📷 : Phil Sharp
For Isaac Gryn’s final production at Arts Educational Schools this year, he was cast as the lead in Cry Baby, and before graduating, landed the role of Will Parker in Chichester Festival Theatre’s summer show, Oklahoma!. Before rehearsals started, Isaac had already booked West Side Story as Action, which starts at Leicester Curve on 23rd November, running into the new year and will be directed by Nikolai Foster. Sitting down with Isaac, he tells us about his experience in Oklahoma!, booking the role of Action and his time at ArtsEd.
How was it performing at the Festival Theatre in Oklahoma! as Will?
It was amazing. I was humbled to be given the opportunity because, being my first job out of Arts Educational Schools, I was quite surprised as suddenly I was in the room and was thinking about my intention and my character, and things I didn’t think I’d be doing before graduating. I thought I would go into the ensemble, but it was amazing to be given a part and being able to challenge myself and work with an amazing creative team.
What was it like spending the summer in Chichester?
It was its own bubble. The town is lovely, but every day I was thinking about the 7pm start and everything I needed to do to get through the show – whether that be going to the gym or eating well. There wasn’t much to do, but we went to the beach some days, which was lovely. I’m a London boy so it was very quiet.
How long did it take you to master the art of lassoing, and did you have any mishaps along the way?
I wasn’t aware that I was actually going to be doing that. I had seen the National Theatre production where Jimmy Johnston had been a master lassoist. They had a minute-and-a-half of him doing it in the National production, but Matt Cole (our choreographer) wanted something that really grabbed the audience at the last minute to show what Will could do and that he was a show-off. They brought Jimmy Johnston in to teach me, and that was amazing. I had two hours a week learning for about five weeks, and I don’t think anyone was aware of how long this stuff takes to do. There were quite a few mishaps, but I always had a Plan B, sometimes to start again, or chuck it and start doing some pirouettes, which happened a few times!
You’ve been announced to join the cast of West Side Story in Leicester, who will you be playing and how would you describe the character?
I will be playing Action, who is one of the Jets and thinks he’s second in line to being head of the Jets. He’s a bit of a hothead, and I’m really excited to play that because it’s very different to Will. Will had an energy that was fast and passionate, but Action has a darkness. He’s had a really rough upbringing post World War Two, and Action is angry with everything in the world. I’m really excited to play with that darkness and evoke something as true as that though not just acting but also dance.
What were the auditions like for this role?
I auditioned for West Side Story before I even started Oklahoma!, so by the time I found out, I was aware I was busy until January. It was three auditions, I did one dance round to start with because they need really strong dancers, then I came in and did some material with Nikolai Foster and Sarah Travis, and then they wanted a group of us to do a three-hour workshop with more dance material. I thought I was going in for Riff for quite a while, but then they offered me Action, which is also a really good part. It was quite short, it took about two weeks.
What was it like finding out you’d booked the roles in Oklahoma! and West Side Story?
I found out about Oklahoma!, and I was really, really excited about it because it was one of the first roles I’d auditioned for at ArtsEd. I’ve always loved Chichester, and everything they can do out there is thrilling as an actor because you get treated so well. It’s a shame they don’t get more of a younger audience down there as the demographic is quite old, but the shows they’re putting on are so current, even if it’s set in 1907, it’s really important that we tell those stories. It’s good when they transfer because it means they get a different audience. It felt surreal booking these jobs, I was working hard and really trying to nail the auditions. I did West Side Story when I was in National Youth Theatre, so I’ve worked with Nikolai before as he was the director for that as well. I’ve seen him at a lot of events, and we’ve always kept close, so the auditions felt calm.
What was Bugsy Malone like to do at Lyric Hammersmith?
That was a really important job for me because it was before I decided to do my degree at ArtsEd. I was there for a decade and it was amazing. I was with my agent in Year 12, and I auditioned for Bugsy Malone – when you’re sixteen, you can audition for things without needing a chaperone, so they were looking for people who looked like kids. It was a new production with Drew McOnie, who I’d worked with on West Side Story. We’d always kept in touch, I’d done a few workshops with him, and he was more of a mentor to me. I was working with Drew before he really hit big, and that was amazing. I did four rounds of auditions for Bugsy Malone, and then I got offered Ensemble and Cover Bugsy. It was amazing to be creating a new show in a really cool theatre.
I was sixteen years old being a dancer and actor on stage in an adult cast, and it opened a lot of contacts for me. I met a lot of people that I’m still friends with, and I really learnt what the career could be like. That’s what made me realise I needed to train. My agents were getting more auditions through for me, but I wasn’t booking them because my voice wasn’t ready, and I didn’t look that old, but I didn’t look like a kid either. I was in an awkward period, but three years go so fast, so I thought I should train and hone in on my voice and technical abilities, and then I’d find more opportunities at the other end, which I feel like I have.
You were part of NYMT, can you tell us about your time with them?
I played Baby John in West Side Story with Nikolai Foster, Drew McOnie and Tom Deering, and it was amazing. We did one week in Easter and two weeks in summer, and we put on one of the most major musicals of all time at Victoria Warehouse in Manchester. West Side Story is one of the best musicals, and it’s my all-time favourite. It’s one of the most human musicals I know due to its sheer physical drive.
What led you to an acting career?
As a kid, my mum would ask me what I wanted to do, and I’d always say I wanted to be Leonardo DiCaprio, which I probably still do! My mum took me to see Coram Boy at the National Theatre when I was five, and I think it’s pretty dark for a five-year-old, I think it would be rated 18+ at the cinema. Apparently, I was on the edge of my seat in awe of these dark stories. I remember seeing Macbeth as a child at the RSC, and I’ve always known I have to tell stories through that medium.
If you hadn’t been an actor, what do you think you’d be doing?
I don’t know as I’ve always wanted to be an actor! I was going to be a contemporary dancer for a while, I got into Rambert at sixteen and really discussed leaving because I’d trained in dance for a few years. Doing Bugsy was quite transforming for me, and I knew that I had to do acting. But if I wasn’t acting, I’d probably be doing something else in the arts.
Can you tell us about performing in Cry Baby?
It was great because I didn’t expect to be given that opportunity in my third year show as there are only so many leads that are available in the four shows you do in the final year. In the audition process, I was thinking I’d probably be one of the dancers in Newsies or maybe have a little part in Curtains, and then they asked me if I wanted to play Cry Baby! It was cool because no one really knows the musical so I could do anything and Hannah Chissick (Director) left it pretty open for me to research. It made me realise that maybe I can play parts, it’s not to say I wouldn’t ever do ensemble because I love dancing, but I would prefer to do both. Being able to play a character is really exciting, and I was very humbled to be given that opportunity.
How does it feel graduating from ArtsEd and how was your time there?
As I said, I was there for a whole ten years, so because I got Oklahoma!, it was the perfect thing to go off to another place. There were nine ArtsEd graduates in it, but no one who I was directly in a year with, so it felt foreign in some ways. It was like an amazing holiday because I’d been working so hard, so I was able to enjoy the show and didn’t have to think about it being an assessment, it was just for an audience. It was the perfect thing because I would probably have been quite down after all those years because it hits you once you finish. I remember feeling quite nervous doing auditions because I was questioning if I’d done all these years for nothing.
It all worked out quite well, and I’ll always thank the staff and the students in that place because I was a bit of a wayward teenager, but they kept me focused and kept me bound for good things, so I’ll always thank them.
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