Here’s Wendy Padbury, Zoe in the late 60’s, talking about her work as an agent and, in particular, how she first met a young actor named Matt Smith, who she signed up and who… well, you know the rest!
“I’ve always been a massive supporter of the National Youth Theatre in London, which is a school where kids from all over the country go and perform. They do a course, you can’t be more than 20 or 21. They do productions in London. And they were doing this production of a very difficult play, called ‘Master and Marguerita’, which is quite something for kids to take on. They varied in age from 14 to 20. And I went along to watch, and there was this guy onstage, I couldn’t take my eyes off him, and I thought ‘He is absolutely fantastic, this boy’, and he was playing a very, very gay character – nothing wrong with being gay! – but he was so outrageously camp, and you had to think that if someone’s that camp, how difficult is that going to be for other work?
“So I decided, after the show, to go to the bar and wait for all these kids to come out and just see, and he – Matt Smith – came out, and he quite clearly was not gay. In fact, every girl who came out was going ‘Hi, Matt’, they adored him… So I went up to him and I said ‘Hi, Matt, you don’t know me but I’m an agent and I don’t know what your plans are for the future’, because a lot of kids at the National Youth Theatre aren’t there to become actors in the future, some are there just to have the experience in their youth. So I asked Matt and he said ‘Yeah’, and I said ‘Well I’d love to have a chat with you’, and he said ‘I’d love to’, so we arranged to meet the next day.
“And the next morning, I went into the office and I said to the girls ‘There’s this gorgeous boy coming in, you’re going to love him’, and in walked Matt Smith and he is gorgeous, he’s quite quirky-looking but he has that ability as a young man – this is a girl thing, by the way – to actually sit in front of you and look at you, and you’re the only person in the room. That’s a very attractive quality. And he’s charming and intelligent and bright. And while he was there, I said ‘I’d love to take you on’.
“I then wrote to his university, because he was doing a university course, because – and this is what happens for actors, it’s always about timing – the very next day, the casting director from the Royal Court called me up and said ‘Help us, we’re doing this play, we’re looking for an actor who can be about 16, do a New York accent, and obviously is really good’. I said ‘I’ve got Matt Smith’, she said ‘I don’t know who that is’, I said ‘Well you won’t, he only came yesterday. I have no photos to send you, no CV, nothing’, and she said ‘I don’t care, I want to meet him’. I think they were so desperate, they’d have taken my mother. So I phoned Matt and said ‘Can you do a New York accent?’ and he said ‘Yeah, I can, actually’, so I said ‘You’ve got an appointment on Monday’. He got the script, worked on it over the weekend, and went on Monday. He probably hadn’t even left the building when they phoned and said ‘He. Is. Fantastic’, and of course he got the job.
“He was amazed, I mean, how lucky to get that job straight away! He’s done the National now, he’s done so much work, he worked with Billie Piper… and I’ve never had a young client like that before, where nobody knew him, and my job was to take casting directors to meet and see clients that they don’t know, and I’ve never stood at the National before, surrounded by casting directors, with them saying ‘Oh my God, he’s brilliant, where did you find him?’. And the rest is history, really.
“I live in France now, so it takes a while for news to filter through. I got a phone call from someone, actually it was Charlie, saying ‘Have you heard about Matt? Have you heard about the new Doctor Who?’. I said ‘No’, they said ‘It’s Matt’. I went ‘Oh my God!’, I couldn’t believe it! I know people have concerns about his youth, but there’s no question about his talent and there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll do a brilliant job. So I hope you’ll be gentle with him, because I think you’ll love him, I really do.”