“Work Hard But Quit Striving” 5 Insider Tips With Actor Ray Panthaki
“I’m extremely ambitious about what I want to achieve and as I’ve worked on myself over the years I’ve realized how more comes when you lose the striving for it. Don’t ask me how or why, I don’t know. I see it spiritually but others may see it as a shift in mind-set. Whatever it is, there’s huge power in it.”
I had the pleasure to interview Ray Panthaki. Ray will next be on our screens, in the highly anticipated second-season of Scandi-Noir MARCELLA for ITV and NETFLIX, in which he plays the lead alongside Anna Friel. Ray has also just finished filming the new drama COLETTE, directed by Wash Westmoreland. He will star alongside Keira Knightley and Dominic West in this film that follows French novelist, ‘Colette’ (Knightley) who overcomes an abusive marriage, to emerge as a leading writer in her country and a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature. COLETTE just had its World Premiere at Sundance last week and has had some great reviews by Variety. A BAFTA ‘Breakthrough Brit’, Ray is emerging as one of the industry’s most creative hybrids as a producer, writer, director and actor.
What is your “backstory”?
Well, I was born in London to a working-class family. At age 11 I got introduced to the world of acting through jealousy. Let me explain. A friend in school was a child actor and got so much love and attention for what he did, so me, being an extremely shy introverted kid who found it hard to connect with people wanted some of that. So, I went home to the folks and asked if they could get me into an acting school; as if they could just click their fingers and make it happen! Apart from being shocked and weary by this sudden revelation from the kid that couldn’t speak, they supported it and called around a few local theatre schools until one said I could come and observe a class, so I went. Cut to. Me shaking in the corner surrounded by all of these extroverted kids quoting Shakespeare, it was excruciating to start with but I somehow stuck with it and kept going back because the pull and intrigue of the performing was too strong. I had this magical moment on stage in the first big role they gave me, which led to my calling. I was 13, playing Paul in ‘a chorus line’, they took all the singing and dancing stuff away from me because I have the rhythm of a drunken banshee, but for those who don’t know the piece, Paul has this incredible two page emotional monologue. So I get on stage, 13 years old, for the first big role of my life at this small theatre in north London. I deliver this monologue and out of nowhere tears start streaming down my face as I speak, it’d never happened in rehearsal before, In that moment I was completely present, I look out and I see the audience crying with me. That second there, right there, was when the lightening bolt hit me and I knew there was nothing else for me to be. My character choices were making people emote and I can’t explain how magical that feeling was. I’ve never forgotten that. I got my first professional film role at 18, that eventually led onto producing and that led onto writing and directing. The best thing is, I’ve managed to maintain them all with relative success and so I get to tell stories in different ways, which suits my incessant need for change. I feel lucky.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your acting/directing/performing career?
The funniest experience was shooting Convenience. It was an indie film I curated, mainly as an experiment to prove what could be done on a small budget with strong story and strong acting, the up side to doing something like that is that you have no choice but to work with a lot of friends. It was a comedy, we shot it in 18 days, all night shoots in the arse end of Wales, in a working Petrol station. The film’s whole budget was the cost of one shot of a Harry Potter movie, you really need to read that again to appreciate it… whole film, ONE SHOT of Harry Potter… so you can imagine, it sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? But the experiment kinda worked, the result of it was a film that, despite the stress, was successful and one of the funniest times of my life. It eventually won a Bafta Cymru and is now on Netflix. Not a lot of people realise this, but if anyone waits right until the end of the credits you’ll see some hilarious secret outtakes from me, Adeel Akhtar and Vicky McClure, it shows how much of a good time we had. A lot of the crew went on to do big studio movies after that but always tell me how it’s still the most fun they’ve ever had on a film set. That means a lot because it took four years of my life. I didn’t find that funny.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m soon to begin shooting my feature directorial debut, it’s been a long time coming but that’s because I’ve been unwavering in how I want to do it. The great thing about my directing career is that I never set out to become one, it’s something that fell upon me and was always going to a be a natural progression whether I consciously knew it or not, but the point is, the striving and necessity to just be working as a director doesn’t exist and so I can be particular. It’s an art form I’m very precious of, this current film I’ve lived and breathed for 6 years and It’s only now that I feel it’s ready to take to the world, so after that length of time I’m only going to make it the way I visualise it, people either have to buy into that or not. My team are shocked by some of the actors I’ve turned down for it but I can only be truthful to my vision. I’m developing lots through my company as a producer too. And as an actor, choosing wisely and being precise in who I want to work with.
