Tuyen Do: How she cracked the National Theatre
I met with Actors Temple alumni Tuyen Do to discuss all things Meisner, performing in one of the UK’s biggest theatres and the struggle to always believe in yourself. After undergoing the training at the Actors Temple for two years, Tuyen has experienced an incredible array of projects with her most recent show - The Great Wave - running at The National earlier this year. I met with Tuyen in that same theatre to chat about her acting journey thus far.
What has been your training history?
I did a year at Drama Studio and came out thinking I can’t act - it was the first time I had ever acted. I was in my late twenties and I could finally afford courses. The thing is, I had always had empathy and loved stories but I never had the courage. I was very quiet as a child and I didn’t think it was for me coming from a Vietnamese background; I didn’t think it was in my vicinity. Then, when I was older and had the money, I seeked it out. I started with a part time course at City Lit and then I remember everyone telling me I had to train! So I auditioned for Drama Studio’s one year course and came out thinking I couldn’t act. I did a series of not great short courses because I always knew something was missing. In life I feel a lot but onstage it felt acted. So, when I came across The Actors Temple and did Meisner (I did it at other places but it wasn’t the same) I was like, that’s it - that’s what I want to do.
How long did you train with AT?
I did that on and off for two years. Some of the stuff I learnt at drama school could suddenly be applied. Learning is very circular - that’s why they say it takes 20 years. I’ve met lots of different actors from different backgrounds and training and you realise that everyone is going for the same thing - how you get there doesn’t matter. There is no right way of doing it.
Acting training is very difficult - if it wasn’t, everyone would do it. Acting costs us something if we are going to be true. I’m full of self-doubt all of the time - I’ve just been on stage at The National and I’m thinking I can’t do this! It is a journey of a self-discovery and you’re on that for the long haul - you’re changing too.
Why do you enjoy acting and what do you think helps keep you sane?
Always remember why you’re doing it. When I first began, I didn’t know why but there was something drawing me to it. I just sort of started and kept on going. I can honestly say it connects me to people on a deeper level. It’s the idea of teaching you a lot in a vocational way - you experience it. It’s all about the curiosity of the human condition. But selfishly, the main reason I love to act is that it feels good - to be connected to your fellow human beings in a way you’re not in life because there are consequences. Art is a place where you can drop that facade for a moment.
Tell me a little bit more about ‘The Great Wave’ which you performed at The National earlier this year and your character within the play.
The Great Wave was inspired by real events - it starts off in Japan in 1979 and focuses on a mother and her two daughters. One night there’s a storm and the two daughters fight and one disappears and never comes back. What happens is that she has been abducted by the North Korean government - this really happened - and these abducted citizens would be forced to train North Koreans to be Japanese. My character is a North Korean spy who is being trained by this young girl and she goes on this journey from hating her to seeing her as a friend. The history is that Japan invaded North Korea and the war never really ended for North Korea - even now they are still on military alert. I had a great journey - I loved my character and in the end, my last scene was that I had been captured and found guilty of blowing up a South Korean passenger aircraft. And she was on death row and it ends with me meeting the girl’s mother who hasn’t seen her child for twenty years and I had to tell her she’s well.
What was the audition process for The Great Wave?
Now that I’ve done it, I do feel like I will never work again as an actor. And people will look at me and think, how can she think that? But you know it took me 8 years to get here - I wasn’t nervous for the audition. I was at the end of my tether, I thought if I don't get this then I’ll quit acting. I felt like I was banging my head against a window but then you think whatever happens, happens. My agent tried to secure the audition at the National and they said they wouldn’t see me and I said no, my friend (the writer) said he would help to get me an audition. It’s a combination of you, your connections and luck. Your agent cannot perform miracles. A massive agent can help a lot but they will also drop you if you don’t get jobs. Smaller agents are hungrier and will give you more space and invest in you. It’s thinking about it as a business. I went up for auditions and I wasn’t ready - I was too nervous and I messed them up but it was a learning curve. You learn it by doing it.
As it was based on true events, do you feel that made a difference to your approach?
The interrogation scene was very difficult and every night I had to change it a little bit - most nights I had to get there, some nights I couldn’t and I learnt through the five weeks to let it go when I couldn't. I had to keep reminding myself that these were real people - even if a play is not based on real events, these characters are based on people who were in the same situation and it helps to remind myself of that responsibility. It was a challenge and I managed to learn a lot just from doing it again and again. I learnt to stop judging it - I tried my best in the moment and that’s all you can do and you have to let it go because otherwise you will go mad.
