Introducing the multi talented Isabella Charlton, who is working on quite a few exciting projects!
Please introduce yourself to the readers and how and when did you first get into performing?
My name is Isabella Charlton and I started performing in theatre while I was a student at Oxford University. I performed in numerous productions there and was in the Oxford University Showcase, where twelve students are chosen to perform in in one of London’s West End theatres for an audience of acting agents. I took the Shakespeare and his Contemporaries course at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) and attended the Actor’s Summer Conservatory at Yale Drama School.
I grew up in Hong Kong and that is where my family is based and I learned Mandarin Chinese at primary school. I started acting in film, TV productions and adverts when I moved to China after Oxford, and now . I work mainly in Beijing. I started by doing Stand up comedy in English in Beijing, and then switched to doing ‘Cross talk’ (a similar equivalent in Chinese but with two people on stage). From there, I got to know a lot acting and industry people, and began working in TV and film. I managed to win numerous smaller and medium sized roles in TV and film before I got my big role for in a 30-episode comedic TV series called ‘Dragon Train’ set in the Qing dynasty and directed by Ying da, a well known director in China. I act in both Mandarin and English.
Who were some of your biggest inspirations?
I love comedy writers and performers like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Back in Asia, I love the comedic work of Stephen Chow. It was amazing when I got to audition for one of his films, even though I didn’t get the part. I love the use of physical comedy and its unexpected twists. I loved the film “Flirting Scholar”, particularly the cockroach scene. It’s a scene in which one of the main characters is trying to outdo a love rival in terms of the bad things that happen so he can get sympathy and love from a girl, and he pretends a cockroach that was accidentally stepped on is his beloved pet. I also love films like ‘House of Flying Daggers’ directed by Zhang Yimou – it’s visually stunning and your eyes are always stimulated color pallets that remind me of paintings.
What kind of training have you had, if any?
I took the course Shakespeare and his contemporaries at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) and the Actor’s Summer Conservatory at Yale Drama School. At Oxford University, I also got to work with voice expert Margo Annett while I was preparing for the Showcase. She gave me mentoring and training sessions. I spent last summer at Ecole Philippe Gaulier just outside Paris studying courses in ‘Clown’ and ‘Le Jeu’. It’s not circus clown, but rather French theatre Clown, derived from Lecoq school of theatre. It’s all about finding your inner idiot, and is actually where Sacha Baron Cohen trained. I recently took Solo Improv and Improv 1 at Second City in LA and Chicago, respectively. I love Improv, and plan to take more classes whenever I am in the US.
What has been your favorite role to play so far?
I really enjoyed playing the part of Miaoli in ‘Dragon Train’, the Ying da TV series I mentioned, because I got to work with a well known comedian in China, called Cao Yin Jin. He’s very funny and fun to work with. The TV series was set in the Qing dynasty and our characters are both working together trying to bring the first railway to China. It’s a physical, slap-stick comedy. There are a lot of funny scenes where my character kisses him or hugs him, and his character is very conservative so he reacts like I’ve done something terrible in a very physical way. It was also a great chance to work with the director, Ying da, who’s also very well known in China. He’s a veteran of directing sitcoms in China so I learned a lot from him.
What has been one of your biggest achievements in your career so far?
Again, it was landing the part of Miaoli in ‘Dragon Train’. As well as getting to work with some great people, it gave me the opportunity to establish myself on Chinese TV.
What projects do you have coming up?
I am currently doing a Chinese theatre adaptation of Macbeth, directed by a cutting-edge theatre director in China called Huang Ying, and produced by Tadashi Suzuki.
We are taking the show on tour in Taiwan next week, and will perform at the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park Theatre in Taiwan to an audience of 800 at our first stop.
Who would be your ideal co-star and why?
Someone is who is respectful and fun. You can be on set for a long time, so it’s always great to work with someone you get on with or who shares the same sense of humor. But also someone who has respect for the work, because you’ve got to take it seriously.
What are your plans for the future?
I hope to continue to grow as a performer and spend more time in the US, but I’d always come back to China for projects as well. I hope to write more and hopefully perform what I what write on stage or on screen. I also love directing and editing. I filmed a short documentary about stand up comedy and I’m currently in the process of editing it.
What is your advice to aspiring performers?
Keep doing what you love and don’t try to make sensible choices if they stop you from doing that.