Seraphina Beh on being your own role model, and choosing the right agent for you
The second part of our discussion with EastEnders’ Seraphina Beh, on the importance of a good relationship with your agent and the importance of good role models. Part one was all about overcoming rejection and finding alternative training.
Sometimes you have to be unapologetically confident.
You talked about being surrounded by really determined people. Did you find yourself looking up to anyone in particular in the industry, when you were training?
I couldn’t really identify with anyone in the industry who was making big waves at the time. I mean Michaela Coel was doing wicked things, but I didn’t really see myself in her. She’s great, but I know I’m not like that. Whereas other people were like, “Oh yeah, Daniel Craig!” I was literally just trying to find my own thing, I’m different, I’m just going to do it. Hopefully someone else believes in it as well!
It’s such a weird one, and even I get a bit funny about it sometimes about BAME and stuff – honestly, I just believe in talent. I know from previous experience and even sport – I was the worst player in my basketball team. I worked really hard to get to a position where I was really happy with what I was doing. I know that hard work can get you places, so whenever I meet a younger actor or actors even my age, I’m just like, “Do you know what? We just have to keep working hard.” It does eventually pay off.
Do you think that’s better than ‘having a role model’ as such?
I think my experience over the last few years is a testament to that [mind-set]. I could have run away crying. I definitely feel like I’ve been able to get something out of [acting]. I think right now what I’m just trying to figure out for myself is where I place myself in this industry – I am definitely finding my own identity and it means finding my own path. Michaela Coel isn’t my path, John Boyega isn’t my path. I’m doing Seraphina. I can make it as big or as quiet as I want.
I think it’s quite a mature thing to come to terms with but [the question is] how long are you willing to wait, to become comfortable in the space that you’re in? There are definitely actors that I am inspired by, but I don’t see myself in them. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Again, I can take my own steps, take a few jumps, maybe scrape my knee but go ‘I like where I am.’
That is very mature! And perhaps a testament to how important it is to get stuck in and just go for it…
I think what definitely reinforced it for me was working on EastEnders, a lot of the younger cast was invited to this event held by Idris Elba… it was basically the BBC’s new Talent Hotlist 2017. When Idris was making his speech, he was saying that the event was all about people meeting each other. Not being scared of the industry – meet someone, introduce yourself. It was one of those moments where it was like, ‘Oh it’s not that crazy.’ Sometimes you have to be unapologetically confident. As much as I say it, I am still trying to apply it to my own life!
When I started like 7 years ago, feeling frustrated by seeing the ‘kids in the hood’ stuff on TV, to what I’m seeing now, and really just enjoying what’s on TV by people of colour. Like Issa Rae who’s got this HBO comedy called Insecure – I remember when I was young and couldn’t find people on TV I would go on YouTube and watch her Awkward Black Girl videos. It was so hilarious. I just had this moment thinking wow, you went from YouTube to HBO! And she literally had her originals from her YouTube channel working with her and I thought that is real love, [that] team behind her. That is definitely what I got to find in REP – I found my community, my family. If I’m having a really bad day we can talk, if I’m having a good day we can celebrate together.
You mentioned before that you’ve had some bad experiences in castings. Given how many actresses there are and that the number of roles for women is much smaller than for men, do you think it’s particularly tough as a woman in the industry?
I think it is so much harder for a woman – for a woman of colour especially, and especially when you know that what you are doing is good. I had a couple of friends who I know are just fabulous actresses, I know they can do the world and more. But it’s weird little politics that you come across now and then. You just don’t know when you’re allowed to be vocal about certain things – it’s almost like asking for permission for certain things.
There are certain rules you have to follow, unfortunately, but I feel like there’s a strength in being able to find a group of people who you really relate to and can just go ‘this is really shit, I don’t like what’s going on, but I know that because you are listening to me, I can get through it and I can find something else.’ It was interesting meeting women who had been in the industry for a while on EastEnders, finding out their struggles, where they find their peace – I learned so much from them.
Even if you have to start small, it’s ok – there’s nothing wrong with small beginnings. But you have to clock the relationship you have with your agent. I am so happy with my agent right now… He has the same [values] as me about longevity; it was all focused on career and me developing as a young performer.
You mentioned the importance of your relationship with your agent. Do you have any advice for others on this?
I had such a tricky time – I honestly didn’t know how people were going to react to Pigeon English, so when it was getting such love it was amazing. What naturally came with it was interest from agents – big agents. So that was overwhelming because I just planned to stay with the agent I was with.
I had really good advice from friends in the industry already and the best advice I got was to go to an agent who thinks you’re the hottest thing going. I was really relieved to be in these rooms with these big dogs and having conversations to hear why they were interested in me and explain why I was interested in them. Whatever name it is, the actual agent that’s representing you is the important thing. I’ve known a lot of people who have heard a big name and just jump. A year later, not much is going on, unfortunately you tend to get dropped, which is a very damaging thing for an actor to go through.
Even if you have to start small, it’s ok – there’s nothing wrong with small beginnings. But you have to clock the relationship you have with your agent. I am so happy with my agent right now. I met him about 5 times in the midst of discussions with people but I knew in my heart of hearts that I was going with him. He has the same [values] as me about longevity; it was all focused on career and me developing as a young performer. That’s definitely something I would say to all young performers – do your research, find that person you can connect with. It needs to be a good relationship. They are your window to a lot of the industry.
Thank you to Seraphina for giving Spotlight her time! Keep up to date with Seraphina’s career via Twitter.