You’re just heading off to film The Ladies Paradise, could you tell us a little bit about it?
It’s a new television drama for BBC One and it’s based on Emile Zola’s book which is actually set in Paris, they’re relocating it to industrial England in 1870’s and it’s about the ladies of the first ever department store and the goings-on around that. I play a guy who manages and owns the store – that’s just the back story; it’s a love story and a story about capitalism and commerce in the 1870’s which was a huge change for industry and Britain was so powerful at that time, and it works perfectly for that story. They’ve pulled together a terrific cast, I’m in the midst of finishing another project and researching this…
Yes, you’ve been very busy, what did you expect when you became an actor?
Certainly not to be busy all the time! I expected to be pulling a lot of pints and making a lot of sandwiches, but I’ve been really lucky. It’s been a gradual incline, I started off doing a lot of theatre in the beginning and went on tour with a job called Black Watch for about three years and that opened lots of doors for me in terms of getting auditions for TV and film but it has been non-stop, which is something that I certainly don’t take for granted, I’m still waiting to hit the brick wall of unemployment, but for now I’m still being kept on my toes and it’s good – it’s a massive luxury
You went to university to study English and French for a year, but dropped out after a year. Was that because you wanted to pursue acting?
Yeah, I just remember speaking to my guidance teacher at school and I said that I wanted to be an actor and he just shook his head and told me that I should go to university and get a degree…which is fair enough, but it wasn’t until I got out of school, went to university and started handing in essays that I realised that it wasn’t going to make me happy, so I decided to drop out of university and audition for drama school, and because it was so late in the day and there was only one drama school that was still holding auditions, The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and luckily got in… I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t got it…I think plan b was to apply to cruise ships, I mean no disrespect at all but I think my life would have taken an entirely different path.
You’re part of one of the biggest films of the year – Prometheus – how does it feel to be part of it?
I haven’t actually seen the film yet and I’m really excited, but I’m not sure anyone is more excited than Ridley to be honest! While we were shooting it he seemed really happy and it’s just massively exciting. It is just huge film with huge anticipation as to how it’s turned out.
Yeah, do you find it scary that it’s had so much hype already, are you quite worried about how it will be received or feeling pretty confident?
It’s not really resting on my shoulders so I’m not worried, I’m just as excited as anyone else to see the film rather than to witness my performance in it. I’m a massive fan of the Alien films and there’s definitely a connection there. Also they’ve pulled together such a fantastic cast, with people like Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Sean Harris, Idris Elba, Noomi Rapace; there’s a mixure of massive stars and jobbing actors that I’ve admired for a long time. I was there witness what went on, on set and in between takes and I just hope that it all goes well. No fear, just excitement.
How did you get the part?
Just a standard way of getting any part; my agent called up and it was just called “The Ridley Scott Project” – you never get the full title of a film of that scale, it was hyper-secret, and I just went into this room which was full of actors…and I’m pretty sure they weren’t all up for the same part, because there were middle-aged women there, seven foot tall skinheads and I don’t really fit in either of those brackets (laughs), so they were obviously just seeing anyone and everyone. I was handed a couple of pages of dialogue and it was completely out of context, you weren’t allowed to leave the room to go to bathroom, it was all very top secret, then eventually they’d call you into the room and put yourself on tape for it, you just had to go for it and hope for the best. After that I got a call about a month later from my agent saying that Ridley was interested in putting me in the movie; and after that it was concrete and it was actually happening! It wasn’t one of those stereotypical stories you hear about 15 auditions and having to go through a million different producers. It was a massive, massive privilege.
How do you find auditions?
I just spend as much time with the script as possible, it also depends how much time you have – sometimes you’ll get a call from your agent saying, “You’re auditioning for this at five o’clock today!” In which case you really rely on your instincts, but sometimes you have time to really pick the script apart and try to make what you do unique and truthful and hope that it stands out. Ultimately you just try to be relaxed and enjoy it if you can, rather than taking it too seriously.
