January 7, 2015 0

Some Time With… Alice Henley: “I really live and breathe acting. It’s my passion, it’s not a job it’s a vocation.”

By in Some Time With...


Alice Henley’s career began at a young age, performing her first professional role at her early teens, when she played Phyllis in a stage adaptation of The Railway Children.

She studied at Royal Holloway and the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts in London, where she co-created her own theatre company, Sweetfa, together with Frederica Dunstan, also an actress.

Alice acting credits include The Bill, Eastenders, Rock Rivals, My Almost Famous Family, Death in Paradise, Holby, DCI Banks and Father Brown, among others. You will remember her for her powerful role in the HBO hit Rome as Livia Drusilla, and you will also recognise her in the blockbuster thriller Eastern Promises, acting opposite Viggo Mortensen and Vincent Cassel.

But that is not all. Don’t be surprised if you recognise her voice in some of the cartoon characters for the British cartoon English Breakfast. We also can hear Alice’s voice-overs in commercials including Hugo Boss, Look Magazine or Pantene.

Talented and skilled at modern and contemporary dance, as well as horse riding and jumping, Alice Henley is represented by Lucia Pallaris at United Agents.

alice henleyQ You started acting in the theatre during your early teens. What inspired you at the time to be an actress?

A When I was seven my dad took me along to my local drama society to take part in their pantomime. I don’t think anyone knew at that point how much I would enjoy it and subsequently want to go for another 5 years! After that I was hooked and would take part in their summer play productions as well. It was when I turned 12 that I had the opportunity to audition for our local theatre’s (The Wolsey) professional production of The Railway Children and I was lucky enough to be cast as Phyllis. I was then encouraged by my drama teacher Mrs Leeder (she will definitely not be forgotten) to join my local youth theatre and I was a member for several years. So from then on I was certain that this is what I was meant to do, I loved every moment and went on to study drama right through to university.

Q What brought you to start your own theatre company, Sweetfa?

A I decided when I left sixth form that I wanted to go to university as oppose to drama school as I wanted to gain a broader understanding of the craft. At university I was able to study directing, writing, costume, set design and many more courses. However, with this advantage there was also the disadvantage of not having a showcase – this is essential. At drama school, when you graduate you have the opportunity to perform in front of agents and hopefully get signed. As this was not an option for me I had to find another way in. The only way to get an agent to sign you is for them to see you in something…. And the best place to be seen by agents is in London. So myself and fellow student and friend, Frederica Dunstan, knew we had to put on a play and invite agents to come ourselves. However, to put on a play in a theatre you have to be a registered theatre company, you can’t just turn up and ask to hire out the venue! So after about a year of organising the legality, fundraising, finding a director and writer who was willing to work with us on a profit share basis only we finally got ourselves on the boards on the west end! We just about broke even after a three-week run. I wrote to over 100 agents, only 1 turned up and thankfully they signed me.

Q What represents Rome’s character Livia Drusilla in your life as an actress?

A Livia will always be incredibly special for me as she was my first screen role. The whole experience was life changing and taught me so much. I learnt to trust my instincts and not to be afraid to experiment with my character choices. Of course working with HBO you do have the luxury of being able to take your time to explore and try different things – this is not always the case as it can be financially costly! I matured a great deal in that space of time and was fortunate to work with three different, extremely experienced directors. So it was fascinating to see how different they would work and how that affected my decisions. I realised that the most important thing is the relationship you build with the director. To be able to put your trust in them so they will get the best results. It also of course gave me an insight into the industry. HBO is like the Holy Grail for actors in a sense and so being able to work with them at the beginning of my career was such an honour. Looking back, it was all very exciting, at times perhaps slightly overwhelming, but an incredible beginning to my career. It certainly opened many doors for me, I got to work with David Crionenberg shortly after in Eastern Promises and built up several good relationships with influential casting directors.

Q What do you feel when you are in the set/studio and you hear ‘action’? Is it any different from being on stage at the theatre?

