Katie is an actor, currently appearing in BBC3’s new comedy series Bluestone 42. She is also a writer, private tutor, work-shop leader and (sometimes) producer.
Was it a conscious decision to become a ‘polymath’, or something that happened organically over time? I think it’s in my nature…I’ve always wanted to do lots of things. It’s that, combined with the need to survive. After an initial run of work when I first started acting, I was working as a waitress in a hospital, and I ended up not getting a call from my agent for 3 months. I just found it really frustrating…feeling like you’re not in control of it, and so I think that what’s driven me to be a ‘polymath’.
What was your first leap into polymathy? My friend Morgan and I wrote and produced a show for the Edinburgh festival, and after that we were fortunate enough to get onto a BBC scheme called ‘comedy college’ and that was probably when I started saying ‘actually, I can write..I am a writer’. We produced all our Edinburgh shows ourselves out of necessity, but the one year we did end up going with a production company, was the one year we lost money!
Which have been your favourite experiences? Do you prefer just acting or do you like to be more creatively involved? I think I would creatively be frustrated if acting was all I did….and as an actor you are really the last piece of the puzzle. Even when I was working at The National Theatre (in the 2011 production of The Kitchen), you’ve got the weight of this amazing institution behind you, but I also had a show going on at Edinburgh that I had written, and I was so proud…so that was equally important to me. There is something so fulfilling about creating something completely from scratch that is your own, and getting recognition. I think that’s way more satisfying.
Have there ever been times when it’s difficult to keep all the balls in the air? Constantly! Life is a constant juggling act…I have to be meticulous with my diary and I’m always having to move and change things, as acting things can be quite last minute. I’m lucky that my agent is understanding – they appreciate that I do other things to earn a living.
So have you ever lost out on an acting job because of your other commitments? No, I think it’s always worked out…but nearly. I almost lost a whole tv series (Green Wing) because it clashed with Edinburgh one year and I didn’t want to let the rest of the team down. That would have been a nightmare…gutting, but thankfully the casting director was able to work the schedule out so that I could do both. I try not to think about it too much, as otherwise you’d end up not doing anything. I know so many actors who say ‘No, I can’t do this, or that, because I might get acting work’, but if you sit and wait and don’t take risks, you’ll never get anything done.
Would you ever consider writing parts for yourself? When I first got into writing, for one of the Edinburgh shows, that was my idea, but I realised that I could serve the project much better if I stepped back as an actor and just stuck to one role. I think it’s easier to focus that way – I like to give whatever I’m doing 100% of my attention and know which hat I’m wearing. I think that acting, by it’s nature, it’s quite a self-centered profession in some ways, and I think the idea of doing that job well, but also producing or directing and being responsible for other people, that’s hard. Maybe some people can do it but it wouldn’t be for me.
Are there any downsides to being a ‘polymath’? Perhaps the downside is that I don’t spend enough time preparing for auditions, say if I get a last minute meeting coming through. It annoys me that people just expect actors to drop everything and jump – and I’m not prepared to conform to it! I think it terms of my well-being and mental state…it’s better for me if I’m busy. I suppose sometimes you do feel like a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’…I do question whether I’d be a better actor if I had time to sit down and watch Shakespeare plays back to back, or spend my days at the library, but I just know that I wouldn’t do that….I’m just not that sort of person! So I do question whether doing other things has a detrimental effect on my career, but at the same time, I feel like my sanity is more important. I just don’t think I’ve got the bones to just be an actor, sticking it out until the work comes through.
And the best thing about being a polymath? Distraction? I’m lucky at the moment that I am working and doing well, but doing other things massively helps to take the pressure off and keeps my confidence up when I’m not working as an actor. It gives me a good creative output, as well have having stuff to talk about – I do think it makes you a more interesting person in meetings. So the best thing is…it allows me to enjoy being an actor when I do get work, because I have other means of earning. And I love being exposed to different people from different walks of life.
What advice would you give to an actor just starting out? Do as much…make as much, as you can. Take risks – if that means putting on your own show then do it! Don’t just be led and don’t expect that just because you’ve got an agent they’re gonna sort you out.