There’s something about Chelsea on a bright, cold day — all golden light and quiet, litter-free streets — which is likely to confuse passers-by. Where have I wandered, they might think? Some leafy suburban paradise? A quiet, cordoned-off neighbourhood? Perhaps, even, a film set?
Turn the corner by The Sydney Arms today, and Gentleman’s Journal will carry on confounding you. You’ll spot the odd sight of Jack Lowden — dressed in a calf-skimming chequered E. Tautz coat, and posing for a photographer behind the pub wall. He’s a consumate professional, looking down the lens — but people are staring.
Shoppers and strollers alike are stealing glances and pausing to stroke their chins. Where do they recognise this dashing young man from? Where have they seen him before? For cinema-goers, it may have been when he took of as a heroic RAF pilot in Christopher Nolan’s epic Dunkirk, or as Morrissey-before-he-became-Morrissey in England Is Mine.
A passing theatre-goer might have identified him from his Olivier-winning turn as Oswald in Ibsen’s Ghosts, and a TV fan as Nikolai Rostov in the BBC’s adaptation of War and Peace.
Of course, they aren’t the only options. How about his body-slamming, mohawk-sporting turn as Zak ‘Zodiac’ Knight in Fighting with My Family? Or a leading role in the epic period adaption of Andrea Levy’s The Long Song? Why not his take on Lord Darnley, alongside Margot Robbie, in the Oscar-nominated Mary Queen of Scots?
Despite just turning 30, Lowden’s CV has checked a fair few of the intimidating items off even the most ambitious actor’s bucket list, and he is gaining momentum fast. But this early success has not curbed the Scottish actor’s natural charisma and drive. Lowden’s eye is caught momentarily by a woman pushing her baby in a pram down the road, and he breaks his steely gaze away from the camera to peer incredulously after them.
“F**k me,” he laughs. “That was the best-dressed baby I have ever seen! Chelsea, man.”
A new breed of leading man...
Lowden’s next big role is as FBI Agent Crawford, a lawman in Tom Hardy’s take on Al Capone. It’s the closest he’s got to a square-jawed, morally-true leading man — but he admits that we’ll never see him as “one of those steely-eyed blokes that we’ve seen forever”. It’s a shame, because we’ve got him earmarked early to slip on 007’s tuxedo somewhere down the line…
“The parts I have been able to play have not followed a typical trajectory,” Lowden considers. “They have been quite self-destructive, which I love exploring. I like to see a character whose finger is always hovering over the self-destruct button.
“The exploration of what it is to be a man that’s going on at the moment makes it our responsibility to explore that within the roles we play,” the actor adds. “And, the more I do, the more I am convinced that it does all come back to self-doubt.”
Lowden’s Lord Darnley role in Mary Queen of Scots — where the actor played Saoirse Ronan’s love interest — fits the actor’s theory perfectly. The nobleman was a bastion of doubt — suffering from an unbridled appetite for pleasure despite arguably having everything he could ever want.
In Lowden’s words, “He’s never just in a room listening — he’s always seeking to be the centre of attention and is riddled with vices: women, men, drink, power.”
God loves a trier...
It’s a characteristically dark musing from Lowden. For a young, in-demand and seemingly well-contented man, the actor often twists conversation back to the darker side of life. But then, he spends most of his day job exploring and embodying people who have struggled for much of their lives.
“I love people that are triers,” he says. “You know when someone sits opposite you and tries to be mysterious or cool, and you can just see through it. It’s almost more honest to me when you see someone who is trying to be somebody else. By default, they then actually show you who they are.
“I liken it to being a teenager when you buy a new jacket to make a good impression, and when you get to the party nobody f**king notices. Nobody notices your jacket. I love those characters, they’re incomplete.”
I mention his performance as Oswald in Richard Eyre’s 2014 revival of Ibsen’s Ghosts at the end of which — spoiler — his character suffers a syphilis-induced stroke and dies onstage. It must have been the dream role for an actor so fascinated by self-destruction.
“He had almost gone past self-doubt and was in that wonderful land of not giving a f**k,” says the actor. “Because he knew he was going to die. And that’s when you’re at your most dangerous, and unafraid.”
Seeking the ‘magical moment’...
All the same, does the experience of playing dark, troubled and tortured roles ever take its toll? “I don’t find that I carry the characters around with me,” explains Lowden. “Because I’ve always gotten off on being one person one minute, and another person the next.
“There’s that tiny magical moment, where you can be stood in the wings joking around and thinking about anything — and then suddenly you go out on the stage and, bang, you’re someone else. That joy that you find in duping the audience, is acting at its purest form and most fun.”
“For instance, when I had to play Oswald’s gruesome death scene every night for the run of Ghosts, the question I got asked most after a show was ‘how do you get out of that mindset?’ and I would say, ‘I’ve never been in that mindset! I’ve never had a stroke!’ It must be bloody knackering for an actor to inhabit the character that way!”
Friends in high places...
Our conversation is peppered with the names of actors and directors Lowden most admires — from Cate Blanchett (“I think her performance in Elizabeth was pitch perfect”) to Lesley Manville (“easily the best actor of our generation — she’s terrifyingly good”), some of whom he now considers ‘close friends’.
But has he ever been starstruck? “It certainly happened on Dunkirk with Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy,” Lowden admits. “The two of them have an extraordinary body of work. Tom in particular has a lot of time for young actors, and there’s such a respect there — you’re put straight at ease.”
"I’ve always gotten off on being one person one minute, and another person the next..."
Any horror stories? “I’ve been very fortunate in that I am yet to work with an actor who is an arse. All those amazing fables that you hear about these awful performers — I haven’t met one yet. I kind of want to! I want to be in the room when someone’s an arsehole, I really do!”
What lies ahead...
An afternoon in Lowden’s company reassures you that he is a born performer, even just talking over a pint in a West London racing pub. It’s clearly been a lifelong love, and a family affair (Lowden’s brother Callum is the principal dancer at The Royal Swedish Ballet), although Jack laughs; “I used to go along to classes with him, and slowly but surely I started getting pushed further towards being the Narrator”.
“I feel more comfortable on stage than I do in life, and I don’t know why. It’s something I’ve never been able to explain”.
So, with a lifetime left to work towards it — what’s the dream role? Lowden’s answer is characteristically, ahem, Scottish: “This is going to sound like a pile of wank, but I’d really like to play as close to myself as possible. I think you naturally play versions of yourself, you turn things up and down, but I’d really like to just play me, with all the things I try to hide in my real life.”
And then, just before things are allowed to feel deep and meaningful for too long, he gives a surprising second answer, “I’d like to play someone that’s shorter. Or maybe I just want to do more acting with taller people. I think it just makes you feel instantly protected.”
Jack Lowden’s star is rising, with a string of critically-acclaimed performances in his portfolio. But does he ever read the reviews?
“My mum sends me them,” he says. “Especially if it’s been a project that I’ve told her I didn’t know what I was doing on. She sends me positive reviews for those shows basically to tell me to shut the f**k up!”
“Something I always find strange about reviews is that in sport, you have pundits offering their commentary, and they are all ex-sportspeople. Whereas with critics, I find it amazing that they aren’t ex-directors or actors.”
Our conversation ends as Lowden leaves for his next engagement of the day. He moves to leave with a smile and adds a clarification on his response to reviews, which offers me the only glimmer of the self-doubt he always looks for in a character: “I am my own worst critic, and I know when I have done well. I’ve realised that the people that I look to for approval have gotten less and less and less — and I think that can only be a good thing.”
Want more young British actors? Here’s why Edward Bluemel likes being intimidated…
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