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  • Writer's pictureoliverjlwebb

An Interview with Ayoola Smart

Photo: Misan Harriman

Ayoola Smart is an actor and is currently starring as Audrey in Killing Eve. Since graduating from East 15 in 2016, Ayoola has worked in Theatre, Film and TV on productions including, Les Misérables, Trendy, Vera, Holby City and Juliet, Naked.

I spoke with Ayoola about her role in Killing Eve, her transition from stage to screen, and how she has been keeping herself busy during lockdown.

What compelled you to become an actor?

Well I think for many of us actors the ability to go and be someone else for a while is quite appealing.

I believe the arts are an incredibly important aspect to our society functioning as a whole. They have the power to influence thought, feeling and the human experience. When used to their full potential, they enrich and aide our lives in many ways, day to day. With acting and film, television, stage etc – there’s this huge opportunity to share stories and ideas that are important not only to the individuals making it but to the world at large. There’s space to give access to information that people might not be able to get elsewhere. As we move further into the age of technology the power of what we share and consume is important to consider, particularly for younger generations. I hope throughout my own career I can contribute positively to that spectrum of understanding, knowledge and enjoyment.

Stories provide inspiration and escapism, they can bring us together, encourage us to do more (or less), to change or take that leap of faith - most importantly though, I think they bring us joy, laughter and release. Movies, TV shows, plays, audio books are all a common language that we can bond, theorise, debate, laugh and cry over. I think when story telling is used to teach and extend our understanding of each other, by provoking us to look deeper within ourselves and others, it’s a pretty magical place. A place I’ve wanted to be part of for as long as I can remember. As for my own personal experience it’s a wildly fun and exciting sector to be part of, it offers me a continuous chance to meet so many crazy talented people, collecting friends, partners, collaborations and connections along the way. It scares me too, which is good. Getting to play for a living is very special.

What was it like the first time you were on stage?

So the first ‘professional job’ I did as a child was at the age of maybe eight? I played a baby chick in a production of Spaghetti Western- I had to do a chicken dance, it was pretty legit. My first job after drama school was on ‘The Taming of The Shrew’ at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2016. I left two terms early from my final year at East 15 to do the show, which was incredibly exciting but equally terrifying. Myself and Sean Fox were the ensemble and understudies for Taming. With me taking on Bianca, Tranio, Grumio, Biondello and The Widow.

On our third preview our lead Kate broke her ankle, so the safety net of presumption that I’ll never actually go on as a main character was ripped out from underneath me a lot sooner than expected. In the end I played Bianca for about two and half weeks across the run. Walking out onto the Globe stage is such a unique experience. No other stage I’ve been on gives you that immediate connection with the audience. The space welcomes you into it, it invites you to play... the acoustics, the people, it’s definitely been my favourite stage to work on so far. It was a pretty special first job and it was wonderful to part of Emma Rice’s first season. I was back at the Globe in 2019 with Romeo and Juliet and the feeling hasn’t changed.

What changes have you had to make from acting on stage to acting on screen? Where do you feel more comfortable?

I think they are two completely different skills sets. With stage you focus on your voice, projection, articulation and physicality in such a specific way, and your relationship with the audience is immediate. For screen you almost have to strip a lot of that away and make that reach more intimate but keep the same intensity, which is a different sort of challenge. I think they stretch very different muscles and thought processes, which is partly what keeps both so interesting, though I don’t think I’ve done enough of either yet to have a real preference. When I was younger I was obsessed with being a screen actor, partially because growing up I had only ever acted on stage, but as time went on my love for stage has equalled my love for screen. Some wonderful directors at East 15, my head of year included, are largely responsible for that. I think that immediate lead up to a performance during rehearsals has to be my favourite time.

Which character that you have played is most like you, and why?

Hmmm. I think probably Lizzie from Juliet, Naked. I identified with aspects of her and her dad’s relationship which ended up making her quite therapeutic to play.

What attracted you to the role of Audrey in Killing Eve, and how did you prepare?

I mean, aside from the obvious?! (It’s Killing Eve!)

Audrey happened in quite a flash actually. I auditioned one week, got the part a week later and was filming by the week following, which meant I didn’t have much time to think about it. The episodes are kept pretty under wraps as they’re developed, you’re given them in pairs throughout, so at the beginning I had very little information about Audrey to go off, just what I was given in the audition, which was that she’s a receptionist and Kenny’s girlfriend but Kenny dies in the first episode. I kind of just went with that and did what I usually do when prepping a role- build her a world, research, and take what I can from the script. I also met with one of my directors, Miranda Bowen, who I worked with across three episodes, to chat all things Audrey and make sure we were on the same page and see where we could take her.

Which actors or directors would you most like to collaborate with?

I find this question incredibly hard always. So many...but at the moment- a couple of actors would be Soairse Ronan, Amy Adams, Tony Shalhoub, Brian Tyree Henry, Timothée Chalamet. Julia Roberts is my all-time hero. Directors: Lenny Abrahamson, Darren Aronofsky, Olivia Wilde, Luca Guadagnino, Greta Gerwig, Alfonso Cuaron, and maybe for stage Yaël Farber, Ian Rickson and Ned Bennett. But there are so many people I would love to collaborate with.

How have you been keeping yourself busy during the lockdown?

A mixture really, I was moving house when lockdown began, so spent the first couple of weeks setting my new house up... I’ve been trying to not put too much pressure on myself and just go with the flow. I was in the middle of shooting my next job when COVID-19 kicked off, so having just signed a two year lease and losing my job within two days of each other was a little stressful! However, I’m helping my mum with a pilot series she’s creating at the moment so that’s taking up a lot of time. Yoga, reading, sleeping, watching Normal People and crying a lot. Hanging with my partner and family. Actually I ran a 10km, though I’m so overly proud of myself, I think it’s slightly undermining the achievement! I’m currently isolating for two weeks in Cork - I came back to be with my mum for the next couple of months. It’s pretty blissful being out of London, not going to lie.

I think it’s important we keep reminding ourselves that the world as a whole is hurting a lot right now - there are a lot of hidden and very visible anxieties at the moment and I think for everyone, diagnosed mental health issues or otherwise, we have to be kind to ourselves and those around us. Hopefully we can come out of this with a bit more of a collective consciousness.

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