From New York to Richmond: Philip Brown’s Training and Acting Career

by | Jun 15, 2009 | ART, FILM & TV, PERFORMING ARTS

Experience an insightful interview with actor Philip Brown from the Richmond Shakespeare Festival, as RVA Mag’s John Reinhold discusses his training, filmmaking, acting, and Shakespeare. Explore Philip’s background, including his training at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, his journey from aspiring filmmaker to actor, and his love for stage and screen. Delve into the immersive world of Shakespearean theater, where Philip reprises his role in Henry V at Agecroft Hall until the end of June. Discover the fascinating intersection of fantasy, mysticism, and emotional drama in the independent feature film “Inner Calm,” in which Philip plays a captivating character named John. Uncover the unique insights and experiences of an actor immersed in the Richmond theater scene, as Philip’s talent and dedication shine on the stage. Don’t miss the opportunity to witness the full cycle of Shakespeare’s history plays at the Richmond Shakespeare Festival, with Henry V being a remarkable highlight. Visit the provided websites for more information on the Richmond Shakespeare Festival, “Inner Calm,” and Philip Brown’s contributions to the world of theater and film.

John Reinhold: I guess we’ll start off by telling me a little about yourself and your training.

Phillip Brown: I’m from England. My wife is from North Carolina. Trained in New York at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. It’s the oldest English speaking drama school in the world but these days it kind of teaches the Shakespearean style, so you get the classic training, the voice and speech training, the dance training, the movement training. But the syllabus is essentially based on the teachings of the Greek theatre from the 30’s, so you kind of get the whole kind of… so essentially the syllabus is method based.

J: Is it like Stanislavski?

P: It is Stanislavski. It’s not Stanislavski in a sense that…I mean all the ideas are based off Stanislavski but Stanilovsky and what Stanislavski said is very different to Aadler, and Strasburg, and Meisner…how they interpreted him. So, all of my teachers studied under Strahsberg or Meisner or Aadler. So, it was very method heavy, very kind of moment to moment heavy. I’d use organic ideas, kind of organic exploration, finding yourself through the text. And finding the moments the text gives you and your partner gives you, within the framework of the imaginary reality of the players.

J: So was it school that brought you over to the United States first?

P: I grew up in love with actors like Jimmy Dean and Brando, so I came over chasing the dream of New York from the 1950’s. And luckily, I got into a great drama school.

J: So what brought you here to America was acting?

P: Yeah, it was acting. I studied film. I thought I was gonna be a filmmaker. Three years at the university told me I wasn’t going to be a filmmaker (laughs)

J: What made you go, “I’m not gonna be a filmmaker.”?

P: Probably the second year in summer studying mis en scene for about the 74th hour of the week and it just being like WHAT AM I DOING?! (laughs) And then I decided to audition for a play. In fact, the first play I did at the university was “Assassins”, a musical of all things, but a summer musical so it’s…

J: Oh, yeah it’s a fun musical.

P: Yeah, it was awesome.

J: So, then filmmaker to acting…did you switch majors or?

P: No, no…I finished off my film course but it was more filmmaking and literature with literature as my minor. So, I just started taking more literature modules and taking more stuff like Elizabethan theatre and American theatre of the 20th century. So, kind of changing my focus but not my degree.

J: Now in auditioning for different plays, did you find … well the immediate thought is that you’re English. So when you speak you sound Shakespearean automatically. It’s not like, if I was trying to play Henry I would either sound really ridiculous trying to do an accent or I would have to go my own way of doing it. But from talking to you, just in your own speech it works. Did you find yourself being drawn to that automatically, or was it something that people wanted you to do?

