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Queen Mary Alumni

Alumni profile - Simon Nader

(English and Drama BA, 2000)

To this day, when speaking to my students I use Lois Weaver’s slogan, “if they don’t get it, that’s ok”, which is an absolute cornerstone of the way I approach work – and I’m very thankful for that. 


Headshot of alumnus, Simon Nader. He is smiling and wearing a grey t-shirt. The photo is a studio style shot with a black background.

Photo by Lorna Fitzsimons

Why did you choose to study English and Drama at Queen Mary and what did you enjoy most about your time at university? 

I actually had an interview at Kings, but I found it really stuffy, so I neehded to reevaluate. Funnily enough, my dad, who’s an Engineer, said that I should look at Queen Mary as it has a good scientific reputation, so I ended up researching the faculty and the English and Drama course really appealed to me.  

Being able to study joint honours was great as it allowed me to take my little cowardly steps into Drama (I wasn’t very confident at the time) while still focusing on the English department’s teachings. 

Interestingly, the minute I was here, my focus went the other way towards Drama – I never thought Drama school would be accessible for me but thought studying for a degree instead would at least give me a grounding in Drama which I could then build upon. 

You talk about the fact that you felt that you weren’t brave enough to study Drama on its own even though that was what you were more interested in pursuing. How did studying Drama at Queen Mary help you come out of your shell? 

Oh, so much. I probably didn’t appreciate it as much at the time as I did later, but it pushed me to examine things very differently and mix with different types of people, which got me out of the narrow social group I had been in where nobody shared my interests. 

I ended up focusing on the technical side of Drama which has always been an interest of mine and being in that environment gave me the confidence to apply for places like Lost Youth Theatre Company (who I’m so gutted aren’t around anymore) and I got a role with them while I was still at Queen Mary which really pushed me further. 

To this day, when speaking to my students I use Lois Weaver’s slogan, “if they don’t get it, that’s ok”, which is an absolute cornerstone of the way I approach work – and I’m very thankful for that.

Can you talk us through your career journey and what you’re doing now? 

When I left Queen Mary in 1999, I was working on Romeo and Juliet at Lost Youth Theatre Company. I turned down the role of Romeo as I was too afraid to take it on and they ended up offering me the role of Mercutio, which was great. I’ve always been into martial arts, and this allowed me to explore that a little bit. Doing that made me think, this is what I want to do. I kept working with them, all the while applying for Drama schools and funding. In the meantime, I took a job at Ticketmaster in the evenings which I did for three years, eventually becoming an Event Programmer. The great thing was, I would get reduced tickets to lots of events that expanded my horizons. 

I applied, auditioned and spent so much money on Drama Schools for about two years at the same time as doing fringe theatre. It then came to 2003 and I felt it was my last chance to pursue acting before turning to journalism and I ended up getting 3 offers that year. One of them was amazing because it was at the Academy Drama School who gave me a scholarship.  

I didn’t get an agent straight away, but I started to explore film and television as much as I could – even taking unpaid roles for the experience. Things then kind of snowballed and I joined a cooperative agency called Actors Creative Team which gave me a really good insight into the other side of the industry and what agents do. We were led by a professional agent as well as the actors sharing the duties. 

Thankfully, I ended up doing a couple of American TV jobs and found that work breeds work and I did a few feature films here and there which really helped me move forward within my acting career. 

What have been some of the highlights of your career so far? 

I think the television experience that stands out is that I was able to work with Adrien Brody in the miniseries, Houdini. Not only is he an actor I admire, but he’s also a nice guy. We were chatting a bit off set and I really admired his work ethic. I was playing Tsar Nicholas II, which was a role I never thought I would play; I had actually read for a smaller part but apparently, they saw my headshot and thought I looked the part so that was it!  

