Lucy-Jane Quinlan has had a successful career on both stage and screen, most recently appearing in the upcoming horror remake Unhinged (2017). We had the chance to speak to her about her role in the film, her career so far and other projects she is involved in.
How did you first get into acting?
I wanted to do musical theatre, I thought that was the only path for me, so at 17 years old I was in my first year of sixth form and I found this college that I wanted to go to called Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts and it was a degree course. I was one of the eldest in my year so I would have only been 17, and then three weeks in I would have been 18. I thought why not just go for it. I am just going to tell them the truth, this is my age, but can I come in. I went for it. I had like a backup emergency thing doing a year singing course somewhere and a week later they wrote to me and said, yeah great, come on board for this three year degree. I was like oh my god, because I was so young and so naive but I thought I don’t want to give up my place because they only allow 40 people in a year and it’s a big deal. So I went and wasted the whole of my first year because I was so young and such a brat and then I had to knuckle down and do some work.
By the time I graduated from my music theatre course. It was like boot camp, it’s so full on, the industry had really changed. I had been watching musicals like Sunday in the Park with George and these original gorgeous book musicals where you only sing when speaking isn’t enough anymore. It drives the narrative, it pushes the story forward. Music is such a great platform to be able to express emotion you can’t reach by just speaking alone. When I graduated, my first auditions were We Will Rock You, All the Fun at the Fair and Mamma Mia plus these juke box musicals and my passion just died.
I fell into a short film called A Light Rain. I think it has something like 10 million views on YouTube. I’m this grumpy teenager that sits on her phone or something. But it’s quite uplifting , one of those nice uplifting YouTube videos and I just thought “Oh My God, I really like this, I feel at home here.” I called my agent at the time and said can you get me seen for some little bits and bobs as I want to start building up a show real and he was “Oh Lucy-Jane, you’ve got Mountview on your CV” which is quite a well-known prestigious musical theatre college. I thought right, fuck this, this is what I am going to do and I literally got on every single website and I volunteered, I did expenses only stuff, no expenses and the first project I found was a film called Weaver Fish (2013), which was basically no money at all. For two weeks we went out, filmed on location this low budget horror. That took off and did quite well and from then it kind of snow-balled and I left the musical theatre behind. That was eight or nine years ago now.
Is musical theatre something you would like to go back to eventually?
If there’s work which I feel passionate about, then yeah. I like what they are doing now, with film, where they are doing musicals. That is really appealing to me. I still use my voice a lot, I did a little stint on guitar hero, I do a lot of different voices, I voice little kids. I like using my voice as an instrument. If there was something there I was passionate about I would love to go back into it, but I think the industry has a good way of typecasting you to this or that. But it would be lovely too.
Josh Gad who was LaFou in Beauty and the Beast (2017). He was originally the role of elder Cunningham in The book of Mormon and he is a fantastic beautifully trained singer, but he does a lot of independent movies. He did that film with Pink and Gwyneth Paltrow about sex addiction. He crops up in some lovely indie films. If I could have a career like him I would be really happy. So yeah, it would be nice to keep a hand in. I still do the pantos every year which is funny, because you’re going from being bludgeoned and murdered in some forest, then I did Cinderella last year and I am doing Cinderella again this year in Poole. It’s quite funny because I always think these kids are going to go home google Cinderella and find this image of me being raked down the back in Unhinged (2017). But it’s gonna happen one day I think.
Talking of Unhinged what attracted you to that role?
I Knew Scott Jeffrey from a project years ago. They wrote to me about a couple of their projects, but it just hadn’t really worked out. They then sent me this one and I liked the idea of 4 women leading the cast, actually five women really leading the cast, which rarely happens. In fact, all the men in it are either not seen or they are secondary characters and I thought that was really appealing. I didn’t know what role I was going for at first. I knew they had four actresses that they wanted to work with and they attacked us all. Originally, I was written down to play Talia and then when Kate Lister came on board, her being a slim, tall dark blond and me a short dumpy blond, the two of us seemed to fit quite well somehow as siblings. I have a young energy about me and she is quite rooted and grounded. When they got the two of us on board, they thought that would be a good match. But it was mainly the fact it was a female ensemble cast, I really liked that.
You’re all quite strong independent women in the film and you have your own characters.
There were times when you character made decisions and you think, “oh really?” and you’ve got to find the reason why. If you search long and hard enough you can find a reason why, it may go against you but that’s acting isn’t it. You’ve got to try and search why somebody would do this and why you think that was the right thing to do at that time. You have to believe it’s the right thing to do, because otherwise you wouldn’t do it. You can’t just blag it and think now my character’s gonna do this. You have to think, why? Even if you’re playing the serial killer or a terrible person, you don’t know if that person goes home at night knowing they are a bad person? Maybe, but they still made those choices for a reason so they still think those are the right choices they make. You always have to find a reason why that’s the right choice. There is a lot of that in horror why am I gonna get into that cupboard? Why am I going over there where that man is standing with a knife? But that is where the prep comes in with me for horror, it’s finding those reasons and finding a way to believe in those reasons.
I spoke to Becky (Hirani) who said she had some input into the development of her character in Unhinged, did you get the same freedom with how you looked or acted?
