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Chris McFarlane on the Art and Craft of Acting

Christopher McFarlane and Maylynne Lowe in Basil Dawkins' Toy Boy

Prolific is one word that comes to mind when describing Christopher McFarlane, veteran actor of stage and screen. Since graduating from the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (School of Drama) in 1999, he has steadily developed an enviable repertoire of critically acclaimed roles with several award trophies on his shelf to prove it.

McFarlane walked away with the 2014 Actor Boy Award statuette for best lead actor for his performance in Derek Walcott’s Dream on Monkey Mountain, directed by Trevor Nairne. But McFarlane is no stranger to award ceremonies, having copped ABAs for his roles in Basil Dawkin’s Who God Bless (2003) and Dahlia Harris’ To The Finish (2013). On the screen, he is perhaps best known for his role as Don Sin, the sinister villain of Chris Browne’s hit Jamaican movie Ghett'a Life (2011).  

In between his six nights a week run of Saving Alligator High (he recently took over the role of Jeff Jones from Glen Campbell), McFarlane sat down to share some insights from his journey and his thoughts on the art and craft of acting.

McFarlane as the menacing Don Sin in Chris Browne's Ghett'a LifeSusumba: You started out doing drama at Edna Manley, and you’ve been acting consistently ever since. Do you have any role models or mentors who help keep you on track?

Chris McFarlane: Leonie Forbes. She cradled me and really nurtured my craft. I remember when I was at Edna Manley and we were doing A Raisin in the Sun, she came to me and said “You are my project”. When I was working with her again on Forbidden, rehearsals were rocky because I was new. But when we performed it in Florida we had a scene together just before intermission and as we stepped off stage into the wings she hugged me and said “I am glad I bothered”.

Susumba: That must have been incredibly encouraging. Yet in an article a few years ago, you talked about the difficulties you faced doing your first major production – do you think there’s a lot of pressure put on young actors?

CM: What I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older is that when you’re in a production you have a standard to maintain. We want so much to be associated with greatness all the time, so when people come into the theatre we hold them to a certain standard. Sometimes when young actors enter the theatre they treat it as a hobby or they want to have fun like they’re in class, but for the older actors it’s their livelihood and they take it very seriously. Another thing is that the threat of replacement is hard for an artist [to deal with], and when we see it coming we get frightened.

Susumba: As you get more experience in the craft, do you still find it fun?

CM: As I get older, I find that it’s become a lot more challenging because you’ve played so many roles that it’s difficult to keep yourself current. You’re under a lot of pressure to perform, [asking] how do I get better than my last performance. I go on stage these days feeling so nervous because when you’ve been awarded and nominated you feel like you have a standard to live up to. We want that validation [of awards] and we want the people to think we’re on top of our game. So every night when I go on stage I have to bring something extra.

Volier Johnson and Christopher McFarlane in Dangerous AmbitionsSusumba: What advice would you give to students considering a career on the stage?

CM: Have fun. Learn not to take yourself seriously. Be prepared for a lot of research and work when developing characters. Learn to be nuff. Learn to talk to people and meet producers and sell yourself. Don’t just run up to people and say “Mi can act enuh, mi gi whole heap ah joke. Put mi inna one play nuh”.

Susumba: What can we expect from you for the rest of 2015?

CM: 2015 has been a really good year for me where theatre is concerned. I’ve had the opportunity to work with David Tulloch and we’re working on a whole set of projects to start in 2015 to move theatre in a new direction. I’m working on a project with Delcita [Andrea Wright] to perform in St. Martin and Tortola, and I’m thinking seriously about embarking on my directorial debut.

Susumba: You have done and certainly plan to do a lot of major work on the theatre scene. What do you want your legacy to be?

CM: The best thing any fan ever said to me was [said by] a jelly man in New Kingston. He told me, “Mi respek the work wah yu put inna di movie. It wicked.” And I was happy he looked at it as work, and he respected the work that I had done. That made my year.