Birkdale Collective endeavour to bring the best advice possible for students and professionals alike and as a part of that, we would like to share with you viewpoints of those who have been very successful in their industries.
The pandemic has had lasting effects on many industries, none more so than actors and entertainers, many of whom experienced a complete halt to work. With this in mind, Birkdale Collective spoke to Keith De’Winter to get some tips and advice on how he got into acting and how this resulted in numerous roles including some prominent characters within the Star Wars franchise…
Can you tell us about your education and how that put you on your career path?
I did drama at school but only up to third year because you couldn’t choose it as an option for O-level. I knew by age 16 that I loved to act but I didn’t know how to get into it. My first job was a junior clerk in an office, nothing to do with acting at all.
Can you tell us a bit about your career, where you worked and the roles you held?
My first acting experience as an adult was when my friend shared an advert with me from the paper that a local amateur dramatics society, The Sphere Players, were looking for actors. I went along and then I well and truly got the bug. I took part in many shows over a few years. I then trained as a cinema projectionist, which I loved because I got to see all the new releases and I loved being around film which were all on ‘reels in cans’, not digital like today. There was editing involved which I really enjoyed. Around this time I’d had the idea to perform as Stan Laurel in a double act with my friend as Oliver Hardy, for Comic Relief. I’d thought of this idea of us making ourselves up in pancake make-up as if we were in a black and white film, and stepping off the screen and then collecting for Comic Relief. It went down really well and after that we regularly performed Laurel and Hardy for a few events.
When Granada Studios Tour opened I was invited to an audition and ended up performing there in the Dealy FX show, right up until the tour’s closing. At Granada Studios I also performed as a mascot character and realised I had a skill for movement and making costumed characters come to life. I was asked to work as a character in the Barney the Dinosaur show for a tour in Saudi Arabia and from that job I got recommended to work on Star Wars: The Force Awakens as Goss Toowers. So my official career as a creature performer began, and a couple of years later I reprised my role as Goss in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, playing another two creatures. The shift from actor to creature performer happened very naturally and I love the creature work.
What advice would you give yourself before you hit 30 about your career?
Do as much work as you can in your 20’s, and make sure you have an agent by the time you’re 30!
When choosing your next career steps each time can you explain how you felt when taking the next leap?
It’s a precarious industry and there is always a level of risk and change. Sometimes a job that you think you’ve got falls through; sometimes something great will happen out of the blue. I go for jobs and hope for the best but, no matter what, it’s good to remember how lucky I’ve been and to never lose sight of that. You just never know where work will lead and that is what keeps me going.
Acting is obviously a complicated profession sometimes so what issues have you faced?
The biggest issue for a creature performer is how long it can take to get ready before going on set and then of course, you’re at the mercy of technical issues and problems and may be waiting around all day before your scene comes up. You need to be physically resilient. You may be hot/cold and uncomfortable, but you keep going because they need that shot and you ultimately enjoy what you do.
What advice could you offer students now in terms of how they approach a career in entertainment and acting?
I would say, be open to anything – don’t typecast yourself in your own head, before you start. Try not to think, I’m this so I won’t go for that, it’s not really me. Put yourself out there and keep going. Find workshops, find youth companies (and there’s loads more now than there used to be). Keep going to theatre and performance events because that’s how you keep in touch with what’s going on in the industry, and try not to take the knock backs personally. Keep going and be in it for the long haul if it’s really what you love!
Thanks, Keith, for your time. If you found this advice useful we have several other interviews available covering a wide variety of topics. Take a look at them by clicking here.
For more information about how Birkdale Collective can be helpful to entertainment professionals, click here.