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Vanessa McMahon

Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)



Interview with English Actor Divian Ladwa

Interview with English Actor Divian Ladwa   Interview with English Actor Divian Ladwa

Divian Ladwa is a British actor who gained notable international attention for playing the psychologically troubled character in the Oscar nominated film LION (2016). He is popularly known for playing Hugh in the BAFTA winning comedy series DETECTORISTS (2014-2022). Further work in film includes playing a timorous Dev King in the British feature film 8 MINUTES IDLE (2012) and a vengefully hot-tempered Rahim Begum in the EIFF best drama winner SAXON (2007). He has an extensive theatre background working with a wide range of companies including Tamasha Theatre Company and Fluxx Improvised Theatre, early in his career.


Divian and I had an in depth interview about his experience being a working actor in England. Here is what he had to say:

How long have you been an actor and how did you get into it?

DIVIAN: Within a year or two after I left secondary (High) school, I did my first professional gig. I was trying to get into drama school but couldn’t manage to get into one. I did however start working with an improv group called Fluxx and a new writing theatre company called Tamasha. This was during a time when I was finding as many places as I could for acting lessons and classes, including at The City Lit, The Precinct, Impulse, workshops with various theatre companies and Fluxx Improv. We ran classes at Fluxx as well as doing shows.

What were some of the roles you have seen that inspired you to be an actor?

DIVIAN: As a kid, I loved watching films so much. I watched everything. It was a different time so you could watch the type of movies that parents now won’t let their kids watch. Even though they were the ones watching them when they were kids. I loved watching ALIEN, TERMINATOR, THE GOONIES, BACK TO THE FUTURE, mostly films from the 80s. During school holidays or when I pretended to be sick, I’d watch black and white films during the day and sometimes my Dad’s Spaghetti Westerns. It would take about four years for a movie to go from cinema to terrestrial TV, so as kids, we’d anticipate movies eagerly and it always felt like a big event when a film premiered on TV. We would all be speaking about the movie at school the following day. Now everything is a screen tap away.

To be a working actor, it is one of the hardest jobs in the film business. How hard is it to get acting roles today?

DIVIAN: You go from wishing you had an agent, to wishing you can be seen for projects, to wishing you’ll land one of those projects, to wishing one of those projects will bear fruit and you’ll work more regularly. Sometimes you can get close to that last stage and within a few months, feel like you’ve ended up back at the beginning. It’s like Sisyphus. You get this self-tape request which is like his boulder but first it's square shaped. You spend time crafting it into the sphere you need it to be and push it up a hill, at which point its gone, disappeared into the abyss. You’ve sent in your self-tape and now you are at the bottom of the hill again, waiting for the next opportunity for another boulder to arrive. That would be a very generalized view for most actors, I think. That boulder can represent tapes, invites, agent submissions, your own writing, funding applications, etc. It can feel tedious and like an ouroboros cycle of no escape but as covered by Camus, if you enjoy crafting the sphere and view the hill as an opportunity to exercise those acting muscles, you are in a better place than when you were not seen at all.

DIVIAN CONT'D: More personally, when I started acting in theatre, there were not many companies that would see me or employ me or respond to my invites to shows so my work was very limited. I would often take jobs where we would tour plays to schools or prisons. Once I did a play in an old home. I did have a good run of commercials for a couple of years but when I did Detectorists, it felt like I was being taken a bit more seriously and I was being seen for more TV and film. It's not a fairy tale with a big payoff for everyone. It's more like a game of snakes and ladders with peaks and troughs. A journey through choppy waters. Some people you see out there, seem to start that journey on a cruise ship and sail by quite smoothly. Then, there are dopey dreamers like me who jump into the ocean with nothing but a homemade rubber ducky and hand-me-down speedos, flapping around with loads of energy but not really going anywhere until you tire out and just float. The waves seem to take you forward yet backward. You can’t stop. It's not a train. You can’t get off. You’ve been in it too long. You still love it when you get it. It’s sink or swim. Sink or swim.

For you, what have been your biggest challenges in your career thus far?

