Updated: Sep 24, 2021
In our latest blog post on local industry stars, we talk to Jennifer Bulcock about breaking into acting via an unconventional route, how working parents could be supported in the industry and being shot by Tim Roth.
Q1: You had quite a non-traditional route into acting, can you tell us about your experience of breaking into the industry?
Well I’d say I’m still break-ing into the industry. I always wanted to be an actor. I remember my GCSE drama teacher telling me I could do it but it wouldn’t be easy. Fast forward to my late teens and I was performing in Sheffield Crucible Theatre, Sheffield Library Theatre and was even selected to perform on stage representing Sheffield theatres in the Millennium Dome during the summer of the year 2000. I decided to move to London after getting signed by an agency and started getting work quite quickly. Mainly commercial work, modelling and a bit of presenting jobs. But it was hard, I was like a deer in the headlights. I was also applying to drama schools but after an unpleasant experience at a TV channel I decided that the bright lights of London were no longer alluring so I moved back home to Sheffield joined a local Sheffield agency and again started getting bits of commercial and modelling jobs alongside another theatre role. But as life progressed, I got married decided on a stable career as a mortgage advisor & popped out 3 babies. Any dream of a career as an actor really felt like just that, a dream.
It wasn’t until a few years ago I was tagged in a post online for an extras agency looking for people for a sci-fi TV show. As a HUGE doctor who fan I thought I’d give it a shot to be a blur in the background in doctor who. So I filled my details in and waited to hear back. I never heard about doctor who but the agency started putting me forward extras work. It was great, it was set experience and I saw it as a hobby that paid (albeit not much) by this point I had left the bank and had set up my own fitness and nutrition business working from home to fit in around childcare. But out of the blue through my extras agency I was asked to audition for a cast role in a Docu-Drama for Discovery ID channel. This was quite simply just plain luck that I resembled the character in real life. I was cast from my self tape audition and whisked off to a hotel. That was the turning point. I knew I had to get back to what I had always wanted to do, I had to be an actor, somehow! So I decided to use the opportunity’s from extras work to network & gain as much set experience as possible. I used websites like starnow to apply for independent acting jobs and managed to get cast in some great independent films. But not much longer after the lucky break with the docu-drama, my extras agency approached me to see if I’d be willing to work full time as permanent stand in and double for Genevieve O’Reilly on Tin Star 3 filming in Liverpool for 4 months in 2019. It was such an amazing opportunity that I had to say yes, and even though childcare was a serious challenge, I figured it out!
I learnt SO much. I worked closely with the stunt team, I did all the wide driving shots doubling, and I even had a role created in the final episode where I was shot and killed by Tim Roth.
After I finished Tin star I decided that was it. No more extras work only acting roles. By now I had enough credits to put in my Spotlight application - Spotlight is the home for professional actors to apply for jobs posted on there from casting directors. It’s a big deal to get on Spotlight. It can take actors years to get on. The rules are strict. You either need to have graduated a Spotlight accredited drama school or amassed enough credits in professional jobs that meet their criteria. Which is kinda like a chicken & eggs situation; how do you apply and get those credits if you’re not able to get on the casting platform to apply for them. So particularly for people like me who are trying to break into the industry later in life it is hard!
I connected with Sheffield director Theo Cane Garvey a good few years ago right at the beginning of my “come back to acting” mission through a mutual friend and we just got on like a house on fire straight away. He offered me the role in his latest film and we’re about 2/3’s way through shooting.
Through the contacts from work I’ve done on independent films I had been offered roles without needing to audition which was incredibly humbling.
Director Bob Jordan of Obverse Films offered me a lead role in his feature film which we shot earlier this year
I also connected with Sheffield producer Hugh Mann Adamson from a small role I had on a concept piece he was producing a few years ago in Manchester. Being from Sheffield we chatted & we kept in contact afterwards and he’s been incredibly supportive in helping me in my career. In fact he helped me recently to produce my own short film called “The Party” which has already won an award at an international film festival for “best actress”
A film I worked on in Birmingham in July has recently been released on Amazon prime. I auditioned for the role from an open casting call online that said “must be ok with fake blood prosthetics and contact lenses” I was like - SIGN ME UP! And thankfully the writer, Matt Blakey, liked my audition and offered me the role.
Q2: What do you think are the main barriers are to actors trying to break in and how do you manage them?
Biggest issue is getting on Spotlight if you’ve not been able to go to drama school! They did recently change some of their criteria for credit eligibility for independent films which has helped, but I do think there needs to be some way of looking at options to support people from working class backgrounds who may not be lucky enough to have had the connections or lucky breaks I did to get those elusive credits.
Q3: What do you think is needed in the South Yorkshire region to help build a thriving creative film industry?
From what I can tell I think we may already have one. I’d like to see support for working parents & carers. The wonderworks & the PIPA campaign have been doing excellent work to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by parents and carers to work in the creative arts industry. This industry is known for running over and schedules being made & changed at the last minute which is fine if you don’t have any responsibilities. But for me as a single parent and a registered carer for 2 disabled children I have to consider my availability for roles simply because of childcare. So perhaps funding to support a network of childcare provided on set as part of the crew like the wonder works offer. But this is a dream! It would take a huge investment, however would encourage a much more diverse and representative work force.
Q4: What advice would you offer to other people looking to take up acting?
Extras work is unfortunately frowned upon within the acting world, but I think if you see it as an opportunity to get ‘on-set’ experience rather than to try and sneak a pocket selfie with a celebrity (please never do this, this is one reason why extras are sometimes frowned upon so much) Learn from what you can see watching the actors working!
Try to talk to the runners, these are the directors of the future most likely making indie films themselves. Network & get a vibe with people who are equally there in a professional capacity, but don’t be too pushy. Sets are busy places - know your place and don’t get in the way. Just be professional. And if you do get into extras work with this attitude, you will learn so much.
Nothing will be handed to you on a plate. Take the opportunities you can from the people around you LEARN.
Oh and don’t just think you can act. Acting is an art, a craft. When you start out you probably won’t be so good, so go to classes, practise read, study, do everything you can to immerse yourself in understanding your craft better. If money is an issue then find an amateur dramatics group or theatre club. Locally or online and just keep trying.
You always have room to improve and get better - take all the feedback you can and stay humble. Never believe you’re above constructive criticism. Even the best actors in the world believe they can be better.