With his first audition as an actor, Michael Woolfitt booked his role of Perkin in the Amazon medieval comedy film Catherine Called Birdy, which was written and directed by Lena Dunham, and based on the 1994 Karen Cushman novel of the same name. Michael worked alongside a cast including Bella Ramsey as Birdy and Andrew Scott as Lord Rollo, and reunited with some of the cast for the London premiere of Catherine Called Birdy in September. Having trained at musical theatre school for four years, Michael has recently started training in acting at ArtsEd. Speaking to Michael, he chatted about playing Perkin in Catherine Called Birdy, attending the London film premiere in September and working alongside a cast including Bella Ramsey and Andrew Scott.
You play Perkin in the new Amazon feature film Catherine Called Birdy, can you tell us about the film and your character?
Catherine Called Birdy is a beautiful story of truthfulness and courage. It’s such a great message and inspiration to so many young girls out there, but also, it’s so much fun! There’s so many funny moments which Andrew (Scott) and Bella (Ramsey) really thrive off in the film. However, there’s also those really connected moments where the characters shine and show the message of the story.
My character Perkin was truly the heart of the story, and I feel he acts as the emotional truth for the film. There’s no lies or hidden meanings, what you see is what you get. Which is a really happy, funny and loving goatherd.
What was Perkin like to play and how did you prepare to play him?
It was really fun to play someone with so much pure emotion and pure happiness, but there’s a lot of similarities between Perkin and myself which was useful! I did a lot of research into goatherds to try and understand the type of day-to-day life they would have, and I also focused on what his relationships with Birdy, Rollo, Meg, Alf and Gerd would be like. It just allowed me to fully settle into the character and with help from Lena (Dunham), we found Perkin’s truthfulness on set.
Was there anything that drew you to the film and do you remember how you felt finding out you’d booked the role?
Well, this was actually my first ever audition so I didn’t really know what to expect, I connected with the character really quickly when I got the audition through, and most importantly, I was just excited to go and have fun with the character and wasn’t worrying about the outcome.
My agent called me about an hour after the recall to tell me I got the role and I just burst out crying with joy. It was a truly incredible moment for me.
How was it being directed by Lena Dunham and what was it like reading the script for the first time?
Lena was such an incredible director because she was so caring and helpful in trying to find the honesty of a character and how she wanted the character to fit in with her story she was telling. She was one of the most brilliant people I have ever had the fortune to meet. She gave me license to make Perkin my own, which I loved.
We read through the script at the read-through and all I could think was ‘what a fun story’, there hadn’t really been a film like this telling the story of a young girl through medieval times. It was so beautifully unique and I knew how important the film would be for all the young women around.
How did you find the experience having Catherine Called Birdy as your first feature film and what was it like on set?
I was really excited as it had been something I’d dreamt about since about eight years old and something that I’d worked towards for some time so to be in Catherine Called Birdy was just a dream come true.
On set, it was amazing, so caring and supportive, truly one of the best places I’ve worked because everyone was dedicated to making Birdy the best it could be.
What are some of your favourite memories from playing Perkin and working with the rest of the cast, which includes Bella Ramsey as Birdy?
I had some great moments with everyone. I remember telling Andrew Scott that this was my first audition and I remember the face he pulled like it was yesterday, it was an amazing moment for me as Andrew is someone that I’m really inspired by in acting. Working with Bella was incredible, she’s become one of my close friends and I remember we had to spend a day covered in fake mud and we were both freezing! I loved the days with Jake Middleton Cooke and Adam Aziz as we had made a real good friendship so whenever we were on set together it was so much fun.
In September, you attended the film’s London premiere, what was this like and how did you feel watching the completed film?
The premiere was really fun, I loved sharing how much I enjoyed the film and it felt a huge sense of success when I finally saw it on the big screen.
Who do you think will enjoy Catherine Called Birdy and why would you recommend watching it?
Literally anyone, it’s a family film with funny moments, heartfelt moments, romantic moments, it’s the complete package so it’s for anyone really. I’d recommend it because its such a fun, enjoyable film but also because of the message it shares, it’s so important.
Can you tell us about some of the other projects you’ve been part of, which has included theatre and educational videos?
I trained at a MT school part time for four years and was part of several musical theatre performances which I loved until I decided to take the acting route. It was great to look at acting through a different medium and get on stage and just sing and dance and enjoy every moment.
We had just come out of lockdown and I auditioned for this educational company to perform in grammar videos for foreign students or students learning English. It was great to be part of something educational as the dynamic of what’s important changes to the dialogue and away from the character.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you get into it?
My great grandfather Sir Donald Wolfit was an actor that I’d always known about through family, but it was more through kids’ theatre that my love for it grew. I just love the process of acting and just being able to become someone else.
We understand you have started training at ArtsEd, how is your training there going so far and was there anything that encouraged you to attend?
It’s going really well, thank you, really incredible. It’s great to be surrounded by like-minded people and it’s really helped me develop and I couldn’t believe the attitude of ArtsEd to make it about me the actor not as the ensemble member and I’ve loved it here already so I can’t wait for the next three years.
Do you have any favourite films and TV shows to watch?
I love The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Star Wars, all of the classic sci-fi mystical films. And I really like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I would love to work with Andy Samberg as I always laugh at everything he does.
How do you like to spend your time away from acting?
I train in jiu-jitsu, so I started training in 2017 so this is my fifth year now, it’s an incredible stress reliever and it’s such a great community, I can’t encourage people to join it enough.
I also love just family time and walking my dog. It’s so lovely and peaceful.
What are you hoping the upcoming year brings for you?
I really want to perform. I don’t mind how it happens, I just want to perform and act.
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