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Rising Star Raphael Corkhill: Why we need the ‘#imlistening’ movement

One of the benefits of social media is that they offer more opportunities than ever for self-expression. But sometimes the more confrontational a post is, the more likely it is to be shared, heard, discussed and yelled at. My movement would lead in the opposite direction: #imlistening would encourage respectful reception of ideas on social media. […]


One of the benefits of social media is that they offer more opportunities than ever for self-expression. But sometimes the more confrontational a post is, the more likely it is to be shared, heard, discussed and yelled at.

My movement would lead in the opposite direction: #imlistening would encourage respectful reception of ideas on social media. Responding to a post with simply that hashtag would allow us to support thoughtful, less aggressive messages, while also reminding belligerent users that their posts are being heard and noted by real people.

More broadly, though, it would hopefully inspire us to listen more attentively in face-to-face conversation. Although we will not always agree with each other, I believe that fully taking on board another person’s perspective rather than just waiting for a turn to speak is the best way to achieve respectful communication and mutual understanding. #imlistening is inspired by a very useful note for actors: the closer we listen, the more truthful and impactful our response will be.


I had the pleasure to interview Raphael Corkhill. Raphael is an award-winning screen, stage and voice actor. Born and raised in Great Britain, he moved to the United States to attend Princeton University. After graduating, he was awarded a full scholarship to pursue an MFA in acting at the University of Southern California. Now based in New York, Raphael’s work ranges from billion dollar video game franchises and critically-acclaimed TV productions, to independent films and groundbreaking works for theatre.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born in London, Great Britain and grew up in an artistic home: my parents are both professional musicians, my sister and I were both cellists and I sang as a Child of Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal, the Sovereign’s personal choir. I spoke Welsh and English growing up and went to schools in London and South Wales before spending my last two years of high school at Eton College. I moved to the US to attend Princeton University and have been in America ever since.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

There was no single moment when I suddenly discovered “I want to be an actor.” I can only describe it as a “calling” that precedes my earliest memories. But it was also private and as a child I never shared this desire to be actor with my parents. They were a little startled when I announced at the age of 15 that it was time for me to leave school and become an actor. Fortunately, I was “encouraged”to finish my education first…

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Three years ago, I had the lead role in an independent TV pilot, playing a boxer with a secret life as a drag queen. My character fought to find an identity somewhere between the ultra-masculine world of prize fighting and the performance of ultra-femininity in drag. I shot fight scenes with a professional middleweight champion and sang duets with one of the best-known figures in the drag community. But whether in the boxing ring or on the nightclub stage the rules are the same: come with respect and give everything you have.

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?

I’m not sure if this is funny… or horrifying. Shortly after graduating from drama school I was cast in a non-union film as a character who robs a diner. When I saw that the man in charge of the fake guns resembled a Hells Angels biker and his guns turned out to real, I should have walked. When the cinematographer asked for blank rounds to be put into the chamber of the massive silver revolver I now held and the Hells Angels biker hesitated, I should have run. When the Hells Angels biker loaded the rounds, then whispered “just don’t pull the trigger” right before the director called action, I should have fled the country. Instead, I pointed a loaded gun at the face of another actor, said my lines, then nearly fainted when the Hells Angels biker grinned and said the bullets were “357 magnum full metal jacket and would have made a mess.”

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am in the upcoming Warner Bros. adaptation of Donna Tartt’s novel The Goldfinch and Jordan Peele’s new TV show for Amazon, The Hunt. I also recently co-produced and performed in a historical thriller short film based on true, untold events called The German King about an uprising that took place on the eve of World War I led by an African king against oppressive colonial rule. It deals with some of today’s most pressing issues in entertainment and society, including cultural representation, diversity in film, post-colonial historical reassessment, personal identity, and political resistance. I am currently producing the feature-length version, which we plan to shoot in 2020.

Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

To represent diversity onscreen is to honor diversity in society. Across time, space and cultures, human beings have told stories about themselves as a way of forming group identity. Representing diversity in film and television is to declare that everyone must be respected, everyone must be valued, and everyone must be included.

Representing diversity in culture today is all the more urgent given that minority viewpoints have usually been brushed under the carpet, particularly when they challenge a dominant culture’s self-image.

It reminds me of a West African proverb I was told at a screening of The German King: “Until the lion tells the story of the hunt, the hunter will always be the hero.”

From your personal experience, can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address some of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

Limited access to training for aspiring actors from diverse backgrounds is a big problem. Growing up in Great Britain I saw how funding for the arts in high schools is first on the chopping block when cuts are made. Protecting drama classes would increase the diversity of trained, experienced performers.

