GRACE DADS: British Actor Will Kemp Shares a Father’s Perspective on Parenthood

As we so often discuss the juggle faced by mothers, it’s refreshing to also get a father’s perspective on parenthood.

English dancer-turned-actor Will Kemp, who shot to fame as the lead in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake aged just 18, is not afraid to admit that life as an actor, where his work can take him away for months at a time, can be challenging.

“It’s tough and there is a constant feeling that getting work for ‘daddy’ is a mixed blessing for family life,” says the front man who starred in Van Helsing, opposite Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale, and has just been nominated for a Family Film Award by the World Film Institute.
“When I was on the TV show Reign, I was away filming in Toronto for seven months,” he says. “Luckily it was over the summer holidays so my family were able to join me for a few months and we had so many fun adventures together. But I too sometimes struggle with carving out ‘my’ time, preparation time that other actors without kids and a family will probably take for granted.”

After five happy years in LA, the family, including daughter Thalie and son Indigo, recently moved back to south London where they relish taking their new puppy Elvis to the park and long lunches in the local pubs.

“I enjoy being “the fun dad”,” he says. “My kids would tell you that I can also get a little grumpy at times but I aspire not to be. As they grow up they are understanding of how things work and what has to happen in order for them to live the life they do – going to the school they enjoy and going away on holidays etc. I appreciate their understanding. Nothing we have should be taken for granted. We are a team and we all have to do our bit. I take a lot of inspiration from listening to other actors whose work I admire – family men who juggle a career as well as bringing up and providing for a family.”

Will is now filming a new TV show for a new Warner Bros DC Universal streaming platform and will subsequently shoot a romantic comedy in Belgium. Following that he will film a Netflix TV project in Toronto for the first half of 2019. We wanted to find out how he finds a balance, what he hopes to teach his children and why there is nothing like a good kitchen disco.

Images: Ursula Vari 

Why is dance so important for children?

I think that in its purest form dance is a wonderful way to express yourself. I think it can help with confidence, posture and all kinds of appreciation to music and for children to learn discipline and respect for each other. My son, Indigo now refuses to have dance lessons but is constantly making up new moves, copying dancers on TV, and if I play a Bruno Mars track he will be the first to jump up and improvise. We often have impromptu parties at home, music full blast and all of us jumping around the room being silly and making each other laugh. He’s a really good little mover but he likes to create dance rather than be told what to do.

What did you enjoy about dancing when you were young?

The sense of achievement when getting it right; a great sense of purpose and direction. I was lucky in that I had a fantastic teacher, Elizabeth Harrison I.S.T.D at The Star School of Dance and Drama in Watford. The school no longer exists but I’m still very close to Elizabeth. She became my godmother soon after I graduated to The Royal Ballet School. She has seen most of my dance performances over the years and I was recently able to bring her along to The London Coliseum to see me host the English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer Competition.

How did you make the transition from dance to film?

I was on tour with a production of Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man in Los Angeles, when the Twin Towers came down. The agents I had from my time on Broadway with Swan Lake had been wanting me to start auditioning for acting roles but I had been putting them off – I didn’t feel ready. I remember watching the horrendous events unfurl and realising that life can be so short and anything could happen, so what was I waiting for? I went on several auditions and landed two film offers. The one I ended up doing was Mindhunters for director Renny Harlin. We filmed in Amsterdam for three months with a crazy cast including: Val Kilmer, Christian Slater, LLCool J and Jonny Lee Miller. That was a Hollywood baptism of fire!

What do you hope to teach your children?

A defining moment that has stuck with me was when my daughter, Thalie, had come to see me play Ratty in a matinee of Wind in the Willows in the west end. She had such a great time that she wanted to stay for the evening. My extended family were horrified that I should let a then nine-year-old stay up so late but I could see she really wanted to. She sat with me while I got ready, then with the stage manger. She saw how the lighting rig worked, put out calls for the company to start the show and then watched from the side of the stage. When we were travelling home that night on the tube, me nearly falling asleep I was so exhausted, she turned to me and said, “You really love what you do, don’t you daddy.” If finding something in this life to do that you love is the only thing I ever teach my children – I would be happy with that.

Tell us about your childhood.

I grew up in Kings Langley in Hertfordshire. I have very fond memories of my childhood. My parents are still in our family home and I often return with my children to show them where I used to make camps in the garden and home videos of my adventures, dressed up as Robin Hood, using my dad’s Betamax recorder. That thing weighed a ton and had to be connected to the video machine the whole time!

What are mornings like in your house?

Usually I do the school run and Gaby does the afternoons. Some mornings I feel like a sergeant major rallying the troops (my 12-year-old daughter could happily sleep until noon) to get out the door for 7:40am, making sure all school and sport bags are packed, the dog is let out and fed, my gym bag is packed etc. It’s about a 30 minute drive to school in Barnes, then I drive over to Chiswick to my gym. The gym and yoga are my sanctuary when I’m not working.

