Updated: Jun 4, 2021
You’ll hear it whispered around drama schools, shouted from the Hollywood hilltops, and reminisced about from chat show sofas. ‘The Big Break’ is a thing of legend in the film and TV industry - and there’s literally no end to the blog posts providing tips for actors to secure their break into theatre, TV, and film.
We thought we’d take a different approach to those blogs, and instead we’ve peered into the early careers of British film’s most inspiring actors - sharing how they managed to make it big on the silver screen. We really didn’t have to look far to find some irregular - and inspiring - routes that A-Listers once forged in the foothills of fame to get where they are today.
Our vision for Flairbox is much more than a talent agency or an app for actors to be discovered: we’re a community of ambitious artists, and we’re here to support and power your journey towards your big break - in whatever way we can.
And today you don’t need to hear it from us: you can hear it from these four fantastic actors, who all battled hard to achieve their dreams.
"Small arthouse films tend to be more actor-led and character driven”
You’ve got to love Helena Bonham-Carter - once known, a little unfairly, as Britain’s ‘Corset Queen’. Her big break was more a series of small breaks, all of them low-budget period dramas or adaptations of Victorian novels which saw her squeezed into a long line of narrow-waisted costumes. Eventually, though, her eccentricity and quirkiness won her larger and more diverse parts.
Bonham-Carter actually got into acting via a writing competition, with absolutely no formal training behind her. She used the proceeds from her win to invest in a spot in an actors directory - which, seeing as this was back in the 1980s, was probably a teeny bit inferior to Flairbox. Still, it did the job - Helena started getting calls, auditions, and parts.
What can an aspiring big-screen actor learn from Helena’s career? Signing up for a platform to spotlight your acting profile is a must. But then there’s the type of roles you search for. As Helena puts it: “I'm always attracted to lower-budget, because they tend to be better scripts. It's the small arthouse films that tend to be more actor-led and character driven.” Being happy to start smaller, and completely own her early roles, set the tone for a career that’s seen Bonham-Carter star in over 90 films to date - many of them big-budget blockbusters.
“I was like ‘this part’s mine, I need to get this part.’”
Nathalie Emmanuel bagged her first big break when she was cast as Hollyoaks’ ‘troubled teen’ Sasha Valentine, but she was back working in Hollister, scraping to make ends meet, when she was approached for the Game of Thrones audition that catapulted her back into the limelight.
“I was miserable in that job, if I’m honest,” she says of her acting hiatus before HBO got in touch. It sounds like the opportunity to audition in Hollywood rekindled Nathalie’s acting ambition - and splashed on the jet fuel, too. “I was like ‘this part’s mine, I need to get this part.’ And I don’t ever say that - I never say ‘I’ve got to get this part or I need this or I want this’.”
That’s the kind of mentality that wins roles. At Flairbox, we want to see actors spending way less time faffing with applications and trawling the internet for opportunities - and more time absolutely smashing their self-tape scenes and their auditions for films. We know it’s the talent and the drive that eventually shines through, so Flairbox takes care of the admin side - letting your flair do the talking.
“You have to go through a learning process - and you have to fail”
From Hackney to Hollywood - via the music studio as DJ Big Driis - Idris Elba’s path to prominence has been far from ordinary. When the Luther star began cutting his teeth on the theatre circuit, he didn’t have polished and honed drama school skills to put into practice: his career’s been one long learning curve.
“I’d have liked to go to drama school, but I couldn’t afford it,” he told Channel 4 in 2017. “So I suppose I taught myself to act on the job. If I went up for a classical theatre job, like Shakespeare, I didn’t have a clue - I had to teach myself that.”
Elba’s pretty familiar with the knots young actors tie themselves in looking for opportunities, and the pressure to nail the roles they land. His tip for actors at the start of their careers? “It’s a type of confidence. You have to go through a learning process - and you have to fail. I’m okay with failing a few times to get back up.” Hard work and a willingness to learn from the bad times eventually won Idris a couple of roles in dramas - but only after a sack-full of rejections. As he’s observed in the past: “Talent is everywhere, opportunity isn’t.” At Flairbox, our job is to bring those opportunities within seizing distance of the talent we know is out there.
“You have to try everything - and it’s all a process of elimination.”
He may be one of Britain’s most-recognisable creative exports, but Tom Hardy first navigated through a fairly topsy-turvy early career. He’s another of those actors whose first big break - cast in the early 2000s in both HBO’s Band of Brothers and Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down - fizzled out.
A decade of addiction, bit-part roles, and personal struggles was to follow, leaving Hardy “resentful” and “bitter”. It’s to his credit that today, all that feels squarely in the past. When Hardy speaks about the tumult of his youth, he focuses on what he learned: a kind of trial-and-error drive to find his place in the industry. “You have to try everything - and it’s all a process of elimination,” he recently told the Independent. “But ultimately, you find your path.”
Now an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust and a captivating screen presence, Hardy is able to laugh about his struggle to find a second big break. He even credits his “naughty boy” experience as a source of the menace he injected into Bane in The Dark Knight Rises - or the East End bombast of the Kray twins in Legend. “I’ve cornered the market on psychos and weirdos,” he laughs. There’s a big lesson there: use what you know, from whatever past you might have, to inform your approach to the acting opportunities that come your way.