Emily Howlett: Why playing myself in ‘Found’ was much tougher than acting

Posted on July 10, 2015

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So, I’m guessing you will have seen ‘Found’ by now?

The documentary directed by the Chicken’s very own Charlie Swinbourne, exploring how three deaf people ‘found’ their Deaf identity?

Featuring Joanne Swinbourne, John Walker and, well, me…

If you haven’t, here it is: http://www.bslzone.co.uk/watch/found/

I can wait while you watch. Go ahead.

Done? It’s lovely, isn’t it? There have been so many wonderful discussions, comments and messages generated by this programme.

People I’ve never met are telling me that my story has resonated with them, or that they identified with one of the other stories shared.

Hearing parents are being encouraged to allow their deaf children to explore this whole other community and culture.

The stigma of being, or wanting to be, Deaf, is being challenged. It’s all very, very positive, and I feel proud and lucky to have been a part of it.

On the day Charlie interviewed us all, I arrived feeling excited and, as the youth say, ‘well up for it’. Full of confidence.

I like everything about filming, even the long waits and the retakes, so there was nothing to be afraid of. I mean, come on, you guys know me. You know about my acting.

You’ve seen me glaring at you from your television screen, or falling off the stage onto your lap. You would presume that I’m pretty much ok with being in front of a camera. To be honest, I presumed that too.

But I’m not.

Turns out, Emily Howlett acting as the sex-crazed girlfriend of a Deaf patient is fine.

Emily Howlett acting as a fluffy hippy chick with terrible dress sense is fine.

Emily Howlett as Emily Howlett, however, is a whole new and terrifying prospect.

I’m a pretty open person. I’ll tell you about the current state of my leg hairs within five minutes of meeting you. I’ll instantly inform you of pretty much every random or boring thought that pops into my head, and I’ll discuss my political views or general opinions from dawn til dusk.

The speed I jabber at with my mouth is only just surpassed by the speed I jabber at with my hands.

But, there are some things I don’t really jabber all that much about. It’s excruciatingly difficult.

I’d rather talk about fluffy things, happy things, and why the sky is blue. It’s not that I don’t want to share it’s just… Difficult.

It can be very uncomfortable to talk about negative experiences and feelings. It can feel indulgent, like you’re just wallowing or offloading your sorrows onto someone else.

It can bring back emotions and memories you don’t really want to trawl through again. And it’s also just… difficult.

So, to sit in front of a camera, on my own, and, even though it sounds like a cliché, exposed, and then start to talk about some of the most intense situations and emotions that I’ve felt… It was scary as hell.

I reckon about the first 30 minutes of footage were entirely useless. I was the proverbial rabbit in headlights, even though Charlie and the team were so caring and supportive.

I don’t know if it was harder because I am used to having a character to hide behind, and wear as armour. Perhaps the other contributors felt exactly the same.

We were all talking about defining moments that have had a huge impact on our lives. The programme only focused on one moment for each of us, but once you start talking about these things, you can’t help thinking about all the others, good and bad, that have shaped your life.

I have done a 32 hour shoot before, including night scenes.

I have a small child, who once went for a month with approximately 90 minutes of sleep each night.

I have done the Three Peaks challenge.

But I don’t think any of those left me as tired as I was after that day of filming ‘Found’.

However. The impact the stories have had!

The amazing positive feedback, and the wonderful editing by Charlie and his team.

The fact nobody has commented on my terrible helmet hair.

The endless squeezing of Stephen Collins. It’s all good.

And the team, including Charlie (though we’d never tell him, right?) were so supportive. I think they knew better than I did how I might feel.

And the thing is, it might have been uncomfortable, but it was also amazingly revealing. Therapeutic, in a way, to openly say, “Hey, this is a big part of my story. And I’m going to share it with you.”

I’m very proud of my Deaf identity, but I’m also proud of my relationship with the hearing community.

Apart from some aspects of school, my childhood was brilliant (except for the fact my sister didn’t take my relentless hints that she should run away to France when she was 8).

I honestly wouldn’t change a thing about my past because it got me where I am today, but that doesn’t mean it was always easy. Or that I’ve got it all sorted now.

But it does mean I understand that there will always be ups and downs, and overall things are generally pretty damn groovy.

And that whatever else is going on, I can just be me; Emily Howlett, jabbering on.

I think that’s a very important thing to know. And I hope that message comes across when you watch ‘Found’.

Next time I have to trawl through my memories, making this programme is definitely going to be up there with the good ones. I hope you enjoyed it.

By Emily Howlett. Emily is a Contributing Editor to this site. She is a profoundly Deaf actress, writer and teacher. Emily is co-director of PAD Productions and makes an awful lot of tea. And mess. She now has not one, but four grey eyebrow hairs. C’est la vie. She tweets as @ehowlett

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