Hi Film Folk!
This wonderful Wednesday we have an excellent addition to our In Conversation series.
Tell us a bit about your upbringing, Josh, and your relationship to film.
Film wasn’t actually a huge part of growing up. I used to live in the countryside with my rather large family: parents, 3 brothers and 1 sister. I grew up in Burwardsley. My Mum’s a painter and my Dad a writer/used to be an English lecturer.
My brother Matt, who is the drummer in More Like Trees, was always the film buff in the family, so most of my knowledge of film, growing up, came from him.
I always wanted to be an artist and then, when I got to 12, my friend Thom introduced me to the electric guitar and from then on I was obsessed. I actually took guitar lessons for about 4 weeks when I was 11, but I got sick of it – believing I would never play again!
Presumably ‘creativity’ was a very encouraged endeavour then?
I have lots of memories of my Mum sitting me on her knee and drawing the very faint outline of a face and letting me draw over all the lines. She taught me the basics of drawing a face in proportion and stuff like that. That always became my ‘cool thing’ in primary school. I found socialising a lot harder when I was younger, so drawing often became a sort of dignified option out when I didn’t know what else to do with myself. Better staring at a page than into space!
We were all quite encouraged in art and music. My parents very much encouraged any creative hobby I took on, which I feel was paramount to my belief in working at it..
You’ve had your hands in all the artistic pies – singing, songwriting, playing instruments, acting, illustration – have you found one unifying process or system that marries them all together?
I think I decided I’m a general creative.
When I started drawing I thought ‘oh I’m an artist’, because thats all that there was. Then when I started playing music I thought ‘Oh wait, I’m a musician!!!’ and then I did a bit of modelling and I thought ‘Ooh, uh, I’m not a model’ [laughs] and then acting came along and got itself all in the mix and it baffled me a bit, ‘am I an actor?’… Left me thinking, what do I call all this now? There must be some, unifying quality in all these things that draws me to be doing them.
The thing that seems to drive me in any creative work is finding something that has to be mastered and the satisfaction in managing to learn something new. If it’s acting then you have to master the scene or the part. If you’re drawing a picture then the endgame is to have a picture that you’re satisfied with. There’s always a beginning and an end.
What I’ve put it down to is the drive to complete something or to master something. I know you can’t really call drawing a picture mastering something because art is consistently different but if you consider it a sole thing that you want to do, then yeah – finishing a drawing is mastering that picture.
When I was younger I was obsessed with learning juggling, riding unicycles, trying to kick flip, balancing a broomstick on my chin, balancing a pencil on my nose, spinning a pen round your finger… ZIPPO TRICKS! All those things were tasks that presented a challenge that I’d seen people do that I thought were cool. It wasn’t wanting to look cool while doing them. It was just knowing that something was doable and someone could do it and it kind of gave me a frustration – that I should be able to do that if I put my mind to it.
That whole belief is very true with acting or even learning some flamenco techniques on the guitar. Flamenco almost feels like a trick – a trick equal to learning to balance something on your face [laughs]. I’m trick-orientated.
Are you a big reader or watcher or gallery visitor?
I’ve never read books really, don’t go to that many galleries, growing up I didn’t seek out films so much as it seemed they were kind of brought to me through family and friends.. Same kind of goes for music. I’ve been to a shag load of gigs though [laughs].
When I was growing up my folks listened to great music; Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Tracy Chapman, The Beatles (Dad), Leonard Cohen. I was always surrounded by good music growing up, our close family friend David Greenald used to come and play accordion to us, my sisters boyfriend Andy was the drummer in Mansun who were often rehearsing at our house, which was all very inspiring. When it came to actually choosing to listen to music/watching films, I found that I would rather use my time to try and make my own. So I just tended not to bother watching that much stuff of my own accord.
Obviously since I’ve been getting into film I’ve been doing a lot more research, trying to watch as many films as I possibly can. I generally watch films just before I go to bed because then I’ve done all the day time work stuff that I can and I assign the evening to watching films to chill – but it still counts as work! [laughs].
