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The only lesson I’ve learned from life: Joanna Scanlan says: always ask what you want

The only lesson I’ve learned from life: Joanna Scanlan says: always ask what you want

  • Joanna Scanlan, 58, who lives in London, is best known for her role in The Thick Of It
  • She was told that she would remain ill for the rest of her life if she stopped working
  • She says if you don’t put your agenda on the table, you probably won’t make it

The 58-year-old Joanna is best known for her roles in The Thick Of It, Rev and No Offense. She was nominated for a Bafta for NHS comedy Getting On. She is married to Neil, an accountant, and lives in London.

I grew up in the middle-class society of the 1960s, where children were seen and not heard (instead of asking for the butter, you waited for someone to offer it to you). Then the world I was trained for at the precious girls’ boarding school was washed away by the tides of the 70s and 80s.

I was trained for a world that no longer existed. It took me a long time to realize that I had to actively ask – and in a way that was rather rude and vulgar to me – for things I wanted.

When I went to Queens’ College Cambridge it was a brutal experience. It was the first year of women in our university (we were 39 women to 500 men), and none of what happened would be considered ok today. There was a sexually aggressive atmosphere: intimidating, frightening. But it was also that I was not prepared for it. I didn’t like being the target of men’s attention. I think I’ve gained weight as a protective harness.

Joanna Scanlan, 58, (photo) who lives in London, revealed how a 29-year-old breakdown helped her realize that you should ask what you want

Joanna Scanlan, 58, (photo) who lives in London, revealed how a 29-year-old breakdown helped her realize that you should ask what you want

I came to Footlights [the comedy troupe whose alumni include Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson]. After my studies I had many failed auditions, so I became a drama teacher and then worked at the Arts Council. But I longed to act.

At the age of 29 I suffered a breakdown due to work stress and went back to live with my parents in Wales. Some days I could only walk the dog. But then the doctor said, “If you stop acting, you will be sick for the rest of your life.”

I had to go through the most embarrassing and embarrassing thing about calling acquaintances and saying, “Actually, I’d like to become a professional actress. Do you have a job for me? ‘

And two of them came back and said, “Yes, oddly enough, perhaps.” Those phone calls gave me two jobs.

There is a perception that things must be presented to you if you are worthy of them. But it’s okay to say, “I suspect I might be good at this, can I tell you please?”

As a woman, it is easy to err on the side of modesty. But you can be open and honest without being stubborn. You have the right to ask what you want. If you don’t put your own agenda on the table, you are unlikely to make it.

Joanna Scanlan is a jury member of the Comedy Women In Print Prize (comedywomeninprint.co.uk).

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