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My Way: Debbie Korley, stage and TV actress who works with the Royal Shakespeare Company

'Be yourself and keep relaxed in your audition'

What did you want to be as a child?

An astronaut, a nurse, or a journalist.

What did you realistically think you'd end up doing?

Probably nursing, because my mum was a nurse.

How did you get into acting?

When I was 11, we moved from Huddersfield to London and I went to a rough school. There was knife and gun crime, and they didn't offer dance or drama GCSE. But a teacher introduced us to Shakespeare; we put on productions in the classroom, and that gave me my first taste of acting.

How did you become professional?

I went to Sylvia Young Theatre School dance classes on Saturdays and joined their agency. At 14, I successfully auditioned for a chorus job at the Old Vic. Then I moved to the National Youth Music Theatre, and at 16 I appeared in a full run of Annie at the Edinburgh Fringe. I then went to Middlesex University to do a degree in performing arts.

And you carried on with the acting?

No, I wanted to take time out, so I worked at a blood-screening laboratory! It was completely different, but it gave me breathing space and I knew then I wanted to act. I did a showcase for agents: there was some interest and I joined an agency. I've been very lucky since – I've done operas, fringe plays, TV shows, a musical....and then my agent put me up for the RSC.

You seem to have worked non-stop?

At times, I've had to temp. After college, I did a secretarial course because of the uncertainty of an actor's life. I'd advise others to do something similar.

Do you consider yourself successful?

I think so. I was really scared when I joined the RSC. I come from a broken home, a northern working-class background and a tough school. I didn't think I could ever do it. So, when I got the contract I thought, well, it's one of the greatest companies in the world, that's it now. But there are a lot more ladders to climb.

What are your audition tips?

Be yourself, keep relaxed; the director wants to know if he or she can get on with you and if you can take direction.

How do I get to be where you are?

In this business, a lot is luck – some get spotted at 16 and their career is made. If you have the chance, go to drama school, or do a showcase and get an agent.

Who is your favourite Shakespeare character?

Lady Macbeth. She's a bit of a villain, but I admire her strength and ability to get her way.