Tanya Burr on hopes for women in film and why ‘driven’ shouldn’t be a dirty word

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  • 'People feel like they can speak up, and as a result expectations are now higher'

    Tanya Burr is the definition of following your dreams and doing what you love.

    The 31-year-old had always dreamed of being an actor, but was held back in her childhood by anxiety. Then as a 25-year-old, having built up an online community (3 million Instagram followers) and worked on her confidence, she put in the hard work and gave it a shot.

    Now, the actor and influencer spends her days doing it professionally, working across TV, film and theatre, with her new movie Hurt by Paradise, directed and co-written by Greta Bellamacina coming out in cinemas across the UK this week.

    Some will inevitably call Tanya’s success luck, but it’s not – it’s the result of hard work, perseverance and drive on her part to thrive in an industry that she loves, and it’s paying off.

    To mark the indie film’s release, Features Editor Jenny Proudfoot sat down with the ever-impressive Tanya Burr to talk acting, female friendship and her hopes for women in film.

    Let’s talk Hurt by Paradise

    Hurt by Paradise is just beautiful isn’t it? I really loved that it was a love letter to London. It was Greta’s first time both starring in and directing a movie and she absolutely smashed it. It’s just so brilliant, and I think it’s pretty interesting to see the dynamic between the sisters who are so different. My character Maud almost pities Greta’s character Celeste because she is a single mum and a struggling poet. Whereas actually, Greta’s character obviously struggles but she’s quite content with her life. She loves the magic of not knowing where she’s going next and that probably inspires her writing. In fact, she would absolutely hate to live a life like Maud where everything is set up.

    Tanya Burr as Maud in Hurt By Paradise

    How did it come about?

    It was my first ever feature film. We shot this in 2018 and I had done a few little TV jobs before that – I think I had actually just finished doing the play. So, when I auditioned with Greta and she said she would love for me to play her sister, I just couldn’t believe it. To come out of a play and then suddenly book my first ever feature film, I was just over the moon. Then, Greta and I became really good friends, and we’ve now just done our second film, Venice At Dawn, together. My part was only small in Hurt by Paradise but it was so great to get to work together on something bigger. We filmed it earlier this year, and then literally the next week the UK went into lockdown. Weirdly, our filming dates were supposed to be in April and then (nothing to do with coronavirus) the director just said ‘I think we’re ready – I want to film in Feb/March’. God, imagine if we had waited till April – it still wouldn’t have been shot. We were lucky.

    The film focuses on female friendship. Is sisterhood a big part of your life?

    For sure. I think that you get a special feeling when you have support from women. I have really close male friends and it’s just a different bond than I have with the women around me. And I feel so lucky for the women in my life. I speak to my mum and my sister on the phone every single day and I have incredible best friends that I’m surrounded by – I don’t know how I would get through life without them.

    What was it like working with Greta?

    It’s a dream to work with Greta. I could have very easily done that film and never spoken to Greta again – that’s often what happens, particularly when you’re not on a job for a long time. But Greta and I were just drawn to each other. We love to work in a similar way where we dream big. We want to make stuff happen and we want to make that stuff happen now – we’re both quite impatient and driven! She’s just an amazing creative and artist – so talented and dedicated – working with her was a dream.

    She’s a great example for women…

    I think in all industries, not just film, there has often been a lack of respect for women. If a woman is driven, like someone like Greta for example, it often feels like a dirty word. It’s a label only given to women really because men would just be called successful. So, even me saying Greta is driven, I’m like, should I be saying that? But, the thing is it shouldn’t be this dirty word – it’s almost like women are not allowed to go for what they want in life. That’s kind of how it has been set up. It’s like we should be ashamed if we admit that we’re women that just go for it and makes things happen and gets things done. I think Greta is such a great example because she just doesn’t care. She’s just like ‘Well this is me and this is what I’m doing’.

    How hopeful are you that now is a turning point for women in film?

    I have huge hope. I feel like we’ve been climbing up this mountain for years and having mini victories along the way, but now I feel that we’ve reached the top and we’ve got to the point where everyone is rallying and everything is coming together. From the #MeToo movement to that incredible article that Emily Ratajkowski wrote the other day, I feel like everyone feels the most confident they’ve ever felt to speak out about women’s rights, and particularly women’s rights in film. I know some people will say ‘Oh it’s just a hashtag – what is it actually going to do?’, but these movements actually really empower people. They make people feel like they can speak up, and as a result expectations are now higher. Even for example, getting more women in film crews and behind the scenes, something that Greta did for this film. She worked with an almost-all female crew, which is incredible.

    How was it transitioning into acting?

    I feel like I’ve spent the last three or four years just kind of finding my way in the film, TV and theatre industry, doing bits and bobs here and there and auditioning all the time. It’s a really slow industry – it takes time – and you may never make it but I don’t really mind. I think you’re lucky to get every job you can because it is so difficult in this industry. There are so many people that would be amazing for a role – it’s just up to who the casting director thinks is right.