P: Well when I did Shakespeare in school we were made to do it in standard stage, which is kind of like a Mid-Atlantic voice. Shakespeare wrote his plays he didn’t write for my accent. The accent he wrote his plays for was actually more like your accent. The “R’s” were a lot harder and the A’s and E’s…they were all a lot different sounds. There’s a great video by a guy called Jon Barton, who’s a legendary Shakespeare actor, and one of the founders of the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company). It’s really hard to get a hold of but maybe you’ll find it on YouTube or something. He’s one of the few people who does like a 4 minute monologue with the accent that Shakespeare was writing for his players and it’s a trip. It just sounds, It sounds very, very kind of…almost like they’re chewing words.

J: Like they’re mumbling?

P: No, it’s like they’re over pronouncing the words. You know, the E’s, the O’s, and the R’s. I love working with the text because the more you get a handle of the text, the more the text gets a handle of you, and it just ends up kind of tripping you out. Each line has these beats in it and they just end up taking control of your tounge, and almost kind of tumbling out.

J: You find your own voice in it?

P: Yeah yeah, well…you…You find yourself.

J: Like a deeper understanding?

P: Yeah, like a deeper understanding of what the text was saying. It just depends on how you approach your craft really. You have one instrument. And as an actor…a guitar player’s instrument is their guitar and an actor’s instrument is their body and you can’t ever escape yourself. So, when your approaching the play and reading the text, the instrument you use to voice the text is you so that is always your way kind of into the text. You are your way into the text.

J: We were previously talking before we started recording about the film work you’ve done. The film’s name was “Inner Calm” correct?

P: Inner Calm. Yeah, it’s an independent feature by a company called Tread Softly Productions and the director’s a girl called Becky Preston. She’s won a couple BBC awards for her previous short film work and yeah, we shot in Canterbury in London, England and the Czech Republic. We shot for about a month and a half in the Czech Republic. It is a fantasy thriller…Have you ever seen the Seventh Seal?

J: Oh, yeah. So It’s not exactly Bergman. But it has those elements of fantasy in it and mysticism…

P: Yeah, it does. Well I play this guy named John and I lose my sister in a car accident and basically what the film does, it follows my passage, my journey through the grieving process. It makes grief a literal thing. So, in my dreams I actually follow her into the after-life and I play chess with death, which is why I mention the Seventh Seal. So, yeah it’s fantasy elements but essentially it’s emotional drama. And all the fantasy stuff we shot in the Czech Republic using these beautiful old gothic exteriors….

J: I will have to get a link for the trailer, show off you in the video.

P: Here you go:

J: Sweet. That was cool… So, to kind of bring this into Richmond…what brought you to Richmond?

P: My good friend James Alexander Bond brought me to Richmond…

J: Did you say James Bond?

P: Yes, I did..

J: (laughs) Ok, just checking.

P: He’s the director of the play and he was a good friend with Grant Mudge (Richmond Shakespeare Festival Director). I had worked with James in Kentucky of all places on an old mystery thriller called Wait Until Dark. And James got a call from Grant saying he was going to direct Henry IV Part 1 and James phoned me asking if I would like to play Prince Harry, which of course I did.

J: So, now you’ve gone from that to Henry V now?

P: Yeah, I did Henry IV Part I in 2007 and Henry IV Part II last year and now its Henry V. So the first year, my dad Henry IV was played by Jack Parrish, and then this year he was played by an equally amazing actor named David Bridgewater. It was great working with both of them. I really enjoyed it. When you work with older actors there’s just a lot to learn, they know their craft so well. If you just kind of play off them, then you end up learning ten times more than you did at the beginning of the play. So, yeah they were a lot of fun to work with. They’re good people.

J: So, for those who are not familiar, what you’re doing is the histories correct?

P: Actually, funny enough was reading an article in a magazine that was talking about how Hollywood always goes back to events in the past and fictionalizes them. Like the Tom Cruise movie that was just out, where he played the German officer.

