For a lad from Norwich, Jack Bannon can’t half play a convincing East End hard man. Even that name — equal parts snap and punch — sounds like it could’ve been bandied, bashed and bruised around with Frankie Fraser, Billy Hill and the Kray twins. He just needs a solid, slick nickname to clinch his reputation. Jack “the Lad” Bannon, perhaps. Or “Bad Man” Bannon. That sort of thing.
It’s his voice, too. Bannon’s isn’t the broad ‘Broads’ twang you’d expect from a Norfolk boy; rather a low London rumble, pitched somewhere throatily between Ray Winstone and Sir Michael Caine. But that’s no coincidence — as we’ll soon come to discover. It’s just slightly odd to hear a knuckle-dusting, expectation-busting voice come out of such a trim, slim 29-year-old.
And trim is the right word. Because Bannon is always neatly pressed, crisply put-together and nothing if not striking. Just take him in: six-foot-two, with a widow’s peak so sharp it could give you a Chelsea smile. These are distinctive leading-man looks most actors can only dream of. Especially the flair of that hair…
“People always comment on the hair!” Bannon laughs. “When we were trying to find the look for my character, Alfred, on Pennyworth, it was over the moment the make-up designer put a comb through it and discovered the hairline. It immediately became apparent that it would be this iconic thing; synonymous with the character.”
Pennyworth, an all-guns-blazing, wise-cracking shoot-out of a series from American network Epix, has been Bannon’s first leading role. He plays a younger incarnation of Alfred Pennyworth, the man who one day will become butler to the caped crusader, Batman. Yet it is set worlds away from the grime of Gotham City — instead swanning around a sixties Soho where gangsters hold court in clubs and a thick fug of hairspray hangs over London.
It’s a very different take on comic book characters — but we shouldn’t be surprised that Bannon’s spin on superheroes has been unconventional. Irregularity has been the watchword of the actor’s entire career. After acting briefly as a child, he grew up away from the public eye— without even an agent to steer him back towards the spotlight.
“People always comment on the hair...”
“I applied to drama school for a couple of years when I was 18 or 19,” he shrugs, “but I didn’t get in. I would have loved to have gone at the time, though. In the end, when I was doing a play with a young director in Norwich, he told me just to dig up the contacts I’d made as a kid — and write to everyone and anyone.”
So that’s exactly what Bannon did. And, after a string of coffees and lunches, a producer put him in touch with his now-agent. “So, yeah, I sort of snuck into it that way,” he grins.
From Pennyworth to Endeavour, Medici to Ripper Street, Fury to The Imitation Game, Bannon’s career has been varied, invigorating — and played out mostly in the past. With Pennyworth about to light the explosive touch-paper on its second season, does Bannon believe he was meant to be a period drama actor?
“It would seem so, wouldn’t it?!” says Bannon. “It’s become a bit of a thing, admittedly. Actually, I’m quite desperate now to do something that’s modern. But it’s been fantastic doing all these period things. Especially with Pennyworth and Endeavour and the sixties specifically. Because it’s just the coolest time ever, isn’t it?”
It certainly is. In Pennyworth, there are more roll-neck jumpers and velvet-trimmed tuxedos than you can shake a skinny tie at. There’s a moustachioed Ben Aldrige, a pre-Princess Diana Emma Corrin and Paloma Faith as you’ve never seen her before. But the real stars (aside from Bannon, of course) are the cars.
“Oh yes,” says Bannon. “The Jaguar E-Type! That was the ultimate. But I wasn’t allowed to drive it. I was only allowed to sit in it. They actually took the keys out before I sat in it — because I have been known to give the old cars a little whip around the car park…”
And Bannon’s old-soul tastes extend beyond four wheels. Thanks to artists including the Small Faces, Slade and The Rolling Stones scoring the action on Pennyworth, he’s also broadened his musical horizons. “I do tend to have an older taste in music,” agrees Bannon. “I like an eclectic mix. And it’s been great during lockdown, because all we’ve really had is music — being able to sit out in the garden listening to all sorts.”
Production on Pennyworth’s second season was halted in March — leaving Bannon with an unexpected summer of (albeit locked-down) freedom. What has he done with his time, and what has he missed the most?
"I looked like Ray Winstone in Sexy Beast by the end of lockdown..."
“Pubs,” says the actor immediately. “It’s classic pub weather now, isn’t it? Cold outside. There’s a pub in Peckham called The Gowlett that does pizza and great ales. I’ve missed that very much. But there wasn’t much to do over summer, was there? I tried to read as much as possible. I downloaded DuoLingo, but didn’t get very far with that…”
“Just eating, mostly,” he laughs. “Eating and drinking. And lying down in the sun. I looked like Ray Winstone in Sexy Beast by the end of lockdown! I had to come out of the garden, stop tanning and stop eating — generally get my shit together before we went back to work.”
There are the Ray Winstone similarities, then. And the Michael Caine parallels are even more obvious. Alfred is a character famously played by both Bannon and the 87-year-old British icon — with the young actor even calling his first audition tape “a terrible Michael Caine impression” in the past. But it won over producers and audiences alike — and Bannon couldn’t be prouder of the new episodes.
“Look, obviously we’re making silly television,” he reasons. “We’re not saving lives. But I was so proud of the way that — although production was shut down in the middle — the crew and the cast were so disciplined with the guidelines. We even managed to get through, when we came back, without being shut down at all.”
But it’s been a tight turnaround. Just last month, Bannon was hooning around the British countryside in a big, black Cadillac — “a little bit Batmobile,” jokes the actor. And, with the new restrictions, producers were forced to cut some of the action and retool episodes into more dialogue-heavy affairs. This slower approach may have been new to Bannon — but was one he eventually learned to enjoy.
“The action stuff is fantastic,” says the 29-year-old, “but I’d love to do something again more dialogue-based. Not all-guns-blazing. And I’d love to do more films in the coming years, certainly.”
Just as long as they can fit that striking hair into the story?
“Yes!” Bannon laughs. “You know, even I’m not entirely sure where the hair comes from. My dad certainly doesn’t have it. He’s got ginger hair — and he’s lost almost all of that. Who knows? It’s a mystery…”