Alix Wilton Regan, actor, A Nightmare Wakes (2020)

Alix Wilton Regan: Living the dream in A Nightmare Wakes (2020) & acting with Uma Thurman & Glenn Close

Alix Wilton Regan always dreamt of becoming an actress. She was the youngest person to be admitted to the prestigious Drama Studio London and has since worked alongside Glenn Close in The Wife (2017).

Regan has also found enormous success as a voice actor for well-known video games such as Assassin’s Creed and Mass Effect 3, as well as being the voice of Comedy Central and FOX. She even got to wind up John Cleese from the safety of being the ‘Voice of a Sat Nav’ in a Specsavers advert.

In an entertaining conversation, this award-winning actor discusses her journey into the industry, from getting signed to an agency at 17 and rising up the ranks in British television, to working alongside Uma Thurman for Apple TV Drama Tailspin, and walking the red carpet at Cannes Film Festival.

In her latest film, the psychological thriller A Nightmare Wakes (2020), she plays the leading role of Mary Shelley, the brilliant mind behind Frankenstein.

Alix Wilton Regan always dreamt of becoming an actress. She was the youngest person to be admitted to the prestigious Drama Studio London and has since worked alongside Glenn Close in The Wife (2017).

Regan has also found enormous success as a voice actor for well-known video games such as Assassin’s Creed and Mass Effect 3, as well as being the voice of Comedy Central, FOX,

In this entertaining conversation, this award-winning actor discusses her journey into the industry, from getting signed to an agency at 17 and rising up the ranks in British television, to working alongside Uma Thurman for Apple TV Drama Tailspin / Suspicion, and walking the red carpet at Cannes Film Festival.

In her latest film, the psychological thriller A Nightmare Wakes (2020), she plays the leading role of Mary Shelley, the brilliant mind behind Frankenstein.

FF: Could you introduce yourself for me?

AWR: Hi, guys. I’m Alix Wilton Regan.

FF: Can you tell us what you do in the film industry?

AWR: I’m an actress. And I’m a little bit of a writer and I’m a voiceover artist as well.

FF: Oh, great. Okay, so you’ve got fingers in a few pies there then.

AWR: But mainly an actress, I should stress that.

FF: And do you have more of an interest in film acting or theatre acting?

AWR: I very firmly believe that all of the different mediums have their different pluses and minuses. My first love is film, because that’s what you grow up being exposed to a bit more than theatre. But I also love the stage as well.

Acting was always the dream

FF: Fantastic. So how did you get into acting, what was your journey?

AWR: I never really wanted to do anything else. I have to be honest, I was one of those precocious and slightly annoying four year olds who made everyone stop what they’re doing and look at me and my one woman rendition of Sleeping Beauty. So I never really wanted to do anything else.

And then I took Saturday drama classes when I was about eight. And I continued that throughout my teens. I went to Sylvia Young, which is a theatre school here. And then when I was 18, I was like, ‘Alright, that’s it. That’s my turn to go to drama school’. And I never really looked back, but I never wanted to do anything else either. So, I think it was easier to have that focus.

Alix Wilton Regan as Mary Shelley in A Nightmare Wakes (2020)
Actor Alix Wilton Regan as Mary Shelley in A Nightmare Wakes (2020)

FF: Yeah. So where was it that you studied?

AWR: I went to the Drama Studio London in Ealing, which is literally just across the road from Ealing film studios. And it was great. It was an 18-month post grad course. I think what was really good about the curriculum at the time – this is going back 10 years – they had an incredible amount of classes focusing on the different disciplines. So, stage work, movement, film and TV, radio, they really covered it all. They prepared us really well to be actors.

Signing with an agent as a teenager

FF: That’s great. So, when you came out there, what were your next steps? How long did it take you to get an agent, for example?

AWR: Well, I immediately went and got a job in a bar, obviously, and then a pub and a restaurant, just to pay my rent. I was very lucky because I had actually been in a school production when I was 17. An agent was there from The BWH Agency, who were very well-established; they came along to watch me in that and they actually signed me up as a teenager. And then I went to drama school and I stayed with BWH after drama school. So, I was really lucky that I was already represented during my showcase.

Rising through the ranks of television and film

But then it was just a question of doing the kind of earning your stripes work; Doctors (2000 – ), Casualty (1986 – ), The Bill (1984-2010). It was about earning your stripes and working your way up, I guess.

