Smart Living

Luke Pasqualino on Our Girl, masculinity and why soldiers are human too

From 16th century swashbuckler to SAS operative, the British actor is no stranger to grappling with his sense of self on screen

It only takes a few minutes in Luke Pasqualino’s company to sense why he’s been cast in the parts he has; he’s tall and well-built, has handsome features and thick black hair. He’s also naturally energetic with a near-bombastic self-confidence. You can’t help but think that he’d be a great guy to go out and paint the town with.

We’re sitting in the noisy bar at the Soho Hotel, a colourful space that seems made for him. ‘I wasn’t always set on acting,’ he proffers by way of an opening. ‘I was the kind of kid that tried everything; football, tennis, ice-hockey, and I got bored of them all quite quickly. Mum put me into a drama workshop and it was only thing I didn’t tire of. When it came to leaving school, I knew I had to act.’ This resolve helped him to land an agent at 16 and his first lead role aged just 18.

“As an actor, you have to be human first. Get the human element right and the rest will follow”

That role was Freddie in Channel 4’s third series of Skins, and it was the first time Pasqualino realised just what a buzz professional acting could offer. ‘Waiting on that part was crazy. Still, when I’m thinking about a job I can’t sleep and I don’t eat much. It’s like being in love with somebody you can’t have.’ He followed that up with parts in The Borgias, Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome and most recently playing Albert Hill in Crackle’s TV adaptation of Snatch and d’Artagnan in swashbuckling series, The Musketeers.

We’re here to talk about his latest character, SAS soldier Elvis Harte in BBC hit-drama Our Girl, the third series of which starts this evening. Our Girl is markedly different to Pasqualino’s previous projects. It lacks the humour of The Musketeers or Snatch, for example. Instead, Our Girl is gritty ‘proper drama.’ It’s also the latest in a series of roles that have challenged Pasqualino to reinterpret his own sense of self.

‘I wasn’t born to the SAS,’ he explains. ‘All you want as an actor is for the audience to invest in you. To be trusted you have to be human first, and when you get the human element right the rest should follow.’ Finding Elvis’s ‘human element’ meant balancing his hard-hitting militarised exterior with the thinking, feeling man beneath. ‘The SAS is all about mentality,’ he continues. ‘Elvis uses his head before he uses his body – being physically fit is just one step of the process for him. I had to use our military advisors very carefully to make sure that what we were doing was on point and then make the character relatable in my own way.’

Of course, Pasqualino has a knack for this. Whether the angsty teenager, the rakish swashbuckler, or the tough, but ultimately insecure special forces soldier, each of his characters pose questions about what it really means to be a man. It’s a conundrum that Pasqualino thinks is particularly pertinent to society at large. ‘We need to ask ourselves a question that keeps getting lost. What do we mean by masculinity? What does it mean to be a man today? Society’s understanding of “masculinity” is changing.

“Men feel things. We need to allow men to find their own sense of masculinity in today’s world”

‘Today, men should be more comfortable with letting their troubled side out. To be masculine today should mean that a man can be comfortable in his own skin – and you know what, men feel things. We need to allow men to find their own sense of masculinity in today’s world, there’s no right or wrong. You have to trust what’s inside.’

Of course, Pasqualino has to connect with his emotions for a living. ‘Acting is emotional and different actors will find the emotional space they need in different ways. As long as you’re getting there, that’s the main thing – a lid on a boiling pot is so much more interesting than a pot that’s not doing anything,’ he says bluntly, sipping his beer with an air of finality.

Having taken this rather serious turn, our interview winds-down with a return to normality – it turns out that Pasqualino is a fan of cooking. ‘To relax, I’ll do the usual, have a laugh or see mates. I live in the countryside so I enjoy long walks and I find pottering around and making something very therapeutic. If I have a long day, the one thing that takes my mind off it is good cooking. My signature dish is Italian-style meat and potatoes – my uncle taught me how to make it.’

Tough guy, emotional guy, guy who’s good in the kitchen. Whether you think these things are masculine or not, Pasqualino is clearly thinking as much about how to be happy in his own skin as he is about the roles he plays. Following Pasqualino’s example, maybe we should too.

Our Girl series three starts on BBC One at 9pm this evening