DIVIAN: Apart from the up and downs adventure I mentioned above, I’d say working on stories that are based on real people. I did a headphone verbatim theatre play for Theatre Royal Stratford East called Mad Blud. The technique for verbatim theatre requires the actor to listen to an interview and perform the person they are listening to. This play dealt with issues of knife crime in London. One of the interviews we performed was of a family who had lost their son. That already made it difficult but one night, the family came to see the show and they were sat in the front row. I could feel them there whilst we spoke their words of loss. They were very nice to us after the show, but I recall being quite silent in the post show Q&A. I also remember crying when trying to answer a question when I was being interviewed for a book about devised plays. A researcher on behalf of an author and I were discussing a solo performance I did for an old home and this emotion just flooded out when I tried to answer one of her questions. I don’t think we realize what we carry with us, subconsciously, and sometimes it comes out and you’re like, “oh wow… I didn’t know that time was so challenging for me.” Also, dealing with loss when you are working is a hard one. Not being present to support your family can make you feel like you are making selfish choices. It’s my worst fear.

You played Mantosh, Dev Patel's brother in LION. Can you tell us about that experience?

DIVIAN: It was quite possibly the most amazing experience of my life. You may gauge an idea of where I was at in life and my career from what you’ve read so far to then get a job with Nicole Kidman was out of this world. On top of that, she was going to play my Mum. HAHAHA!!! Sometimes it feels like it didn’t happen. I had done some small budget films in the UK, but I never thought I’d actually end up in a film that would go on to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. The story was incredible, the cast was sensational, and the director’s vision was superb. We also had Greig Fraser, quite possibly one of the best DoPs out there. Normally, an actor like me is kept a little separate from the big actors but on this job, I was treated the same as everyone else. The director really embraced me. I met his family, and he took me and Dev Patel out a few times, even cooked for the cast and the Brielery family, whose story we tell. Being in Australia was an amazing experience as well. Melbourne is a great place for food and Tasmania is wild. I’d go back in a heartbeat. Everyone I met out there was awesome.

You are also in the series DETECTORISTS. And you are quite funny in it. Do you prefer comedy to drama?

DIVIAN: I love both and I’d like to continue doing both. I think comedy can feel quite rewarding on the day and in the moment. The cast and crew all seem to be in good spirits when working on comedies. Drama is also rewarding but in a different way. The rewarding feeling is not instant but comes gradually. You feel like you’ve done something more cinematic regardless of the scale.

Having worked on big budget films like ANT-MAN AND THE WASP and DAVID COPPERFIELD, as well as multiple indie films, do you like working on indie or commercial films more?

DIVIAN: They are both fun to work on. I think indie films are a little harder because the turn-around is so quick. With more money backing the project, you can play more and try different things. With ANT-MAN AND THE WASP for example, we could continue ad-libbing after the scene had ended. My last line in the film was made up on the day. I asked Payton Reed, the director, if I could say it, and he was like, “yeah, why not”. We don’t really get that luxury on an indie unless you can work it into a setup early enough. When I did MR MALCOLM’S LIST, I’d ask director Emma Holly Jones in advance if I could try stuff and she would find my suggestions funny. She was working on the script anyway so she would add any of my silly bits that she liked into the script so when we came to film, those beats were already there on the day’s set ups. That’s quite a specific example though, as Emma was already planning to get my character more involved than what was originally scripted. That said, there is a discipline that comes with indies. Coming in, knowing you only have a few takes to get it right, before they need to move on can be something to relish as you utilize more of your craft and approach, coming in prepared with the openness to play and the ability to adapt to direction.

Do you have a project you have worked on that you are most proud of?

DIVIAN: I guess LION would be the most obvious one, but I think I’ll go with a short I did with Film4 called NAPTHA (dir. Moin Hussain). It’s available on their website. It’s a drama about a father and son with a sci-fi undertone. I’ve always wanted to work on projects that require that sort of naturalistic performance where it doesn’t look like the actors are acting like SO LONG MY SON or a Hirokazu Kore-eda film, but that class of film rarely presents itself. Especially in the UK where the variety feels limited to comedy or procedural TV with scenes full of exposition. NAPTHA allowed me to play a lead role and to work on a tone for a film that I would like to do more of. If I’m being honest, I don’t think I was particularly good at it but it was the first time I got to do the type of acting that I’ve always longed for.

