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Shot of Nicole Elizabeth Phillip wearing a red coat outside.

Nicole Elizabeth Phillip – "Acting taught me how to be vulnerable"

Photos by Scarlett Madison

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I'm a huge risk-taker. I like to experiment with things and find new ways to go about my own process, so I don't just have one way. That's one of my favourite things about acting – it can be done in so many different ways – and an individual will interpret the exact same character differently to another.

Growing up, I had a lot of dreams and desires that changed constantly. I wanted to be a teacher, then a doctor, an athlete, even a footballer! I'm sure at one point I wanted to be a spy because I loved Jackie Chan in the Rush Hour movies (and still do). I was always involved in the extra-curricular sport activities, so for a long while I believed I would end up doing something along those lines.

When I was four years-old, my mum made me join Stagecoach and every term they would put on a musical, so I was lucky enough to be in many growing up, such as Bugsy Malone (playing the lead role), The Wizard of Oz (playing Glinda) and more. I absolutely loved all these shows, but I thought it wasn't worth it (all my friends at the time did football and athletics, so I wanted to do the same). At first, I really hated going, even though I’d thoroughly enjoy creating my character and always fell in love with being on the stage. I quite literally begged my mum to change it to football or athletics or anything else! She said she would but never did, and I always wondered why until I spoke to her about it. She saw something in me, so she knew with the right help I'd end up loving it – and she was right!

She spoke to the Stagecoach principal Kate Diaz, later introduced me to LAMDA and I finished Stagecoach at the age of 18 (14 years!) and I often work there when I'm back in London. I left with a Grade 6, 7 and 8 Distinction in musical theatre. I fell in love with acting, singing and dancing, and now I couldn't think of what I’d like to do without them in my life. Studying BA (Hons) Acting at AUB has taught me so much about myself and has given me what I needed to feel confident in my skills and feel ready to tackle the industry.

My creative process changes depending on the task at hand. For example, the type of script (modern or classical), the amount of time I have to learn them or what the director’s preferred process is. I usually like to take myself out of my comfort zone as much as possible, because I find the next time is much easier.

My passion for acting has only grown and after the three years that I’ve been here – especially during my third year. I’ve realised just how much I can do all at once! There are so many different options and I just adjust to what is around me. Acting at AUB has taught me how to be vulnerable on stage in order to connect well with the audience and allow them to feel my pain, and how to really find justification for my characters, finding the beats between scenes and the comedic timings. Some of my idols are Viola Davis, Zendaya, Taraji P. Henson and many more, but that would be too long a list!

Recently, I’ve learnt how to adjust the voice when on screen compared to the stage. This enabled me to find that passion within my characters through a more justified inner monologue. During my final filmed monologues, I was used to performing onstage, so finding that simpler emotion without losing the justification and feeling of the characters was another learning curve that I had to overcome. With practice and time, I did!

In my first year, I was a member of PARTS (Performing Arts Society, the same group I directed a musical for). We put on a production of Rent the Musical and I was casted as Joanne Jefferson. I loved every second of this show and it gave me another opportunity to be in a musical production – after I finished Stagecoach, I wasn't sure the next time I would get the opportunity to be in another musical.

From 14-16 March 2024, I starred in The Ballad of Maria Marten, playing Ann Marten. It was the first time that I'd played a character like Ann – she went through such a journey of happiness, trauma, love, passion and guilt. I wrote a song for the show and presented it to the director, Luke Kernaghan, during rehearsals, who then decided to use it in the final production. I was so excited and honoured to have my own work in the show and have a couple reprises of the original throughout.

I also starred in Thérèse Raquin, playing Suzanne. It received such great feedback from the press and I even got a shout-out for my singing in the show, which was incredible! This was a mostly devised piece that incorporated all our strengths and I was able to use some random talents that I had, which I never thought I'd be asked to use in any show. That made the child in me very happy!

During my third year, I’ve had my debut directorial role of Grease the Musical, which was performed at the Palace Court Theatre and sold out from 28-30 March 2024. I’ve directed before, just never a full-blown musical! This was a long, six-month audition and rehearsal process, but I couldn't have been more fulfilled with the results. Being a director for over 30 people can be stressful, but I found that I can keep the mood and energy alive for the cast and crew and I can still create a good work environment.

I was the also head of the front of house crew for AUB Productions’ The Wolves of Willoughby Chase last year, and I’ve since been the Sound Director for this year’s La Casa Nova. Being behind the scenes has been so fun! I love learning how the other side works, and I can't wait to use these skills in the future when and if I need them.

Outside acting, I was recently a model for Scarlett Madison’s second-year final major project for BA (Hons) Commercial Photography called Curls Untamed. The photo that she took of me has been put up in the National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square in London, which will be there until September.

I also now teach singing to other students at AUB and BU. I rather enjoy doing this because I like to teach but also have fun whilst doing it! My students seem to enjoy their lessons and I love teaching, so it's great fun.

If I could give potential or current acting students advice, I would say just go for it! Don't let your inner thoughts stop you from doing something you want to do. Try it and see what happens. The worst that can happen is that it doesn't work. Trust me, it helps – you might not realise it at first, but your confidence will grow! The tutors are looking for risk-takers and ambitious minds. Trust yourself and keep your art in practice, so get involved with clubs and societies that help, or start your own!

Make your own short films and create connections it will help you in the future. Keep yourself busy, but make sure you find time to look after yourself. As an actor, your health and your body are key, so look after them. Six or seven shows a week for two years can take its toll, so remember that. Look after yourself and find your own personal schedule that works for you.

Overall, I’ve loved AUB because I’ve met some incredible people who I hope to keep in my life for a very long time. The BA (Hons) Acting course has definitely put me out of my comfort zone and I'm proud to say I went along with all of them. I think after leaving, I can say that I’m an acting and theatre nerd... I literally can't get enough.

Something to think about

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