Meet our Foundation Course Leader: Carryl Thomas

Carryl graduated from Mountview’s BA Musical Theatre course in 2001. During her third year she was cast in the National Theatre’s revival of My Fair Lady, directed by Trevor Nunn, which then transferred to the West End. After several years performing in West End musicals, including being an original cast member of Our House, she made the transition into television, joining Channel 5’s soap Family Affairs for three years, where she received British Soap and Screen Nation award nominations.

Carryl subsequently joined the cast of The Sarah Jane Adventures for Doctor Who Productions, and made guest appearances in Holby City. She also created the role of Keisha in the world premiere of Flashdance, directed by Tony Award-winning Kenny Leon and choreographed by Arlene Phillips. Most recently Carryl appeared in Silent Witness alongside two of her four sons, and is a recurring character in ITV’s Emmerdale.

Alongside performing, Carryl has been teaching within the arts for many years, including directing, choreographing and coaching young working actors.

Now, Carryl has joined Mountview to be part of the Short Courses team as Foundation Course Leader.

What was your time training like?

Paul Sabey was our head of singing and I love him. He was just a dream! I still talk to him on Facebook, he’s currently in Australia. But he was just the most incredible person; his talent, his vision, his voice. He was one of those people that was just naturally gifted musically and was so compassionate and gentle whilst still being firm. I adore that man. If you do musical theatre anywhere now it’s a shame that you haven’t got Paul Sabey, just for a moment, to get his nuggets, because he is just a genius.

Ziggy (Movement tutor) is another one that was just incredible. I remember doing Animal Studies with him and we made scrap books that I still use now. The whole faculty, they were great. Paul Clemence as our head, he was top dog and Amir Korangy are just people that you don’t ever forget. Having Amir, a working actor in LA and teaching at Mountview in North London, we were just like, “thank you”.

The most amazing experience with him was the blank canvas concept. We did A Lie in the Mind by Sam Shepard. He said, “all blacks, bare feet, hair back, no jewellery, no make-up”. We started from a real blank canvas and even the set was an empty space and only as we got on to our feet did we start to build the set and build the character. My character didn’t really have any lines, she was a mentally ill girl, but she was in every scene. I have to admit, I was like “I don’t want to play that, I want words”, that typical, silly thing that we do before you actually understand. Then, he really helped me find this girl. That experience of a blank canvas to building a role, building a set, building a piece; I don’t think anyone in that project wasn’t fulfilled. We just trusted him so much and he trusted us, and it was stunning, another genius. But they all were!

How would the version of you who started their first day at Mountview feel about seeing you today?

Carryl Thomas in Emmerdale

Gobsmacked probably. Because I didn’t believe and trust I could get it. I wanted it, but I didn’t believe I could get it. Not because it was what I believed, but through years of being at school and families saying “It’s a hobby”, “There’s no one like you”, “It’s not going to work”, “How are you going to buy a house?”, “How are you going to afford to live?” All these things that you start to wear. I had that as baggage on my first day and I wish I recognised this earlier, rather than later. Not to own it, but to kind of fight it and to try and prove everyone wrong, which I did. I have learnt to just get on with it and not to own people’s negativity.

How did you find the transition from training to then going into professional spaces?

The timing certainly helped, because the schedule here at Mountview is very full. So that put me in good stead. Because I was the only recent college student in that production of My Fair Lady, everyone else had been working in the industry for a few years, if not more. So therefore, I was very ready and engaged.

How does it feel being a tutor at Mountview now?

It’s the third week and after the first week I was tearful! There were no students here yet and I find office spaces quite daunting. I’ve never done this sort of thing before in my life. So that was really hard, but obviously the team is amazing. Eddie Gower, love him! We had a sit down and went over lesson plans and that was also uncomfortable, because I’ve never been exposed like that, with all my ideas. It’s been me, my book and the students and I just do it. But now, I show and deliver a plan before I go and do it. So that’s been really hard and I went home and I felt ‘I can’t do this’.

Foundation Training at Mountview | Photo by Steve Gregson

Week two, was truth and connection week. The students came in and when I met them, I melted. I feel like I’ve adopted sixty-four more children in my life. I genuinely have that love for them already. When I watched all their pieces, I was crying by the end of the week, because there were some amazingly beautiful stories told. And then my first week of teaching, I can’t get enough! I’m so excited, so like anything, it was like the first day of rehearsals for me. We all feel a bit anxious and a bit sad about what you’ve just left behind, so now I’m like ‘get on with it’.

What advice would you give to someone trying to break into the industry?

There is no point having a plan B. If you have a plan B, then plan A isn’t getting all of you! It sounds quite obvious but it took me a while to really understand that. So, if it means you’re spending two or three years out to work or really struggling, if you’re putting all your emphasis onto one thing – it will come. It just will, it’s the law of odds, the laws of attraction, it will happen. But also, be the best version of yourself and be organic. We all want to copy and emulate, but actually, you’re enough. Do the work, you are enough. We all find our own little ways, but essentially that’s what I would say. I say that to my kids. Don’t worry about anyone else!

What’s your Dream TV/Film role?

Silent Witness | BBC

I always had soaps on my checklist, because nobody works harder than a soap artist, who can do thirty scenes every day, just churning out. I think it’s incredible. I love costume, so I would love to do a period drama, that’s one thing that I have never done.

I do like raw, gritty drama.  Some people enjoy the dressing up and the looking pretty, where I enjoy looking, not even ugly, but looking like the character and serving the character, serving the story. So yeah, I’m waiting for that grit – something that is just really raw, and a mum.

Being a mother with four boys, what is it like balancing this with being a performer at the same time?

First up… It’s hard, but not impossible. Because you can be a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a daughter, a son, a friend, an aunty. We all have roles to play in someone’s life and our own lives. Within six months of my first child being born I was in Holby City, and I had a nanny with me on location. I was expressing milk in between takes, and it was fine. BBC had a crèche for a long time, so you have to ask. If you don’t ask, you don’t know, you don’t get.

It wasn’t planned, but my eldest son’s first job was at the National Theatre also, ironically! Patrick Marber’s Three days in the Country. Second son, Bridgerton, Netflix. Third son, BBC, Silent Witness. My last son has done photographic work, but they are all working all the time, and I am actually learning more since college, watching them. As an observer, there is so much you can learn. I’m going on set more often now, seeing directors in action, standing in the background being quiet, watching people work, so I’m learning a new skill for the teaching. I am able to share that with the students that I have now, which is great for them and great for me.

What have been some highlights of your career?

All my projects had highlights. Even the audition for My Fair Lady, I remember standing singing The Sound of Music and Trevor Nunn got off his seat on the panel and he walked around in circles around me while I was singing, and no one prepares you for that. I was just like, “what is he doing?” But he walked around me, sort of just thinking. And you have to just keep going, obviously. And I remember that being an eye opener to when they tell you in college “don’t let things affect you, be focused, know what you’re there to do and just do it”. So, if someone doesn’t look at you and they’re writing, it’s not a negative thing, they just have to write. If someone is walking circles around you, then that’s what they have to do, we all got a job to do. So that was a real eye opener, to be focused and do your job, and let them do theirs.

Interested in Foundation training at Mountview? Find out more.