You’ve started work on the next series of Game of Thrones…
Yeah I’ve just been doing a read-throughs and I did some horse riding training, the first time I’ve been horse riding and it was surprisingly fun!
Well I was a little apprehensive about it but I’ve heard that horses can sense your fear, so the rational side of my brain just worked out that the best thing to do was to chill out, relax, and it’s actually a lot of fun. It’s one of those things that looks so cool…and it’s a great skill to have for an actor, I think it’s the kind of thing I’d like to keep up, even after we’ve finished filming, I just want to get really good at it because I know from the people teaching us that there’s no limit to how good you can get as a rider.
The read through was really good because the cast is so huge, it’s my third series now and there are still loads of people that I’ve never met, so to have them all around the table for a few days…
Must have been a very big table…
It was! (Laughs) It reminded me of that scene in Batman with Michael Keaton and Kim Basinger where they’re sat at either ends of this huge banquet table.
Do you like being part of a huge team like that or do you prefer when it’s more intimate?
I think both have their pros and cons. The nice thing about being in something like Game Of Thrones is the amount of cast members, not only do you get to learn from far more experienced people, you get to meet far more people - just doing Game Of Thrones has extended my social circle massively because I’ve only lived here for a couple of years.
You’re also such a small cog in such a big machine and that's actually quite nice, I know a lot of actors want to be the centre of everything but with this it’s more of a team effort and you have to get on with the work yourself because the director has a million other things he has to think about, they trust that you know what you’re doing.
It’s nice working with a small cast as well because you do get more to do, you can really get your teeth into something.
Something like Murder?
Yeah, that was a really small team, that was the smallest team I’ve ever worked with and it was probably the most rewarding work I’ve done as an actor…not that I’ve seen any of it yet…(Laughs)
Well it’s from Birger Larsen, man behind The Killing…
Yeah I watched the first episode (of The Killing) because I was supposed to watch it before we worked with Birger but I just didn’t have time…
That might be a good thing though…
I think so. I think it’s best to not be too much of a fan, though I was already a fan just from the audition process - with him you could tell that it was going to be a different job, I don’t know if it was because he was from a different country…
And the Scandinavians do crime so well…
They do crime so well but also just the way he works with the actors. We had these chunks of dialogue to memorise for the audition and as soon as you walked in he would sit you down (goes into Danish accent) “Right what we’re gonna do, we’re gonna do it a couple of times, I’ll give you some notes, you do it again, you probably won’t get it right first time, you’ll probably fuck it up – that’s fine”
You felt like - whether you’d got the part or not – that you’d worked on something that day, like you’ve improved in some way, because generally in auditions you might go in, do the scene a couple of times and they’d tell you why you didn’t get the role and you’d just think, ‘Well why didn’t you tell me that in the room? We could have tried some different things.’
Birger pointed out that in one take I was doing this thing with my mouth, I hadn’t even noticed and he just said, “You’re doing something with your mouth? OK, if I have to watch that for an hour I’m going to go crazy so stop doing it.” That was good, that’s what you need to hear, he’s straight down the line, he’s direct and he gets what he wants.
How do you find auditions in general then?
It’s something that I definitely think you get better at as the years go on. Sometimes you go through stages... the mind of an actor is a very fragile thing and different people deal with it in very different ways. When I first started out I used to go to a drama group in Nottingham called the Television Workshop and we used to have these big group auditions every now and again when a casting director would come to the group for a new TV programme or film and so we just had a big gang of us just mucking around in a room doing improv.
When I first got taken on by an agent in London I was so nervous, I hadn’t really felt like that when we did our group auditions, but all of sudden there was this person watching over me wanting to know how well I was doing because he had a direct interest in it, so I was really nervous for the first few months and then I got Skins.
After that you think you’re on a roll but the kind of work I wanted to do post-Skins wasn’t really coming my way and I started to get really nervous again. You try to internalise it and keep it in but I think they can tell. It’s something that you suss out over time and that period of time post-Skins turned out to be the most valuable of my career, that was when I felt like I sussed the audition process so I’m kind of fine now.
It’s about getting that mind-set where you’re not bothered about the person on the other side of the camera; I realised that for ages I was acting like this ridiculously ‘Pleased to meet you’ kind of guy and they like you, they warm to you but they don’t necessarily take you seriously. Being an actor is all about being someone that’s not yourself, I hear loads of people say that their best advice is to just go in and be yourself... that's bullshit! That’s not what acting is, the best thing is to give nothing away about yourself, go in, sit down, if they ask you for your thoughts on the script then give them... I think everyone has their different methods that work for them and once you’ve figured out what works for you then doors start to open.
You’ve said in the past that although you don’t regret doing Skins it did close quite a few doors for you - has that experience changed the way you choose your roles now?
Yeah, Skins did close a few doors for me but I still don’t think that it’s something I shouldn't have done. The problem of Skins wasn’t the programme itself, it was people’s perceptions of the programme, it acquired this reputation which was actually the opposite of what it is supposed to be. It was about a group of people trying to get through their adolescence in one piece and I think a lot of people in the industry that didn’t see the programme and thought it was just like a Hollyoaks: After Hours type thing and they didn’t want to be associated with it.