From what people tell me, it’s important to be in the know with what’s hot and not in the now. So I have been making more of an effort with that, but in general, with the little time to live that we have, I just don’t think there’s enough time in a day to spend too much of your time researching what everyone else is up to. It’s important to crack on with your own ideas too – you’re more likely to end up with something original.
For Northern Soul, how did you get your head around acting for the first time? You took classes, right?
I never took acting lessons before I met the director (Elaine Constantine). I had an acting coach called Orlando Seale for a while, a friend of mine I met on the music scene, also a great actor! Claire Garvey who plays Betty (in Northern Soul) gave me a ton of help when I was starting up. I saw a load of people actually. Did workshops with Katy Coogan who is absolutely brilliant and the workshops we did with Elaine and Paul Sadot really, really helped.
I was really, really lucky to have been landed with such a creative and giving, talented bunch of people. All the while my brother Tim enabled me to stay in London with next to no money while I was training. I saw a few coaches that Elaine had arranged for… I had a lot of support from a lot of friends. So I was really quite lucky, but I also worked very hard to get it. The whole process happened very naturally.
The most helpful thing was to be around people that were willing to help you because generally with acting you can do with having people to bounce things off of. Otherwise you’re just talking to yourself in your bedroom. Or the toilet.
How do you prepare alone? Do you look in the mirror and act out? A lot of preparation?
I learn all my words. I write out the scene 3 or 4 times, everybody’s lines, until I know the whole conversation. I get my housemates to test me until I don’t need the script.
I don’t really look in the mirror and do all of that stuff. Maybe if I’m playing a demon, I might check in the mirror to see I don’t look like a complete idiot [laughs].
I prefer to believe that looking in the mirror would only make you come off worse… Generally… I mean, we don’t study ourselves in the mirror when we are living in real life. Do we now?
Are there certain types of shots you find more challenging to act in than others and what is your way around it?
I don’t think I’ve had enough experience to answer that question to be honest! Every scene is a task and they’re all equally as easy and as difficult to master as each other [laughs].
What kind of performances and works of art are inspirational to you at the moment? Are there actors or musicians out there where you look at them and think ‘that’s the kind of work I want to do’ or that you dig?
I’ve just started watching House of Cards. I love Kevin Spacey, he’s great. Always liked his work. I like how subtle he is but nails every beat. I watched a film called Mr. Nobody recently – a sci-fi film – that was cool. Made me want to make a Sci-Fi.
Music-wise, I follow whats close to me theres a whole crew, in first meeting referred to as the Chai Wallah’s/Local Posse crew – Lazy Habits, Beatbox Collective, Fjokra, Joe Driscoll, Reeps One, High Cross Society, Too Many T’s! Boxettes, John Fairhurst, Trol 23, Benny Aves, Ayah Marar, Dizraeli and the Small Gods, Klumzy tung, Linden Jay, Captain Crunch! DJ Downlow. Foreign Beggars…
There are so many more, but these are the bands I have been most involved with, admired, or followed or watched perform over the last few years. I like to watch my mates bands because I want to support them and I love what they do. Plus they are very much family and bring me much inspiration. All worth checking out!
What’s one piece of advice you can give to an aspiring creative?
Just begin something. Quite a lot of time spent believing I can’t do a drawing is spent staring at a blank page. But half the time if you just make a mark and continue with that mark until you’ve exhausted every possibility then, even if you’ve finished it and think ‘this is fucking terrible’, at least you know what terrible is (in your opinion).
Half the time what makes a final product good, or what you consider good, is a result of learning what you’ve considered to be bad and avoiding it.
If you’re writing a song and are feeling that you’ve got no idea what to write then just write ‘cabbage’ or ‘lemons’ and start a random train of thought. Word after word. Strictly meaningless. If you keep on writing then eventually you free up the concern that what you’re doing has to have a purpose and be perfect. It’s important not to think too much.
So my advice for anyone struggling to be creative is to just begin.
You’ve just filmed Alleycats. What can you tell us about it?
It’s a thriller set in London about illegal bike couriers and dirty politicians. Action packed! I can’t wait to see the finished thing, everyone has been working really hard and all of the cast and crew are absolutely amazing to work with. I’m really happy I chose to do it. Keep your eyes peeled!
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