I’m Celyn Jones – an actor, writer and filmmaker and the co-founder of the film and TV production company Mad as Birds. I grew up in Anglesey. My dad worked as a seaman and my mum was a baker. There weren’t many theatres around or live arts, so it was through films that I first had the idea of being an actor.
There was no drama on the syllabus at my school, but I had a brilliant English teacher called Helen Whibley. I was determined to play the voice of the plant in Little Shop of Horrors. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, there's a part that I could do, not onstage’. That was the moment it clicked for me. It gave me confidence. It gave me an identity.
The audience liked me, and their reaction was enough to think, ‘maybe this is what I'm good at’. I’ve since been a director, a producer, a writer, and a teacher. It all stemmed from that one acting tree trunk.
Mad as Birds came about because we needed a company to make the film Set Fire to the Stars – which is the last line of Love in the Asylum by Dylan Thomas. And in that same poem, he describes a girl as mad as birds. I love the line and why not let Dylan christen the company?
I believe that we are where we come from. Wales runs through me like the words in a stick of rock. I think it's a unique quality – being Welsh. You can have a sense of being local but on an international level. We’ve always had great actors such as Anthony Hopkins, Michael Sheen, and Sian Phillips. Perhaps there is something in us as Welsh people. Perhaps it’s that we hustle, we ask ourselves, ‘Why not?’.
In the last 10 years, this indigenous industry of ‘cool Cymru’ has been rising up. We can make stuff in Wales for Welsh people that travels – everybody can enjoy it. I love the idea that a blank piece of paper turned into a bunch of jobs and a major film that took Judi Dench to Llanelli with Jim Broadbent. She had a great time and loved Joe's ice cream.
Creative Wales has been brilliant to work with. They recognise that the skills are in Wales. Having support like Creative Wales, not just financially, but supporting knowledge and talent and resource, is the difference between stuff happening in Wales, and not. You've got to invest in grassroots, in education and outreach. We going to make more Welsh content in North Wales and well as south because there are locations that you get in North Wales, you don't get in South Wales and vice versa.
The Almond and the Seahorse is due for release soon – that’s with Rebel Wilson and Charlotte Gainsbourg. The performance is so good in it, and it’s a real moment for them; it’s just so elegant and powerful and rips your heart out. Gruff Rhys has done a complete original soundtrack to the film. Every piece of music you hear in the movie was original even down to what’s playing out on the radio. Rough Trade is releasing it as a double album. I've got four films coming out this year as an actor, we're going into production on a couple of things at Mad as Birds.
The film industry in Wales has definitely become more accessible. I'm an ambassador for Into Film charity, and I often say that in the future, instead of people saying that we work down the mines, we’re going to say that we’re working down the studios. It's just become another place to work, and it's not so distant for young people. I think it’s brilliant that a young person will be sitting at home, saying, ‘Yeah. It's totally possible’.
Want to find out more about the work Celyn and the team does at Mad as Birds? Visit their website.