CUTLER sits down with Nina Toussaint-White to discuss her role in witness number 3, returning to the stage, her first feature film and her most inspiring role yet - becoming a mother.
Photo by Scarlett Warrick
What is your origin story as an artist? When did you know that Acting is what you wanted to do?
Growing up, I wouldn't say I had a burning desire to become an actor, but some of my earliest memories are definitely of me dressing up and performing mini 'sketch' shows for the family. I went to drama groups from an early age which, thinking about it now, was more about my single mum wanting some creative opportunities for me plus the added bonus of some head space, than me longing to act. All I know is that I have always loved to perform. I hit my teens and lost my way' quite dramatically. Not the most academic at school, struggled with authority and the power balance between pupil and teacher. Outside of school I channeled my energy into new friends, most of them older then me and became very angry at the world, unable to (so I thought) control my emotions. Life became pretty turbulent for a while. It wasn't until I started A level drama, and met the wonderful Shirley Sewel, a drama teacher who believed in me and took me under her wing, that I started to focus and direct my energy back into acting. After A-Levels I went on to train at Italia Conti, which is where I signed with my first agent and have been acting ever since. So I would say acting was less about something I wanted but more something I needed. Acting completely changed my life, in many ways it saved my life by steering my direction and focus and putting me on this wonderfully exciting yet extremely uncertain rollercoaster of a ride.
What helps you stay inspired and motivated?
I find inspiration from all sorts of things, depending on my mood or where I'm at in life at the time. A film I've watched, theatre production I've been to, the way another artist works or digs into his or her character and performs, or just listening to a piece of music that moves me. For a while I was inspired by an exercise book called the Artists Way. A 12 week course,
which had me writing 'morning pages', everyday upon waking. It's a form of writing meditation. The routine of this daily exercise really helped to get rid of any junk in my head and inspired me to tap into my creativity. I found myself having more courage to say yes to job's I would've usually shy'd away from in the past through fear of not being skilled or
talented enough. Since being a mother, the luxury of any 'me time' to go to the theatre or complete morning pages is very rare. Instead Im finding myself being inspired by my baby girl. Watching her grow and learn new things can be completely captivating. Seeing how she interacts with others and her surroundings, the way she lives life in the present moment, how she looks in awe at everything with new eyes, or the way she moves, dances and babbles nonsense without a care in the world. Don't get me wrong, a lot of the time looking after her is extremely exhausting and challenging, but each week Im reminded of how I could
approach life with awe and wonder, if only to see the world like she does. She inspires me to live life with more openness and is a constant reminder to try and treat everything in life as a gift.
My motivation comes from movement. Luckily, I don't suffer sadness or depression, but being active at the start of the day definitely helps to lift my sprit and mood. If I don't do some form of exercise I tend to feel sluggish and foggy headed for the rest of the day. Being active keeps me on track, it creates a structure and routine that is so vital for me. especially during the down time and in between acting jobs.
Can you tell us about what you have been working on recently, and any projects you have upcoming that you can talk about?
I've been pretty busy since being a parent. I thought the work would dry up when I
became a mother. Instead, I've worked more in the first year of my babies life than than in any other vear. Because she's now my priority, I'm less anxious about "landing the job" and I'm probably more relaxed in auditions. Perhaps casting directors pick up on this. I've heard so many horror stories about mothers being overlooked for jobs or even cut from productions for starting a family and, although I think times are changing for the better, I know so many friends who put off trying for a baby through fear of the same happening to them. There's so much pressure of not having the support to juggle both parenthood and work which leaves so many feeling like they have to compromise one for the other. I feel lucky to have worked so much this year. Ive been looked after very well by each of the jobs, which I think is largely down the directors being parents themselves. I also have the most amazing husband who co-parents with me and puts everything on hold when I'm working so he can be at home with our girl. A job that I'm extremely proud of is Witness Number 3 which aired this summer on channel 5. It's a psychological thriller that follows my character Jodie's story as she witnesses the moments before a murder and is suddenly thrust into being key witness to the investigation. What follows is a barrage of intimidation and violent threats to Jodie and her family as she fights back to do the right thing. As a family we relocated to Dublin to shoot the series. In every day, and up every night with our 4 month old, breaks were slotted into the schedule for me to express and send milk back home. It was an extremely gruelling time and probably one of the toughest jobs I've done. It was tough for all of us. I felt guilty for leaving her and asking my husband to care for her alone, away from our home, friends and family. Like a say I'm proud of this job. It took a lot for us all and will be one I never forget.
If you haven't seen it yet you can still catch Witness Number 3 on 5 Live and Paramount Plus. Over the summer I took to the stage for the first time in 5 years, to play Anna in the play Closer by Patrick Marber, directed by the wonderful Clare Lizzie-Moore, at the Lyric Hammersmith. I fell in love with the show and with my fellow cast members Ella Hunt, Jack Farthing and Sam Troughton. Each one of them oozes with talent but were and are some of the kindest, open and beautiful souls I've ever had the pleasure of working with. I felt extremely held by them all which meant we trusted each other immensely on stage, enabling each of us to be bold with our choices as performers and take risks. The freedom I felt in this role was like no other and I definitely put this down to having such an amazing company to work alongside. I also recently wrapped on my first feature film Kandahar starting Gerard Butler, which was filmed in Saudi Arabia, playing the role of Luna Cujai, a reporter who exposes covert operations by the Pentagon. The film follows GB's character, an undercover CIA operative, stuck deep in hostile territory in Afghanistan, as he fights his way out alongside his Afghan translator, trying to avoid the elite special forces hunting them down. I have no idea when it'll hit the cinema, early next year perhaps. And although I'm only a small player, I feel very lucky to be a part of it. It was such a surreal and exciting experience. I had just wrapped on Witness number 3 and, with only a two day gap, flew straight to Saudi to shoot these crazy and intense scenes in the heart or the desert.
How would you normally approach a role?
I'm a bit dyslexic so, before anything else, I try to read the script at least three times. Then I create a back story for my character. I find the more detailed I am on the 'behind scenes' stuff the easier it is to become the character. Next I really mine the script, going through each scene, actioning each line and noting the timeline throughout. Only then do I loosely learn my lines. There are jobs in the past where
I've been a bit lazy and have jumped straight into learning, and it just doesn't work! You can can tell in the end result.
Do you find that the characters you play become a part of who you are or do you prefer to leave the work on set and not take it home with you?
I never take my work home with me. Of course I work on my script but once the working day is done I say good-bye to my character and go home as Nina/Mummy to my husband and baby. It's very easy for me to switch in and out of character, between scenes or even between takes. I'm definitely not a method actor, I don't understand how people are able to inhabit someone else's life for so long, its sounds exhausting. I'd be a nervous wreck if I wasn't able to shut off from some of the intense roles I've had to play in the past. I do admire the many approaches different people have in finding their character, but for me and my family the healthiest and easiest aproceh is to leave my work on set.
What would be a dream role for you?
I don't really have a dream role. I like to try new things and be challenged by the unknown of the next project. Its one of the things I enjoy most about the job, no two days are the same.