It was actually sold beforehand, so a lot of us were guided by what the distributors wanted us to look like. Becky was in talks with them more than any, which is probably the reason why. But there were real outlines for us. Kate was the sensible one, I was the baby spice of the group. Lorena (Andrea) she kind of had this exotic thing going on and Becky is a ‘don’t mess with me’ kind of woman.
I kind of figured it out a lot more with Kate as well. Because she’s got this real elegance about her and everything she does, the way she moves is really elegant. So, I wanted to offset that with a bit of rogue. She wants to be rogue, but if she thought about it long and hard enough, I think she would want to be more like her sister. I wanted her to be a bit messy at times. Those things came as of when.
With your career so far what is your most challenging role to date?
I’ve played kids for a long time, but now I am just starting to look a bit older. Even last November I played 15-16 year olds. I think the most challenging role I think I have had is a film called Cage (2016). It was challenging because it was a one person, one location movie so I am the only person in it. In terms of logistics and stuff that’s a challenge.
It is essentially you in the cage in front of the camera, with no other communication apart from on the phone.
That was challenging because the voice was put on in post, so you’re almost guessing what you’re playing off, which is really hard to do. When you’re working with a great actor they can pull something out in you that you didn’t know was there. You’re almost guess work acting, which I found frustrating and quite difficult. But do you know what, for me to be offered something like that, where you are the only person in this film, I thought, I am going to take the challenge, because when else are you going to get that opportunity. It was hard, there was no rest time. Normally as actors you are kind of babied and treated so well, almost too well. They’re like, “Ok guys, we’re going to take you over here, put you in for two minutes.” and then they are like, “We are gonna rest the actors.” As if you need a rest. They go and sit you down and then you do your scene twice and then you sit down again, but Cage was nothing like that. It was 10am starts, go, go, go and by the end of the day I was exhausted. I say that was the biggest challenge I have had so far.
What is your favorite role that you have played so far in your films
There are things I can pull out of everything. If I look back to my first feature, I played a nice girl and I don’t really play them anymore. I will always look upon that and feel very close to that and it was the first thing I ever did and I had such a lovely time on it. A lot of the time it’s not necessarily about what was more fun, but you are affected by the people around you, the crew, the cast. To be honest, I couldn’t possibly tell you, but I think I liked 95% of all the roles I have a played and grown some attachment to them.
Do you have a bucket list of things you want to achieve in your career?
First of all I really want to keep on playing strong females. I would like to do a bit more comedy, I have only done a couple. I would like to do a musical film if they can stop ruining them all. There are always two or three who can actually sing and the rest of them are just names. Drama, I would also like to do some drama and work with Olivia Coleman. That’s my top dream to work with Olivia Coleman, because I think I’d actually made it.
Do you have any other projects which you are working on at the moment?
I am doing a feature called The Kindred. It’s directed by David Bryant and he’s done another feature called Drunk on Love (2014) which I kind of appeared in, in a very small cameo. It might be a one location movie itself. I think I die quite early on. Then we are going to see what’s going on in the next couple of months. Apart from that I have some free time really, I do voice over stuff and I am doing some panto at the end of the year.
It’s quite varied with your acting at the moment with the voice overs, films and theatre.
I have been lucky this year. I said to myself I haven’t done theatre for quite some time, I have only really done the Pantos, and that started to worry me because I know how easy it is to get pigeon-holed. I thought, right I am going to make a conscious effort to keep theatre up, because I don’t want to get to the point where someone looks at your CV and you haven’t really done theatre for quite some time for 0ne or two years and they think well she doesn’t do theatre. I think it’s about injecting different types of work on your CV all the time so people don’t think you have neglected one area. That’s one thing I would really like to achieve, to work across the board, because I don’t think it’s fair to be trapped in one industry and they make you stay there.
How difficult is that to balance? With the theatre, you have a lot more preparation leading up the play, then the run of the play. With film, it’s a lot quicker. You still have your prep but the film goes after a few weeks and it’s done.
Yeah, if you do commit to a play, stage show or musical you are giving a lot more time away, so you are taking yourself out of the loop, obviously with filming they can be a lot more flexible with you. I was lucky last week because they managed to find me an understudy for the week I got this other job. I mean I broke my balls doing it, I was up at 4am every morning going to reversals for this pilot, then I would be finishing at five, get there for the second act, as I was only in the second act. The show would come down at half past ten, I would go home, get up at 4am the next morning and the last night I only got two and a half hours sleep.
You have to take the work when it’s there, but that is one thing that frightens me about theatre work, because I have been so used to being on screen and people have become used to you being so flexible. You might be seven days here and four days there and you’re jumping in and out of a role and it’s quite exciting, but you’ve got to really like the play or the production that you are doing because you’re doing the same thing every night. You’ve got to find ways to keep it interesting, you’ve got to like the people and like the piece. But if you do I think it can be worth it.
One last thing. What advice would you give to someone who would like to get into filmmaking?
Never rest or think that someone is going to be doing something for you, even if you’ve got the best agent in the world, go out. Talk to people. Get out, get active and get collaborative. Even if you haven’t done anything for a while, do a class if you want. What I did is contact a filmmaker and be involved. Being collaborative and being active. And more than anything else I can ever suggest or recommend is be nice. Most of the jobs I have ever done I’ve got because I have not been a total arsehole. Sometimes I have been a bit of an arsehole, but you know you can get away with it once people know you. Be the best version of yourself and be nice to people.
Unhinged will be released on September 25th although it can be purchased online now from 88 films.