Brett is the son of a dockyard worker and grew up in Portsmouth, England. When working on the stage crew at the Chichester Festival Theatre, and watching from the wings, the great Sir John Mills Brett decided he wanted to act and he applied for drama school. He attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the Barbican, City of London – Where he was awarded their Gold Medal for acting. He began his professional career by returned again to Chichester, this time to perform in the repertory company, where his first job was an exciting nightly fight sequence with Sir Donald Sinden in ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’, directed by Nicholas Hytner
TO1%: When did you know you first wanted to be actor?
B.F. I thought I could act after playing parts at school and after my drama teacher suggested I join an amateur drama group. I went to college to do an Acting foundation course but I really knew I wanted to act after I got a job as a stage hand at Chichester Festival Theatre. I was given the job of operating one of four spotlights that picks out the actors front of the stage. Every night I watched in awe as performers such as Sir John Mills kept an audience entertained by stories that made them laugh or moved them to tears. I witnessed the way an actor makes the audience believe that things are happening for the first time and I was hooked.
TO1%: What was your first professional gig?
B.F. Chichester Festival theatre 4 years later. After I had been to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama for three years I won the gold medal and Chichester gave me my first job, play as cast, in the 1985 season. This included running about after Diana Rigg as an Egyptian slave and having a rather exciting nightly sword fight with Donald Sindon. Being up close with such great actors meant a great deal.
TO1%: Some people practice in front of a mirror some people think that’s really artificial? What’s your take?
B.F. It’s rare for me to use a mirror as I personally prefer an internal process prompted by the director of the project being that reflection. However, there’s a caveat to that. When at drama school working on ‘mask work’, a mirror was a very good way to help study the physical exterior and what impact it could have on a viewer, so I realised it could possibly be used as a ‘prompt’ to getting a better performance. Basically, I will use any method that gets me in to the character – there’s lots of ways to do that and occasionally it might be a glance in the mirror and saying a few lines. But it’s not my most successful technique.
TO1%: How did you get involved with The Other 1%
B.F. I was at an Equity meeting and the Guest of the month was Simon Moorhead. The moment he walked in I recognised him as someone whom I had worked with on a television Drama 32 years previously! We always had a strong connection then and we literally carried on from where we left off.
TO1%: If you could play any film, tv, stage or literary character, who would it be and why?
B.F. Humphrey Bogart because of his amazing life story.
TO1%: Do you practice your craft when you’re ‘resting’ and how?
B.F. Reading stuff. Watching people’s mannerisms when out and about. Classes when I can. I do try to have something on the go that’s artistic. It doesn’t always have to be acting related but currently it is. I’m recording a 1 hour ‘One man Shakespeare’ radio drama with a great microphone in a small converted sound treated wardrobe!
TO1%: How much of your acting would you say is craft and how much instinct?
B.F. C/I=R. Craft / Instinct = Q. Where Q = Quality
TO1%: In the States Method Acting is often seen as the Holy Grail, how do you feel about that?
B.F. Changing my thoughts, using my own experience, Actioning is helpful but I don’t completely understand the ‘method’. The drama school, Guildhall, that I went to, at that time was really anti-labelling. We studied lots of ways of getting into character. That did include behaving like an animal for 3 hours a week for 8 weeks (was that method?) but we weren’t taught anyway was the only way. Maybe I’m influenced by my training but I feel each part can require a different approach. Simon Callow talked to me about fitting into the ‘Style’ of a piece. Alan Rickman talked to me about ‘absorbing’. David Hare said “Commit to every line’ Prunella Scales said “Don’t think about it”. There was an actress I knew who worked from the shoes up. Every actor has their way and if walking about in character in my local supermarket helps me I’ll do it for sure, but that’s not really method anyway.
TO1%: Do you ever find you start to become the characters you play when you’re off stage or off set?
B.F. Yes. Sometimes. In a supermarket. With strangers.
TO1%: Has anyone ever noticed?
B.F. If they know me they think I’m weird so I don’t go there. If they don’t know me, the game is to fool them. I’ve been doing that since I was 14. We had a French exchange programme at my comprehensive school. All the students came over from France , maybe 30 of them every year. I would mingle in with them and go into shops and using a French accent enjoy pretending to be one of them. It was fun to get English words wrong like the two Ronnie’s four candles / fork handles sketch. You learn how to keep a straight face when something is really funny.
TO1%: It’s a hard one, but if you had to choose and could only do pre-recorded OR live performance for the rest of your life, which would it be and why?
B.F. How can I choose between them. Please don’t make me choose. I won’t choose. I cant choose.
TO1%: What’s your trick for learning lines?
B.F. Read it 100 times. Test with white paper over the lines. Draw silly pictures in the margins. Mark the lines in various colours. Walk round and round the park. Get tested by my patient generous wife.
TO1%: Do you read your reviews and at what stage in a run of a play?
B.F. I have done. I read them when they come out. I’m always interested in others opinions.
TO1%: Do you have any superstitions other than not whistling in the stage wings and calling that Shakespeare play The Scottish Play?
B.F. OK, its embarrassing but on set I have always found a secret moment to kiss the camera.
TO1%: If you could have a masterclass from one director and one actor who would they be?
B.F. Director = Impossible question. But currently Frank Scott
Actor = Christian Bale. I haven’t seen him for 37 years. I’d love to catch up.
TO1%: If you become a superstar, will you demand specific bottled water and go on a paleo diet?
B.F. It will never happen. But for the sake of argument, if I was, I know I would always still be eternally grateful for onset catering. I know because I’ve done myself as an assistant chef from the back of a Catering Van and feeding 70 people 3 meals a day Meat Fish and Veggie, is the hardest job on set.
The Rider in my posh trailer would be fruit and choccy biscuits… and a hot cup of tea!
Based on the South Coast of England, THE OTHER 1% was created by award-winning producer SIMON MOORHEAD, whose production company TBC AUDIO creates and distributes original, full-cast audiobooks with the aim of promoting local actors and writers to a global audience.