FF: That’s awesome. So, what was it that inspired you to go from television to cinema?

AWR: Everyone wants to be in cinema. I think you get to a stage in your career where you have enough power to say no to a project or to field different projects and choose what you’re doing, and that generally comes a little later on in life. Initially, when you’re starting out, you’re so excited to be working. And you’re so lucky to be working, when you’ve got other friends who maybe aren’t booking, for example, that you have a tendency to grab onto everything and say yes, because you have the energy to do it, you have the time to do it. It’s really exciting and it’s a great way of making friends.

I remember meeting some producer, on maybe my third feature film, and now he’s a huge bigwig at Netflix and doing loads of different projects for them, and you sort of rise up through the ranks with people. But unless it involves some seriously questionable things, which I will leave to your imagination, I think it’s okay to say yes to stuff when you’re starting out and just sort of embrace it all.

FF: Yeah, I agree. There seems to be an almost controversial issue in the creative industries of unpaid work. What’s your take on doing unpaid work when you’re first starting out to get your showreel together? Or do you think that people should always go for paid work only, even if all they have is a headshot?

AWR: It’s a really good question. I did a load of unpaid work when I was starting out, short films and student films, and it allowed me to build a show reel. So, it depends how badly and how quickly you want to build that show reel. Of course, in an ideal world, all artists would be paid. By which I mean, actors, writers, makeup artists, directors, we’d all be being paid to create. But unfortunately, until we live in that world, I think you kind of have to weigh up your options.

Like I said, before I really started working, I worked a day job in a restaurant and a night job in a pub. And because I had those two jobs, I could do the unpaid work. And also, everyone loved the glamour of me being a 23 year old actress, I was like, ‘I can’t come in today, I have an audition!’ or, ‘I booked a job, I will be gone for 24 hours’. Very dramatically announcing that, and it was probably an unpaid student film, and they would very kindly let me go and do it.

FF: Yeah. It’s always funny when people Google you. They don’t know, and then you mention that you do acting and they’re like, ‘Seriously?’, and you’re like, ‘No seriously, I do’. And then they Google you and I’m like, ‘No, I’m not famous, clearly. Otherwise, you would have known who I was’. It’s funny the way people think of it, even when you are just really fighting your way up.

So, could you tell us about your recent project?

A Nightmare Wakes (2020): the story behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

AWR: I’m in a film called A Nightmare Wakes (2020), which is written and directed by an American director called Nora Unkel, and I get to play Mary Shelley. The idea of the film is how Mary Shelley created the story of Frankenstein, which she obviously did as we all know, and the trials and the tribulations and the turmoils and the heartache that Mary had to go through to bring us this incredible piece of literature, which we still read.

Alix Wilton Regan, as Mary Wollstonecraft in A Nightmare Wakes (2020)
Alix Wilton Regan, as Mary Wollstonecraft in A Nightmare Wakes (2020)

Even today in school, I think it’s still on the GCSE syllabus or something, and it’s read all around the world and translated into hundreds of different languages. But she really was someone very special. And so it was a real honour to play her. It’s called A Nightmare Wakes (2020) and you can see it on Shudder, which is an online platform that I’m sure most people watching will know about and you can access via Amazon Prime as well.

Working alongside Uma Therman

FF: So, do you have anything lined up at the moment?

AWR: Before Christmas, I did two really nice TV jobs, which was great. I did a job called ‘Tailspin’ opposite Uma Thurman, in my best American accent. Terrifying when you’re acting opposite an actual American screen icon!

But I was really lucky that I got to do that before Christmas. And actually, I got to do another project, interestingly, about Mary Shelley’s mother, who was called Mary Wollstonecraft. It’s a BBC Two documentary about the history of art and culture over the last 800 years in Britain, and how that art and history and culture come together and they all weave together in this kind of melting pot to create where we are now today in society.

FF: Fantastic. That sounds amazing. Do you know when that would be available or is that still in production?

AWR: Tailspin is still shooting [as of February 2021 – thought to be a codename for Suspicion due out on Apple TV], and the BBC Two thing’s just wrapped. Because I think BBC Two are going to champion it and do quite a large section on it.

Filming during a pandemic, how the industry has changed

FF: Good. Awesome. And so, obviously, you were filming during this pandemic then, how was that? What are the differences in how a film set runs at the moment?

