CLASS OF 2004
Rupert has just celebrated fifteen years as a professional actor. To mark the moment, I’ve been exploring where he learned his craft.
The Webber-Douglas Academy was in a posh part of town, South Kensington (where Princess Diana liked to shop and socialise). The main building was in a quaint little back street.
An official inspection of the school in 2002 noted some key teaching techniques:
‘Students benefit from the variety of perspectives adopted by movement teachers. In one class, the use of historical photographs and paintings of people gave an imaginative starting point for them to inhabit a particular moment in time and gradually bring these people to life. In another class, the teacher used a combination of semi-hypnotic trance and gentle manipulation of the head and shoulders to help students achieve perfect posture’.
It’s interesting to reflect on how this helped shape Rupert’s dramatic practice, although, in a 2015 Guardian interview, Rupert typically played things down:
‘There’s some technique involved,’ he says of acting. ‘But I think there’s been an overcomplication of it, in a sense. If you say to a kid: “We’re going to play cowboys and Indians, that’s the fort, you guard it” – the kid doesn’t have to sit and think about the role for 20 minutes in silence with their acting coach. They just do it.’ That’s how he tries to act, says Friend, through a process of infantalising.
The school’s Chanticleer Theatre was described by The Stage as having ‘almost the feel of an old, small music hall about it [with] the added edge that its small space offers little refuge for graduating students whose performances are not right on the button. If they are though, they can really impress.’
It may not have been a very glamourous space but it was the fulcrum for our boy’s talent, and impress he certainly did.
On April 15th, 2004, The Stage reported perceptively on the end-of-year graduate showcase:
‘There were two powerful double-acts. The first of the latter came in the form of a dark comic interplay between Rupert Friend and David Hayler as Harold Pinter’s inept hitmen from The Dumb Waiter. Friend, with flowing locks and fine cheekbones, later gave us a splendidly aristocratic libertine.’
How uncanny are those final words – just as he was about to be talent spotted and cast in the film with Johnny Depp!
Finally, one of Rupert’s fellow-graduates in 2004 was Natalie Dormer (of The Tudors). I’d really like to see them reunited some time – a period drama, perhaps? Mmm…