A Screen and theatre are completely different. I think its hard to say what the preference is as they both provide you with very different highs. I personally feel the stakes are higher with theatre. You don’t have the luxury of being able to “cut” and reset. The energy you get from performing in front of a live audience is also extremely unique. In a sense you are most vulnerable on stage. You are bare, there is no editing, and the audience isn’t forced to view the scene at a certain angle or in a certain light. You have to be aware of a larger scope. You are not just performing for a camera, for a single perspective, you can be performing for tens, hundreds of people so you have to be larger. This however, although challenging, and can certainly feel like you are not acting naturally, can make your job easier. The adrenaline of performing live naturally fills you with energy and this transforms your acting. Without these factors on screen sometimes energy levels drop (in my experience anyway). With theatre, you have to be bigger, the opposite applies to screen. The camera picks up on EVERYTHING so a lot of the time you have to bring everything down. This balance of drawing in without losing the energy can at times be a challenge. So the one misconception I have found is that one is easier than the other. They both have their challenges and in that respect they both have their rewards.

Q How did you end up staring awarded Spanish productions like Leave a message after the tone and Shadows in the wind, both produced by the Spanish production company Atraco Perfecto?

A I first came into contact with Julia Guillén Greagh of Atraco Perfecto back in 2009. Julia knew of my work and had approached my agent about Shadows in the Wind and after hearing about it and the work Julia and Ramon had done I was very excited and eager to work for them. It was one of the most enjoyable jobs I have had. Filming abroad has always appealed to me, the experiences I have had have always been positive. I think that’s another benefit of working in this profession, you really do get to see the world. It’s also a learning experience not so much as far as acting goes but personally. You learn to appreciate different cultures and therefore an understanding of different people. Filming Leave a Message after the tone was also challenging, as I had to attempt some Spanish. Thankfully they were all very patient with me and my character was an English girl who was learning Spanish so it worked! That is the only job in which I have had to speak a different language but in most parts I take, they require an accent. I enjoy this added challenge so would always welcome a different language.

Q We heard that you are currently shooting a new futuristic film called Tetro Rouge that will be released next year. What can you tell us about your character?

A Tetro Rouge is set in a future without electricity.  Skye, a young woman, receives a mysterious map from her father and must embark on an adventure through a post-apocalyptic world to save mankind, and I play Skye. This was certainly a new role for me; I have not played a character like Skye before. To be honest there are few roles like this for actresses in general. She is the main protagonist in the movie and manages to portray physical and mental strength without taking on a character/comic book stance. She is a character that you can believe in and yet she pushes the boundaries of what you might expect someone like her could achieve. But I think it highlights what we are capable of when we are pushed to the extreme, what we are willing and able to do in order to survive. The role required a lot of physical strength; I tried my best to get into shape before filming started. There were lots of bike rides, and, thanks to our early summer, trips to the swimming pool! I was in France and Switzerland for just over 9 weeks and the schedule was pretty full on. At times it was challenging spending so much time away from home (9 weeks is a fairly unusual length of time to spend shooting in one go) and sometimes working under extremely difficult situations. The weather was not with us a lot of the time! But the team was great, it was most definitely a collaborative venture and I made some solid friendships from it.  Its out in March next year and I’m very much looking forward to seeing it.

Q What is your favourite genre? What kind of roles do you feel most comfortable playing?

A I think if I had to choose, my favourite genre would be comedy. I worked on a BBC comedy series about four years ago and it was so much fun. Going to work everyday and spending the majority of it laughing is not a bad way to earn a living. I played a character who was a drama queen and in denial about getting old (… nothing like myself of course!). Comedy allows you to really get it all out, especially with this character, nothing was too big. I was also given the freedom to experiment with her and occasionally ad-lib here and there. I certainly feel comfortable in comedy; it seems to come to me the most naturally. But I really enjoy drama too and playing heavy or emotionally challenging roles can be very rewarding. A few years ago I worked on a very powerful short called Promise with Just A little Production Company. I can’t say too much about the piece as there is a bit of a twist at the end, but it tackles a very sensitive and, unfortunately, very common issue. It took a lot from me mentally and I was extremely tired by the end of it but I worked with a very supportive crew and an extremely talented director (John Brown). The feeling of success, for want of a better word, was euphoric when we wrapped. As any actor would say, ideally you would love the opportunity to do it all. A little bit of theatre, a little bit of screen, a little bit of drama and a little bit of comedy.

Q What do you do when you are not working?

A I love to go to the theatre and also enjoy films. But, to be honest, when I am not working I spend a lot of my time looking for more work! There are several websites that I am a member of in which you get to hear about other work and networking opportunities that are taking place. I have an amazing agent but would never just rest on my laurels and wait for work to arrive. I really live and breathe acting. It’s my passion, it’s not a job it’s a vocation. I am also lucky enough to have a fantastic voice over agent, I am represented by the London Voice Boutique and I get a lot of work through that so that keeps me afloat whilst still staying within the industry.

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