You’re also starring in Labyrinth, another Ridley Scott project…
Yeah, he didn’t direct that one, Scott Free – his production company, is producing it along with another company. I’ve actually worked with the director - Chris Smith -before on a film called Black Death, and the script came through and I loved it before I even knew who was involved, and put myself on tape for that, and they liked what they saw so offered me a part. That was another massively exciting part and one of the best experiences of my life actually.
You’re also in the new Irvine Welsh adaptation, Filth, which sounds very exciting.
Yeah, it was a dream come true, I’ve been an Irvine Welsh fan ever since I used o steal my mother’s copy of Trainspotting when I was about 15. I’m a huge fan of his prose and his plays and again it was just a case of coming across the script and I just went along to meet the director and auditioned for a particular part and got a call about playing a different part and I was so fond of the script, it was so finely tuned – I think it was something like his tenth draft, and the director had adapted the book into the film and it was his baby, it was really close to his heart and you could just tell that there was a lot of potential there, and our job as actors is just to see that potential and lift it off the page, and it’s really rare to come across a script like that where there really are no holes at all, you’ve just got to go in and do justice to it.
It was a dream come true, not just because of the Irvine Welsh thing, but also because James McAvoy was leading the cast, he went to the same drama school as me, he graduated before I started, but I remember his early work and just being a massive fan, he was always someone that I looked up to but had never met in person, so it was just so great to work with him; he turned out to be one of the loveliest people on earth, and it was nice to be working in Scotland.
What are your hopes for Filth?
I just hope that it is seen and that people watch it, because the subject matter is so dark, it’s right on the cusp and close to the bone, but I hope that it’s certificate doesn’t go through the roof and it just ends up showing in back-door cinemas, I just hope that people give it a chance, because it transcends that darkness and grit of 90’s Edinburgh, there’s a lot more going on in the film and it’s going to be a beautiful piece of filmmaking and there are going to be some great performances in there too. I just hope it gets a chance to breath.
You’ve done mixture of drama and comedy, what come easier to you?
I’d have to say drama because most of my experiences lie in drama. I’ve only actually been involved in one straight-up comedy, which is Threesome, which is actually what I’m filming right now. It’s a completely different kettle of fish, you’re going in everyday not only to try and be truthful but also to try and make people laugh, and there are certain people that can do comedy and certain people who can’t, but I’m just trying to learn. I’m working with people like Stephen Wight who’s not only a great actor but also a great comic, and you hope that it will rub off on to you. You can apply comic acting and timing to the way I approach drama.
Do you have any ambitions for the direction you’d like your career to go in?
I just hope to be involved in good work, with good people and people I can learn something from, but in terms of direction, I just hope it continues the way it’s been going, I really don’t want to limit myself or put myself into any bracket, I just want to be versatile. It’s good to keep people guessing and keep yourself on your toes, I don’t want to get too comfortable or become lazy.
Any useful advice?
Just persist, it sounds clichéd but its true. You’ve just got to persist. I went to so many auditions where it was just “no, no, no”…
Did that put you down?
Yeah a bit, but you’ve just got to learn that it happens, you’re not going to be right for everything. I think it was Dustin Hoffman who worked in a restaurant for ten years until he got The Graduate - and that just shows that you just have to stick with it. You do have to develop a bit of a thick skin.
You’ve been featured on various lists like ‘Stars of Tomorrow’ – does that feel encouraging?
Yeah, you have to take it with a pinch of salt, but it’s a massive honour, but I’m sure I’ve made lists that are the complete opposite, so you’ve got to just take both good and bad with a pinch of salt. That’s not to put a downer on the whole thing, it would be a lie to say that it’s not gratifying to have your work recognised, it’s always nice to be acknowledged.
What do you enjoy watching?
Looking forward The Dark Knight Rises, I’m a massive Christopher Nolan fan. I also love going to the theatre.
Who is your IDOL?
Ah man…I should have prepared something…it’s really clichéd but can I say John Lennon?
I haven’t actually had that yet
(Laughs) Oh really! Maybe everyone was trying to avoid being clichéd. I’m just a huge Beatles fan, completely obsessed.
PROMETHEUS IS RELEASED 1st JUNE
Interview: Emma Hurwitz
Portraits: Rich Hardcastle
Film stills from Prometheus courtesy of 20th Century Fox