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netribution > features > interview with jay dunn > page one
Jan Dunn is a lovely person and she titles her emails to me as "Hello Handosme". I like that. Of course, Jan is also a terrific filmmaker with great plans to make great money from what she loves. A trained classical actor for 10 years, she made the leap about 5 years ago and now kicks out top comedy shorts on a regular. I'd promised to interview her for a long time but one overbooks, one makes mistakes so I'm sorry it took so long darling. It was a splendid Tuesday in Soho, I'd moved the last of my rickety furniture into my new house and took great pains to ensure a prompt arrival but a confused Frenchman demanded geographical assistance near Kings Cross. I find Jan in a subdued Bar Italia where she very kindly buys me a coffee but, as we stroll outside to find a sun drenched seat outside we are halted by THE most enormous reservoir of luminescent vomit. Where the fxxx did that come from I exclaim! Not a minute before, indeed in the time it takes a professional Italian bartender to construct a perfect Café latte, some wretched soul has expelled a feast of saffron tinted grog - silently and disappeared without a whimper. Jan and I gagged, watched pigeons disgrace themselves with their culinary apathy and sat in awe while the brave staff sleuced the offending spillage down the nearest sewer. Great start.

| by tom fogg |
| photos by tom fogg|
| in london |
Now Jan, you were an actress before a director weren't you?
I was, for nearly 10 years and that's what I'd always wanted to be. I went to drama school in North London at a place called Mount View Theatre School - a long time ago but I think the set up there is a lot different now. When I was there you could only study acting but now there are various musical courses too, it wouldn't be the right place for me now.

How long was the course?
I was there for 3 years and I got my first job the day after I left - playing Desdemona in Othello or, as they pronounced it, Desdem'na (pronounced. without the 'O') because of the scan.

What on earth do you mean?
It's to do with the rhythm of the poetry. I think Emelia was a much better part having played her at drama school, the supporting roles are usually the better parts. I got my Equity card pretty much straight away and it was classical theatre the whole way from there.

Did you enjoy classical literature when you were a kid?
I stumbled into acting. All I loved to do at school was sports and I wasn't very academic, until I was about 15 when I'd opted to study medieval history as one of my CSE's, because I wasn't clever enough for O Levels! (laughs) - I subsequently left school without any qualifications whatsoever. My friend was doing drama and it was the first ever year that it was an option, she seemed to be having a really great time and because I was the only person who wanted to do medieval history they couldn't justify it. So I was automatically put on a modern history course. At the time, studying the likes of the Tsars of Russia didn't really interest me and I was really jealous of my friend Alison who was doing this drama course. So I went to see the drama teacher, convinced her that it was all a big mistake and I'd always wanted to study drama. That changed my life, I won the school prize at speech day for drama and it was all down to my teacher. Her name was Miss Collins, I think she's now called Mrs Grimwood and I'd like to track her down one day.

She influenced me and changed my life, she encouraged and believed in me, I'd discovered this thing of entertaining people. She was absolutely fantastic, she even helped me with my English outside school. She got me into Shakespeare, I'd never read books before so she got me reading the likes of Wuthering Heights.

What are your parents' backgrounds?
My dad's a taxi driver and my mum was a dinner lady, very working class.

Where are you from?
Maidenhead, not very working class!

Not now anyway. What did you do in between school and drama school?
I took a few years out after school at 16. I found a job as a dresser at the Theatre Royal in Windsor and I'd work in a wine bar at lunchtimes.

When was all this?
This was about 1980.

The birth of wine bars then.
Probably! (laughs) I think this was the first wine bar in Maidenhead.

What were they like back then?
Um…well they were all called things like The Ark and Bacchus back then. I then joined a youth theatre where there was heavy auditioning for roles and after a couple of shows I started to get the leading parts. By now I'd started thinking about directing but, not only were there very few women directors, it wasn't something I could confidently tell anyone. I was too shy and it was too enormous.

Direct film or theatre?
I'd always wanted to act in and direct film. Working in theatre is entirely different, you need that break and if you don't ever get it then all you'll ever do is theatre. I worked a lot, I was lucky in that I generally went from job to job but mostly in theatre.

Did any one ever inspire you to take the plunge into directing?
Bergman. I started to watch Bergman films because they were late at night, foreign and there was usually nudity involved which was very exciting for me - films on TV with nudity!

What channel were they on then?
Well it was way before Channel 4 so I suppose it was BBC2! I was very inspired by Bergman and his dialogue and that they are very theatrical, I liked that. And, of course Kes, which was everybody's inspiration at the time. I remember seeing it while at school and it really excited me because I thought you had to be gorgeous to be a professional actor. They were all just real people, that was very new to me and it made me realise that I could go to drama school and be an actor. Oddly too, I played mostly character roles at drama school so I thought that if I stuck to it I'd come into my own eventually. I was inspired by those British comedy actors like Beryl Reed and Peggy Mount, I always watched far too many films.

What was the first film you remember seeing?
I remembered exactly what the first feature film I saw in a cinema was. It was my Dad's idea. We all went as a family to see 2001: A Space Odyssey and I remember thinking it was SO boring, my view hasn't changed. I must have been very young and I remember my sister fell asleep.

So what was your first film as a director?
It was on Super 8, it was called Girls, Girls, Girls and it was a collection of lovely ladies in Soho and walking around in parks. I didn't use any sound or anything, it was just to practise on the camera. That was in 1993 or 1994. I wanted to make something a lot earlier but I'm not very technical and I'd always worried that that was a part of it. Now I realise that it isn't such a big deal, I think things like story and characterisation are more important.

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