Actor Phil Davis on The Arts, well-being, and the Thameside Theatre Closure.
Phil Davis has been a constant on our screens for almost fifty years. His polished, accomplished performances make him one of Britain's finer actors and though he may be diminutive in stature he has a giant talent.
Credits such as Alien 3, BAFTA nominated in Vera Drake, Quadrophenia and Doctor Who, are just a few of the notable titles from his extensive catalogue of more than a hundred film and screen roles.
Phil has kindly answered a number of questions that WeAreCreativesThurrock.UK posed to him.
As an adopted son of Thurrock, whilst growing up in South Ockendon, did the borough provide you with ample opportunity to pursue your chosen career?
I was born in South Ockendon. It says on my IMDB biog that I was born in Highgate, I don’t know where they get this stuff but it isn’t true. I’m Thurrock born and bred.
Phillip Davis (Born 30th July 1953) in South Ockendon, Essex
I’d be lying if I said the borough provided me with ample opportunities to pursue my chosen career. I was not without support. A few teachers at my school, Ockendon Courts were encouraging, but I was a difficult student, with issues around my behaviour in the classroom and I didn’t help myself as I might have done. It was regarded as very eccentric to want (seriously) to be a professional actor. It’s a bit like a kid saying they want to be an astronaut or something, or play football for England when they are just about scraping into the school first eleven. I was not discouraged by all my teachers but I think they felt my head was in the clouds. There were the amateur theatricals, the Thurrock Youth Theatre and Courts Players and other groups. They kept me sane. I don’t know if I stood out back then as tremendously talented. I did whatever parts I was offered but they were not all leading roles by any means.
I remember a ‘careers officer’ visiting our school when I was 15 or 16 and being sceptical when I told him I wanted to act. With the benefit of hindsight this was understandable, most kids who have ambitions like mine don’t manage to have meaningful careers and perhaps he was just trying to be realistic to protect me. So I felt ‘up against it’ for a long time.
In spite of your 'careers officer' you've had a hugely successful career. Is there any role you regret turning down or any role you regret not being offered?
Are there any roles that I regret turning down or not being offered?
The latter, of course. I went up for lots of jobs that I coveted and that went to other actors but that’s all part of the deal, that’s the life of an actor. All you can do is make the very best of what you are offered. Every part is an opportunity, even small supporting roles. Do them as brilliantly as you can and pray that someone will notice.
Clearly no regrets about your acting roles but what about your music career? ‘Blown It’ your 1980 debut single produced by the wonderful Steven Harley, seems to be your only recording. Why is that and would you have liked to do more?
My music career. Well it didn’t ever exist. I got the opportunity to make the record ‘Blown it’ because I wrote a song, a three chord wonder, and a friend played it to a music executive who loved it and paid for a demo tape. That lead to the record. I never took it seriously. I thought it would be fun. If it had been a hit I don’t know what I would have done. My focus was always on my acting career. Maybe I’d have made a few pounds from it. But it never got anywhere near the charts. I believe it was played on pirate radio station ‘Radio Caroline’ the night it sunk into the ocean which seems appropriate.
Well you didn't become rich as a recording artist and you have famously said that you are no good at saving money, so we hope that retirement is a way off yet. What is next for Phil Davis?
I won’t retire until I find I can’t do it any more. If can remember the lines and do what’s required I’ll carry on. It’s such a blessing doing something for a living that you genuinely enjoy and I love it as much now as I did when I started out. I’m still working, I’m out tomorrow filming a TV series for Apple TV. Things change as you get older of course, the parts aren’t always as big and juicy when you are in your late 60s as they were when you were in your 40s but I’ll persevere.
What do the arts and their interaction with well-being mean to you? How important do you feel the arts are within the community?
The arts and well-being. I think the arts can be so very important in any community. I said earlier that the amateur dramatic societies kept me sane when I was growing up. This was no joke. Not everyone will end up doing what I do but undertaking a show, in a community hall, school or otherwise can be such a fantastic experience for people, it can help them fit in when they feel they are misfits, we can learn how to work together, how to back each other up, it can open ones eyes to other people’s experiences, we learn empathy and sympathy by pretending to be other people, exploring other people’s lives. We underestimate the power and usefulness of the arts at our peril.
I take it that the level of importance you place in the arts explains your support for the Save The Thameside Theatre campaign. What does saving the Thameside mean to you and do you have any personal memories of the Thameside Theatre?
Saving the Thameside. It will be a tragedy if they close it. My am dram days were coming to an end as the Thameside opened so I never really performed there but it’s just daft to close it. It’s an asset. Much better to do this stuff in a purpose built theatre than a school or church hall. It will be an act of vandalism if they close it.
One final question Phil. What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start out in acting today?
I’m wary of giving advice. When I was starting out as an actor in the early 70s we lived in a different world and many of the things that I thought were crucial would not apply in the 21st century. But I will say that if you take it up you have to be fiercely determined, you have to be willing and able to work on your own, you have to be able to swallow disappointments without becoming bitter and you have to really want to do it for it’s own sake. Not just because you want to be famous, or rich, or have trillions of followers on twitter but because YOU LOVE IT and then perhaps you may be in with a chance.
Thank you Phil for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. I would like to wish you all the very best for the future and look forward to seeing you in your next one hundred roles!
Questions posed to Phil Davis by Carolyn Djebbari of @WACThurrock
There is a further protest to Save The Thameside Theatre which will take place on the 24th November at 5pm. The meeting point is outside South Essex College, high street, Grays, RM17 6TF. Bring banners, posters and join the protest to say NO to the closure of this important Hub of our community #SaveTheThameside.