AWR: Well, you spend many days ahead of your actual filming being taken to a set to have a cotton bud stuck up your nose and down the back of your throat, to check whether you’ve got Covid. That’s the kind of glaring difference. And then on set, people are really careful about wearing masks or visors. Especially around the actors if we can’t have a mask or a visor, generally speaking, you can’t because you’ve had your hair and your makeup done for the scene. So, you can’t go and put a face mask on and then have to take it off, put it on, it doesn’t quite work.

So, there are, kind of…hierarchies of people who can and can’t get onto the set around actors, as much for their safety as for ours. Because I could have Covid, potentially, and not know about it. But I’m not wearing a mask, so I’m not able to protect the grip, or the gaffer, or whoever. So everyone’s just very careful, very cautious, two metres as much as possible, ventilation.

But I just felt so lucky to be working because 2020 was, on the whole, a very quiet and slightly disturbed year for everyone.

FF: Yeah, a ton of redundancies and everything like that, unfortunately.

AWR: No, exactly. And so if you are lucky enough to be working, kind of grab it with both hands and say thank you, I guess.

Advice for aspiring actors and screenwriters: read scripts first, then watch the film

FF: Yeah. You mentioned that you also do writing. Is that screenwriting or is that more novels and things like that?

AWR: So, I started out mainly with poetry, actually, because I love poetry, and then moved more into screenwriting, only short films at this point. But I have written a couple of short films. I’m sure both of them are terrible, but that’s fine, because it’s also an exercise in itself, which is also a creative exercise in itself, right? You have to learn how to write, it’s a job as much as acting. But I like to think I get a little bit better every time I try.

And of course, being an actor, I read a ton of scripts, which I’m really lucky to have access to. So it makes you think about, ‘Oh, this is really interesting. Oh, I like the technique that they’ve employed. Oh, I like how they did that’.

And actually, what I find really fascinating – and this is a tip that I would give any actors reading this right now – get a script, read it.

It could be anything, let’s say Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)… Read the script. How do you imagine it? How do you say it? How do you visualise it?

Then go and watch the film.

And it’s so interesting, because it’ll always be different. It won’t be better or worse – ok it might be better because we’re talking about Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet(!) – but it’ll be different, right, and you’ll learn something.

I think that’s a really powerful exercise to take into account.

I audition a lot, but of course I don’t always book the job. No actor does. But I still like to go and watch the actor that got it and be like, ‘Yeah. Okay, I see why they cast her. Okay, I get it was a different vibe or energy or age or whatever’. It’s always interesting, it’s always learning. And learning is always interesting.

FF: Absolutely. I completely agree with you. And I think that’s a really important exercise, because who is chosen to direct and who is chosen as DoP massively affects the outcome of the film and what it looks like, visually, but it’s ultimately the same story, which is interesting.

Alix Wilton Regan in The Leap (Short, 2015)
Alix Wilton Regan in The Leap (Short, 2015). Dir. Karen Van Bellingen

How to deal with rejection

FF: So, you mentioned auditions there, and not always getting every audition as no actor does, obviously. What’s your strategy for dealing with rejection?

AWR: I’ve gotta be honest, I’m terrible at it! I wish I came to these interviews with a really ‘zen’ answer, I wish I was just like, ‘AJ, look, I’ve just discovered meditation, OK, and it’s changed everything’. Not at all! I get an audition, I get into a funk and a flap either because I want it too much or I don’t want it enough. Nothing’s ever right or perfect. And then I send it in and then I think I could have done that better, I could have done that better. And then if you get the job, you’re like, ‘Wow, was no one else available? Because why did they pick me?’ Or sometimes you get the job and you’re like, ‘Yes, that was a good audition. I deserve that job’.

And, of course, a lot of the time you don’t get the job and you’re like, ‘How? How could they not see how good my tape was? How could they not see?’ And then you find out it went to someone really, really famous like an Oscar winner. I don’t know Carey Mulligan or Keira Knightley or something. And you’re like, ‘Ok. Yeah, I see what happened there’.

I don’t deal very well with rejection. But I think the one thing I have learnt, growing up a little bit in the industry, is there’s always a reason and you’re never going to really know what that reason was. And it sounds like a really obvious thing to say but they might have given it to the producer’s daughter, they might have cast a woman…accept that it’s never personal. It is very, very, very rarely personal as to why you won’t book a job. So, try not to take it personally. They may have gone for someone older, younger, taller, shorter, thinner, fatter, funnier, more serious. Who knows?