University-level drama schools should also have much more substantial financial support. The threat of entering the entertainment industry burdened with huge debt is enough to scare off almost all acting students, but most particularly and unfairly discourages students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

I would also completely do away with the current trend towards defining an actor’s “brand”. This reduces a unique human being to the status of a commodity like washing detergent that somehow needs a brand message to stand out. More worryingly, “brands” and “types” are predicated on expectations and therefore feel unsettlingly close to stereotypes. With all casting, but especially with diverse casting, the goal should be to challenge and defy expectations rather than reinforce them.

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. “Get your ass to New York!” The MFA acting program I attended at the University of Southern California was a phenomenal experience; staying in LA for three years after graduation was dreadful. Personally, and professionally, New York is an ideal fit for me.
  2. “Immediately after drama school, some of your classmates will have huge success — don’t worry, just row your own boat.” Seeing my former classmates hit the Hollywood jackpot while I struggled to get non-union fringe theatre roles was soul-crushing. But I now see that all my early experiences were an opportunity to improve, experiment and find myself as an actor — I wouldn’t change them for anything.
  3. “Join SAG-AFTRA asap!” The actors’ union provides outstanding protection, opportunities and support for its members.
  4. “Build friendships with people outside entertainment.” It is very easy for actors to spend time exclusively with other actors. I have found it extremely important to nurture my relationships with people outside the industry. The subjects of conversation are different and stimulating, it helps me to maintain perspective and not over-focus on my career, and there is also far less drama!
  5. “Become a producer as well as an actor.” Producing films is empowering and offers a valuable insight into the business side of entertainment.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Find a hobby that is purely for fun and has absolutely nothing to do with acting or the entertainment industry. It’s helpful if the hobby involves a minimal level of competition. Since professional success is often measured against the performance of others, the constant fight to “be the best” can be exhausting. For ambitious people, social sports like golf or softball can be fun but yet another way to compete… and therefore not entirely relaxing!

My hobby is Flamenco dancing. The collaborative atmosphere is a joy, I love the music, and it’s a chance to express myself without anything on the line. The rhythms of Flamenco also stimulate a part of my brain I don’t activate on a regular basis and the movement is enjoyable physical exercise, which is also crucial for avoiding burnout.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

One of the benefits of social media is that they offer more opportunities than ever for self-expression. But sometimes the more confrontational a post is, the more likely it is to be shared, heard, discussed and yelled at.

My movement would lead in the opposite direction: #imlistening would encourage respectful reception of ideas on social media. Responding to a post with simply that hashtag would allow us to support thoughtful, less aggressive messages, while also reminding belligerent users that their posts are being heard and noted by real people.

More broadly, though, it would hopefully inspire us to listen more attentively in face-to-face conversation. Although we will not always agree with each other, I believe that fully taking on board another person’s perspective rather than just waiting for a turn to speak is the best way to achieve respectful communication and mutual understanding. #imlistening is inspired by a very useful note for actors: the closer we listen, the more truthful and impactful our response will be.

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?

My mother, who combined unwavering love with firm guidance. At the Chapel Royal choir, I became Head Boy and Head Soloist. One night before an important solo, I developed a sore throat, was unable to sleep and starting panicking about singing the next day. I woke my mother, hoping for some kind of indulgent support. What I got was “Would Pavarotti whine if he got a sore throat and couldn’t sleep?! No! He’d turn up and produce the goods. Get back to bed and just lie there if you have to!” So, I did… and produced the goods the next day. The big lesson? Behave like a professional!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some have unwittingly entertained angels.” I stumbled across this quote from the Bible while doing research for a role. The word “entertain” in the original context means to welcome or treat well and is an important reminder to treat everyone with kindness and respect. But “entertain” means something additional to performers, and the quotation perfectly encompasses my hope as an actor: to bring joy to people I do not know, and in doing so contribute to something bigger than myself by bringing broader awareness to difficult issues.

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 just see this, especially if we tag them.

During college I interned for a barrister in London who was trying a high-profile criminal case. In court, I was awestruck by the lawyers’ mastery of complex issues, their quick-witted debate, and the cold reality that a person’s freedom hung in the balance. But the trial also seemed to share a lot with theatre, whether using language and gesture to move an audience, or wearing elaborate costumes to embody power.

Amal Clooney’s intellect, skill, and choice of casework are peerless and her early work in human rights law established her as an extraordinary legal mind. For those reasons alone, hearing about her vision and experiences as a lawyer and humanitarian would be a lifetime highlight. But given her charisma I would also love to hear her thoughts about whether performance plays a role in the court room. And, of course, sharing a cup of Earl Grey with a fellow Brit in America is always a pleasure.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: @rcorkhill

Twitter: @raphaelcorkhill

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