We chat to our own Actor Lee Knight on auditioning, lockdowns & his recent work with Ian Mckellen.

Lee has just finished working on a film and two plays in rep with Sir Ian Mckellen, an eight month commitment in total and it all began during a lockdown. They filmed Hamlet the movie, to be released next year, with Ian playing Hamlet, then went on to do the stage version for eighty four performances. Whilst performing Hamlet the same company rehearsed the Cherry Orchard and went on to perform forty nine shows once Hamlet had finished. They were the only repertory company of actors in the UK at the time.

"The words need the weight of meaning behind them otherwise we the audience will never believe it. It has to matter so focus on the words, the words, the words"

This year Lee also appeared in BBC & AMC's the North Water alongside Colin Farrell, Jack O'Connell and Sir Tom Courtenay, where he plays Stevens, the right hand man of Baxter played by Tom Courtenay. He also appeared as Francis in The Last Letter From Your Lover, which was released in cinemas in the summer.

Lee is also a writer and in 2019 his comedy pilot reached the top 1% for BBC Comedy Writer's Room. This year his short play No More Doughnuts was selected and performed as part of the Make it Beautiful new writing festival in London.

"I am passionate about helping support actors coming into the industry in whatever way I can"

Lee, how are you?

I'm very good thank you. Tired, but good.

You've been working in Windsor most of the year, how was that?

Yes it was great. Very hard work as we shot a film in lockdown over six weeks. Then went on to do the play of Hamlet which was incredible but we were rehearsing the Cherry Orchard in the day so it was pretty tiring. But great fun. It's always great fun. But I am very glad to be home after eight months of being away.

What parts did you play?

I played Rosencrantz and Yasha.

How was working with Ian Mckellen?

Wonderful. Amazing to share a stage with someone with that experience. His use of text is astonishing - I learnt a lot from him. He's just sent me a very sweet Christmas card actually with our final company photo which I will frame and cherish. He is very very funny and we laughed a lot. When we were shooting Hamlet the film, a few of us went back to his hotel room and went through lines for our scene and he asked me to read Hamlet and said he would read my role just to hear how it sounds. Reading Hamlet's lines to Ian was quite a moment.

How did you being in the company come about?

The Director Sean Mathias saw me in a play called Coming Clean at the Trafalgar Studios the year before and we kept in contact as I think we both wanted to work together. But the first time I was asked to audition was moments before Covid was a thing at the start of 2020 and the job never happened so I never heard anything after. Instead it got pushed back to this year (2021) which was even better for me. The first time round, I had been abroad filming quite a bit, then I had just finished a run of Coming Clean, quite an emotionally demanding play and my dog had passed away during it so I didn't really want to swan off to Windsor for most of the year. I was grieving and exhausted. So it happening the following year suited me. I got a phone call a week before it all started and suddenly got the job.. and we were in a lockdown so it was great to get out the house!

What are you up to now?

Auditioning, writing, teaching. It is drama school audition season so I am coaching a lot of people for that. I really love it hence me starting the Audition Room. I am passionate about helping support actors coming into the industry in whatever way I can. I will also be working under the amazing Steven Kavuma at Arts Ed next term, popping in and working with the students which I am really looking forward to.

What advice do you have for those auditioning for drama school?

Well everything is via self tape now and there is a little tendency to 'throw away' Shakespeare's text a little too much. I am seeing it a lot. Of course there isn't a room full of people you have to hit as with in person auditions, but the words are still as powerful, beautiful, epic and vital. The imagery is like no other. The words need the weight of meaning behind them otherwise we the audience will never believe it. It has to matter so focus on the words, the words, the words.

Finding the right monologue is a challenge most auditionees face. What is your advice?

I wrote a blog on it on this site which I think people found very helpful. The most important thing is connection. You have the chance to speak words in front of an audience - anything - so choose something that stimulates you in some way. You have the luxury to choose a piece, if you look at it that way, it is exciting. You get to take anything you want to the panel. They'll know if you are excited or stimulated by the character or the subject matter. So don't settle just for something that is ok or that someone has told you would suit you - choose something exciting. And as young actors, we should be looking round us all the time, at the stories everywhere and starting to understand what moves us, what makes us tick. This is where to start. Show us a little of who you are through your pieces.

You sat on the auditionin panels at Drama Centre for many years. What is the one thing auditionees should avoid?

Long speeches. Stick to the 2-3 minute guideline. Each school/course will have their own stipulation. You can always cut a piece wherever you want to. You're the director after all, you have that licence. Give us a strong beginning, middle and end.

Where is the best place for applicants to go for help with their pieces?

If students feel they need guidance which is always a good idea, come to my drop in classes next year where you can work on anything you want in front of a small group online. it is always great to see what others are doing and watch how other people are re-directed. We learn a lot from others. It starts on Wed 12th January via Zoom - details are on this website. I also do private one to one sessions for those that want a little more in depth work and support.

Last question, if we go into a lockdown again, what is your advice to any actor?

We are all born to create and creating and connecting is how we thrive, especially us artists. So keep busy and hungry to learn. Read the papers, watch documentaries, write, do whatever you need to fill that space. It is hard when we are not out there doing what we love, but a big part of being an artist is soaking up stories around you so watch and read and write as much as you can.

For information about Lee's online classes check out the Audition Room website.

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