Having made a name for himself at a young age, with a starring role alongside Will Poulter in Son of Rambow, Bill Milner, and much like his former co-star, has chosen intelligent projects and mapped out a successful career for himself in his (young) adult years, epitomised in his latest production Anthropoid, which hits cinemas on September 9th.
We had the pleasure of speaking to Milner about his role, and on shooting arguably the most difficult scene to watch in the entire film. He also discusses collaborating with Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan, as well as his future project iBoy. He also speaks about the challenges of being a child actor, and how easily it can be to make the wrong choices at such an age.
There were several different reasons why. When I started doing research I found the story quite incredible. I’d never heard of it, and I thought the way Sean had written it was very honest and real, it doesn’t dramatise or Hollywoodise the story too much, or at all really. It’s a very respectful way to talk about a story like this, and I found that particularly exciting. My character plays the violin too and I thought that would be a fun opportunity to learn a little bit about that. The cast that were attached too were brilliant.
So is that you playing the violin in the movie?
Um….[Laughs] Bits. I had a wonderful couple of teachers who got me into good shape in the short time that we had. So as long as I was in the right shape and looking like I knew what I was doing was the important part. But it was a fun opportunity to learn another skill.
Sean’s last film Metro Manila is one of the great films in recent years – did you get the chance to see it, and did it also have a bearing on your decision?
Yeah I watched it around the time I was auditioning for this part, and absolutely fell in love with it, it’s so, so brilliant, and luckily the things that I love about that film are in Anthropoid as well, the rawness to it, and his cinematography is absolutely beautiful, it really makes you feel like you’re there. So yeah I was particularly excited to work with him, and the way he works on set is great, the fact he’s just sat there behind the camera ready to catch anything he wants.
You mentioned the cast before – when you’re sharing a screen with people like Cillian Murphy and Toby Jones – it must help raise your game too when working alongside actors of that calibre?
Yeah, massively. The thing that I get most from working with those two, and Jamie Dornan included, is they are prove that you can have fun while you’re doing a really brilliant job. They take it very seriously and work extremely hard, but you never see them frowning or anything like that, they’re always really enjoying themselves.
Do you think that you’re almost immune to nerves when working alongside actors you admire, given when you were you just a young boy you worked with Michael Caine? Is it just normal for you to share a scene with people you look up to?
Yeah I guess it does feel normal, but don’t get me wrong, it feels extremely exciting, and it’s special to be working with such brilliant actors. I hope that I could do it more, to work with more and more exciting people, because that’s what makes projects so interesting and so special, when you have a great team around you.
Arguably the hardest scene to watch in the film is one concerning yourself – not wanting to give away any spoilers, but how tough was that one to shoot?
Yeah, I think that was the hardest, but the best day of filming I’ve ever done. I felt like I really had to work, and it felt rewarding. It was a funny old day though, it was my first day on set, covered in prosthetics and I couldn’t see out of them and was being introduced to all of the crew while blind. So the next few days I was just reintroducing myself to those same people. But yeah it was tough and I like to think we kept it very real and honest. I got home at the end of the day and just felt like I’d done everything that I wanted to, and we gave as much as we could – and by the sounds of what people have been saying who have seen the film, it does have a profound effect and it is a special scene. So yes, my part might not be the largest but I’m really glad to hear it’s one that has some lasting effect.
When you watch that scene back – or just the film in general for that matter, can you get caught up in it emotionally? Do you fall for the suspense like an audience member would, or is that almost impossible when you know the film inside out?
I was only there for about 10 days of what I believe was about an eight week shoot, so there was already loads that I hadn’t seen. So I was gripped, particularly at the end in the church, and it was brilliant to feel that. I think it’s amazing, and beautiful and respects a really special story.
In regards to the accent, when you hear people doing English accents it’s often quite generic, whereas those from here know what’s Geordie, what’s Scouse, etc. How specific was your Czech accent, was it to any particular region?
We worked with a dialect coach, and it was interesting because if we were speaking in Czech there are accents and dialects within the language, but we were speaking English so we were doing a Czech accent through that, and it’s a funny one, because all of the English speaking Czechs learn the language through loads of different ways, so you have Czechs with more Americanised sounds, depending on where they learnt it, and some hardly have an accent because their English is so good, so it was a job for the dialect coach to meet somewhere in the middle. But hopefully we were all somewhere in the right area.
When doing a period drama does it tap into our inner imagination? The aspect of cinema that draws us into it in the first place; the costumes, the cars, the music. There must almost be something enchanting when on set and seeing that all put together?
Yeah it makes you really respect and understand where these characters were coming from, when the design is as good as we had it. A lot of the time I was speaking to my violin teachers and they were telling me how they would have had the violin set-up in those days and there were set things they wouldn’t have had that we have now with technology, so even just a small thing like violin playing, it all helps you get into character and understand the story a bit more, just down to small details.
iBoy is up next for you – what’s that one all about?
We finished shooting back in April, May time. It’s an urban-y sci-fi sort of superhero thing. It’s about a kid who gets a power where he can control computers after an accident. Even though it’s a ridiculous, superhero storyline, there’s a real element of realness which was so great. It makes you really believe in this ridiculous storyline. It was a great shoot, and we had such a brilliant case, working with Maisie Williams and Rory Kinnear. I’m really excited to see it, I’ve seen bits and bobs but not the special effects, which are yet to be put in, so I’m still a little bit in the dark about what it’s going to look like, but I’m really excited about it.
Purely coincidentally, I stumbled across Son of Rambow a couple of weeks ago, and it reminded me of what a wonderful film it is. Obviously that was the film that thrust you into the limelight – do you still look back very fondly over that project?
Yep, it’s the most special job for me. It was my first job and probably the most I’ve learnt. Probably the most fun as well. We were just kids, and it’s a film about two kids making a film in the summer holidays, and that’s basically what we did. The fact I still get people now talking about that project makes me so proud, I’m very fond of that film.
Do you keep in touch with Will Poulter?
Yeah I still see Will every so often, he’s quite local and our parents are close, my mum goes for dog walks with his mum. I’ll always be close with Will, he’s a very special friend. We both started our journeys in acting together.
It must be surreal watching the film back considering the age you were. You almost grew up in a public arena, it must be odd to know your growing up has been documented on screen?
Yeah I don’t mind watching Anthropoid, or recent work. I like judging what I’ve done and picking at bits of my performance. But Son of Rambow was on TV the other day and my mum flicked over, and I had to leave the room. I don’t know why, it was an emotional thing, it made me sad to see it. I guess it’s a funny old childhood really, growing up in film, but I’ve loved it, it’s never been tough.
It’s a bit of a cliché to say that it can be tough to be a child star – but there are those that struggle. You’ve always remained grounded and chosen very interesting projects – but can you see how it can have the ability to affect some?
Yeah, and I was really lucky that I had a great set of people around me, like my parents. They were somewhat aware of the film industry through my uncle who was a writer, so we were always aware of it and I think in some ways that made up more realistic. I have a great agent who has always looked after me and always helped me pick the right projects. Also I think a lot of my acting style has lent itself to those sort of films. So yeah I guess I can see how people can struggle if you don’t have the right people guiding you through it and talking you through it, I can see how you could go down the wrong path, but I was lucky.
Anthropoid is released on September 9th. You can read our review here.