True to life: from real tragedy to on-screen performance
Recent Solent BA (Hons) Performance graduate Gemma Wallace talks about her role as murdered police officer Nicola Hughes in a soon-to-be aired documentary.
On 18 September 2012, unarmed police officers Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone were killed in a gun and grenade attack after responding to a report of a burglary in Greater Manchester. Recent Solent BA (Hons) Performance graduate Gemma Wallace will be playing Nicola Hughes on British Police Murdered on Duty, one of three programmes commemorating brave police officers and showing how unpredictable and dangerous life in the forces can be.
We caught up with the 21-year-old from Uxbridge to find out what it was like playing a real life character who died in such tragic circumstances, how she’s also using her acting skills to help train doctors, and more.
Can you tell us a bit about filming British Police Murdered on Duty?
The scenes that I portrayed of Nicola were reconstruction clips, filmed without sound. As there was no dialogue, I had to try and recreate how Nicola may have felt, thought and reacted in each given circumstance through movement and reactions alone.
What research did you do, and how did you deal with the sensitivities surrounding the role?
It was a great honour to portray such a brave police officer. Considering the nature of role, the research was really important to me. I wanted to know as much as I could about her and the incident. I wanted to try and give a truthful representation of Nicola – her characteristics and what she may have been thinking during the events that we were reconstructing.
How did you feel playing a part from a real-life tragedy?
I was nervous; the characters I’ve represented before are mostly fictional. This was something very new to me but I was determined to try and do the role justice and give Nicola the respect that she deserves.
Has working on this particular project affected you as a person? Do you look at life differently now, or view the police differently?
This particular project has given me an amazing opportunity to portray something that isn't usually an occurring role. I have gained so much respect for police officers and people in the forces for putting their lives on the line for our safety. It's very brave and I really respect that.
Tell us a bit about life since graduating. How have you found it?
I’ve been focusing on getting as much acting experience as possible, through networking at events and applying for jobs in the industry. The main areas of performance I’m focusing on are screen acting and voiceover work, as these two disciplines interest me most.
I’ve also been taking driving lessons; being more mobile will give me the opportunity to apply for jobs that require traveling further afield!
What have you got coming up?
I am working on a range of projects, including playing ‘simulated patients’ for SimComm Academy, who provide actors to help doctors improve their communication and clinical skills.
I’ve just finished a documentary, The Chalk Pits, with Oscar Creative, and I’ve been doing some voiceover work for the gaming industry - watch out for video game 88 Heroes, which is being released on all major gaming platforms in the new year. I had the amazing opportunity to play a range of heroes, which was great fun!
What are you doing to try and get work?
I don’t have an agent but this is giving me the opportunity to put my own name out there and learn more about the industry I’m working in. I’m figuring out what casting websites, groups and posts are most appropriate for me and the roles I want to pursue.
What are the main challenges of getting work?
The cost of things…! A lot of the job-listing websites require you to pay for registering (monthly or annually) before you can apply for the jobs advertised. This has made me research the most appropriate site for me and the roles I am looking for. Narrowing down the appropriate organisations and sites that are the best fit for me allows me to keep on top of current jobs, manage emails and network.
Which actors do you most admire and why?
Well I would say some of my favourite actors are Julia Roberts, Robin Williams, Meryl Streep, Anna Hendrick... the list could honestly go on forever! But I just love watching these actors because they always draw me into their performances. Their acting is so truthful and empowering; I never doubt their performances and characterisation, but get drawn into every emotion, and that really inspires me.
How has your training at Solent helped you?
It enabled me to try and experiment, to learn new skills, and it opened my eyes to more opportunities. Before I came to Solent I was unsure what I specifically wanted to do in the performance industry and Solent introduced me to screen acting, which I was able to develop during my studies.
What did you love most about your course?
It gave me the opportunity to study and practise both new and old practical techniques. It also gave me the opportunity to meet industry professionals, which was really beneficial; their insight into the profession gave us realistic expectations about the industry… and the time and dedication needed!
How was your uni experience as a whole?
I gained the confidence and independence that I needed in order to pursue my ambitions. I also got to explore other possibilities that I may not have come across if I hadn’t gone to university.
And finally, what advice would you give to current students?
Don’t be afraid if you don’t know exactly what you want to do after you leave. The main thing is to make sure you are doing something that you truly love and enjoy! Just stick with it and you’ll say the same thing that we all do when we graduate: “Uni has flown by too quickly!”
Gemma will be appearing on British Police Murdered On Duty, Friday 18 November at 10pm, on a number of broadcasting networks including Investigation Discovery, Sky 522, Virgin 253 and BT 324.