The loneliness of the working class actor
Carole Cadwalladr cited Sutton Trust Leading People research in an Observer feature on working class actors
The BBC’s recent hit drama The Night Manager, a thriller about a spy who infiltrates an arms dealer’s network, is the sort of show that’s sometimes described as “aspirational” – not because most people aspire to hang out with the kind of foreign despots liable to gas their own people, but because it’s the sort of world that features private jets and five-star hotels and characters called things like “Dickie Onslow Roper” and “Lord Langbourne” and the kind of long-necked women who drape themselves languidly over business tycoons’ arms.
It is, to use another piece of shorthand, posh; a world of money and privilege – and apart from two overworked civil servants trying to bring them to heel from a dingy London office, one of whom is Olivia Colman, the BBC’s resident everywoman – almost the entire cast comes from what used to be called the “officer class”. So it’s not exactly a surprise when, just after the final episode is broadcast, the Guardian runs a story about where the three male leads went to school. Because for the past 18 months or so, the papers have been full of stories about how increasingly rarefied acting is becoming. How difficult it is for anyone from any normal background to break into it. How some of the great actors of the past 30 years simply wouldn’t make it today.
Certainly, the issues at stake have little to do with Laurie, Hiddleston or Hollander. It’s far bigger than any of them. But it’s also not posh-bashing for the sake of posh-bashing. There’s now evidence of an inequality that runs like a seam through the entire profession and which goes far beyond the anecdotal. This year, academics from the London School of Economics and Goldsmiths College, in a peer-reviewed study, found that only 27% of actors come from a working-class background and that the profession is “heavily skewed towards the privileged”. In February this year, the Sutton Trust, a thinktank dedicated to social mobility, included acting for the first time in its survey of leading professions, and found, among other things, that 67% of British Oscar winners and 42% of Bafta winners went to a private school.
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