Baird Medal winners Adrian Lester and Will Trotter recall their rise

Baird Medal winners Adrian Lester and Will Trotter recall their rise

By Roz Laws,
Thursday, 9th March 2023
Actors should turn down work that is not right for them, says Baird Lecturer Adrian Lester
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Adrian Lester and Will Trotter (below) delivered thoughtful and entertaining lectures, after they received the prestigious Baird Medal from RTS Midlands for their outstanding contributions, on- and off-screen.

Adrian Lester: 'Be more tomato'

Actor and director Adrian Lester captured the attention of his audience by urging them to “be more tomato”.

Sprinkling his inspiring talk with references to the fruit, the Hustle star said: “A tomato tastes just as good whether you call it a fruit or a vegetable. Labels define you and are a bad thing for creatives, so, in that sense, we should be tomatoes. We can be anything, hot, cold, spicy or cool to the tongue, and it’s up to the rest of the world to catch up.”

The event was held where it all began for Lester as a teenager, the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham. He said: “I had an empty pocket and a curious mind, and the MAC gave me access to all sorts of performance styles. I will always be truly grateful. Please keep the doors open for people like me.”

Lester signed up for a ballet course (“where I stuck out like a sore thumb”), had his “mind blown” by theatre productions, joined a drama club and sneaked his way into studios to practise breakdancing and play piano.

After Rada, and aged 28, he won a leading role in a major Hollywood movie, Primary Colors, alongside John Travolta, Emma Thompson and Kathy Bates. Lester returned to the UK, hoping to get good parts, but was unemployed for a year. He was surprised to learn that Bates was also out of work, but that she taught herself to play the harp in her downtime.

“When you are not being paid, that’s when the real work starts. I read plays and I took up a hobby that keeps me fit, positive and balanced – in my case, martial arts,” said Lester, a black belt in taekwondo.

“There are long periods of waiting, and the real devil you have to fight is frustration. Don’t let it make you less, let it make you more.”

Lester agreed that it was no accident that he had played so many different roles, from a conman in Hustle to the Prime Minister in The Undeclared War, from a surgeon in Trauma to an art dealer in Riviera. “I don’t want to be that kind of actor where you know you’re going to get the same accent, mannerisms and turn of phrase. That bores me. I like people who twist and make themselves different.”

Lester stressed the importance of refusing jobs if they’re not right, declaring, “Saying no is the actor’s only power”, and of expanding his talents into writing and directing.

He confessed that he initially turned down what would appear to be a dream job, starring alongside Julia Stiles in the south of France in the glamorous Sky drama Riviera. He accepted only when the producers came back and asked him to also direct two episodes. Despite a budget of £3m an episode to play with, he still faced challenges.

He told the RTS: “One pivotal scene was particularly tricky, a handover in a square in Nice involving an assassination by a sniper. There were two camera teams and I asked for two more and a drone. I thought I could do it in three days, then they came back and said I had one day. I panicked on the inside and said, ‘Yeah, no problem’. We did 56 set-ups in one day and it was my proudest moment.”

Will Trotter: 'Don't kiss in the gallery'

Baird Lecturer Will Trotter explained his secret prescription for Doctors’ longevity.

Executive producer Will Trotter told the RTS audience how he took a sideways route into drama. The head of the BBC’s Drama Village in Birmingham is the man behind Doctors, WPC 56, Father Brown and Shakespeare & Hathaway. But it was a struggle to get his first job in TV.

After drama school in his home city of Manchester – where he played in a punk band that supported Buzzcocks – he received no replies to any of his letters to TV producers. Fearing it was too hard for a working-class lad to break into what he considered an elite of Oxbridge graduates, he took an alternative path. He wrote to the head of regional news in Birmingham and was hired after spending a week ­shadowing the production team on Midlands Today.

Trotter revealed that he fell in love with a trainee vision mixer while directing the show, which nearly led to his firing. He was too distracted by his developing relationship to push the button at the end of the national news to switch to regional output, so everyone in the Midlands watched South East Today.

“I kept my job but, when the opportunity came to move to drama, I seized it. Alex and I are still married, 32 years on. But my advice is, don’t kiss in the gallery!”

Of his break into TV, Trotter added: “It taught me the importance of giving people a chance if you’re in the position to do so.” That has been his mission in Birmingham, giving opportunities to hundreds of creatives, including Claire Foy and Eddie Redmayne.

Asked if he had any unfulfilled ambitions, Trotter replied: “I was very jealous of Happy Valley. I wanted to do a Fargo-type drama set in the Black Country years ago, but Sally Wainwright beat me to it.”

One of his proudest achievements has been embracing the new technologies that can make digital video look like film for a fraction of the price, which allowed him to develop the daily daytime soap Doctors.

“When we first pitched the idea it was pretty much laughed out of London,” he recalled. “We were told it would look terrible and no one would watch. But, 22 years and 4,000 episodes later, the show is as strong as ever. Doctors has continued to win audiences and awards while other, far better funded, continuing drama series have fallen away.

“Over the years, Doctors has covered numerous challenging subjects, including paedophilia and rape. To tell these really difficult stories and get the tone right in daytime is something I will be for ever proud of.

Father Brown is another great achievement, sold to more than 230 territories around the world, including China. The teams at the Drama Village are innovative, fearless and incredibly creative. I am really proud of our ‘can do’ attitude.”

Report by Roz Laws. The Baird Lectures 2023 were held on 16 February at the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham. The event was produced by Dorothy Hobson and hosted by TV and radio presenter Nikki Bedi.

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