Grace Stone, an Actress who has featured in BBC's Call The Midwife, Doctors and Sky 1's Lucky Man, talks to Exit 6 director Mark Brennan about her work so far, the audition process and trying to lick invisible faces.
After speaking with Grace Stone, actress and fellow Amazingstoker (someone from Basingstoke), through no fault of her own the immortal classic Don't Stop Believin' by Journey rings in my head. She's just a small town girl who left for big city lights, possibly on a midnight train, to pursue an acting career - and is making a bloody good go of it. I ask her how she got started.
"When I was at school a friend told me about an open audition for Skins that was happening in London. She said to me "Go, you should go, you should go." I didn't even watch Skins. I went, my dad went with me, and we queued up for about five hours. Once we got seen, I got a recall, and was super duper happy. Then I just loved the whole experience – the auditioning, the excitement – all of it. I didn't get any further with Skins but I just decided that was it, acting was what I wanted to do. Some months later I started looking at colleges in the local area for a drama course. I went to an audition for RADA and didn't like that very much, mainly because I was terrible and under prepared. I then auditioned for GSA and I just loved it from the minute I walked into the building. I was like, "this is where I want to be for the next three years," and was very, very lucky to get in. So I trained, and now here I am."
Grace quickly secured an agent by the time she finished her training at GSA, but not in the tried and tested way of most drama graduates...
"I saw a Tweet saying that they [the agent] were looking for 16-25 year old females who had previous experience in TV work, which I did not. I messaged her saying I don't have TV experience, however, I'm in a show in my last year at drama school and would love it if you'd come and watch. They are based in Wales, so unfortunately they couldn't make it, but they invited me to a meeting. I met Mark, who runs the agency, and we went through my CV, my skills, and a few things that I've done, what I'd like to do. Then he asked me to do a self tape so they sent me some scripts and my housemate helped me film it on a really terrible camera. We tried to do the best we could. They watched it, they liked it and then they offered me representation from that."
Grace has been kept busy since signing with Mark Jermin Management, regularly finding herself in rooms with some amazing casting directors, and getting the kind of auditions she never expected. (She insists she's been very lucky, but her father is quick to tell her that it's not luck, it's skill. Quite right too, Dad.) Speaking of auditions, what has that experience been like since graduating and branching out on her own?
"I feel more comfortable with TV auditions than theatre. I think people tend to really worry and really stress before they go into a casting and one thing a teacher told me at drama school – and I always try to remember – is that the casting director or whoever is in that room, wants you to be the person. They are not sitting there judging you. They just really want you to be the one who gets the job because they've done their job if they find the right person. When I go into a TV audition, as long as I'm prepared and I've learned my lines and gone through the script, I think then you can just really enjoy the audition because it's going to be just a nice meeting where you get to act for five minutes of your day."
With auditions come war stories and Grace has plenty to share.
"One for MTV was rather good. It was Ex On The Beach, so I thought that I really needed to glam up. MTV girls look amazing and the guys all look great. I'm glammed up to the nines and go into this audition where they ask if I can put a cardboard box over my head. So I'm there with my heels and leather skirt and a cardboard box on my head thinking 'What is my life? Why am I doing this?' Then I have to throw the box off, and seeing the boyfriend walk past with a new girlfriend, I'm outraged. So they go 'Three, Two, One, Action!' I throw off this cardboard box and just go for it. Then they asked me to lie down on the floor, 'You are the pillow, and what's going to happen is your ex-boyfriend is going to come in and lie down on the pillow and we want you to try to lick his face'. Bear in mind that this guy is not actually in the room, it's an invisible ex-boyfriend. I'm laying on the floor, my invisible ex-boyfriend walks in, lays down on top of me, effectively, and then I have to try and lick his face. Then they add, 'But you can't quite reach his face'. So I'm there sticking out my tongue trying to lick his face but can't quite reach it and then she says 'And now he is on to you and he is hitting the pillow.' So again this invisible person is punching me in the face. I'm there pretending to dodge an invisible man with this punches and then she goes, 'Oh but you still try to lick his face but you can't quite reach.' So all of that was going on with me in the middle of this big casting, just laid on the floor, dressed up to the nines and all of that invisible stuff."
After we stop laughing, we agree that's bonkers. You'll be glad to know that after all that tongue-wagging and pillow-beating, Grace did get the part - and was also assured that it wasn't a spoof audition that would end up on YouTube.
However, despite challenges such as this, there has been a role even more challenging and rewarding for Grace.
"A role that will always have a special place in my heart because it was my first ever TV job, was on Call the Midwife, which is also my all time favourite programme. It was like a dream come true. I could not have wished for anything more amazing for a first job, and the role was great. It was a lady called Gina and she was having a baby, quite young, with her fairly new husband and she was a bit worried that her husband didn't really want her anymore, and wondering if he is going to stick with her and baby. She gets really sick and he stays and she gets better. It's all happy in the end. That was just amazing because everyone was just so wonderful. The director, Darcia Martin, was just such a lovely lady, she really took the time to make sure I was comfortable, to make sure that I understood what was going on. I don't think anything can prepare you for being on a set like that until you are on one. That was a huge learning curve and experience. Everyone was so wonderful on that set, they were amazing."
With those experiences under her belt now, what advice would Grace offer other actors just starting out in their own acting education or career?
"If you're in drama school just enjoy it, get absolutely everything out of it. On the days that you think, "God this is going to be hard," think how many people auditioned to get in and how lucky you are that you're there, but also forget that you auditioned, don't get hung up on how you got there. They obviously thought you were good enough, they think you have potential. Put trust in yourself and just go for it. Try not to compare yourself to other people, when you get out of drama school you'll realise what a big industry it is and most of the time it's not always about your skills or your talent. If you don't get a role, cut yourself a little slack because you could be the best actor or actress in the world, but you might not look like what the casting director has in mind. Also, if you go in and make a good impression with the casting director, you're prepared and you've done the best you can, they might remember you for the next job. I think that makes a huge difference, just be a good human."
'Be a good human' is probably the best advice you can give anyone, especially these days! With all the TV work and auditioning coming through, it's good to know that Grace does have an interest in short film too.
"I’ve had a couple of auditions for short films and I'd really love to do them. A lot of the short films I see posted on Casting Call Pro are often from the film schools in London. They are effectively going to be the next generation of the makers of the movies. I think it’s great to be able to get to work with them even before maybe they’ve got their big break."
Having made her own big break from Basingstoke, does Grace still have love in her heart for our hometown? The question provokes a laugh.
"Yes, of course! My family is still all there so I come back when I can, usually for weekends and see them all and have a walk around Festival Place."
We certainly hope to see Grace at the next Exit 6 Film Festival. You can see her next in BBC series Death In Paradise.
You can follow Grace on Twitter at @GraceStone36
You can also contact her agent at Mark Jermin Management.