Written by JJ Barnes
I am delighted to share my interview with actress Kelley Costigan. She discusses the highs and lows of her career, shares experiences that have shaped her, and offers advice to inspire others.
Tell me a bit about yourself.
I’m one of eight children (4 boys, 4 girls). My father was an English teacher and my mother stayed home until my youngest sister was at school, then she became a teacher’s aid in a local middle school. Money was tight, but we didn’t feel deprived, although we all wore hand-me-downs and perhaps didn’t have the most fashionable clothing. Summer holidays involved travelling to various dog shows as my father raised St Bernards for show. I grew up with many, many St Bernards and some cats.
I was known for my volcanic temper and would stand up to anyone – whether that was wise or not! I was a bit of a tom boy, always playing with the neighbourhood boys, climbing trees, etc. I was also very shy and used to make up stories, which I would tell the other kids at lunchtime in the school yard. It kept them from bullying me as much as they could have done. I read a lot (and still do).
When did you first realise you wanted to be an actor?
I was very. very young. I used to pretend to be other people. I would dress up (or not) and tell people my name was ‘George’ or something else. My parents would go along with it, calling me by whatever name I happened to choose that day. I also wrote plays for the neighbourhood kids to perform and charge a small fee, which we’d promptly blow on sweets. I remember one play had a special effect of one guy’s shoe catching fire – we put baby powder into his holey trainer and when he was given the cue, he wiggled his toes and ‘smoke’ came out!
What is your favourite thing about performing?
I love performing live in the theatre because each performance it totally new. Yes, you have your lines and your blocking and you are telling a story, but that story is incomplete until the audience arrives and brings their energy to the place. How they are feeling will have a huge effect upon how the story gets told. I love that relationship. I also love creating characters. I enjoy bringing the written word to life which is recognisable and relatable to an audience.
What classes or training sessions have you taken to support your acting career?
In recent years, I’ve taken courses in Horseback Riding, Firearms Training, MoCap, Stunts, Stand-Up Comedy, Voice Over, and Self-Tapes. I enjoy learning and find things which I might enjoy as well as things which might help me be more ‘castable’.
What was your first professional acting job?
I got a gig doing summer repertory in the US with The New Jersey Shakespeare Company in which I understudied some roles and played some very minor parts which also working in the wardrobe/wigs and make-up department. It was tough, but I loved it and I learned a great deal from some very lovely people about how to cope in repertory. I even went back the following season and did it again!
What was your most recent professional acting job?
My most recent professional acting job was pre-pandemic when I played Edgar Allan Poe.
Tell me a favourite experience in your career. Something that stands out in your memories and makes you want to find more experiences like it.
I produced, directed (under a pseudonym), and played the leading role in The Duchess of Malfi with the theatre company I created: Blood and Thunder. I pulled together a wonderful cast and the performances were well received, if poorly attended – the weather played a large part of it (outdoors in British summer is always a gamble), but it was so much fun and everyone was on fire. Magic!
What was your toughest experience in your acting career?
I’ve had a lot of disappointment in my career – name me an actor who hasn’t – but I did some fight work on a film a few years ago. It was raining most of the time and we were wearing latex gimp suits (we were creatures) and it was cold, I’d had little sleep, and so I was not firing on all cylinders. Being autistic (although I had not known it then – not really), I had a melt down because there was too much for my brain to process.
I sat on a log and wept incoherently in front of a group of people I’d only recently met. We were all part of this team and there I was crying and being slightly hysterical. I have to say that they were lovely to me, and I’ve never forgotten it. I apologized afterwards but was told there was no need. There wasn’t much support from higher up, but that’s another story.
Have you family and friends been supportive of your acting career?
I have been incredibly lucky in that my family has always been supportive of my career choice and have been there when the times were rough – this last year in particular – they celebrate my achievements and they keep me humble by always taking the piss whenever possible, but they do it with love.
My partner is also supportive of my dreams and cheers me on even when I’m not quite feeling it. He runs my lines with me, he knows how I work better than anyone, and is very patient when I get angry with myself for forgetting lines (he says it’s all part of my process).
Tell me some career goals. What would you like to achieve?
I always wanted to work with the Royal Shakespeare Company and have tried for decades to get in there. I don’t hold much hope now, but I would love to do something there in the Swan. I also want to play a major baddie in a film – a Marvel baddie would be awesome! Really, I’d just like to consistently earn a living acting, maybe directing again.
What are words of advice you have for other aspiring actors?
Always believe in yourself and always keep learning and honing your skills. Even if they don’t bring in a job, they will make you a more interesting person and may even make you happy!
Give me your social links so people can come and find you!
LinkedIn: Kelley Costigan