Did your experience at The National teach you anything?
Just try to be as true as you can in the moment. You’re doing it for yourself and the audience. It took me a long time and I’m still learning.
Do you have a routine or mindset that helps you?
I just have to remember to let it go - meditation and focus is what it takes. It’s very much a personal thing - anything you can do to stop the stuff going on in your head so listening to music, sitting with your own thoughts, all sorts of things.
There are times when I will think about the scene, live through the scene and then go on stage and it not be there. Or times when it goes the opposite way: I try to find the joy and not think about it and then it’s just there. There’s some days when I’m open and others when I’m closed and I need longer to address why I’m feeling like that and then go on stage and let it go. You do have to read yourself every single day because you’re not the same every day. Whatever happens happens, you can learn from it and respond but you can’t change it.
How was it doing a five week professional run?
This was the longest run I did for a show. The funny thing about doing it every day for a long time is that you start to not think about it in the day before - in the repetition you become freer and you worry about it less. It’s just a ride.
I’ve done fringe theatre that has been fulfilling also - it doesn’t matter where you are because you are always doing the same thing and that’s touching an audience. It shouldn’t matter where you’re doing it. The thing about The National is that you get support and time and you get paid which does help also! You feel validated for all the hard graft.
What do you think ‘the job’ of the actor is?
If my job is to remind people that they’re human and connect them to other humans then maybe that’s it. It’s an important job and you always have to remind yourself of that as sometimes the industry don’t reflect that back to you - it’s important to keep people up. The craft and the business are two different things. Don’t take things too personally but taking things personally is your gift as well.
What other mediums have you performed in and how did they differ to theatre?
I did a web series and it was like television - we recorded an hour’s worth of content in ten days which is very very fast and this is when your craft kicks in. Screen is when your craft comes in as you have zero time to find yourself and discover so you have to do all the preparation before coming on set. Your technique and training like The Actors Temple comes in then. If you’re lucky then you have one rehearsal day.
Have you done a lot of TV?
I did an episode of 24 and I literally did two takes, no rehearsal and I was with the main female character (Kim Raver) and they take you first while she’s still learning her lines. They’re incredible these actors as they’re still learning their lines until right before their scene because it’s so fast. So they shoot you first - television is very fast, like my web series. It’s really hard to let it go afterwards and that’s why we are really lucky to have a technique to fall back on.
Do you have a favourite medium when it comes to performing?
I haven’t done enough of any of the mediums to tell you a favourite but I don’t think it comes down to the medium but the people you work with. In terms of enjoyment, it comes down to freedom of play and the thing with theatre is you have more freedom.
Why would you recommend The Actors Temple?
If you feel you are missing technique then definitely go to The Actors Temple. I love the Meisner technique - it changed my life. I was 29 when I started acting. I’ve really battled with it and now look at me - I’ve just done a play in The National. I was a refugee for God’s sake! And you feel, ‘what am I doing’ but you’ve got to enjoy the ride. A good thing I also took from The Actors Temple is that you have to see yourself as an independent artist. Tom would drum into us that you can do your own stuff as you’ve been improvising. So I went and wrote a play.
Is this the next exciting project in the pipeline?
Yes, the most exciting thing coming up is that I just received a call about the play I wrote 7 years ago and they are interested in putting it on at Tristan Bates. These projects are what keep me sane between acting projects.The writing of it really opened me up and while I was at The Actors Temple I felt very inspired and I did it without thinking.
If you had one piece of advice for an aspiring actor, what would it be?
You’re more than an enough. Celebrate your achievements and how far you’ve come. The future is a mystery.
After studying English Literature and Theatre at the University of Leeds and becoming an active member of the university’s Theatre Group, Sophia realised acting was the right path for her. After living in France for a year to feed her love for travelling and tutoring, she’s now back in London to follow the actor/blogger dream. She loves exploring all things ‘drama’ and hopes to one day be in productions that can give a powerful voice to important issues and delve into challenging roles. She is currently studying at The Actors Temple on The Foundation Course and is a keen blogger busy travelling around interviewing alumni, trying out new classes, reviewing the latest shows and ultimately exploring this world of ‘acting’!