I think if you know the type of stuff you want to do you have to go away for a little bit and let people forget about you for a couple of years before you come back. The analogy I always use is that it was obvious to me that Nicholas Hoult would go off and do things after, there was a story there – he was in About A Boy, he grew up, got good-looking and all of a sudden he was in Skins having sex and doing drugs, and it’s almost like Skins was our About A Boy.
SAYING THAT, What kind of roles do you want to be getting?
That’s a really tough question because you never know until you read a script. In my head I kind of know what I want and what I would like to see. I just like to work with good writers of which I think Jack Thorne (Fades) is one, but I don’t know what kind of work I want to do until I read it. I know what I don’t want to do, I’m not that keen on doing sitcoms…I’d like to do comedy again sometime soon but I realised after Skins that a lot of people picked up on the comedic elements of the character and it took me a while to get my foot in the drama door so it’s best to avoid it for now. There is some really great British dramas and I’d like to break into films at some point…I’ve had a few small parts, that’s what I spent those two years doing, having small parts in films with good people, getting to learn from people like Michael Sheen on The Damned United and Blitz... but that was just so I could say that I’d been in a film with Paddy Considine!
What did you expect when you became an actor?
I knew it wouldn’t be an easy journey, I expected a lot of uncertainty because that just goes with the territory. My parents were quite supportive in the sense that the deal was that I would do my A-Levels and after that I could do what I wanted. After being in the workshop for a few years - which was such an incredible place for young talent and a place start up - I only went there because I enjoyed drama and acting but after spending a bit of time there and doing parts, having end of year assessments and realising that people thought I was quite good at it, I thought it was actually something I could do. I only really wanted to do it because I have this philosophy that you only live once and I’d rather spend it trying to do something I enjoy and maybe not succeeding than doing something that I’m not that bothered about. So I expected it to be tough but I never placed any limit. I’m not going be content just going along doing bits and bobs, I definitely want to be successful, I want to be respected by my peers more than anything, but I also don’t have any time scale, it’s one of the few industries where you can be friends with someone, be on the same playing level and then they could just suddenly jump right to the top…
How does that feel?
It’s actually great, and again this is something that comes with time and experience, you realise that all these parts that you’re auditioning for, you only get them if you’re right for the part and that doesn’t always mean the best actor, it just means the right person, and once you get to a certain level we can all act, we’re all good actors, so it’s never really about ability, the parts you get are often nothing you can change or help. In my head I’m thinking of Dev Patel, who was all of sudden on the red carpet winning Best Picture at the Oscars, people were going, “Ah, I bet you’re really jealous of Dev” and I can want what he’s got and be successful in that respect but that’s not a bad thing, and I’m incredibly happy for him, why wouldn’t I be? And it’s inspiring, he’s my friend. Jealousy in this industry will ruin you, it will drive you insane, there is no point even worrying about what anybody else is doing professionally. Worrying and sniping and moaning about other people getting jobs that you wanted is a complete waste of time.
WhERE WOULD YOU BE if your career wasn’t panning out?
That’s an interesting one…I was going to do History at Birmingham, I literally sent my accommodation forms off and I found out I got a part in Skins. I don’t know what I’d be doing now, I definitely don’t want to be a historian! I probably would have decided to teach, but if I decided now that I didn’t want to act then I would probably want to stay within the industry, it’s what I know and I’ve always thought that casting would be an interesting thing to do, I feel like I have a fairly decent eye for a good actor and I think I’d find it quite rewarding discovering new talent.
What is A GOOD ACTOR?
I have no idea! When I first started my preoccupation was trying to make every line sound naturalistic, sound conversational and I think that coincided with programmes like The Office - they seem improvised but they’re meticulously crafted. I kind of took some of my early acting style from Martin Freeman and the way he uses all these vocal ticks to make the words on the page sound like they’ve never been said before. As you get older you learn that sometimes putting in a performance is sometimes more compelling.
I think overall - and I think you need this as an actor - I’ve got a keen sense of empathy, sometimes I almost worry too much about how people feel, like when I get off the bus and there’s a zebra crossing right there, I don’t want to inconvenience anyone so I keep walking further down to more traffic (Laughs). I think if you’re always able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes then that’s the key to acting.
Who is your IDOL?
Kanye West, I’ve seen him nine times live! The reasons are quite myriad... I’ve always been into hip-hop from quite an early age and over the years I have seen the genre become really stagnant and predictable and boring and shit…it’s almost a joke how shit it became. I just feel like Kanye West, from day one when The College Drop Out came out, has been someone who pushes the boundaries of the genre. Obviously he’s got a massive ego - in some respects - but I actually think he’s one of the least egotistical in that he’s not trying to blag anything, he’s an introspective rapper and I like that about him. Every record is like a window into his mind. I’ve not even touched on the production values, it’s unheard of, he’s an artist, I mean just listen to 808's and Heartbreak.
MURDER IS ON BBC TWO - 26TH AUGUST - 10PM
Interview: Emma Hurwitz
Photography: Elliott Morgan
MUA: Zoe Moore using Bobbi Brown and Bumble and Bumble