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BA Screen Acting’s Lydia Brayshaw on short film ‘I’m Not Ok’

By Elise Czyzowska

06 April 2023

From the moment she saw the brief for Jason Hogan’s short film, I’m Not Ok, BA Screen Acting student Lydia Brayshaw knew that Emily was the perfect role for her. Having trained as a ballet dancer at The Royal Ballet Lower School, the chance to return to the craft – this time as an actor – was an easy decision, made even more so by the powerful message behind the film.

Made in collaboration with Young Minds, Shelter, and Charity Begins at Home (the latter of which Lydia began volunteering at in preparation for the role), I’m Not Ok tells a story about the harsh realities of breaking into the arts from a lower-income background, with Lydia playing Emily, a homeless recent ballet graduate who gets a once-in-a-lifetime audition. The film was shot in late 2022, and is currently preparing for the festival circuit – you can follow its progress on Instagram.

With our MA Screen Acting degree launching later this year in London, we’re looking forward to welcoming our first cohort in September – and in the meantime, we got the chance to speak with BA Screen Acting student Lydia Brayshaw about her love for the craft, her leading role in I’m Not Ok, and her top piece of advice for aspiring actors…

Growing up, you trained in classical ballet – when did you decide to try acting?

During lockdown, ballet companies were going into liquidation, and I wasn’t performing. As I approached graduation, I started doing some online acting classes, and I realised it brought me more fulfilment than dance.

I was also tired of the industry I was working in, and was ready for a change – when I started acting, the joy it brought me was refreshing, and reminded me that all I really wanted to do was to feel safe to create my own work, and to express myself as an individual.

Would you say it was a natural progression, from dance to acting?

It was an easy decision, albeit unorthodox, and I could bring transferable skills from my dance background into this new career path. It’s helped me cope with the intense competition, for example, and taught me punctuality, and how to keep my body in-tune.

I’ve also used my dance skills to fill a niche in film, which allows me to get involved with projects such as I’m Not Ok. This has opened up other avenues, too, such as movement-directing a play, and various film projects since.

Before acting, Lydia Brayshaw as a dancer, training at The Royal Ballet Lower School from ages 11-14. Photo Credit: @just_in_secrets

Speaking of I’m Not Ok, what was it like to combine your crafts, playing a ballet dancer?

I didn’t think that I’d get the part in I’m Not Ok, but I knew the character was perfect for me. The whole experience really bridged the gap between where I was in dance, and where I am now as an actor – I’m entirely grateful to have had this as a platform.

I also didn’t expect to work with such incredible people! I had to do a double-take when I saw my name at the top of the call sheet next to Lorraine Ashbourne (BridgertonThe Crown) and Aliyah Odoffin (Everything I Know About Love). To work with such experienced filmmakers and actors as the ‘face’ of the film was daunting, but the preparation I experienced – including six months of discovering the character with Jason Hogan, was a masterclass for me.

For the first time, I’ve been able to look back on my work and feel entirely satisfied, because I don’t see myself – just Emily. And I don’t judge her either when she’s dancing – it’s a lovely feeling.

How did the role come about? For aspiring actors, can you share what the audition process looked like?

The audition came about from an open casting – I was on set acting in our short form projects, and a classmate sent it to me. As soon as I read the brief, I noticed how my previous training was scarily similar to that of the character, and one of the producers was even a ballet graduate when I first joined The Royal Ballet school. It felt like a real full circle moment.

I sent an email with a link to my movement portfolio, and received an almost instant response asking for a self-tape. As I couldn’t book a studio (too expensive!), I set up my tripod in a council estate car park and just improvised. Later, the writers told me that this was what won them over.

Behind-the-scenes of I’m Not Ok. Photo Credit: @just_in_secrets

Besides the natural draw of I’m Not Ok, what other types of roles are you interested in?

In general, I’m drawn to complex, ugly characters – they’re the most challenging for me. We all have ‘cast types’ depending on appearance, and I tend to get the ‘femme fatale’ due to my build – I’m a bit sick of playing the ‘perfect character’ there to accentuate the man’s world, so I’m interested in anything that defies the male gaze. That’s why I love Emily so much. She’s a rough-cut character.

I look up to actors like Cate Blanchett, Jessie Buckley, and Florence Pugh – they’ve all been unafraid to portray complex, flawed characters – all of which I would love to explore myself.

Between ballet and acting, you’ve experienced many aspects of London’s creative scene. What would you say is the draw to living here?

Moving to London didn’t really feel like a decision – it was just something I knew I needed to do to expose myself to the most opportunities. I feel like it’s the place to be, and I’ve found a network of creative people here through all six degrees of separation.

Behind-the-scenes of I’m Not Ok with Lydia Brayshaw. Photo Credit: @just_in_secrets

And finally, could you share one piece of advice from your degree that you’ve found particularly helpful?

My main piece of advice is that you get out what you put in. If you turn up on time, are enthusiastic about the craft, and are a good person to work with, you will continue to receive incredible opportunities.

There are often difficult days – take care of yourself. I’m still learning how to find balance and avoid burn out. Work by day. Fuel your body. Sleep. And don’t forget to find time for the things that bring you joy: friends, the cinema, exercise. Time is what you make of it.

Watch the fundraiser video for I’m Not Ok to learn more about Lydia’s upcoming short film…