Interview with Deb Mulholland





Q: Why did you start the Mulholland Academy?

I had been teaching international students (via the Department of Acting) with Emma Dingwall for a number of years, and together we watched a lot of talent leave the city because they could not further their passion for acting or studying here. There was an obvious lack of opportunity to grow. We created the opportunity for them to train and play, and keep their creativity alive by making shows and performing on stage.

A few years ago, a number of film production houses begun to contact me, they were interested in working with our International actors. Our students were learning theatre acting –  what they needed was film-acting training if they were to participate in this arena. Not having those skills, I decided to look for a ‘film acting teacher’. My research lasted two years, till I found the right person and developed a program.  During that time, a lot of my students were asking for a full-time study, (so they didn’t have to leave the country).

I believe in the importance of  a comprehensive acting training – with voice and movement included – in order to develop the total instrument… so decided to create a program that trained the whole actor.

I wanted to offer on-camera and screenwriting classes as well. This gives the actors new and additional perspectives to working with scripts. Very importantly it wakes up the writer and film-directors in us: Handy, as many have to create their own opportunities.

I concluded in my research that the Meisner and Strasberg techniques were very in tune with the Lecoq method and bringing these disciplines together, adding voice technique, and singing, would be a perfectly balanced basis training for an upcoming theater and film actor.

In 2010, we were finally ready to launch the Mulholland Academy – and proud to offer a full year of acting training.

Q: What do you bring into the programme?

My training at the Jacques Lecoq School in Paris taught me how to create my own work. This is something I want to pass on. To help students follow their own calling – whether it is learning to make their own films or to create their own productions or theatre companies. If possible, I adapt my classes according to the needs of my students as it is their career and their talent we need to nourish and help to grow.

Q: How would you describe your average student?

No acting student wants to be called average! Seriously, each person is unique with his or her qualities and circumstances. What they have in common.. some experience in performance, the realisation that they want to explore this flame – call it ambition, passion or drive…  They are multicultural and high achievers.

Q: What are you proud of so far… 5 years down the road?

I am proud of the students. They have launched themselves, and taken their talent and art seriously, committing and aiming for professional standards…. Making the effort day after day, often next to other life demands, to show up and do the work. I am proud of their risking, impressed by their growth. We upped the bar and we took our acting to a higher level.

Q: Do you think anybody can learn to act?

Yes ☺

Q: Some say that acting is good for life. What do you think?

Yes ☺

Q: What is the formula of success – making it as an actor/artist?

If there were one,  I am not sure if there is a proven one. This might keep you ahead of the game: Keep training, keep working, keep learning, and keep getting better. Be ready all the time. Be flexible enough to be able to say yes to the opportunities that are offered you. Know your worth and don’t undersell yourself. Approach the industry by demanding excellence from production companies and agents. Always have professional headshots ready to send, with an updated CV and if you can, have a show reel.

And finally, it is really really important to look after each other. You may be on top of the game one day and on the bottom the next. Who are you going to call when it gets tough? The agent? The production company? No, you’re going call the actor you sat in class with. You are going to call your scene partner and say, “let’s make a show”

A very important note to my students graduating and heading out into the world of acting

So here’s the thing…
I have a school filled with talented fabulous students.
They are passionate about the work, and of course are looking to work in the industry.
I’m proud that I have created something unique, valuable and important.
And here’s the thing I want all of my students to know… If anyone approaches you.. directors or producers… asking you to be in their projects, I cannot be responsible for the quality of that project.
I urge you to check up on these people., don’t trust them until you have made a personal contract with yourself that this person is okay to work with.
Have a checklist of what you expect in your working relationships.
Decide if they are worth working for..  don’t take everything at face value.
Research what they have done in the past.
Do they share the same vision as you?
The same value system?
Have a point of view, and develop a shit detector!
Ask yourself… What garden path are they leading me down?
You may have integrity in your work, but ask ‘do they’?
Be vigilant!!
Check up on who you are working with…
AND most importantly.. (I will say this again).. just because they are in the industry does not mean you can trust them, or that they have your best interests at heart.
This industry holds a very mixed bag of people.
Sharpen your eye.. ask questions.
Then ask more questions.
What is the project? Who is in it? Who is funding it, or paying for it? Who is their audience?
And my lovely women students… don’t do anything that feels uncomfortable, or stretches your own value system… Not unless you are okay with it in your heart, and will be able to live with it the rest of your life.
They will easily make you the sex object, the whore, the prostitute, the battered wife, the murdered women, the rape victim, the piece of meat, the bomb shell. Demand more!… but especially…  demand they make you a human being first!!
Demand interesting roles.. throw dross, and cliques back in their face.
Demand they work harder at story!
Check why they are asking you to work for free. Are they working for free?
Is their crew working for free?
Do only one, two or three free projects for free, then demand to be paid..
it’s the only way you will ever become professional.
Professionals get paid.. they don’t work for free.
You have paid for your education, you have put in your time, and you have proven you are a good actor.
Time to get paid.
Don’t give it away for free.. you will destroy the industry.
Demand pay!.
You are worth it.

We need to protect our young actors, and give them paid work., and work that has integrity…  So rather than being worn out, and jaded by this industry, they are re-vitalised, animated, and proud of their achievements in what is – their art too!
xxx Deb

What I know about Deb…

Debra is a passionate acting coach, who believes that acting training is ultimately about imagination and a willingness to risk and fail with… joy. She encourages her students to explore different approaches and find what works.

Debra Mulholland has been working in film and theatre for more than thirty years, and now divides her time between Holland, Britain, New Zealand, Poland, and Croatia. Her classes include some of the most talented young actors, screenwriters, directors and cinematographers, and are considered the place to be within the International community.

She’s been invited as coach on film sets for voice and acting, and is sort after as an acting coach for private lessons, and by agents and industry professionals for differing projects.

She has been a teacher for more than 25 years. She teaches the Meisner technique, On-Camera acting( after working as a casting director’s assistant in NZ) and a Master-class in Performance class, with her students.

Debra creates her own work, and is at the top of her profession in terms of creating opening acts (Shadow play, projection, and object theatre) for festivals and corporate events.


Having studied with some of the best teachers Europe and beyond, she has covered a wide spectrum of theatre disciplines, which she draws upon in her teaching and theater making.

  • Jacqueline McClintock.  Meisner technique
  • Jacques Lecoq.                Acting /Movement/ Mime/ Mask/Physical training, and more
  • Lorna Marshall.              Shakespeare text through Physicality
  • Clare Heggan.                 Object theatre
  • Phillipe Gaulier               Comedy. Clown, sketch, improvisation, character
  • Tapa Sudana                   Peter Brooke theatre
  • Judith Weston                 Film acting to camera
  • Colin                                 Shakespeare’s first folio
  • Marcello Magni               Commedia Del Arte
  • Improvisation                  Phelim McDermott/Lee Simpson
Workshop Genres

Debra has created stand-alone workshops, teaching the disciplines of…

  • The Meisner technique
  • Devising work from improvisation to writing
  • Adaptation from short stories
  • Object theatre
  • Shadow play
  • Comedy. Clown, sketch, improvisation, character
  • Lecoq improvisation
  • Improvisation
  • Finding Shakespeare through physicality
  • Film acting to camera