The Academy Abroad: A Conversation with Karen Johal
Actress Karen Johal most frequently works in the UK and abroad. She’s landed a few roles with BBC productions, and joined the third season of the Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso. Johal will work onstage at the English Theatre of Hamburg for two months in The Who & The What.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What have you been working on?
So I am heading to Germany in about two weeks to do a play called The Who & The What. I actually did a scene from the play in my company showcase, too. I'm going to be out there for about three months, I'm leaving on March 13th, which is actually my birthday. The show runs from April 3rd to June 3rd at the English Theatre of Hamburg. I have a BBC show, Phoenix Rise, that is going to premiere on the 21st of March, which I filmed in the summer. And today, I got an email to say that the trailer was released on BBC iPlayer. I just did a short film for MTV called See Me, which is going to be released in March for International Women's Day.
A lot going on. Why do you do this work, what keeps you going?
During the pandemic, I reflected on a lot of the things that got in my way, my anxieties and letting the "no's" and rejections not get to me. When I did this a lot more started coming in.
And what keeps me going...it's as soon as it stops being economical for me, like as soon as it's not working with how I feel about it, and if it's not working financially or if I'm really, really struggling, that's when I have to sort of reassess what I'm doing. I've been quite lucky that things have been sort of landing in the way that they have recently! In a month I might not be working, you know, this could even be my last job for the whole year. But I try not to worry about where I'll be in six months time.
What was the original catalyst for being an actor?
As a kid I loved playing pretend, and like inventing this whole other person. I never thought of it as "acting," but just as really trying to inhabit the world, and being in the fantasy. When I was about 16, I realized that some people do this for a job, and of course, in school, I was always better at the creative subjects than I was at the more academic subjects. I picked music and drama, and all the art classes I could. When I was around 17 I started looking into drama school and realized I could pick this as a career path.
What made you land on The Academy?
When I turned 18 I started auditioning for drama schools in the UK...but didn't get into any of them [laughs]... I was just so fresh, I was too young. Then The Academy was auditioning in London—this was a few years later—and I went to the audition, not really even thinking about it, but just to see what might happen. And I actually got in. It was baffling because New York had always been this dream of mine, and it had been years of auditions and this school really worked out for me. So it was... yeah, it was like totally meant to be.
A classic story. A bit earlier you were talking about letting go of some anxieties...what did this look like for you? I mean, what did you do?
It had to do with how you present yourself in a room. We spend so much time worrying about presenting ourselves in the best way in a room, in an audition, and my anxiety was telling me I needed to present every aspect of my personality to a room in 10 minutes. When I was auditioning a lot before the pandemic, I would spend the day or morning beforehand just worrying about it and trying to plan everything out ahead of time. I worked myself up so much, that I didn't do the best possible work I could have done. I worried, "Did I use the right accent," "Did I do a good job on that?" It was just reminding myself that I've done the work and trusting that.
What’s next, and where can people find you?
I have a project that's coming out in March, and I'm going to be in Season 3 of Ted Lasso, which releases on March 15th!