Dundee actor opens up about mental health struggles ahead of new film

22nd July, 2021 8:29 am

A Dundee actor has opened up about his struggle with mental health, as he completes work on his second film.

Grant Keelan, 35, said that he had always struggled with social anxiety, so even his teachers were surprised when he dropped out of Lawside RC Academy at 15-years-old, to pursue acting.

Grant said: “I made a choice that I was going to leave school at 15 to pursue acting because the school didn’t have any drama classes.

“There was nothing that interested me and I wasn’t a particularly good student in terms of my grades – I was actually quite quiet.

“My teachers – I remember a couple of them tried to talk me out of acting, because I was so quiet.

“Typically when people think of actors, they think of theses larger than life people. But actually more often actors tend to have social anxiety like myself – they’re normal people basically.”

Baptism By Fire

The next few years were tough for Grant, but a chance encounter led to his first singing performance, which he called “a baptism through fire”.

Grant had been studying a computing course at Dundee College, after an unsuccessful audition on an acting course.

After striking up a conversation with his tutor, she revealed her son ran a local community theatre group.

He said: “That company was actually where I got my first experience singing to people. I was kind of a baptism through fire as I had to do it in the City Square.”

He added: “I think it went okay. The person who ran the company kind took it easy on me and gave me songs that didn’t require too much skill.”

After three attempts, Grant got on to an acting course. However, instead of letting the struggle get him down, he said it only made him more determined.

Grant recalled: “Getting rejected that many times – it toughened me up and prepared me for what the industry would actually be like in terms of having doors closed in your face. The experience really determines the kind of person you’re going to be.

“Are you going to be the person who has those doors closed in your face and turn away and go elsewhere?

“Or are you going to be the person who keeps knocking and trying to get in? And I chose to be the latter.”

Move to Liverpool

Grant then went to Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA), studying a degree in acting.

He said: “That was actually an amazing experience. But that was a few years after I had finished the HND, so again I found myself facing rejection for a few years.

“Right before I got in, I said to myself, ‘okay, I think this is going to be the last year to actually try this’.

“But I got accepted on the day of my audition and I absolutely fell in love with Liverpool while I was down there.”

However, after university, Grant said he struggled with the pressures of the industry – and the ones he had put on himself.

After being cast in his first film – the Dundee-made movie Schemers – he went some time without being successful in auditions.

Mental health struggle

He said: “I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to get something done, to be somewhere at a certain point. In actual fact there is no rush to be anywhere. I needed to live my life the way I wanted it.

“But in 2019, I suffered a bit of a breakdown, which was a long time coming if I’m honest.

“It’s something I’ve only recently started to open up about. I don’t think it’s ever something that I’m ever going to be fully rid of. I think that’s okay.

Grant was juggling three jobs – working in retail, getting a photography business up and running, and acting.

“However, I didn’t feel like I was actually really getting anywhere. And then like all these other stresses, of things like my age and where I was in life, it just been all built up.

“I just reached a breaking point because I wasn’t looking after myself.”

Grant took some time away to heal and recover. He said: “I went away and discovered myself again, as ridiculous as that may sound.

“People gave me time. It took me a long time to get to the point where I even acknowledged that something wasn’t right. That I shouldn’t be waking up feeling like this.”

He said opening up to friends and family was difficult, but ultimately their support got him through the incredibly hard time.

He added: “Knowing they were there so I could voice what I was going through so I wasn’t just sitting trying to cope myself was incredibly important.”

Skinjacker

After stepping back for a while, Grant said the break gave him a new determination and he was soon cast in Scottish sci-fi film Skinjacker.

Skinjacker is set on the Isle of Skye, and follows a group of people trying to evade the creatures who landed after a meteor crash.

Grant continued: “Working on Skinjacker was more enjoyable than Schemers because that was actually my first feature film.

“I was feeling quite tense. Feeling like I’ve got to prove something after all those years of work.

“But with Skinjackers, I allowed myself to just really relax and enjoy the experience of being on set and meeting people, having fun.

Grant said the biggest bit of advice he could give about getting in to acting was “you need to know in your heart it’s what you want to do”.

He added: “That’s the one thing that’s been consistent with me even in my times when I’ve really doubted whether it’s for me.

“There’s always been this part of me that says, ‘No, this is where I want to be, this is what I want to be doing’.

“You need to have that drive for it.”

The Courier, July 2021

Categorised in: