ALRA South 2017 graduate Gaby French made her film debut this year as she starred in Military Wives, released in UK cinemas on 6th March 2020. She plays the character of Jess alongside stars Kristin Scott-Thomas and Sharon Horgan.
We had a chat with Gaby to get the ins and outs of her experience in Military Wives.
Can you tell us about the casting process and what you prepared in advance?
My character in the film needed to be able to sing, so the first round was a singing self-tape. I prepared a few songs, filmed them, and then my agent and I decided which one was best to put forward. A few weeks later I then had an audition in the room with the director Peter Cattaneo and the casting director Julie Harkin. We had a good chat about the character andstoryline,and then we read a few scenes. My main preparation was going over my scenes and making sure I was as ready as I could be for the meeting.
You seem, in the film, to be a very tight friendship group. Was that reflected in the cast? How did you find working on set with other prestigious and established actors?
The first few days were singing rehearsals and I think that definitely bonded us all from the off. There was almost a vulnerability we shared in that room singing in front of each other, as we’re all actors first and foremost. We started shooting the film later that week and it felt like we’d all known each other for ages, so the chemistry you hopefully see on screen is exactly how it felt. For our last week filming we were up in Darlington and all lived together. On our last day we cooked a meal (I say we; I laid the table) and had dinner and a games night to celebrate. We were gutted to finish and the night ended with emotional goodbyes as we’d spent day in day out with each other for a while. We're all on a WhatsApp group and keep in contact all the time. A few of the girls are now my really close mates and I feel lucky to have met them and learnt from them.
I loved being on set with everyone. I’d done about an hour's work filming before this job so I was/still am very new to screen. You learn so much from just watching how other actors are on camera and the different processes people have. Everyone was very generous in sharing what they know. I just loved every minute- it was such a special experience and one that I’ll never forget.
The choir’s story is based on real people. Did you meet anyone involved in the original story?
We didn’t get to meet any of the real wives during filming but I know Peter and the team poured everything into meeting and interviewing lots of military wives in order to portray their stories truthfully. That information was then relayed to us. Something that stood out for me was that they didn’t want to be seen as women who only exist when their partners are home, and I think that’s why this story is so important- the choir gave these brilliant women a voice, friendships and something to look forward to in what can be a really lonely time. The girls met some of the wives who were in the original choir at the premiere and they said that they loved the film and found it very emotional. That was lovely to hear as it was our responsibility to tell their story and the film means so much to us. I’m glad it means a lot to them too.
There’s a point in the film where you all sing a song written specially for the film by Robbie Williams – what was that like?
The song that’s performed at the festival of remembrance (Home Thoughts from Abroad) was written for the film by Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers. It was played to us on the first day of rehearsals and I remember feeling quite emotional when we first heard it as the lyrics are so meaningful to the storyline. I just felt really honoured that we were going to be singing it. It was towards the end of the shoot by the time we filmed it, so we knew each other well, which made that moment even more special- standing next to a fab group of women singing a song that had been written for us. We had a few cups of prosecco in our trailers after to celebrate- we were classy like that!
What was the most important thing you learned from the experience?
I think to always follow your instincts. For example, not to worry too much about what you were doing on the previous take and thinking you have to replicate it, either with props or how you delivered the lines or anything else. Don’t let anything override you being present and in the moment.
What specific aspects of your ALRA training did you use during the rehearsal and filming processes?
We had acting for camera classes once a week at ALRA so that gets you used to being in front of a camera and having the confidence to try different things. We were also forced to watch ourselves back, so you pick up on any bad habits and try to eliminate them. When we weren’t in front of the camera, we were behind it helping with other jobs such as setting up the mics and putting marks down, so it just makes you a lot more aware and respectful of other people’s jobs and responsibilities when you get on set.
You were just about to perform on Broadway with a re-staging of Hangmen before the theatres had to close due to Covid-19. How is everyone from your cast dealing with this strange situation?
We had a few weeks of rehearsals out there and then two weeks of performances. I think we were all feeling in a really good place with it as those first two weeks give you time to settle and tighten things. We were due to officially open the week after so we didn’t quite get to opening night unfortunately, but I feel so lucky and grateful to have experienced those few weeks on Broadway. I suppose people deal with it in different ways, especially as nothing like this has ever happened before. It’s gutting of course but so many people in our industry and elsewhere are in the same position. We had such a good time when we were out there - I think we'll all look back on it with fond memories. You have to look at the positives. People’s health will always come first and I think we’re all grateful to be back with our families at times like these.
What advice would you give to prospective students who are thinking about auditioning for drama school?
Firstly, have the confidence in yourself that you are good enough to be in those audition rooms and that you deserve to be there. Research different drama schools even if you’ve got your heart set on one in particular. It’s good to audition for others too as it gets you used to being in an audition environment. Be yourself and always go with your instincts when choosing/performing your monologues. Don't worry about always sticking to exactly how you’ve been practicing - it's good to change things up as you then discover new things. For me, confidence always comes from preparation so prepare for all aspects of the audition; know your monologues inside out, write out what questions you think they could ask you in the interview and prepare some answers. Don’t get too disheartened by rejection – there are a lot of knockbacks in our industry and you’ll learn from the ‘no’s. I always try to focus on looking forward and not back. It’s normal to have doubts about drama school being the right thing for you. I wasn’t sure if I was cut out for it but I loved every minute… (well nearly every minute if we take out the spinal rolls and being an African hunting dog on Wandsworth common).