J: Valkryie

P: Yeah. And so Shakespeare does exactly the same thing. He finds great kind of universal stories based in historical accuracy…and then he explores what happens and kind of shifts them to be relevant to Elizabethan England. And so what he does is essentially start with a king called Richard the 2nd, and he is then usurped by my father. Then I take over the crown from my father, and then I have a son and I die and I leave him as a little baby and his kingdom is taken away from him. And then it all ends with Richard the 3rd, there’s this great narrative arch from Richard the 2nd to Richard the 3rd of about 120-150 years of English history. And he follows certain themes like loyalty, treachery, power, corruption, family rivalries, fallacy in relationships, sibling hatred/love, and he does it over the course of eight plays. I mean, there are also King John and Henry the 8th, and then there’s the mythologies as well, King Leer and the like, are slightly different as with King John and Henry the 8th. And Richmond Shakespeare is, quite happily enough, doing the full cycle. You get to see the full story as it were. From the skipping king to the hunchback.

J: And this’ll end…

P: In 2012.

J: Wow.

P: Yeah, so there’s a great phase “It’s the one play that shines like a narrative triumph between two periods of storms” And so, you’ve got the three plays before and the four plays afterward Henry V, all of which is full of murder, deception, and disloyalty, and ends with the train of ghosts in Richard the 3rd. Yeah, being able to get the whole cycle…to me…it’s a great accomplishment really.

J: So you got to go through this arch and now you’re coming to the point of Henry the 5th.

P: Yeah, not many people get a chance to do it, and I am very thankful.
It’s hard work.

J: I’m a big Shakespeare fan so you don’t have to convince me. But as far as you connecting to your everyday person, why should they come to see a Shakespeare play?

P: Shakespeare’s plays they’re about universal human truths. What makes him so amazing is that he wasn’t writing like Marlow was writing for the elite. He was writing for the groundlings, he was writing for the guys that were drunk in the first couple of rows and would just stand there and draw onto the stage. He was writing for the common people and because of this all his characters are, well once you get past the barrier of the language and can embrace that. What you find are very human, very flawed individuals on stage doing exactly what we do. Which is worry about their relationship with their dad, and worry about if they’re doing the right thing. They have to cope with wars and have to cope with what exactly that means, not in the greater sense, but in a very everyday sense about what that actually means to their fundamental lives. There’s this character called Pistol who’s in this, who’s one of the best inventions in the Shakespearean canon. Because, you first meet him and he’s drunk, and he’s starting a fight, he gets married and then the next time you meet him he’s left at the end of these wars; and he’s left broken and alone and his wife’s dead and all his friends are dead and he has this little speech to the audience. It’s just so human, and it’s so real. Shakespeare never glosses over the reality of it. When it’s painful it’s painful, when it’s dirty it’s dirty, and when it’s funny it’s funny. He does it better than anyone. It’s just very real and as I said, the characters deal with exactly what everyone deals with.

J: Tell me about the space you’re working in right now.

P: The Agecroft space is beautiful. It was brought over from Lancaster in England. They brought it over, it was a dilapidated mansion in Lancaster, England and Churchill apparently fought to keep it over in the UK, and he lost fortunately.

J: Which is good for us. (laughs) He didn’t lose very much…

P: So, yeah they brought it over in 1926 and then the family, sadly the last of the family passed and then Richmond Shakespeare about 12 years ago managed to get the courtyard. So, essentially it’s a stage in the middle of the courtyard with this beautiful backdrop, audience on three sides, pretty much doing Shakespeare plays as Shakespeare plays did them themselves. Outside.

J: So, it’s kind of perfect in that aspect.

P: Yeah, it’s a beautiful. It really is. It’s a beautiful space to perform and it’s a great space to see it in too.

J: Kind of brings you back a bit?

P: Yeah, magical…is probably the best word to use.

J: So to close this up, where and when can I check out everything….

P: People can see me from the 11th of June through to the 28th of June at Agecroft Hall at the Richmond Shakespeare Festival.


John Reinhold

John Reinhold

John Reinhold is currently CXO of Inkwell Ventures Inc. which owns and operates RVA Magazine and GayRVA. Also, he is a deejay with PLF, husband and father to a couple of great kids.

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