Former star of Jersey Boys in the West End, Suzy Bastone is now upping the ante and trying to break into the world of television and straight theatre. Jason Holmes reports
It's tough times in Hollywood as the recession bites and budgets are cut. With major bankable US stars now heading for the West End stage, the knock-on effect is that homegrown actors are taking supporting roles at a time when reality TV shows dominate the airwaves and are replacing original dramas in the scheduling wars. At the same time, Suzy Bastone is taking a different path into TV work and straight theatre, a move very much against the flow but the logical progression dictated by the current point in her career. She has a series of meetings arranged with casting directors in London. Meeting the great and the good of the casting world will raise her profile and allow her to grow in their collective consciousness.
It's Tuesday morning, Soho. Suzy leans on the café door and a warm wind follows her, blowing her slight frame across the floor like a leaf. She orders orange juice and a sandwich and sits upon a stool. She smiles and for the next five minutes she cannot speak as she eats.
"God I was so hungry," she says, her lipstick miraculously unsmudged. Her eyes shift from green to blue in an ageless face. She brushes imaginary crumbs from her too-large jeans. Or is it that she is too small? It is hard to tell.
Suzy was last seen in musical theatre playing Mary Delgado, Frankie Valli's wife in Jersey Boys at the Prince Edward Theatre in the West End between 2008 and 2010. Since then, she has been trying to break into the fiercely competitive world of TV. Although Suzy has appeared in scripted musicals to date, straight acting has always been her passion.
"I'm not self conscious,' she says. "You can't be in this game if you are." She's an actress in possession of a now-or-never attitude.
It's a late June day, Midtown. We meet at the offices of her day job at Grey London ad agency. It's a bill-paying situation. She sits behind the reception desk, a pair of hornrim spectacles perched on her nose. "My role here is my "out of work" security. It's obviously the polar opposite of my acting career, but an insight in a different way of life."
Her employers are happy to let her go to castings and read upcoming scripts, which gives her the flexibility to stay active in her field and keep up to date with her acting classes.
"I would go anywhere for a great job," she continues, "but I love living and working in London."
It's Wednesday and Suzy is meeting Stephen Moore, the casting director of EastEnders at the BBC's studios in Elstree. She's up for a small role. There's a bounce in her step as she shakes his hand. They read and talk for 30 minutes. Suzy throws on her jacket and leaves. Outside she says: "Appearance is important in my game, but it's important to be true to yourself."
When asked how she deals with rejection, she says: "There are times when I have been hard on myself for not achieving a goal, but keeping a sense of perspective is vital."
Two days later she's in south-east London at the Brockley Jack Theatre. A nervous energy possesses her. She's up for a part in the play Secrets of the Long Grass. 40 minutes later she is back outside, her read-through over. Is she happy how it went? "Yep, I am. Plays like this are invaluable. A lovely script like this is great for my agents to bring other casting directors to see. I'm looking for a fluidity of emotion, I suppose. An unfettered flow of expression in my acting."
It's July now. Suzy is busy attending auditions for a series of TV adverts. First up at Blink Studios on Soho's Wardour Street is the Truvia sweetener audition. Suzy is in and out in twenty minutes. From there she rushes over to Cast In Space at the Macklin Street studios in Covent Garden for a screen test for Domino's Stuffed Crust pizza.
Afterwards, outside, I ask her if she's keeping upbeat. "Of course," she replies. "I have belief in myself. If you don't, no-one else will."
The next day she attends Spotlight studios in Leicester Square for a Sky Broadband screen test. Straight after that she rushes off by bus to the gym to loosen up and burn off the stress. The next day she is up early and is back in Soho at the Take Five studios for a Nivea Sun screen test. The studio is full of scantily clad women applying cream to their legs and one after the other smiling toothsomely at the camera lens.
Later that day over a tea she says: 'The competition is tough. There are a lot of talented actors and actresses out there and the roles are few, but I've found that when I've learned to trust myself, then confidence shines through.'
Asked why she wants to break into TV and film, she says: 'Acting is a passion. And I have some big role models that I look up to. Samantha Morton, Rachel Weiss, Minnie Driver, Helena Bonham Carter. It's the work that they do, that I would like to do.'
The following Monday, thanks to hard work on Suzy's behalf by her agents Felix de Wolfe, Suzy attends a casting call for a film entitled Helping Henry on Guildford Street in WC1. If she gets the part she will be working with Brenda Blethyn. It's a genuine shot at the big time. Suzy is nervous but it's where she wants to be with the chance to prove herself. The read through goes well.
On the Thursday, Suzy is at the Criterion Theatre, Piccadilly at 9am. She's auditioning for the play, The 39 Steps. She walks from stage left and reads in a strong RP voice. There's a fearlessness to her.
That afternoon after a quick change from her bag of back-up clothes she's back at Spotlight in Leicester Square and is screen testing for Happy Life, a TV series set in London and Copenhagen. Despite all the travel and meetings and reading, she's bright eyed. Her stamina, like her ambition, is steely.
Then she's home to rest because the following day she's trying out for the part of Catwoman in Batman Live at Drill Hall on Chenies Street.
It's 10am. She's applying mascara in the changing room. 'Play or TV/commercial castings are much more of a relaxed atmosphere in a way. Which I like. Directors will sit with you and discuss the piece and want to know your personality.'
So keeping busy with work is the best thing? 'Absolutely,' she answers.
At Ealing Studios on the following Monday, Suzy auditions for a series of short scenes with four other actors for the adverts for T4′s Fright Fest. She's 'behind the scenes'. They pretend to stand around on set before a horror movie shoot.
Then she heads to the New Urdang Academy on Rosebery Avenue in EC1 to meet Debbie O'Brien, the casting director of The Cast, who also cast Grease and Priscilla Queen of the Desert. After lunch she's off to meet Brendan McNamara, the casting director of a short film called Hold On Me, at Die-Cast Studios on Berwick Street.
The day ends in a blur of tube journeys and a confetti of script pages. At her local tapas restaurant in Clapham in the evening, she says with a smile: 'I love London, the river, the open spaces. It's where I want to be.'
Has she ever thought of giving up acting to do something else? 'Never,' she says. 'I've had thoughts of side careers or hobbies that I'd love to invest in, but I can't imagine doing anything else. Jersey Boys was great, but I want a different medium now, another style of acting.'
The following morning over coffee at Bar Italia, her phone rings. It's her agent. Suzy grins. 'The Film4 Fright Fest gig. I got it!' Happy now? I ask.
'Happiness is being true to yourself and to others, so yeah, I am,' she says. 'And now, I think I deserve a spot of retail therapy.'
But then the phone rings again. It's her agent.
'No rest for me today,' cries Suzy after hanging up.
More auditions. There's no getting her down, and with her phone ringing constantly, keep your eyes on your TV screen. She may just be there soon.
Footnote: Suzy won the part in The Fox at the English Theatre of Hamburg which ran from September to November 2011