Ever since she first burst on to our screens as Anthony’s girlfriend in the Royle Family in 1998, Sheridan Smith has been captivating audiences with her endearingly believable performances.
Sheridan’s career has gone from strength to strength over the past 18 years, with high critical praise being poured upon just about every role she has taken on. Whether she’s making us roar with laughter in a touching comedy or cry in a hard-hitting drama, the 35 year old actress displays her incredible range with charm and affability.
I’m not sure if Sheridan Smith would describe herself as a ‘method actor’. However, considering that every performance by Sheridan, both on stage and screen, is commended for its raw realness, it follows that her performances must draw on some of The Method’s core principles.
How She Got to Where She is Now
In 2013 Sheridan won a BAFTA for her portrayal of Mrs Charmian Biggs; the wife of the Great Train Robber, Ronnie Biggs. Later that same year, she also landed the titular role on stage in Hedda Gabler. This 19th century Norwegian play has long been considered the ultimate role for actresses, even being referred to as ‘the female Hamlet’. Before that, however, Sheridan did not undergo the sort of formal training you might expect from a BAFTA winning actress.
Part of the reason Sheridan resonates with so many people around the country is just how relatable and down to earth she seems in every part she plays. This could be, in part, down to the fact that she is an ordinary working class girl. In fact, her first move after leaving school was selling burgers from a van on the motorway in Lincolnshire. She first learnt method acting during her time at the National Youth Theatre, which she joined at the age of 16, and it was her training there which helped to make Sheridan the acclaimed actor she is today.
One of Britain’s Most Beloved Actors
Sheridan got her first big break in comedy TV, when she was cast as Emma in the groundbreaking, hugely popular comedy, The Royle Family. She then enjoyed a more central role in the BBC 3 comedy, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps. These parts gained Sheridan a loyal following of fans and caused her to catch the eye of plenty of impressed critics. However, it was primetime hits such as The C Word and Cilla which really made her a household name.
After all, what could be a better confirmation of becoming a household name than landing the starring role in a biopic of one of the nation’s sweethearts? Stepping into the shoes of Cilla Black was always going to be a huge undertaking for any actor. Millions of viewers waited with baited breath back in 2014 to see whether Sheridan would do justice to the star whose career spanned more than five decades. She did not let them down.
Reviews for Cilla were overwhelmingly positive, with most critics citing Sheridan Smith’s extraordinary performance as the highlight of the show. Anna Pukas of The Daily Express praised Sheridan for her ability to capture both Cilla’s ambition and her vulnerability. The Guardian critic Sam Wollaston described how Sheridan became the character so much that it was difficult for the viewer to believe that they were not actually watching a young Cilla Black.
As if bringing a genuinely realistic portrayal of Cilla to the small screen wasn’t enough for Sheridan, she even sang all of the musical scenes live on film. This is unusual, as many actors prefer to record musical sequences in a studio and lip-sync the songs in front of the camera.
Triple threat is a term we tend to associate with stars from the golden age of musical Hollywood; ‘all singing, all dancing’ actors like Ginger Rogers or Judy Garland. Sheridan Smith’s past performances on stage (and on screen, as seen in Cilla) have propelled Sheridan into this league of all-rounders.
From daytime soaps to Shakespeare on stage, there really is no genre that Sheridan hasn’t applied her method acting abilities to and that includes musical theatre. Her starring role as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde: The Musical earned her high critical acclaim and an Olivier Award in 2011.
She then went on to star as Fanny Bryce in the 2015 West End rendition of Funny Girl. For this part, critics raved about Sheridan’s “unforced lovability” as well as her impeccable comic timing, mischievous facial expressions and charming mannerisms. Of course, her singing ability stood out as well, with particular attention being paid to her roof-raising closing song; Don’t Rain on My Parade.
How Sheridan Brings Herself to Every Role
When Sheridan performed on stage as Hedda Gabler, an unprecedented amount of young people packed out the theatre. This is because, whether she’s playing a lairy 19-year-old in Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps or a newlywed in 19th century Norway, Sheridan Smith brings her own youthful, down to earth energy. In other words – she always brings herself to the roles. The Guardian theatre critic applauded Sheridan for the “commendable ease and agility” with which she portrayed Hedda Gabler.
All of the most successful actors understand that they give their most convincing performances when they bring as much of themselves to the role as possible. The mistaken belief that actors should fake emotions often leads to over-acting which the audience can see straight through. Getting to know your authentic self and how to stop faking it are among some of the first things you’ll learn when actors start training at Brian Timoney’s Actors’ Studio.
Draw on Personal Memory
The idea that actors like Sheridan can ‘be themselves’ while portraying such diverse characters that they have nothing in common with might sound slightly confusing. But it is much simpler than it seems. This is because it is not the character back story, words or even wardrobe that Sheridan connects with when she inhibits a character – it is the emotions. Even when you can’t relate to what the character is experiencing, you are almost certain to be able to relate to the emotion they are feeling.
For her audition for the ITV drama, Mrs Biggs, Sheridan was asked to portray the scene in which Charmian Biggs discovers that her 10 year old son has died in a car crash. The raw and real emotion she displayed in this audition is said to have blown the producers away and guaranteed her the role. While Sheridan has never gone through this event herself, she did suffer the tragic loss of her brother Julian when she was just eight years old. In order to tap into the emotions that her character was feeling, Sheridan drew on this memory, which is how she was able to genuinely feel Charmian Bigg’s grief and sorrow.
Top Class Comedy Actor
When many people think of Sheridan Smith, the first thing that come to mind are her hilarious roles in sitcoms like Gavin and Stacey and Two Pints. When she took on the starring role in Funny Girl, critics and audiences alike were left in stitches at her memorably funny take on the character. Theatre critic, Cariad Lloyd, said that she had never seen an actor in a musical so committed to comedy or determined to get a laugh out of every line. She even compared Sheridan to a cross between Lucille Ball and Les Dawson.
So don’t be fooled into thinking that method acting techniques can only be utilised in deep, dark and dramatic roles. Method acting has had a profound influence on many good comedy performances – making them both believable and relatable for the audience. Sheridan’s ability to draw upon method acting techniques in many of her comedy roles have played a large part in placing Sheridan as one of the top stand-out comedy actors of her generation.
Act Like Sheridan Smith
It is Sheridan’s understanding of how to get underneath the skin of a character and bring her own memory, experience and emotion to a role that led Dustin Hoffman to tell her that she truly acts from the heart, offering her a role in his directorial debut, Quartet.
What do you think? Would you describe Sheridan Smith as a method actor?
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