How do you juggle work and family life?

This is still something that we all constantly adapting to. Sometimes I’m around a lot and involved with every aspect of the children’s lives, but when I was on the TV show Reign, I was away filming in Toronto for seven months. Luckily it was over the summer holidays so my family were able to join me for a few months. We had so many fun adventures together. But it’s tough and there is a constant feeling that getting work for “daddy” is a mixed blessing for family life. I too sometimes struggle with carving out “my” time, preparation time that other actors without kids and a family will probably take for granted. But travelling offers us as a family a wonderful chance to have adventures and see the world. My kids have joined me in places like; Madrid, Romania, Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver and all over the UK. Also, it allows me to focus on the work. Having a family really makes me put everything into a job. While away I’m always asking myself “why am I away from my family?” It makes me want to make the projects I choose really count.

What is your view on parenting?

I don’t pretend to know everything about parenting but I feel that learning from your children and knowing when to step in and guide them is key for me. Teaching them a core set of values: to be kind, to respect and help the world and people around them and to understand how much good manners and politeness can make them feel good about themselves. Also encouraging them to develop individuality and a freedom of expression.

What are some of the challenges you have faced?

Well I’m about to be the father of a teenage daughter so I’m sure there are many challenges ahead! My son is turning 10 very soon and I think as close as they both are, they both require different things at different times. This can often be challenging. I’m lucky in that my wife is also very hands-on and loving. I went through a very challenging time personally when the children were small. We were renovating a house and as much as I appreciated the privilege of this, the stress of this along with raising young children had taken over my life and had taken me away from focusing on my career. As a result I became very unhappy and stopped exercising for many months. I’m fortunate that I had a great friend in one of the other dad’s at Thalie’s kindergarten. He obviously saw I was struggling and would come over at 7am every morning and drag me out running. He taught me how to think positively again, started me back training and was a big advocate of me moving to LA to pursue my career.

Are they different now your children are at the tween age?

I can’t quiet believe where the time has gone! I love that I can have adventures with them now. They are forming a real sense of who they are and their views on the world. My daughter and I go scuba diving together and I took her to my gym recently and taught her some boxing, which she loved. We also go running together. My son and I like playing football, top trumps and card games together, and video games when he lets me! We recently enjoyed a fantastic yoga and surfing retreat in Morocco organised by which the kids loved. They did all the yoga classes with our teacher, Mona Lisa Godfrey and we all learnt to surf.

How do you want your children to view you?

I want them to know that I’m always here for them good times and bad, even if I’m away working. That they can confide in me and that I will always try my best to guide them and bring new adventures into their lives and expand their horizons whenever possible.

Your father was a graphic designer and your mother a model – what did they teach you?

Both my parents were and are very artistic and they always encouraged my brother and my sister and I to be. We all attended a Rudolf Steiner School for varying lengths of time and were taxied to and from dance classes for many years. My parents, still to this day, would drop what they are doing if any of us needed them for something. A big lesson growing up was to always finish what you start. There was a period when I wanted to stop dancing for a number of reasons but they said they had paid for the rest of the month so I had to keep going. By the time it was the end of the month I had decided that I still loved dancing and so continued. Thank goodness they didn’t just let me just stop on an adolescent whim.

What is one of the biggest misconceptions about fatherhood?

That dads can’t dance or be cool? Telling “Dad jokes” the moment you become a father though would seem to be accurate.

And what is one of the best bits?

Getting to explore the world with my kids. I love going on adventures and experiencing new things with them. My father was always taking us on sailing adventures to the Isle of White so I guess this sense of adventure is something I pass on to my kids.

What is the most surprising lesson you have learned?

That you are not always right! That sometimes you have to be honest in that you too are figuring things out. Keeping an open and honest dialogue in the family is important. I’ve learned that there is no “one glove fits all” to being a father. Being present in their lives, learning to adapt and when to assert yourself has been key for me.

How has your style changed since becoming a dad?

Both Thalie and Indigo like to comment on what I wear. They have seen me in some very funny costumes over the years. I love clothes and I have worked with some great stylists and costume designers that have introduced me to some really great brands so I would like to say that I am more confident in my style now than I was when the kids were first born. I live in jeans (currently Diesel) T-shirts and my workman’s boots or Rudolf Dassler Puma’s. I also love John Varvatos, James Perse, Zadig & Voltaire and good suits from Tiger of Sweden and Christian Dior.

And finally, what’s the best thing one of your children has ever said to you?

“Daddy, we love you because you love us and make us laugh.” To which I replied: “How do you know I love you?” Then came the answer: “Because you show us”.