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British actor Nicholas Pinnock on finding the human connection in the digital age of acting

2019-02-22 07:58
Nicholas Pinnock
Nicholas Pinnock (Photo: Getty Images)

CHANNEL24 SPECIAL FEATURE: NICHOLAS PINNOCK

On a recent trip to South Africa, British actor Nicholas Pinnock sat down with Channel24's Nikita Coetzee to talk about his new campaign with Investec and how he finds the human element in the digital age of acting. 

Johannesburg – In a room full of business people and financial journalists, there I stood, the clear odd one out in my jeans and sneakers. I glanced around as a publicist came up to me and whispered in my ear: “There he is.”

She pointed to British actor Nicholas Pinnock. My eyes darted over to the table where he was seated, and for a few seconds I watched as he made conversation with those around him, offering a friendly smile to passersby as well.  

"He seems nice," I remember thinking as I continued prepping for our chat. 

Nicholas jetted in to South Africa as part of the new Investec campaign. He is the star of the financial services company’s latest advert which is directed by South African Oscar-winner Tristan Holmes. Tristan took home the golden statuette in 2008 for Best Foreign Film at the Student Academy Awards. 

Later on, once the press conference and Skype interviews are behind us, I get to spend some one-on-one time with the Counterpart star. In a small room with glass walls, we sit down for a talk. He tells me that it’s been 20 years since he filmed a commercial - but he just could not sit this one out.  

"It really spoke to me. There was a connection because what I do for a living is I connect with people. I have to understand human beings and I have to connect with them to be able to play these human beings."

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ACTING GOES DIGITAL

Now a seasoned actor, Nicholas has been in the industry since he was a child. He notes how technology has changed the acting world – and not always for the better.  

"There was a time where, to get a job, I had to go and audition in front of people. I can’t remember the last time I did that. Because now you set up your iPhone, you have an app to feed you the lines while the camera is on you to do those scenes for that audition. You then upload that to somewhere on the internet, Vimeo or whatever you use, and you send it off. People on the other end look at it and then decide whether they want you or not."  

"I find that very uncomfortable," he adds, saying that he works best in front of a live audience. 

The conversation then switches to the rise in popularity of streaming services. One positive thing about this, Nicholas points out, is the amount of work that is now available in the entertainment industry. The more shows you have, the more work for actors and film crews, and the more choice for audiences.  

But more choice isn’t always a good thing according to the star. He explains: "You have a lot of these streaming networks that just have to fill their space with content, because the more content they have the more they can attract the amount of people that will buy into their streaming sites. Because they want to cater for everybody."  

He believes this results in a lot of poor content making its way into the market. "Writers, producers and directors start to tailor-make programmes that they think the audience wants, rather than, 'This is something I’m passionate about. This is something I really want to tell the world'." 

Still, I have to know if, like many of us, does he have a favourite series that he binge-watches when he gets the chance.  

He does. Quite a few actually. But it’s not what I expect at all.  

"What I watch to escape is cartoons."  

One of his favourites is a show called Archer. "I can sit there and laugh at it all night long. You don’t have to think about it too much. It’s just the best form of entertainment."

He’s also really into Teen Titans, Spider-Man and Batman. “I watch them all. It’s also a visual language that’s different to watching human beings."


BECOMING MANDELA

Moving on from talks about fictional heroes, I turn my attention to Nicholas' role a few years back as a young Mandela in the ITV docudrama Mandela: The Prison Years.

I just have to know what it's like to portray such an iconic political activist, so I ask, and the first thing I learn is that he tried his best to stay away from playing Madiba the way many actors before him have done.

For the role, he kept his British accent and says he did not try too hard to look like him because he found that audiences usually become distracted by that and end up asking questions like: "Did he get the voice right? Did he look like him? Is he the same height?"

"You're constantly distracted by someone's interpretation of him, and we didn't want that to happen because it was focused on a lot of letters that he had written to Winnie while he was in prison, and parts of his dairy. And so, what we said was if we went down that road it would distract people."

What he tried to emulate, however, was Mandela's unique speech pattern. "What Mandela did is he would pause in the most unusual places. When you're in the middle of one of his speeches, he would just pause and you go, 'What's he gonna say now?' So, you would literally be forced to listen to him speak. We tried to honour that in some way."

The actor says he learned a lot by taking on the role, not only about Mandela, but about himself too. "I was really honoured to be given the opportunity to help put forward his message," he adds.

This trip to South Africa is not a first for Nicholas. His only hope is that he gets to visit more of the places this time around. We chat a bit about about his experiences in the country and before I know it our time is up. 

(Photo: Getty Images)