’d ever read. So I sent it to Ray Winstone who read it and said “you’d be off your f**** rocker not to take this!’ So she did and it was an award winning series in which Amanda shone.
‘Taking opportunities is just not negotiable really. You see them for what they are and maybe take some advice, but you have to go for it eventually. Nothing is guaranteed.’
These days, along with her television work, Amanda is totally committed to giving opportunities herself, via her theatre company Artists Theatre School. She directs one production a year with casts of aspirant actors. ‘We teach them all about the principles of hard work. Not the glamour side, but the acting and turning up for work on time, being professional side. It is hugely important that young actors understand this. I love doing it.
‘I love what NOVA are doing for their community. Opportunity knocks at any time in life and everybody should answer that door when it does. Go for it!’
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In people’s lives, ‘opportunities’ can come in various guises, some can be clear and obvious and others may not be evident until after the passage of time. At Nova, we aim to create the conditions for people to take new life chances, and to see where it may take them.
‘The Opportunity’ is a series of discussions with successful individuals who recall a particular moment — or opportunity — that changed the course of their lives. Sometimes it wasn’t obvious that a particular moment would prove so important to their future, at others, it was a blazingly clear juncture that they knew had to be grabbed with both hands. It could be deemed ‘a stroke of luck’, or it could just have been that someone, somewhere showed a little faith, but these moments are when we recognise the turning points in our lives.