I had the pleasure of interviewing actress Andrea Thornton. Andrea started out as an actress, graduating from Mountview Theatre School in London, UK. Some years later she moved in to producing, finding it equally as challenging and enjoyable being behind the scenes. She has mainly stayed on the fiction side of things, until last year, when based on her own experiences, she made the award winning documentary, ‘ATTENTION PLEASE’. It first screened in Cannes last May and is now drawing its festival year to a close with an industry screening in L.A. this month, which she is very excited about.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Producing was purely by accident. I was a jobbing actress tired of waiting for the phone to ring or waiting for the right role to come along, so a colleague and I decided to write a screenplay, writing in the characters that we wanted to play. When we finished writing, because we didn’t want to sell the script, we set up our own production company. It all escalated from there and now I’m a producer!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
Producing my own children! It’s all gone full circle really. I was hugely ambitious, didn’t think for a second having children would stop me, but it did. I wasn’t prepared for the fallout that was about to change my life. My son took me out of work because of his ‘behavioural condition’ for a good few years, which at the time I really struggled with. Then, when I discovered the man that helped change our lives, I thought “I need to make a documentary about this man’s incredible work”. So the little guy that took me out of work, was the one person that put me back into work, stronger and more determined than ever.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Very first short I ever produced was on a budget of zilch in the usual fashion! I was doing everything, including the catering. I was trying very hard to be healthy, as so many catering firms at the time used to produce food that wasn’t that nutritious. The gaffer walked in at lunchtime and peered around the tables. “Where’s the meat?”. I looked around my ‘beautiful’ layout and realised there wasn’t any meat. His face turned to thunder and my heart sank. Rule number one; feed your crew well, they have been up since the crack of dawn and need energy. I was there cooking a full English breakfast the next morning, and my crews will never go hungry again!!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
The most exciting is my latest documentary, ‘ATTENTION PLEASE’ because it is a subject so close to my heart. My son was basically told he would never be ‘normal’ because of his behavioural problems (he was misdiagnosed with ADHD), and whilst all the medical professionals just wanted to drug him, I actually found a man that helped turn it all around. It was the hardest and darkest journey I have ever been on, but finally I am so thrilled to be out the other side and hoping my documentary will bring about real change and real reform for other kids.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
My first ever job, fresh out of drama school was with Mike Leigh on ‘Secrets and Lies’. I couldn’t believe my luck! One night after shooting, we were having a drink and I was asking his advice about a job I had been offered. It was a ‘profit share’ theatre production which was going to earn me no money whatsoever and probably be seen by about 3 people…or so I thought.
Mike was very direct (and lovely and helpful!), he told me to take the job. That is where I would learn my craft, he said. He was absolutely right. I did tonnes of fringe theatre after that and we got some amazing coverage and critics choices etc.. I also didn’t realise at the time that I was learning to produce. It was all so hands-on that I was becoming a ‘Jack of all trades’. I have Mike to thank for all of that.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Have fun! Have a personality and for goodness sake laugh loud and laugh often! It is such a stressful, thankless task being a producer most of the time. So just don’t let it get you down. Bizarrely, now that I have been through all this strife with my son and medical professionals, some of the things on set that used to terrify me, no longer do. And when people are rude, I laugh inside and think “Gosh, my son would have been far more ‘creatively’ insulting than that back in his day’!! It’s gallows humour in a way, but it allows you to not panic, keep your cool and let some things just go over your head. And don’t take things personally. Everyone’s stressed on set, so pick your battles.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Oh goodness, easily, easily to bring about reform for our children. If my documentary, ‘ATTENTION PLEASE’ can help change the way we treat ‘mental health’ issues, then my work here is done. We keep treating the product never the cause of all these ‘mental health’ labels and I would love to see that change in my lifetime. I have an answer, I just need the right people to listen.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1) Don’t put yourself down, promote yourself — everyone has strengths and weaknesses; we are all equal one way or another, so don’t for example, as an actor walk into an audition room terrified in front of the producer and director We are just as desperate for you to be the right person as you are to get the job!
2) An industry pal told me last year, ‘Andi, no one knows what they’re doing in this business’. I so wished he’d told me that when I was first starting out! It would have taken so much of the self doubt away. I always presumed everyone knew more than me. They didn’t.
3) Listen to your gut instinct. I wish I’d listened to my gut instinct more in the beginning. If something doesn’t feel right. Get the hell out of there. Your finely tuned instincts are trying to tell you something. Just don’t confuse that feeling with the fear of not wanting to come out of your comfort zone. That’s entirely different.
4) It doesn’t matter! Really; if you didn’t get the job, you didn’t get the job. Be grateful for everything you have around you and try to gain perspective on that. When I was a jobbing actress, some jobs meant so much to me and I was devastated when I didn’t get them. Now, I acknowledge disappointment, but only fleetingly, and move on. It just wasn’t meant to be, there are so many other opportunities out there.
5) Never give up if you still love what you do. But the instant you lose the passion, get out fast, or it will eat you up inside. A young actress friend of mine was contemplating giving up after a couple of years, because she couldn’t bare the uncertainty of not knowing what was around the corner, or where the next job was coming from. I asked her to reverse that scenario — ‘what if every morning you woke up knowing you were going to the same job, same time, same place, every day for the next thirty years?’ That thought terrified her more, so she’s sticking to acting!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
‘Never argue with stupid people, they will bring you down to their level and then beat you with experience’ Mark Twain. We live in a fabulous world but equally it can seem very unfair and unjust at times; when I first read this quote, it helped me deal with the negative and to a degree, laugh in the face of it. Let others own their s**t. You can’t reason with the unreasonable!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Tony McHale, British BAFTA winner back in the UK, has supported virtually everything I have ever done since I graduated from Drama School, from my acting days to now producing. He is one of those professionals that worked himself up from nothing, and always gives back whenever and however he can. Also the late, great Clive Parsons, who tragically passed away whilst we were working on a huge project together. He mentored me, as producing was all new to me at the time, and one day I will finally make that film and have him to thank for it.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Tony Robbins at Paradise Cove in Malibu! My favourite place on the planet to have lunch! Not many restaurants in London offer a sandy beach beneath your toes and the odd dolphin swimming by! To have one to one time with Tony Robbins would make me feel pretty invincible by the end of it I think! I have been to a few of Tony’s seminars in London; and whilst I am still “Terribly, terribly British” when it comes to ‘whoop whooping’ and high fiving all over the place, the man never fails to stop me in my tracks with how he look at things! He is also one of the few people who see’s mental wellbeing as a physiological issue, and that is exactly the point I am trying to make in my documentary; we don’t all have a mental health problem, as we are constantly led to believe! I quote Tony all the time. I seriously owe him lunch after what he’s taught me, and I think he’d approve of the venue!!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
twitter is: @ATWorkFilms
I am trying very hard to get more social media savvy; my team despair of me as I have to keep asking them how to do it!
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!
Pleasure was all mine, thank you!