We talk to Alexandra Boyd, who gave up her life in Hollywood to make a film about a boxer from the deprived East End of London.
An interview with actor turned filmaker, Alexandra Boyd
What made you decide to change from acting to making films?
I was asked by a producer to direct a short film. Then he asked me to expand the story into a feature length script which I did. That’s how I got the filmmaking bug. That script is in its tenth draft now and is called The Wilderness. It’s based on the true story of Harry Mallin, the two time Olympic gold medal winning boxer from Hackney Wick in East London. The Wilderness is what they called Hackney Marshes before the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park was built there for the games in 2012. I crowd-funded my next film – a teaser for the feature – which to date has screened at 14 international film festivals. My second feature script is finished and will shoot in 2016. I fired my acting agent last December and now call myself an actress turned filmmaker!
Why did you wait until you did to make the change?
I lived in LA with a film director/writer for ten years. He was the writer/director. I was the actress. The idea would never have crossed my mind back then. I also thought I needed a ton of technical knowledge to be a film director. About lenses, F-stops and the like. But with the advent of the digital age, that’s not true any more. I hire cinematographers, sound and editor people who keep up with the latest advances. That allows me to concentrate on the story and vision.
How did you make the change? What or who helped you?
For a few years I was still acting, but then I began turning down work that didn’t appeal enough (or pay enough) to take my attention away from making my films happen. I was helped by that first producer (who’s no longer involved in the project) and my acting agent because he wasn’t getting me any work! Being unemployed allowed me to concentrate full time on writing and producing. If I was working on a TV show again, I’d have no time to do this. I was also helped tremendously by the 161 Indiegogo backers who gave me the money to make the feature teaser Boxer on the Wilderness.
How did your family and friends react?
Everyone is tremendously supportive and some say they’re inspired by me! Some have expressed envy that they don’t have the courage to do the same – to risk finances and comfort to pursue a dream. Many gave money to be part of the journey. That in turn has inspired me. One friend believes in my vision so much that she let me live rent free in her house for a year. I’ve since paid her back in kind by making a film for her!
How has your life changed having gone down this path?
I lived in a beautiful house in Hollywood with the BF, the gorgeous garden and a cute dog, but I was unfulfilled in many ways. Coming back home to London was a huge transition. Then slowly evolving into a writer/director, I saw my savings and income dwindle. I’m in debt. I’m not sure how I ate last year! I’m renting a room in a friend’s house. All my ‘stuff’ is in storage until I’m able to live in my own space again. I’ve learned to take the comfort and support of friends and strangers who can see what I’m trying to do – better than I can sometimes. I’m also surrounded by a younger generation of filmmakers all of whom want to make films like I do – or better still, with me. I love it!
What advice do you have for women considering a similar life change?
BE BRAVE! What’s the worst that can happen? No roof over your head? No food to eat? None of those things have happened to me. And…
Have a definite goal. Be on a clear path. Your passion will guide you and do the rest and you may be surprised by the number of people who want to walk some of that path alongside you.
What do you love most about being the age you are?
The confidence I now have about almost everything and the knowledge that as long as you aren’t harming anyone else, what you do really doesn’t matter.
What do you hate most about being the age you are?
The lack of control over what happens to my body as it gets older as I get to that age where things start dropping off!! And knowing that I have a shorter amount of time than those 30-somethings to make these films I want to make. No regrets of course, but I wish I’d started earlier.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known in your twenties?
That I, and every person in their twenties, is so beautiful!! You never get it, or can see it, at the time.
Do you have a mantra that has guided you more than any other?
It’s a quote from Henry Ford: “If you think you can or if you think you can’t – you’re right.”
Which woman do you most admire and why?
Meryl Streep – not only is her body of work a towering testament to the acting profession, you can see she has got where she is not just because she is talented and brilliant at what she does, but because she is the loveliest person to work with. She has not had to resort to bullish, male-imitating tactics so achieve greatness. In addition she is now using her status and the respect she has gained, to create a platform for female writers and to champion fairer wages for actresses in the film industry.
Nora Ephron – because she wrote like I wish I could write. She saw the relationships between men and women so sharply and honed them into entertaining screenplays that also tug mercilessly at the heartstrings. I never met her but I bet she was one helluva broad – which I aspire to be one day!
And Oprah Winfrey – well, what can we say about Oprah? I wish she’d run for president! I’d vote for her!!
Sorry that’s three!
Is there anything people consistently misunderstand about you?
I talk too much and that can come across as being self-absorbed. They mis-interpret it – it’s actually the passion I have and the need to express nearly every thought that comes into my head. I’ve spent many years trying to change that. Maybe that’s why I have to channel it all into a film.
How can Mutton Club readers find out more about what you do?
My ‘day job’ is raising funds to make films with children for an anti-bullying organisation based in Norwich called GR8 AS U R . The latest film I made for them – A Kick in the Grass – features the Captain of Norwich City Football Club and can be seen here.
You may also like our other Midlife Reinvention features.
Alexandra Boyd‘s been in the film industry for over 30 years. She’s passionate about film and the roles women play in film – in front of and behind the camera. She spent ten years acting in Hollywood where her film credits include James Cameron’s Titanic, Mr Holland’s Opus and Luc Besson’s From Paris With Love. She returned to the UK, and after a stint on Coronation Street, become a screenwriter and film director. She is shooting her debut feature, Widow’s Walk, a supernatural thriller set in her native Suffolk. www.NewThirtyPictures.com On Twitter: @AlexActWrDir Check out Alexandra’s fabulous film reviews.