Ros Steen by Billy Boyd

16th August 2013 at 01:00
The actor recalls his calm and grounded voice teacher, whose subtle guidance made him believe that anything was possible

I didn't have any great teachers at school. But that all changed when, at the age of 24, I made it to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow (now known as the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland).

Ros Steen was my voice teacher in my second and third years. A calm, grounded woman in her forties, she was the first teacher to make me feel good about what I was doing. And she made me believe that anything was possible.

Ros wasn't patronising and didn't impose her personality on us, but guided us subtly towards our dreams of becoming professional actors.

Ros' teaching is always with me. Every job I do, I think of something that she taught me, including when I played Peregrin "Pippin" Took in the Lord of the Rings films and Barrett Bonden in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. I am now in Macbeth at Shakespeare's Globe in London and I can hear her talking to me all the time.

We did a lot of Shakespeare over the two years of drama school. I had done Shakespeare at school but I used to dread the moment when it was my turn to read aloud. Ros brought Shakespeare to life, and once those words got into my head I started to really understand it.

Schoolchildren shouldn't sit in a classroom scared to say the words; teachers should take them to see the plays. Globe Education runs a great project that gets thousands of London's state school students into the theatre for free every year. It's so important that these projects are around to introduce young people to Shakespeare in the right way.

I was brought up in Glasgow's East End, a tough area where you could be beaten up simply for saying you wanted to be an actor. There were no theatrical people in my family. My father worked at Tennent's brewery and my mother worked for a car company. They both passed away when I was young and my sister and I lived with my grandmother.

I quite enjoyed school but, like most people from my kind of background, I left at 16. I served an apprenticeship and became a bookbinder at McCorquodale printers before moving to HarperCollins, where the books I made, by coincidence, included The Lord of the Rings and Master and Commander. Perhaps it was an omen.

My ambition was to be an actor and I auditioned for the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. I didn't expect to get in and went travelling around Florida. But, to my surprise, I was offered a place.

I wanted to be a film actor and didn't know much about the theatre. I'd done some amateur stuff and quite enjoyed it, but Ros gave me a huge love of being on the stage and I was hungry to learn. She taught me about voice and how the body and the voice work together. She taught me to find a character through the voice and to inhabit that character.

She seemed to do it effortlessly and was great at putting people at ease. She simply expected us to do the work. We always had to do a vocal warm-up before her class and she could tell from our voices whether we had warmed up properly. If we hadn't, she would say calmly, without fuss, that she was going out and would come back in when we were ready.

At the age of 24, I was motivated; I knew what I wanted to do. So when I found a teacher like Ros, I was thrilled to think that I had two years of learning from this person. She was hugely inspirational, everything a great teacher should be.

Billy Boyd was talking to David Harrison. Until 13 October, Boyd is playing Banquo in Macbeth at Shakespeare's Globe in London.


Billy Boyd

Born: 28 August 1968, Glasgow

Education: Ruchazie Primary School; Lamlash Primary School; Cranhill Secondary School; Glasgow College of Building and Printing; Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, all in Glasgow

Career: Actor, singer, musician.

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