Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

FROM HAMMERSMITH TO HOLLYWOOD; Who Needs Hoity-Toity RADA When an Unpretentious Drama Club Is Offering a One-Way Ticket to Stardom? Olivia Cole Visits Young Blood, the West London Theatre Group That Taught Carey Mulligan How to Cry

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

FROM HAMMERSMITH TO HOLLYWOOD; Who Needs Hoity-Toity RADA When an Unpretentious Drama Club Is Offering a One-Way Ticket to Stardom? Olivia Cole Visits Young Blood, the West London Theatre Group That Taught Carey Mulligan How to Cry

Article excerpt

Byline: Olivia Cole

The transformation of Carey Mulligan from ordinary teenager to Oscar-nominated leading lady is the stu of dreams. It was a journey that started not in the traditional manner, at an esteemed establishment such as RADA, but at a low-key he transformation of Carey Mulligan from ordinary teenager to Oscar-nominated leading lady is the stu of dreams. It was a journey that started not in the traditional manner, at an esteemed establishment such as RADA, but at a low-key Hammersmith theatre group that has become the feeder school for Hollywood, with top casting directors turning their sights to West London.

The Young Blood youth theatre group, which counts Imogen Poots, Oliver Jackson-Cohen and Ophelia Lovibond, as well as Mulligan, among its alumni, was founded by Andrew Braidford in the early 1990s. Braidford, 47, is a former actor, but didn't come from a theatrical family. As a result, his priority has always been to make Young Blood accessible to people from all walks of life, which would have appealed to the shy 16-year-old Mulligan, whose father was in hotel management. 'She was an amazing girl and an amazing actress,' says Braidford today. 'We did help her, but talentwise there wasn't ever any doubt in my mind. She just shines in a room but I don't think she knew then how good she was.' There was one problem, though: Carey Mulligan could not cry on cue, a prerequisite for any actress. 'I remember in a rehearsal she was really struggling with an emotional scene,' recalls Braidford. 'She couldn't tap into it... and I talked to her about how to get there and after that point I have never seen her struggle. I've seen her just go to pieces.' As indeed now have most of the cinema-going public on both sides of the Atlantic, in An Education (2009), last year's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and most recently Never Let Me Go. 'You have to find your own trigger. I couldn't tell her how to get there, you have to find it yourself. You have to press their buttons to make them try to find where it comes from.'

Mulligan is noted for her naturalism, something of a hallmark of Young Blood actors. Whereas stage schools tend to produce cliched performing-monkey children, and drama schools concentrate on formal training and technique, Young Blood focuses on improvisation, sharing experiences and developing new writing on subjects that are relevant to teenagers. 'My plan for the company from about a year after we started was always that we wanted to do new work that reflected the members and what was happening with them on a daily basis. So we started to write our own work based on workshops,' Braidford says.

Braidford himself started acting with the Hammersmith youth group Kaleidoscope, but when its leader died in 1991, three 16-year-olds, Ayesha Mirza, Lincoln Allert and Kevin O'Brien, asked Braidford, by then 26, if he would direct a play for them. Young Blood was born with a production of Tony Marchant's The Lucky Ones at Riverside Studios, which became Young Blood's first home. Professional companies were often passing through: the actor Brian Cox spotted Ayesha Mirza there, and cast her in a production of The Master Builder.

But the Hollywood interest really started in the mid-1990s, when major casting directors such as Priscilla John (whose list of credits includes About a Boy) and Lucy Bevan (An Education; she also recently cast current Young Blood member Joni Kamen in Killing Bono, out on 1 April) began to attend productions and workshops, alongside casting assistants who would later become influential. One of the earliest people to watch a workshop was Fiona Weir, a young assistant who would go on to become a casting director for Clint Eastwood and the Harry Potter films. 'The casting directors used to go to the stage schools, but they wouldn't always find what they wanted,' says Braidford. 'Fiona Weir is a really good example. She discovered Ophelia [Lovibond] in our workshops when she was 12. …

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