British stage and screen actor Luke Antony Neville talks to Backstage Tales about moving to New York City, attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and pursuing his acting dreams.
Born in Portsmouth and raised in a small village in County Durham, at 20-years-old Luke Antony Neville dived into the unknown when he moved to New York City to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, following in the footsteps of Sarah Paulson, Anne Hathaway and Robert Redford (to name a few.)
Today, with a long list of impressive stage credits and a short film to his name, Luke Antony Neville discusses everything from what goes into putting on a spectacular show, to his most memorable experiences to date, on stage and on set.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background – your hometown, education and how (and when) you knew acting was for you?
Of course! I was born in Portsmouth on the south coast of England but relocated when I was young to County Durham in the North East, where I grew up. I attend Belmont Comprehensive School followed by Durham Johnston Sixth Form and then I attended Newcastle College to study musical theatre. In terms of knowing when I knew acting was for me, I was somewhat of a late bloomer. Growing up I was obsessed with film, theatre and fashion and up until I was around 17/18 I really wanted to pursue a career in either fashion marketing or fashion merchandising. Around that time my friend Jenny let me know that the Gala Theatre Stage School in Durham was auditioning boys for their summer production of Les Miserables. My family encouraged me to audition and I booked the role of Thenardier, which as you can imagine, was a lot of fun. After that experience, I knew it was what I wanted to do.
You went on to train at the incredible American Academy of Dramatic Arts, which boasts some big-name alumni including Jessica Chastain, Grace Kelly and Paul Rudd. What drew you to the school?
A close friend of mine, Billie Aken-Tyers, had attended and loved the school and it’s training, so it came highly recommended to me. I always felt such a connection to New York City when I had visited, so whilst auditioning for other schools I decided to audition for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts on a whim. After I got in, I sort of had to follow my gut instinct that was telling me to go. And I am so glad I did!
What did studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts involve?
The training is grounded in basics, with a foundation in theatre. You really get to hone in on your own personal skill set, how it can serve you and the industry best. I love that there was a focus on individuality. The acting course is based in Meisner, and there are more practitioners folded in (Hagen, Stanislavski) as you go throughout the course. I had the best time training there.
Moving to New York from a small city must have been amazing (and scary.) What was that experience like?
I’ve always been a ‘leap headfirst into the void’ type of person, so once everything was in place I knew I just had to give New York everything I’ve got. Growing up I was always a curious traveller. I loved visiting different parts of the world; major cities etc. My move to New York didn’t feel too different from that, apart from the permanency of it. There is a different type of awareness you need when living and working in New York, but once you find your footing and join in with the pace of it all, it’s so exciting and fulfilling and scary and wonderful, all at the same time.
What have you learnt about acting as a career along the way?
I think the biggest thing I have learnt is that acting is just like any other job. It’s exhausting, it’s tough, it’s exciting and you also need to take time off. I used to feel guilty for taking a breather, especially when I had just graduated, but it is so important to also be a human being. I have also learnt that there is a boatload of opportunity out there – insane amounts of theatres, productions, films, etc. There is enough for everyone and there is no need to compare my career path with anyone else’s! Comparison is the biggest challenge I find as an actor. People grow at different paces and stages, so why compare!
You have some fantastic stage credits (Footloose, A Chorus Line, Your Alice) and a short film (Real Drag) under your belt. Can you tell us about one of your favourite experiences to date, on stage or on set?
At the moment I’m wrapping up a theatre festival in Scranton Pennsylvania where I have spent the summer doing two musicals and two plays with some pretty wonderful people. Scranton Shakespeare Festival provides free theatre to the local community and it is so fantastic and fulfilling. I did it last year, and the festival has been such a great part of my career thus far. I also think my first time on a film set was pretty magical. I had never been to Los Angeles before and the whole experience was insane. On the second day of shooting I arrived on set, which was an event space that was completely converted into a drag. It was so overwhelmingly magical. I spent my breaks just walking around the set with my jaw dropped. I’ll never forget that day.
Can you give us a little insight into what goes into putting on a great show – from casting and rehearsals to opening night?
Of course, the first step is auditions, auditions, auditions. These are a big part of an acting career and something that gets easier the more you do them. I used to get so wound up and nervous about auditioning, but pretty soon I realised that preparation is key. If I’ve done my best, then I’ve done everything I can do in that moment. Once cast comes the script! I try to be as familiar with the text as possible so that I can be really present for my fellow creative’s and actors throughout the process. I think the biggest aspect of putting on a show is collaboration – really appreciating and supporting the work everyone is putting into the project. I think collaboration is what will always bring me back to the theatre. There is nothing like having everyone involved in a project physically there in the room. It is truly an experience like no other.
Finally, what would your advice be to aspiring actors wanting to take the leap and pursue acting for stage or screen?
My advice is to always give it a go. Whether it’s auditioning at a local theatre, reading plays or going to classes – give it a go! There is no right or wrong path in the industry, despite what anyone says. That being said, the art of performing and the perseverance required is difficult at times. When I have the tougher days and I question what I’m doing, there is a flame inside reminding me that I don’t want to be doing anything else. Tap into that feeling and keep going, because, boy is it worth it!
Thank you for the inspiring, open and honest chat Luke, we can’t wait to see what you get up to next!
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Text: Jo Bentham
Images: Faye Neville, Jade Nelson, American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Liza Gillette, Chuck France, Billie Aken-Tyers