Jamie Robson discusses how his Scottish, working-class roots and self-taught start in the industry influenced his acting journey so far.
Mentors such as Mark Cousins and Isabel Davis helped me appreciate that my challenging and difficult background was an asset. I stopped hiding the fact that I didn’t go to drama school.
I used to resent my heritage because I thought it was a limitation. I would often avoid roles that asked for my native accent and leaned towards ones that wanted a different dialect because I was terrified of being pigeonholed. This was all partly because my earliest affection for film sprang from the European culture; Bergman, Antonioni and Denis are some of my first loves. I feared my Celtic background, deficient of any bourgeois hallmarks, would prevent me from being welcomed into the ‘the body o’ the kirk’ – to coin a Scottish phrase.
Then, thankfully, a series of illuminating events inspired a gradual change in my attitude. Conversations with great casting directors such as Lucy Pardee and Des Hamilton, where they explained that the landscape now welcomes regional voices and celebrates accent diversity, were a real eye-opener.
Now I want to normalise the Scottish accent, so it’s just as widely accepted as any American accent. The various dialects that constitute American are just as musical, mumbled or colloquial as Scottish – it’s because we’ve grown accustomed to the voices from the States that we never question it. I want Scottish accents to gain a similar public normality.
Using your background as an asset
I’ve lived many lives before becoming an actor and these experiences breathe energy and truth into the roles I portray. Mentors such as Mark Cousins (The Story of Film) and Isabel Davis (Screen Scotland) helped me appreciate that my challenging and difficult background was an asset. I stopped hiding the fact that I didn’t go to drama school. I’m grateful that I’ve learned the craft in my own way, on my own terms and ultimately, I’ve found my own unique formula for acting. Directors increasingly compliment my process, many of whom I’ve worked with on numerous occasions, which is always a good sign.
For me, life teaches you all there is to know about acting and vice versa. I see what I do as a holistic discipline that permeates my entire existence, not just my work. Acting provides an opportunity to better understand yourself and the world around you so being an actor isn’t just about when you’re on set, it’s a way of life. It’s an operating system that when sufficiently developed, can enhance all aspects of living, both personally and professionally. This keeps me motivated and optimistic because the learning never stops, it carries on before, during and after any project. Going into a shoot becomes an opportunity for testing and evaluating progress from the previous time. I’m very much an actor for life, I owe a great deal of my happiness to the profession and what it asks of me – I love it.
Opening up the industry
The advent of video calls, self-tapes and general technology means that many preliminary stages of casting, development or preproduction can be done remotely, which is good news for anyone living outside of London. I do have a base in London, my agent is in London, most of my work takes place in London (or abroad) but I don’t feel pressure to permanently be there anymore. It’s only the final stages of any process where physical meetings are more necessary, which means I can spend a lot of my time in Scotland when I’m not on set. Of course, online interaction can never replace real life, but these newer alternatives allow people to locate more widely.
My hopes for the future of Scottish film
I’d like to celebrate my heritage and background now that I’m comfortable with it. I’m excited to tell stories that are personally relevant to me. I’d also like to see the Scottish industry adopt a model similar to that of France, welcoming big studio projects but also championing low budget projects. Projects that can still have an international impact like Bait by Mark Jenkin and Host by Rob Savage. I want to present Scotland, its history and its future in a way we’ve perhaps yet to see.
Jamie Robson is an award-winning actor. His work has garnered BAFTA wins, BIFA nominations and much critical acclaim and includes an eclectic range of projects, collaborating with prominent figures including SXSW winner Charlotte Wells, BAFTA winner Tim Courtney and Oscar nominee Robbie Ryan. Robson’s performances have drawn praise from renowned filmmakers such as Mark Cousins and Aki Kaurismäki.
Main image is a still is taken from Spin State (2021) by Ross A Wilson.