We managed to grab Tom Cullen, now known to many as Lord Gillingham in Downton, when he stopped off at the College to catch up with old friends on his way back from filming in Canada, and en route to India.
How did your training at RWCMD prepare you for your career in acting?
When you start the acting course at RWCMD the first project is improvisation, and really, this is what sets you up for the whole of your career. It focuses on listening and switching on that part of the brain that’s instinctive, about being alive and real. It’s an exhilarating form of acting because you constantly feel at the edge of something, as though you were the tip of the arrow. This is the process of creating a real human being on stage or on screen, not just an actor ‘acting’. That’s what RWCMD is known for. It’s what it’s all about and it’s stood me in good stead, and made me the kind of actor I am.
Royal Welsh College gave me an amazing training but it also equipped me with the tools to continue improving and growing throughout my career. You never stop learning. The College instils the ability of self-reflection, and I look at myself constantly to re-evaluate and push myself. It’s only four years after graduating that I’m really aware of that.
What sort of reputation does the College have in the wider industry, and what do you think makes the training stand out?
There’s enormous respect for the College in the industry. It has a reputation for being forward thinking and cutting edge. Its graduates offer something very distinctive: every student leaves as an individual. My training was based on me as an individual – embracing my strengths and shining a light on any weaknesses. Constantly chipping away at those weaknesses, failing and trying again, until eventually recreating them as strengths. I left knowing that I was equipped to handle almost any situation the industry might throw at me and if not, then I had the tools to overcome it. It gives you self-awareness. You never stop learning, and you leave full of confidence.
Do you have any advice for actors in their final year of their training at the College?
The more you put in to this career the more you get out. The College is a very safe place in which to make mistakes because it’s such a supportive and caring environment. I’d encourage you to make mistakes, push yourself and make them now because it’s much harder to do that out there in the industry with everyone’s eyes on you.
I felt really prepared for the industry because my tutors had invested in me as an actor and creative. I didn’t feel like a student because I was treated as a professional, with all the respect that goes with that. It was an amazing working environment because of course your work improves if you’re respected and cared for – not just as an actor but as a fellow human being. Cherish the time spent there with this wonderful acting family, but don’t worry, you will be ready to go out there and work. The adventure is just beginning.
It’s so important to listen, and remember that it’s all about hard work and dedication. We were really encouraged to make our own work: I set up my own theatre company (Undeb Theatre) when I left and it’s one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done. It’s not about waiting for the phone to ring.
And learn your lines – for every audition! Always be more prepared than the next person. Its cool to be hungry.
Tom’s latest films, Desert Dancer and Last Days On Mars are scheduled for release next year. Tom is currently filming No Compass in the Wilderness and has recently completed filming on American indie It’s All Her. He starts filming with fellow RWCMD graduate, Dougray Scott at the beginning of the 2014 on new independent feature Tiger House.