Lorraine Burroughs is becoming a regular on our TV screens, making a name for herself in gritty dramas and challenging roles. With critical acclaim and serious recognition from the industry under her belt, we catch up with the Birmingham-born actress as LA studios beckon
There is a certain lack of self-consciousness to Lorraine Burroughs. The 32-year-old actress is chatty, friendly, open and happy to fill in the gaps in the story of her life. This is just as well, as my initial research into her life raised plenty of questions and not many answers. Burroughs has spent plenty of time on stage and in studios, but not so much time with journalists – well not yet, anyway. The budding star is coming to the attention of ever-greater audiences and is being recognised as a formidable acting talent by critics, and those within the industry. She’s about to appear on our screens in the second series of Top Boy, so we thought we’d grab an interview before the pack descends.
Burroughs grew up in King’s Heath and was a pupil at Bishop Challoner school. She was an impressive athlete and won gold in the ‘Global Guts’ tournament. But even then, while everyone expected her to go into sport, Burroughs was dreaming of becoming an actress. “I remember doing all these interviews and being asked what I wanted to do, and would say ‘I want to be an actress, not an athlete’.”
Burroughs began serious acting when she was 14, joining an acting group at Central Television Studios. It was an ideal training ground for the teenager. “It put me into a professional environment at a young age. We would get to perform scripts of TV shows that were coming up, and to meet people in the business,” she says.
Burroughs lived in Stratford Upon Avon for a period, soaking up the works of The Bard, until she broke into the acting fraternity proper by joining the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Burrough’s RADA contemporaries included Ben Wishaw and Jonas Armstrong. “I had a great time. It was tough, really tough. Relentless, really. But there were great people there from a real mixture of backgrounds.”
The third year students are always targets for agents and casting team,and Burroughs was snapped up. She gained a role on the set of the BBC Midlands-based drama Doctors, and life as a full-time actor began. “When you’re in the third year, you put on a number of plays and the casting directors come to see the ‘fresh meat’. I was lucky, as I got snapped up straight away, whereas others are left to perform in the final plays.”
Gaining a steady pipeline of work didn’t come easy, and Burroughs did her fair share of admin and waitressing jobs between graduating from RADA in 2003 and finding enough acting work to keep her going. “It’s only in the last four years or so that there’s been enough to keep me going. When I first started, I didn’t know how to handle money. It’s not something they teach you. You get these blocks of money and don’t know how long it’s going to last for. I’d get some money and it’d be ‘let’s go to Italy!’ – I had a lot to learn.”
A major turning point Burroughs’ career came in 2009, when she landed a stage role in the play Mountain Top, set on the night before civil rights activist Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated. She played opposite fellow Brummie David Harewood, now famed for his role as David Estes in Homeland. Burroughs played flirtatious motel chamber maid Camae, who engages in repartee with Harewood’s Dr King. “We had an absolute blast and he’s one of my best friends still. I was learning stuff from him and he said he was learning from me. I think we took the play to a level which people didn’t expect it to have.” Indeed, the critics agreed, and Burroughs was nominated for an Olivier Award.
Since Mountain Top, the phone has been ringing more regularly, and Burroughs has been involved in a number of gritty TV dramas. She played ‘DCI Winston’ in several series of DCI Banks and has also appeared in two series of Lip Service. Other television credits include roles in Spooks, Identity, New Tricks and the critically acclaimed The Shadow Line.
In 2011, Burroughs’ athletic skills came into use when she played the role of sprinter Trix in the film Fast Girls. More recently, she played the lead character ‘Serena’ in the TV drama ‘The Ice Cream Girls’. The drama is based on Dorothy Koomson’s 2010 novel of the same name, which followed two teenage girls from very different backgrounds who, in the summer of 1995, were accused of murdering their schoolteacher. Burroughs played opposite Jodhi May and Martin Compston.
Burroughs likes to get into the role by imagining she is the character while she goes about her everyday life. She might be in the supermarket pretending she is someone else. “I don’t have a set method but I do spend a lot of time preparing. I will be in the supermarket pretending to be the character and people won’t know.”
Burroughs regularly heads out to the States to undergo auditions. She has the same US agent as Harewood, and hopes to follow in his footsteps and become a household name there, too. It sounds exciting but is far from glamorous, she says. “It’s much harder out there (in the US). There’s way more competition because everyone wants to become an actor. You have to queue for ages to audition, and by the time you get in there you’re tired. I get quite annoyed by it.”
In the meantime, there’s plenty going on in the UK. Burroughs’ next televised role is in the second series of the critically acclaimed Channel 4 drama Top Boy. The programme looks at the lives of teens and youths living on a London council estate, doing everything they can to survive and eventually striving for redemption. Burroughs plays the lead female role in the new series, opposite Ashley Walters. She is Walters’ lawyer, and ends up starting a relationship with him while trying to help him turn his life around. “I like to play a variety of parts. The most important thing is that they are strong characters. I have played Juliet at The Globe and crazy butch lesbians, too – it’s quite an eclectic mix.”