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MEET THE LOCAL

Reuben Joseph

1   July 2024

 

From making waves with the National Theatre of Scotland to shining bright at London’s Almeida Theatre, Scotland’s Reuben Joseph hit the big leagues in 2022, landing the lead role in the West End’s production of Hamilton. His screen work includes turns in Bafta TV-nominated crime drama Vigil alongside Suranne Jones, and Traces – featuring fellow Scottish homegrown talent Laura Fraser and Martin Compston. We got the chance to sit down with him to chat all things acting, singing and why Scotland will always be “home”.

 

Growing up in Scotland, what were some early influences that ignited your interest in acting, singing, and songwriting?

I was very lucky with my upbringing. I was born in Glasgow and grew up in Helensburgh with three sisters in a street filled with other children who loved to go out and play. Most actors will tell you that you have to have a good sense of play in you as a person to make a career of it. So, it was kind of from there. Expressing ourselves through music and stories was part of our daily routine. It feels like I stumbled into this world naturally, driven by the music that shaped my childhood, the bedtime stories that were read to us, and my love for watching musicals.

Another big thing was Doctor Who. I’m such a big nerd and I adored Doctor Who – to discover that David Tennant, The Doctor, was also Scottish, was a huge influence and inspiration.

 

Transitioning from a small town in Scotland to London’s West End is a significant leap. Can you walk us through the journey and challenges you faced in pursuing a career in acting?

I studied at Langside Collage in the Southside of Glasgow – at that age, you’re desperate to get out of your hometown, so the southside of Glasgow became my new playground and was where I really found my tribe. I managed to land a gig fairly soon out of college and because Scotland is such a small pond, the theatre scene especially, I was fortunate enough to build up a nice wee chain of jobs from people coming to see shows I was doing at the time. I was prepared to work for ten years, or however long it took to be able to support myself, so to fall into the industry almost straight away took me by surprise. And life has just been a continuous set of surprises since!

 

Photograph by Michael Wallace.

Alexander Hamilton and Macbeth are two extraordinarily well-known roles. Can you take us back to the audition processes and how you prepared to take on such iconic characters?

I was in my second year of college, around the same time that Hamilton was first exploding onto the theatre scene on Broadway when I found out it would be making its West End debut. I sent in a tape and was lucky enough to land an audition and make it through a good few rounds. It was my first professional audition, and looking back it would have been disastrous if I’d gotten the part – I just wasn’t ready. When the opportunity came up again a few years later, I was much more self-assured, which helped carry me through the audition process, and ultimately helped mould how I played the character. I laid my enthusiasm bare and managed to make it all the way.

To play Macbeth at the Royal Shakespeare Company is real bucket list stuff, and does not happen to just anyone, so when the role came up I was sure I wouldn’t get it. I prepped and worked hard on the text, displayed the energy I wanted to bring to the character and my influences, and for whatever reason the director really liked me! When I found out I got the part it knocked me – I was really, really shocked.

 

How do you approach such diverse roles, and do you have a preference for a particular genre or character type?

I think that’s the key to longevity, isn’t it? Diversity. As a young actor, you take what you can get. I was hungry for it and have managed to find a lot of joy in the variety of work I’ve done. I particularly enjoy roles where I’m busy in the sense that I’m exhausted by the end of the show. Being constantly on my feet, the movement, the forward momentum, and the phonetic energy, that’s what I love.

In terms of preference, I feel very comfortable in the theatre world right now. I’m still getting used to what it is to act on screen and feel comfortable and relaxed in that environment. I’m not quite there yet but I’m finding my way and enjoying the challenges that come with it.

 

How do you strike a balance between acting, singing, and songwriting in your career, and do you find one aspect more challenging or fulfilling than the others?

Well, in all honesty, I’m fairly unbalanced at the moment [laughs]! It’s hard! After several years I’ve finally managed to release my new EP, Wee Panic, which helped reignite my love for songwriting. Although, there was definitely a lot of anxiety that came along with that, particularly after focusing on acting for so long. After a long string of theatre work, I find myself gravitating towards music again, it’s bringing me a lot of joy.

 

Scotland is known as a hub for creativity, culture, music and poetry. Being a Scottish-born artist, how do you feel your roots influence your work, especially in the global entertainment industry?

It’s always fun to be able to lean into the nuances of what makes being Scottish interesting and unique when playing a role, but it’s not something that you can bring to every character. For me, it’s more of a work ethic thing. Us Scots tend to not take ourselves too seriously, but at the end of the day, we’re grafters. And that’s something that’s guided me in certain choices I’ve made, and how I act backstage or on set – there’s no point in doing something if you don’t enjoy it and putting an inordinate amount of pressure on yourself is never helpful. In the arts, sometimes the Scottish trait of self-deprecation can actually be a positive!

 

You travel a lot for work, when you return to Scotland what’s your favourite thing to do in our Capital?

I’m currently rehearsing at the Traverse Theatre – there’s no better feeling than being back home. I love being outdoors, whether it’s rain or shine. They say you pick up things better when you’re doing physical activity, so I often go for long walks when I’m learning lines. I’ve spent many hours rambling with my headphones in whilst walking up Arthur’s Seat or along the Royal Mile – both cracking locations that never get old.

Other than that, you’ll find me grabbing a sandwich from Peppers, or coffee from The Source – both are places I can’t not visit when in Edinburgh.

 

And lastly, what advice would you give to young individuals aspiring to make a mark in the entertainment industry, especially those from smaller towns or less-represented backgrounds?

Many think it’s a hindrance, coming from a smaller town, but the benefit is you know the people and the community. Making music or wanting to act cannot happen in isolation, and the odds are you’ll know the other people around you who are into the arts, so utilise that. It’s important to find your people, your clan, and just make stuff, even if it feels silly. It could be as simple as a short film on your phone. Collaboration is key so my advice would be to make things with people you like and enjoy making them. The internet has levelled the playing field in terms of accessibility to content and social media, such as TikTok, is now forging very well-respected careers for people. You never know where you could end up if you take the chance.

Catch Reuben in Virgil and Traces on BBC iPlayer. “Wee Panic” is available to stream on Spotify and Apple Music now.

 

Featured photograph by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.

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