Who are some of the most famous people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Do you mind if I get rid of the famous and change the question to just people? Because I had the most wonderful interaction with this homeless guy called Dean a couple of months back. He drunkenly stumbled into me one night on Tottenham Court Road, we got talking and I learnt his story. 3 hours later, there we were, still nattering away, talking life and I decided I wanted to put him up in a hotel for a couple of nights. So, I phone ahead and book him somewhere local, but when we get there they reject him because ‘they don’t take homeless people’. I mean, that made me so angry — isn’t that the irony, hotels are supposed to be for people who don’t have a room for the night. So, in the end we drive around trying to find a 24-hour Tesco, I bought him a stack of food, sleeping bag, portable radio and we spent the rest of the night chatting in the warmth of the car until we had to part ways and I dropped him outside to where he needed to be the next morning. The reason I mention him, is because he had a wonderfully optimistic and witty soul, someone who found himself on the streets by sheer bad luck. If circumstance hadn’t brought him to where he was, I’m sure he could have quite easily been a performer or something, he had this wit and presence to him. It was just simple human connection that he craved and even though he wasn’t helping himself by drinking, I decided I wouldn’t judge him for that. We spoke about all sorts, he was a wise wise man and that experience was more fulfilling than most famous interactions I’ve had.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in Hollywood?
Try to go with a job behind you, it gives you something to talk about and will help give you an angle. Attempt to make friends as it can be an incredibly lonely city. Be proactive in your pursuit and embrace the Hollywood fitness addiction! Take time out from the hustle of the industry, the beautiful thing about Hollywood is that in 20 minutes you can be on a beach, in 2 hours in a desert or 3 hours on a mountain.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
So many people for so many different reasons. Generally, I’m inspired by People who persisted and gave their lives to what they believed in.
On a spiritual level Jesus for his pursuit of love, justice and his leadership skills.
Nikola Tesla for his incredible foresight and unwavering ambition to forward the human race.
On a work level, Marlon Brando for changing the game in screen acting and being relentless in his beliefs, using his platform to bring awareness to them without worrying about the detriment to his career.
So many inspirations, this list could go on…
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I don’t know if it’s particularly based on being successful but attempting to bring goodness is something I will always do, I have a heart for the vulnerable. I know it sounds so cliche but spreading the message of unconditional love is something I’m passionate about. I never thought it was possible until I really truly understood its worth a few years ago. I don’t believe success is necessary to make a difference but I understand that with greater success comes a greater voice, and I will absolutely use that to be as vocal as I can about injustice and things that touch my heart. Believe me one thing I know about myself is that given the right platform, I will use it for good.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Work hard but quit striving. I’m extremely ambitious about what I want to achieve and as I’ve worked on myself over the years I’ve realised how more comes when you lose the striving for it. Don’t ask me how or why, I don’t know. I see it spiritually but others may see it as a shift in mind-set. Whatever it is, there’s huge power in it.
Don’t let the important things in life pass you by. I’m in an industry where so many people’s whole identity is caught up in it. I was like that for a long time and what I realised was that the real important things in life were passing me by. I’d do crazy things like fly back from a family holiday half way across the world after being there for just a day, to audition for something that I felt would change my life. What did I lose for things like that? Important life moments. I know the pull to this industry, I’ve been there and I get it but I can truly tell anyone who prioritises it over magical life moments with loved ones will only regret it eventually.
Be true. To you and to your performance. Always.
Surround yourself with good people and those who want the best for you. Cut out negativity and surround yourself with people who love and support you regardless of your job.
Be prepared. Always be prepared. Be overly prepared. Know your lines inside out. Turn up early and work late. Give more than people expect.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
There’s so many but there’s a guy out in LA called Erwin McManus. He’s a futurist, artist, pastor and world changer. Someone who’s voice will change the world and bring many together, I see it in him. I don’t know many people who can speak so universally like he does. So much passion and compassion in the way he does things and a heart to change the world. I’d like to sit with him one day, shoot the breeze and discuss some of the futurist ideas I have for lasting change, with his vision and wisdom behind you things could elevate. Other than that, I have a creative brain that doesn’t stop working and a folder of about 200 fully formed ideas, films, initiatives, apps, business’s — it’s my ever-functioning noisy brain. it doesn’t stop! So, finding that one business person who believed in my creative vision to sit down with me, sift through them and pick the ones that they could offer time and infrastructure to would be ideal. I can’t tell you the number of ideas I’ve had years before they’ve come to fruition elsewhere. I’m hitting my creative peak at the moment, ideas are flowing and at times it can be draining because I can’t seem to shut my brain up. So, if that person’s out there, drop me a line!