Do you have a funny anecdote you can share with us from one of the sets you have worked on?

DIVIAN: Ha. I can’t think of one. I must not be any fun to work with if I don’t have any. Being on set is a genuinely fun place to be. You are with likeminded individuals and can quickly bond and banter with people from different departments like the make-up team or the unit drivers. The only thing that comes to mind now was when I was doing ANT-MAN AND THE WASP, where people kept telling me you're paid to wait. One day, I was on second unit and this phrase really rang true. I was sitting on those wooden chairs but alas, I still haven’t had one with my name on it, and the lovely PAs (runners) would check I’m ok and offer to get me anything like coffee. Filming in a big studio, it was tricky to just walk over to a table like we do in the UK, where a tea and coffee set up is present. In the States, first and foremost, you can’t even get a cappuccino at the hotel you’re staying in as a barmaid explained to me on my first day in Georgia, “They don’t do that here.” “But this is America!!!” was my response. “They drink it in the movies all the time.” I did not get my cappuccino that day. Or any day during my time at that hotel. Back on set, I did have a small window to get one before crafty decided to send the coffee machine into the abyss along with my self-tapes. I also didn’t know what ‘crafty’ was. I kept being told that “crafty can’t do that for you” and I thought whoever it is who can’t do it, certainly sounds crafty to me.

DIVIAN CONT'D: BUT…. There was a coffee machine somewhere cos the amazing Dante Spinotti of HEAT was getting espressos whenever he wanted. I just needed the right people on the inside to sort me out. One day, on second unit, when one of the PAs asked if I wanted anything, I said that I’d love an espresso, but they don’t have that machine. She said she knows of one and she’d be happy to get me one and that she’d like one too but isn’t allowed. So I said, “Cool. Can I have TWO espressos?” When she came back, I took one and told her I didn’t want the other one so she could have it. She left happily. A little while past. I was still being paid to wait and another PA came. This is another big difference between big budget and indie. Big budget in the States has like a hundred PAs whilst an indie in the UK just has one runner. If you’re lucky. Anyway, she’s like “Can I get you coffee?” and I’m about to say no as I have one in my hands until something twigs in my brain so I ask, “What sort of coffee should I get?” She recommends a latte. “Ok. I’ll have a latte.” She returns with the latte, but I just so happened to change my mind, so I tell her to have it if she wants. She’s very grateful. I was sorting out coffees for these kids all day. I’m essentially making people happy by listening to what they want and then letting them do the work they need to do to get it. This is what it must be like to be God. All is going well until the Big Boss PA arrives on our sound stage. A devilish, 4’10” veteran of the game. Now the PAs can’t get themselves, I mean, can’t get me a coffee as I now have to ask the Big Boss PA, but I can’t let my new pals down especially as the PAs in main unit, my buddies for weeks have found out that I’m getting orders in and have been visiting from the neighboring sound stage just to check in on me. So, I find out what people want and order them one at a time one. I can hear the Big Boss PA over the radio as she goes to get my latest order of frappa-dappa-dingleberry mocho-choca-la-la-da-da say, “if he asks me to make him a coffee one more time…” and when she comes back, I have one more request for an Americano… with cream. I never did any work that day. Just sat in my nameless chair. Caffeinated as fuck.

What's next in the pipeline for you?

DIVIAN: I did do another sci-fi short that should hopefully come out this year. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE & YOU! is written and directed by Charlie Brafman and Magnus McCullagh. They made an exceptional short western called RABBIT’S FOOT, which is available on Omeletto. In this AI based sci-fi, I play another lead and my character has a break-down about 30 seconds into the film and then we go on one hell of an adventure. It required me to play comedy, drama and romance and should be quirky and fun for audiences that get to see it, which I hope will be lots and lots of people. I’m sure it will hit the festival circuit later this year so keep an eye out for it.

Interview with English Actor Divian Ladwa                     


Interview by Vanessa McMahon                        


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