Interview with Isabella McCarthy Sommerville
We caught up with Isabella McCarthy Sommerville, who performed in our short film The Mirror, to talk about her approach to acting, as well as how she reacted to the new experience of working in front of a 360 camera.
Isabella has gained great reviews for her many theatrical roles – notably several five star reviews for one woman show Betsy: Wisdom of a Brighton Whore, which she performed in 2019 with Something Underground Theatre Company – whom she also worked with in 2016, playing Hilda in the UK Tour of A Good Jew. In 2017, Isabella won the Arts Council Best Actress Award for her portrayal of the title role in Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie.
What was it that drew you to the acting profession?
I think I’ve always been drawn to stories – the idea that people can be brought together through storytelling, that whether they’re reading a book, watching a play or film, listening to a song – they’re getting lost in a story in some way. It’s escapism and it’s so necessary. As an actor, being a part of that is addictive.
Is there anything in particular that you do to prepare for a character you have to play?
It depends on the character really. If it’s a character from a different time period I try to do as much as research about that era as possible – reading history books, watching films and documentaries etc. – just consuming content that will help me have a more full understanding of the world my character is from. In recent years I’ve also become really interested in how music can help me prepare for a character – sometimes I’ll create a soundtrack, and listen to it in my day to day life, when I’m walking somewhere for example, and just try to get into the mind of the character I’m creating. I’ll then listen to the same soundtrack just before going on stage or in the morning before a shoot and it will transport me back there.
How do the challenges of working with other actors differ from your one-person performances, if at all?
It’s just a completely different experience really. Working with other actors is incredible, for obvious reasons. To share intimate moments with another performer, to experience those magical moments where something just ‘clicks’ – that’s so precious. You also have other people there to hold you, to rely on and work as a team with. On the flip side, for solo shows you don’t have that – you’re completely alone and if anything goes wrong, it’s only you who can fix it. Equally though that’s really rewarding – to accept full responsibility and just dive in head first to something that’s pretty terrifying. So there are pros and cons for both – I enjoy them equally.
How was your experience performing in ‘The Mirror’, and did the historical location, and the time period of the poem, help you with your performance?
I had such a great experience – we had a brilliant cast and crew, and Preston Manor is a beautiful building, so it was a joy to shoot. The building definitely helped me get into character- you only have to walk through the long corridors and up and down the staircases a couple of times, and you quickly begin to imagine that you’re the lady of the house – well I do, anyway! Lucy’s poem also aided me in getting into character – it’s so beautifully written and flows so freely – it was a joy to recite.
How did you find the experience of filming in 36o, as well as the traditional method?
I loved it! I’d never filmed in 360 before and it was quite an experience. The fact I was left alone in the room to perform was really freeing – especially when you’re used to having a crew standing round watching you normally. Aside from that though, I was just really interested in what the finished product would look like – and turns out, I wasn’t disappointed! It’s fascinating to me that you can shoot like that – and then put on a headset and watch the footage, and genuinely feel like you’re in the room, face to face with the performer (which is even weirder when you are the performer…).
Do have any interesting stories you can tell us about from your times on set?
I’ve heard from some people that Preston Manor may be haunted – now, I’m not one to spread rumours, but I’ll just say that there was a point where I was alone in a room, minding my own business, running my lines, and very, very slowly, the door in front of me began to creak shut…