The biggest highlight in terms of fun was a show called Curse of the Werewolf which was a comedy musical.Headshot of alumnus, Simon Nader. He is looking up to the right with a comedic innocent expression. He is wearing a green shirt against a black background. I’m not a singer at all but I was aware that if I found the right vocal range, I could hold a tune. I saw a casting call for it and it was being directed by Andrew Linford, who was really well known for things like Eastenders, and I didn’t think for a minute I would get the role but apparently, I was the only one who nailed this crazy Munich accent that the character had. That ended up being really fun because he was a great director to work with, uber professional. There was also an amazing cast, even though it was just a fringe show. It was just the best atmosphere and the most fun ever. 

Who are some of your inspirations as an actor? 

He’s not my casting type in any way, shape, or form, but Steve McQueen. What I liked about him was his approach – his internal process of acting. His effortless style has been a big inspiration for me. On the other side of the scale, Alec Guiness was always my other inspiration, and I adored the Ealing Comedies such as The Lavender Hill Mob, The Ladykillers and Kind Hearts and Coronets. The Ladykillers especially is just an absolute masterclass in sinister comedic genius. 

What’s your favourite genre to work with? 

Comedy is something that you can learn a lot from – I'd never do standup, but I love comic timing and making people laugh. But frankly, I can go anywhere from that to the project I’m in London for now where I’m playing the leader of the British fascists! It’s actually more fun when you’re playing a character whose belief system you can’t fathom, because of the research you get to do – it indulges your id and allows you to say and do things that you would never say or do in real life. You get a perverse sense of fun (within reason) as an actor from doing that. Of course, if you’re playing a bad person, you have to look for the things that they would like about themselves to work out how they justify their behaviour, which I find fascinating from a psychological perspective. 

What do you think are some of the best things and some of the biggest challenges about being an actor? 

The best thing is the freedom and, it takes a while to adjust to it, but the hustle and finding all the different things that you need to do to keep yourself available for work – that’s a double edged sword because as much as that motivates me and has stood me in good stead as a freelancer (I work as a photographer and director as well as an actor and a teacher), the holy grail is to be able to act without having to have something to fall back on. I’m 44 now and it’s been a long time of having to work that way and there have been periods where I’ve had to get jobs, and that’s ok. I think it’s good life experience because it teaches you not to rest on your laurels. 

How do you feel your degree helped you prepare for your career? 

In all ways. When I graduated, I remember thinking ok, this doesn’t make me an actor, but what it did do is give me a really great academic grounding. Also, studying Drama in tandem with English and the analytical skills that you gain from that really helps you cut through as a director.  

In terms of teaching, I find that I adopt the same approach that I would have learned from all the great teachers and great directors I’ve worked with. So, the degree really helped me in all ways in that I was able to go and do a little bit of journalism, but I also ended up being quite well read as a result and with sharp analytical skills, you're able to get your teeth into something and pull it apart to understand how it works. 

How do you feel when you think of who you were as a student vs who you are now? 

I’ve had several different stages of life – my childhood wasn’t bad, but it was a little restrained and I wasn’t close–minded, but I didn’t have much knowledge of the world, and so coming to university really helped. Drama school breaks you down even more and what I’ve really learnt is how wide a viewpoint there is on every subject and to respect everyone’s argument, even If you don’t particularly agree with them. Anyone who is looking at themselves 20+ years later – you will be a different person because of the people that you meet. The friends you meet at university tend to be the ones who stay with you for life because you’ve come together because of your shared interests.  

What would your advice be for students who are interested in careers in acting? 

Go for it – don't be like me and say you can’t do it before you’ve tried. There are more resources out there than ever before, there are funding opportunities and subsidised courses. If you don’t want to go to drama school, that’s fine – there are so many people out there making films etc. where you can learn so much. Ideally you learn the technical skills by going to acting school, but you can learn that job to job. If it’s something you’re really interested in, get a camera and look at it from the other side. Analyze television, analyze books, look at psychology – there's loads of stuff that can tie you in. 



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