Raffaello Degruttola on his journey from pause to… action!
When I was 27, I developed testicular cancer. I remember one doctor telling me he wished he’d had what I had. Perplexed, I asked him why; he said he’d seen how cancer diagnosis had turned people’s lives around. Well, he wasn’t wrong – it changed my approach to my career, not to mention my whole life.
Almost immediately I went from being a frustrated actor, overlooked for roles because I didn’t fit the bill, to maxing out my credit card to make a 30-minute short film. It later opened at the Boston Film Festival and started a new way of working, centred on collaborating with like-minded friends, to create opportunities for all of us.
TAKING BACK CONTROL
As an actor, you spend your life waiting for directors to say ‘you’re the one’ – but with my Italian surname I never auditioned for regular English roles. Unfortunately, it’s a very institutionalised industry, although things are slowly starting to change.
In America, it’s different – out there, I’m called to audition for characters called ‘Stephen’ or ‘John’. But if you are truly passionate about what you do, you need to ask yourself this: ‘Am I going to give up, or find another way?’.
I had read stories about directors such as Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood), who just started shooting in his neighbourhood, and I thought ‘What can I learn from him?’. London is extraordinary: urban backdrops are everywhere. A studio might pay hundreds of thousands to shoot here, but if you’re a risky guerilla filmmaker with a good story, you can just go out and film. With HD and digital, things are easier now than they were 20 years ago.
After improvising with a group of friends, I came up with Flim, based on the antics of a documentary film crew. I play Ravi, an amateur Bollywood filmmaker desperate to be a Hollywood director. I had the last laugh on myself regarding casting against stereotypes! It took three years to make and everyone in it is a friend. We were so excited to receive a BIFA (British Independent Film Awards) nomination in 2014!
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
My advice to any artist who feels ‘stuck’ is to do something that takes you out of your mind and into action – I guarantee it will bring you closer to what makes you happy.
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FIND YOUR BALANCE
Raffaello’s DOs and DON’Ts on taking action in your creative life
Watch things that inspire you. Art opens your mind to many new possibilities.
Go and play
If you hit a wall creatively, go back to play! Ask yourself what would entertain you in that moment.
Move from thinking to doing. Action is the only thing that produces results, after you’ve thought about it.
Try to avoid the temptation to duck responsibility. Question what you can do to make things better.
Instead, focus on the positives – it lifts you up and steers you towards new opportunities.
Aim to keep it real. We can’t always live in a creative state of mind, but it’s important to be aware of it.