But if they’ve asked to see you, you get to assume that they’re interested in whatever it is that you have to offer, and will bring to the table so try and hold on to that, I think.

FF: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s really good advice. I think it can definitely be a difficult thing for any creative to accept. You pour your heart and your soul into it.

AWR: How do you deal with it, Aiysha?

FF: For me, I’m quite different from most people, because my background professionally is sales. So, I’m used to people telling me, ‘Jog on!’, so I actually don’t care.

My attitude is onto the next one, someone’s gonna say yes. That’s kind of how I deal with rejection in all areas of life to be honest. But I know it gets people down. I’ve talked to a lot of actor friends and some of them do get really upset after auditions and stuff. But I tend not to put that much pressure on myself.

It’s not that I don’t care about the job, I want the job. But if they go with someone else, then they were obviously a better fit for the role. And I’m totally okay with that. I’m not going to be the best. I’m not going to be perfect at everything.

So, have you thought about producing anything that you’ve been writing?

AWR: Yes, I have. So many people have said I should produce because I’m naturally very organised as it is, good at getting stuff done. But I see the pain that my producer friends go through and I just think, ‘Do I want that pain in my life? I don’t know’.

I have so much respect for the producers, it’s unreal. I think they have a really hard job. And I would like to produce at some point, but I’d like to produce underneath other producers who really know what they’re doing. Yeah, that would be the dream, basically.

FF: And after you’ve ridden the acting train maybe a bit more and have the connections that would really make your film happen the way that you want it to happen. Because I think that also can be a stumbling block for new producers.

AWR: I would agree with that. Definitely.

Cannes Film Festival Red Carpet Alix Wilton Regan
Alix Wilton Regan at the Cannes Film Festival Red Carpet

Attending Cannes Film Festival as an actor

FF: And have you attended film festivals? And how has that experience been, if you have?

AWR: Yes, I have. I’ve been to Cannes Film Festival quite a few times, which is very big and very glamorous, and everyone looks very lovely.

It’s very European, there’s a French word for it, it means everything’s very well-heeled and very polite. So that’s what Cannes is like.

And I’ve been to TIFF with a film called The Wife (2017), that I was in. I’ve been to the Los Angeles Film Festival and TIFF is obviously Canadian, it’s kind of somewhere between Europe and LA, I guess. And that’s really fun, everyone’s really nice and they have a great selection of films.

So yeah, I’ve done a few. And I’ve been to a few in London, obviously, as well. Yeah, I think the European ones are probably the most glamorous.

FF: Okay, yeah, right. I haven’t actually been to Cannes myself. I’ve been to the AFI FEST in LA, and that was awesome. But yeah, I would love to go to Cannes.

How did you find the networking opportunities that film festivals provided you as an actor?

AWR: As an actor, if I’m honest, not that sensational. I think it’s more about the films. And I kind of think that’s okay, because that’s why we’re all there, right? We’re all interested in cinema. So, I think it’s right that a lot of the focus is on the films and the filmmakers. Because if you think about where the actor comes in the process, it’s quite far down the line from commissioning a script, writing a script, getting it up to speed, attaching a director, having the right production company on board, and so on, and so forth.

What I would say, though, is if you are an actor who already knows a fair few people in the business, then what’s great about going to a film festival is that you get to see them there, again, and speak to them and hang out with them and wrack their brains and maybe have a drink or a meal.

And I think that’s a really good way of getting to know people in a more personal aspect, away from set, away from work. I think that’s a lovely thing about film festivals.

FF: Yeah, absolutely. And I guess they would be more likely to remember you if they’ve sat and had a drink with you as well.

So, what is your final piece of advice for an aspiring actor?

AWR: My final piece of advice for an aspiring actor would be, make the work personal to you. But know that what you get back from the industry is never personal.

FF: That’s really good advice.

AWR: I guess what I mean is, it has to be personal to you because you have to love what you do. But when you get faced with that rejection, or that ambivalence, or that cold hard shoulder, don’t take it personally, because it’s not. You just keep doing you.

FF: Awesome. Thank you so much.

Credits

Transcription & Editor: Keren Davies
Second Editor & Artwork: Richard Williams
Special thanks to Alix Wilton Regan, CLD Communications