Atmos studio founder Alex Haw on his role in Christopher Nolan’s modern first film, Following
I used to act at school, though I wasn’t much good. My highlight was playing Barnadine in Measure for Measure, where I had to drink tankloads of coffee and then spectacularly expel my bursting bladder into a bucket amid the front-row audience.
When I started at the Bartlett I chanced by an audition poster and ended up getting a great part in Harold Pinter’s Betrayal. The experience was intoxicating (and I was in love with my co-lead), and I spent most of my degree in the acting rather than design studio. I really wanted to be an actor – though I didn’t, in the end, have the confidence to pursue it.
One of the last things I did was act in director Chris Nolan’s first film, Following. I’d seen him around in the Film Society, and was impressed by his knowledge and mind, but I didn’t take the role very seriously. I even accidentally shaved my head between shoots in a night of mischief – Chris is still a little peeved.
It was a protracted and, frankly, fairly tedious experience. Black-box theatre is all about the primacy of the actor’s voice and body, but film’s all about the mechanics and edit, with the actor simply another lump on set to move equipment around.
‘I accidentally shaved my head between shoots – Chris is still a little peeved’
I was accustomed to theatre’s intense improvisation sessions, exploring the depths of character, but we didn’t rehearse anything for Following; we simply said the lines, and hung around a lot between the setups.
Though we all spent most of our weekends on the shoot, we thought nothing would come of it – and then suddenly the film began to win festival prizes, and one evening I found myself doing a Q&A at its premiere at MOMA in New York, rushed by groupies, and threatening (in character) to thump a journo.
I chose architecture over acting because it’s more my energy level, and because I felt I had more to contribute. The two areas are still intricately merged in my mind. All our designs at Atmos seek similar outcomes to films and plays: to move people to the depths of their souls, and take them on a journey. I miss emotional depth in most architecture, but I want to design for it.
- Atmos Studio is an architecture, art and design practice. Its work ranges from product design to masterplans, and it specialises in bespoke private homes and public installations.