    Faye Thomas Photographs

    Did you always want to get into acting?

    Yes, since I was tiny. It was all the films that I watched at my grandparents’ house that really made me want to act, Gigi and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I just wanted to be one of those girls. I thought they were such incredible stories and I just wanted to be part of them and become one of those characters. I was quite introverted but I used to do plays with my friends – I would always be the lead and I would make my best friend Emma who I now live with write up all the scripts.

    Do you struggle with nerves while acting?

    I really was quite an anxious child and teenager, and I think that held me back in lots of ways. I was much happier being an observer rather than joining in because I really did struggle with confidence. That’s why I didn’t properly pursue acting until I was 25. I started thinking ‘Right, I feel like I’ve found myself a bit more now, I’m going to try to find some classes and get going with it’. In 2017, I got an agent and it just went from there, but I don’t think I was ready to be an actor properly until the last three years. I think building up a career online over the last ten years has helped me in a lot of ways, and then aside from that just having therapy for anxiety. Now, I’m not fazed at all. I am a really confident person now and I have done a lot of work on myself. I feel more free as a person and I can be a better actor because I’m not thinking ‘Oh God everyone’s watching me!’ Not one part of me is thinking that. I’m just waiting for them to say cut and hear the director’s notes.

    Are there painful parts of the job?

    It is heartbreaking when you get attached to a role before you get it. I try not to but recently I did a tape towards the end of lockdown for a film where I would have been one of the three female leads. I taped for it, they liked my tape, I had a Zoom call with the director and then I had a socially distanced recall in the room in July. I got called back for a second recall, workshopped scenes with other actors for about eight hours and told I was down to the final two, and then I didn’t get it. It was going to be filmed abroad and I had already put all the dates in my diary – I was very attached to this role. As heartbreaking as that was, now that I have gotten over the fact that I didn’t get it, I’m really grateful for the experience. I was pushed really hard in the room and I hadn’t acted with other people for months and months so it really was a lovely experience – plus I made some friends.

    Have any of those auditions actually led to other roles?

    Yeah, the job I just did. I’ve just got back from Leeds where I was filming for season 4 of The Syndicate which isn’t out until next year. I actually auditioned for a totally different role which ended up going to someone else, but the director remembered me and offered me a one episode job on the same project. So it just shows that people do remember you if you put the work in.

    And you’ve worked in theatre too…

    Theatre is amazing – it takes over your entire life. You rehearse for six weeks and then you’re on for anywhere between four weeks and three months. It takes over. Seven days a week, nine shows a week – and then on Sundays, as much as your want to see your friends you literally need a day to just be in bed. It’s really fun though – it almost feels like you’re back at school because it’s really strict and you think of the stage managers and deputy stage managers as headmistresses. You’re just in this bubble with your cast mates and performing on the stage is really special because it’s never the same – it changes in some special way every single night. There’s something really magical about being on the stage.

    Is there a dream role you would want to play one day?

    The thing is, I’m at a stage in my career where I feel lucky to get anything I can get. I’m not an Emma Stone where I can say ‘I’m inundated with offers so this is how I choose my scripts’ or ‘I only play strong female characters’ – I’m just happy if I get to be on set and I am over the moon if I book any job. I think my absolute dream would be to work with Tom Hanks or Samuel L. Jackson. When I watch them on screen, I’m just completely in awe of their craft and I would just love to be able to see them working. One of the most amazing parts of my career so far was watching Hugh Grant work. I played a bridesmaid in Comic Relief’s One Red Nose Day and a Wedding. The cast was so lovely (we spent two days filming together) and the best part of the job was when I was sat next to Hugh Grant for about an hour at the top table while we were waiting to shoot. I had a chat with him and he showed me his script and was going through it with me. It was such a great experience just to watch him work and see what a perfectionist he is. He makes everything seem so off the cuff as this classic, charming, British guy, but he puts so much thought into it. Then, when we were about to start filming they swapped me with another bridesmaid so I got to sit next to Kristin Scott Thomas too!

    What is your favourite thing about acting in general?

    I think my favourite thing is just how I feel when I’m acting. When you’re acting you get to have these emotional and artistic experiences that you don’t get to have in your own life and that’s really special. But really, at the end of the day it’s being a part of something that I absolutely adore. I’m just such an enormous fan of film and TV – I just live and breathe it – so getting to be a part of it is just a dream come true.

    Is there any advice you would give to aspiring actors?

    Only do it if you really love it and can’t imagine not having acting as part of your life. If you don’t enjoy it, it’s pointless because there’s a chance that you might never get anything big or anything that you really want. But if you enjoy the process, keep on going.

    https://hurtbyparadise.co.uk/

    Check website for cinemas near you where the film is playing.

    Tanya Burr is supporting evian in the launch of its new Bottle made from Bottles range, which features bottles made from 100% recycled plastic. By 2025 evian aims to become a fully circular brand, making all of its plastic bottles from 100% recycled plastic.

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