Doing my research on the internet about Orlessa Altass I decided to check out the meaning of her name because it has a nice sound and I kinda like it! Here’s a copy of what it said about the letter O “Of emotional origin, emotional and creative, the O corresponds to the register of feelings with a dynamic and idealistic mind. I think that sounds just like her. She is very passionate about the arts and what impact it can have on a person and she wants it done right.
She has starred in numerous popular TV programs from Coronation Street, Law and Order UK, Luther (we love Idris Elba and we are jealous of Orlessa), Casualty, Emmerdale and East Enders, as well as many Theatre productions.
Hi Orlessa, thank you for sitting down to talk to us at BAT. As usual I always ask my guest on the site how their day is going thus far, so how is it going so far?
Absolutely no complaints. I am very blessed and grateful for what I have. I have a big family, lots of kids, a husband and a dog so it’s never going to be quiet! But we are all healthy and sane- most of the time.
All of the shows listed above are very popular in the UK, which one has been your favourite to be in and which one is your favourite to watch as a viewer?
Ooohhh, now that’s tricky. Well, the one that springs to mind- immediately, is Luther (for obvious reasons). Now married or not, even a blind person could see how fine Mr Elba is and to top it off, he is a wonderful, unassuming, talent, charming, down to earth person. I have also enjoyed working on Corrie (Coronation Street) and have worked on it several times as a police officer, yes I know, type casting or what? The cast and crew and have created a wonderful atmosphere and so you feel like you are part of a big family. It’s been really lovely each time I have worked up there and the directors are fantastic. That’s how I actually got my job on Emmerdale, I worked with the same director and I am still friends with him now. You have to be professional every time you do a job and in life generally because you never know what one thing will lead on to.
Having been in the actual shows, is it sometimes hard for you to watch the different scenes knowing that its nothing like what we the audience see? It’s not as glamourous as it looks or is it?
It’s hard for me to watch, but for a different reason, I hate seeing myself and my voice sounds really different, I can’t bear it! I am so critical about myself, I know, it’s silly, that’s my thing which I need to get over. Aside from that, it is actually interesting seeing how they put the shots together. Everything looks so much bigger, like the rooms, or in the pub, or the roads look really long, but you are actually in a tiny little space with everyone strategically placed to make it look twice the size, shear genius really.
Having your make-up done and your costumes sorted out for you, these are all the glamorous parts I think, but you can’t get caught up in that. The TV world is fast and furious so you have to do your work before and come prepared and ready to nail it!
What was the auditions like for these shows? And any tips for our budding actors on what to wear when you go to these TV castings? And how do you prepare for learning your lines?
This is a good question: it’s such a competitive industry and it’s so hard to know what to say to other actors because you get so many “no’s” but when you get a job it makes the “yes’s” feel so much nicer!
You have to do your research, listen to what is being asked of you, so go like the part, and look at the breakdown (what the casting directors are looking for). So for example if they want an officer worker, don’t turn up in jogging bottoms and trainers, go looking sharp, in a good suit, you know, make some investment into yourself and your art. What you put in, is what you will get out. As for learning lines, well if it’s only a few pages, then learn the scene, go prepared, they want to see what the scene is going to look like when you perform so you have got to have it learnt like it’s THE performance. And I think more importantly, to keep you sane and open minded and constantly learning from these experiences, you have just got to tell yourself that no matter who you are up against, no-one will ever be like you, you are unique, we all are. Sometimes you are not what they are looking for and sometimes you are- so you need to make sure you are prepared and ready.
Moving over to your second love, when did you decide that it was important to start passing on your experiences as an actor in the industry and become an educator of the arts?
Well I have always thought that it was important to ‘give back’, so to speak and so I have always worked with theatre and education. In fact that’s how I got my equity card, working in TIE (Theatre In Education) with a great theatre company called Arc. It was my first acting job after I graduated from Uni through my agency. I absolutely loved it. We were using drama to educate young people, so working on topics such as knife crime, er, black on black violence, bullying in school, all the things that were a real issue and that had an effect on our community. So, we had discussions after the shows and had teenagers talking about the performance they had just seen and had them telling us what really works, how can people like the police and teachers and families can really help and support them with these issues. Oh it was great, you know, this is what I love about theatre, as well as the entertainment side, I love when I feel like I have made a positive change in someone’s life and even better, when I have done it through something I enjoy myself.
You graduated with a BA in Performing Arts at the Middlesex University, which teacher inspired you whilst you were there? Or was it the whole experienced of being at University?
Oh the teachers there were great, very eccentric, I figured because they were drama teachers, that’s how they felt they needed to be. Mr Peacock had white long hair and a long white beard and reminded me of the comedian Billy Conolly, he was crazy, everyone loved him and wanted to be on his courses, he was fun and easy going and a bit unpredictable. John Topping however, was more serious and I worked with him more based on the topics and playwrights I was interested in. I didn’t feel I had a musical bone in my body so I stuck with the drama side of the Performing Arts course. He was equally strange and odd but was brilliant at what he did. What I did learn from that is as teacher, you have to be passionate and knowledgeable about what you teach otherwise, how do you expect your students to learn. And we should celebrate our differences.
Do you think a person that has no formal training in the arts can still have an acting career? A young person in the Caribbean for instance who wants to become a performer but doesn’t have access to arts training and courses, what should they do?
Yes, they can because if someone has got it, they have got it right! If it’s your hearts desire, you will find a way. If you don’t have access initially to the training that you need, then you go and ask questions about how to get it. They go to people like you Judd who are trying to help and guide budding actors in the right direction. People like you who are trying to create these opportunities. Education is never wasted and so they must educate themselves fully because they are going to need those literacy skills when they are writing their own shows and productions right, they are going to need those math’s skills when they are managing their finaces and lets face it, we all want to make money, we need it to survive. So I would say, if the opportunities are not there, you have to try to create them and look for the ones that are there.
If Orlessa had to really choose which would you rather be Actor or Actors Teacher?
Ok, so I would say that I am definitely an Actors Teacher who loves acting!
If I can inspire someone or help someone to achieve something they have never thought possible, I am one step closer to doing what I was born to do.