A Rising Star

Jonathan Woodhouse was born in London and attended school and college in the London Borough of Newham. He is of English and Filipino descent. He studied for a Master of Arts in Theatre at Royal Holloway, University of London before founding Encompass Productions, an artistic production company. Encompass’ first major project was ‘What It Feels Like’, a new play that premiered at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe festival to audience and critical acclaim.

His recent works include directing and producing ‘What It Feels Like’ and starring alongside Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis in the upcoming motion picture ‘The Lady’, directed by legendary French auteur Luc Besson. He is currently working at the Theatre Royal Stratford East as an intern, helping to plan and coordinate ‘Open Stage’ – a scheme that lets the public decide what goes on stage.

PG: Hello Jonathan and congratulations on your film. 

JW: Thank you.

PG: You’re playing in a film that is based on the relationship between Aung San Suu Kyi and her husband, Michael Aris and how it survives through difficult times. Tell us about your role in the film.

JW: I play their eldest son Alexander Aris, who alongside his father and younger brother is thrown into the emotional turmoil of dealing with an absent parent, through the most extraordinary circumstances. That’s what the film shows very effectively – Aung San Suu Kyi dealing with both her rise as a great democracy leader and the consequences it has on her and her family. The film explores the family’s traumatic journey as a unit and as individuals. Alex is the more introverted and cerebral of the two brothers. At just seventeen he took responsibility of accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of his mother, a great honour but also immense pressure on his shoulders for someone so young. We see him grow and mature from a young teenager to a young man and having to grow up very fast along the way.

PG: What was it like to work with such a huge director as Luc Besson and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon Star, legend Michelle Yeoh?

JW: It was very inspiring. I was not initially told what the film was about or who was in it when I auditioned. Even when I got the part, it was all very secretive. I am a huge fan of Luc Besson’s work. He knows how to get what he wants but also leaves you a lot of room to explore. It was great to work for him. As for Michelle Yeoh, I was near speechless the first time I met her. However she was so incredibly warm and invested in everyone around her. It was very surreal for me – people who I admired as great actors suddenly becoming good friends, but it really helped the process go through both the good and difficult times. I have nothing but admiration for everyone I worked with.

PG: What inspired you to go for the arts/acting? 

JW: My family. They always encouraged me to study what I enjoyed doing because they believe that if you enjoy what you do, you’ll do well in it. They were always behind whatever I chose to do and always supported me any way they could. I enjoy the arts because they are the most powerful thing in the world. The arts speak to human beings at a completely transcendental level – sometimes no logic is needed. It’s a feeling. That’s why I went for it – I want to tell stories, make people think about and feel the world around them, whether I do this as an actor, director, producer, musician, whatever – the possibilities are endless if you believe strongly enough in it.

PG: From your past, what experience would you say has inspired you to continue in your career path?

JW: Well for one I think life itself. I’ve experienced and witnessed others go through hard times. But then I’ve also had some incredible moments where I remember just how lucky I am. I’m a keen observer of the world, so I try and take in as much as possible and then translate it into whatever I’m doing artistically. I am also inspired by the many artists I’ve met through the years and I’m very glad to have worked with great people. So really as much of a cliché as this may sound, if you need inspiration, you only need to look right in front of you.

PG: Philippine Generations recognise the difficulties in starting and leading companies. What inspired you to become Founder and Artistic Director of Encompass Productions? 

JW: Well that was something I didn’t initially plan! A few years ago I did consider attempting to direct and produce a show outside of university, but I wasn’t ready. In 2010 however I was convinced by Liam Jarvis at my university to go for a production training scheme. Liam is co-artistic director of Analogue, a company whose style influenced some of my early work. I remember saying to him “but I don’t have a project” and he just smiled and nodded saying “I’m sure you’ll think of something”. The company was essentially formed to be a hive of people with multiple talents – we have directors, actors, choreographers, musicians, designers, filmmakers, composers, technicians…you name it we’ve got it. Encompass Productions provides a creative outlet for people outside of their work and/or educational commitments. We do this through our artistic projects, educational outreach and monthly live music and comedy events. It was all about creating something positive and exciting.

PG: What are you currently working on/last worked on?

JW: At the moment I’m working in an administrative/producing role at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. The particular project I’m working on (Open Stage) actually puts shows on the stage according to what the public want; it’s an incredibly exciting and pioneering scheme. I’ll also be producing and assistant directing a short film through Encompass. We’ve also got another play in the works, impending live music and comedy events. Oh and hopefully getting more acting work – but who knows what will happen with that!

PG: What advice would you give a young person wanting to pursue a career in the arts?

JW: The arts are going through a challenging time at the moment – there are a lot less ways to fund artists, and even the biggest organisations are struggling. I won’t even go into tuition fees – I have quite mixed feelings on those as it is! What I quickly discovered is that you can be ambitious as you like but whatever you want to do, needs to be sustainable; if your heart is in your work then people will notice that and support you. There are many ways to keep yourself going as an artist both creatively and financially – just don’t expect handouts, you’ve got to work for it. Find the people you trust and respect and collaborate with them – try to help get each other out into the industry. Attend and networking events also helps. Learn about other artists! But most importantly be patient. It’s easy to lose faith – remain optimistic but realistic.

PG: How do you perceive young adults today and their approach to education, ambition and success?

JW: I think it’s hard for young adults to remain optimistic when the nation has been going through some difficult times recently. Words like recession, riots, cuts, fees have entered everyday vocabulary and it’s all been very negative. I also think there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on young adults to rush into things without ever taking the time to know if it’s really what they want. I honestly feel that our young people can triumph through any adversity and that it’s because of these challenges that sometimes their aims and aspirations are higher than they’ve ever been – in many ways this is a positive thing. They just shouldn’t put too much pressure on themselves. At the same time they need to be proactive – there are opportunities out there for you if you look hard enough. Be open to anything and you may discover things about yourself you never knew.

PG: What is your favourite Filipino dish? What is your favourite British dish?

JW: Without a question Pork Adobo – that unmistakable taste (although I still haven’t quite gotten the recipe myself right yet). As for British? I’m a sucker for a bit of Sausage and Mash!

PG: How important is your Filipino heritage and culture to you?

JW: The last time I went to the Philippines I was going through some tricky times personally! Yet as it was the first time in thirteen years since I had been able to go back, the trip was exactly what I needed. I not only saw how much the country has developed but also the extremes of the poor/rich divide. Yet what I noticed the most, is no matter where I went there was a sense of optimism, hard work and also being happy with what you have. Just because a country is thousands of miles away it doesn’t mean that it isn’t your culture or heritage – what I learnt from being in the Philippines was universal and I have tried to live that way ever since.

‘The Lady’ is released in the UK at the end of December . www.useyourfreedom.com
Encompass Productions: www.EncompassProductions.co.uk
Theatre Royal Stratford East: www.stratfordeast.com

Article and interview prepared by Vince Fajilagmago & Claire Bernabe


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