Interviews

Jack Lowden isn’t settling for second best

Count: 3

Thesping is his passion, but what else makes Jack Lowden tick? Well, Trump doesn’t and nor does Brexit, but an independent Scotland? Now, there’s a thought…

Jack Lowden is laughing, head back in a mirror-lined dressing room, his voice bouncing off the walls. We’re sitting together following his shoot with our photo team in a draughty north- east London studio. It’s early in the interview, the part where I’m ‘warming him up’ to my trickier questions, but he doesn’t seem to need much relaxing into the conversation. In fact, he’s lounging comfortably in his chair, feet on the table, eyes twinkling. His warm Borders Scots’ accent rolls off the tongue as he tells jokes.

‘I think it’s very British not to take the process of acting too seriously,’ he says, running a hand through his thick golden-red hair, ‘and I know that comes from the stage. I worked with an older actor in a play last year, and I remember him saying, “Oh God, gone are the days when all you had to do was enunciate clearly and know how to work a mantelpiece.” I love the “loveyness” of what I do.’

‘It gave me permission to do all the things I hadn’t been able to do for myself’

Lowden might be a self-confessed lovey today, but this wasn’t always the case. He was born in 1990 and brought up in Oxton in the Scottish Borders. In his own words, he was ‘a petrified child’, shy and lacking in confidence. He discovered that he could get up in front of audiences quite by chance. ‘My brother is a very talented ballet dancer. I used to join him for class, and was gradually encouraged to narrate performances rather than dance.’ In his teens he joined a youth theatre, and his passion for acting took hold.

‘It gave me permission to do all the things I hadn’t been able to do for myself,’ he says, grinning wryly. ‘You could scream at someone, or be irrationally brave or funny without any consequences. That’s what I crave today; that moment when you’re pissing about in the wings, then move on stage and “boom”, you’re in it.’

For the past few years, he’s very ‘in it’. From dashing fighter pilot in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, to the role of Robert Goodwin, a troubled plantation manager in the BBC’s recent adaptation of The Long Song, and the joint role of Angelo and Isabella in Josie Rourke’s reimagining of Measure for Measure at the Donmar Warehouse, Lowden’s earned himself an impressive set of credits for a 28-year-old performer. As we chat, his mind whirs through different experiences on set or on stage, his list of favourite performances (Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth tops the bill) and through how – despite his success – he’s ‘still not figured out what the best way to work on camera is yet.’

He’s got two film releases on the horizon, the first is next month’s family drama-cum-comedy Fighting With My Family, the brainchild of director Stephen Merchant. True to Merchant’s quizzical form, the movie tells the true story of a family of wrestlers from Norwich, one of whom goes on to become one of WWE’s biggest present-day stars. Lowden plays the son opposite Florence Pugh, in a film that’s both entertaining and odd. ‘Florence and I had to learn a lot of wrestling for the film,’ says Lowden. ‘I had to change my body, too, so I’ve ticked that off as something actors do now – I really beefed up for the part. I play Zach, who’s a big chunk of a man, so I put on a stone-and-a-half in six weeks. I was eating four meals a day and had twice daily CrossFit classes. It was f**king brutal, but worth it. The whole film is typical Merchant – weird, funny and really bloody clever.’

‘Someone like Trump, well, I just don’t really give a f**k about him’

His other forthcoming project is still shrouded in mystique. Towards the end of this year, Lowden will be playing a principal role in Fonzo, Josh Trank’s sinister-looking biopic about Al Capone’s last years post-prison, beset by dementia and demons from his past. Tom Hardy is Capone, and Lowden plays FBI agent Crawford, Capone’s nemesis. Although it is still in post-production, the film holds serious promise for fans of grit, and of Lowden. ‘The first thing I had to shoot was a 10-page scene opposite Tom, when I speak and he doesn’t – and even when he’s got no lines, his presence is palpable,’ says Lowden. ‘He’s in the moment the whole f**king time.’

So far, so breezy. Lowden’s still lazing in his seat, and despite his jet lag (he’s just flown in from New York), he’s cheery and composed. It’s as though there’s nothing troubling in his world – a theory worth testing.

‘Global issues like Trump’s Presidency or #MeToo are so massive I have no desire to add my voice to them,’ he says, pensive, staring at the ceiling. ‘Not only because who would care what I have to say, but because there’s nothing I can do about them. I have friends who sit and shout at their phone every time there’s a Tweet about Brexit, and I think, “I can’t control this, I’m not going to let it get to me.” And someone like Trump, well, I just don’t really give a f**k about him.’

Then, we stumble on something that Lowden does ‘give a f**k’ about. ‘I want an independent Scotland,’ he says, emphatically. ‘I was so caught up in the buzz of the 2014 referendum. Everyone was talking about it in the pub, all the time, and I was running around slapping “Yes!” signs everywhere. I wasn’t for independence initially but I changed my mind once I read the arguments for staying and leaving. Today, I badly want it, and I think Scotland needs it.’

The repressed Middle English skeptic in me asks for a justification of his viewpoint, and Lowden’s only too happy to oblige. ‘Scotland and the rest of Britain are two different entities. To Scotland, it’s like living with an uncle who’s constantly saying to you, “Well, if you come round to my house I’ll let you take your shoes off.” Scotland doesn’t want nuclear weapons, Scotland wants to be part of the EU, Scotland’s drink-driving laws are different to the UK’s, Scotland has free higher education. It’s a matter of priorities.

‘If I didn’t have drama, I’d still be a petrified human being’

‘There’s a nation waiting to make itself, but it can’t because the drive for independence is labelled “nationalist”. There’s f**k all nationalism about Scotland. Our country is so open; we have huge immigrant communities; up until last year four leaders of the major political parties were all women, some were openly gay. We’re not the backwater country we’re often made out to be. We’re stuck in a “second best” psyche that I wish we’d let go of.’

Whether it’s fair or not to say that Scotland suffers from ‘second best’ syndrome, Lowden’s perspective is interesting given its decision to stay in the UK. ‘Scotland is its own worst enemy,’ he says, a touch bitter. ‘We’re very hard to corral, us Scots. We’re not used to being under one banner.’

Here his breezy exterior slips, replaced by frustration and fidgeting, so my final question is lighter – with a view to ending on a smile. It works, and Lowden’s impish grin returns as he delivers the one piece of advice he’d give to an aspiring actor. ‘If you can start off thinking you’re always right, do it. I didn’t. I started off thinking I was always wrong, and it’s a f**king waste of time. If I didn’t have drama, I’d still be a petrified human being.’ (Perhaps, but a part of me thinks Lowden was always destined to act. He’s far too likeable not to.) 

Fighting With My Family is out 1 March, Fonzo is due to be released later this year.

This interview originally appeared in the February/March 2019 issue of The Jackal.

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