We spoke to the actor, currently LA based, over the phone, discussing the strong spirit on set for the film, and the friendships he’s taken away from it. He also speaks about what he shares in common with his character Jack, and about his future projects and where he can see his future…
So what first attracted you to getting involved in this project?
The first thing really, was that it kind of went against most teen movies that we know and I found that attractive. I liked the character, I thought he had these aspirations, but you questioned throughout the whole thing whether he is actually going to succeed or not and I like that. I don’t really know if he does in the end or not, which is cool. I love the whole dreamlike quality that Justin was looking for, and I really like Justin as well. That’s why I took it on.
Is it a very stylistic picture, did you get a sense for what Justin’s vision was when shooting, or was it a surprise to you when you eventually got round to seeing it?
It was a huge surprise actually. He always spoke about films like Human Traffic and I found that exciting. Speaking to camera as well, I found that daunting and exciting, but until I saw the finished product I had no idea really what he was going for. All of the dreamlike stuff turned out great, it’s not too distracting, it just puts you in this world.
The gap between finishing shoot and witnessing the finished product must be quite a nervy one for actors?
It is. It’s weird because you almost forget about it. Then with this, it came to Edinburgh film festival and you go, ‘oh God yeah, I remember this…’ You put it to one side for a bit. But it does feel strange and you do spend days questioning what it’s going to look like. I was sent a rough DVD of it before the festival, and it’s always great to see something that you did, it’s really, really fun.
The film is set in 1990 before you were born, but it’s a time that some of your friends and family will know all too well – did you speak to many of them about the era, and the spirit in Britain at that time?
I touched on it a little bit, but we tried not to really have too much of an opinion on Thatcher and that time, apart from the fact the character Parsons is completely in love with her [laughs]. Although it was set in that period, it’s still very relatable today I think. That’s the main thing we were trying to get across – living in a suburban world where kids don’t really fit in which can be hard to get out of. That’s what we tried to put across.
Is that one of the perks of acting? To go back to a time you weren’t alive to see yourself, and live it.
Yeah I think that’s one of the coolest things. I wasn’t around at that time so it’s exciting for me. Plus it’s cool to work with people and be around people who lived through that time. Justin sort of based this on his own experiences, he was almost Jack, living in suburban Birmingham at that time. It’s like him going back to his childhood, and that’s cool to be around.
With Justin implementing himself into the character of Jack – it must have been pretty helpful having around when crafting the character?
It was so helpful, really, really helpful. You could tell he had a solid idea of what he wanted to do, it was very clear. That was obvious from the get go. I hadn’t realised at first that he’d kind of written this about his life, but it was cool because he would tell me to do things a certain way and I could see that this was him, he had a clear idea of what happened, and he just wanted me to get that across.
As a piece of social commentary, you can relate this to contemporary Britain and what it’s like to be that age now. Were you able to find many comparisons between yourself and Jack in that regard?
I think so. In terms of just working out what you want to be. Though at the beginning when he says all the things he hates, I feel that you’ve got to visit those things to hate them, and I feel like I’ve been through so many periods in my life where I’ve wanted to be this, or I’ve wanted to be that – and then I’ve got to an age where I’ve realised that you don’t have to be something, you can just be happy with what you are. You don’t have to be a copy of anything, you can live the way you want to live and dress the way you want to dress, you’re not confined to any social group.
With the self-referential, meta moments, like when you talk to camera – do you think that helped your character form a bond with the viewer even more so than usual perhaps?
Yeah it really did. I enjoyed that. I was a little bit apprehensive at first, just because it’s something I’ve never done before. As it got going I did really enjoy it, it felt like things that Jack couldn’t say to his friends, it like his inner thoughts and feelings without worrying who he was telling them to. It’s cool to be able to open that door to an audience, I feel like it makes you relaxed and you get to know him more and you feel closer to him, and that’s really important in this movie.
As for yourself, you’ve been in big Hollywood movies like Snow White and the Huntsman, and then of course smaller scaled, independent flicks like this. Can you see yourself moving between the two throughout the rest of your career?
Ideally I’d absolutely love that. I just want to do stuff that I would really enjoy watching, that I would go and pay at the cinema to watch. Hopefully I can keep that going, and whether it’s bigger stuff or small, independent stuff, I enjoy both of them equally.
Not from a visual point of view, but from an atmosphere and spirit point of view – are there any noticeable differences between the big productions and the smaller films?
The crews are a lot smaller on an independent movie, you know everyone’s name. But it’s more than that, you know that everyone is there, because you’re not getting paid a lot of money, for the reasons. Everyone is there because they see something in the project. That’s not to say they don’t on the bigger stuff, but they are huge massive crews. I was only on Snow White for two or three days, but I’ve never seen so many people in one room in my life. It’s quite overwhelming to walk into that, especially if you’re only there for a short period of time, and these people have been working together for a number of weeks so it’s quite daunting too. It’s quite scary. But again completely enjoyable.
The good spirit emanated onto the screen in We Are The Freaks – did you get to spend much time off-set with Sean Teale and Mike Bailey, for instance?
We spent so much time together. We were staying in the Ibis hotel in Birmingham just down the road from the football club, and we’d spend every evening together. The closest thing we had to us was McDonalds, so we’d there two meals a day at least. A McMuffin in the morning. It was the unhealthiest time of my life. Because Crufts, the dog show, was going on at the same time, there was a week period when there were dogs everywhere in the hotel. That was kind of fun. But yeah we had such a great time and some of still play football every week. We’ve all stayed really close and we had such a great time working together.
You’ve got if I Stay coming up which looks great – are you excited about that one?
I’m really excited, but apprehensive as well because there are fans of the original book who I hope are pleased with it, and I hope they feel we’ve kept true to what they love. But I’m so excited about it. I think it’s out in August of this year, so not too far away!
Another project you’ve got coming up is Kids in Love – which is written by Sebastian De Souza and Preston Thompson, who are both around your age. Does that inspire you to maybe write yourself one day? Have you got any ambitions to do that?
I would like to one day, but there is so much I don’t know about yet and I need to learn more, and read scripts and try and learn from them in terms of being able to write. It’s something I do want to do one day, but I think I’ll let it happen kind of organically. If I feel like I’ve got an idea I will try and develop it, but I just don’t know enough about writing yet to be able to do that.
WE ARE THE FREAKS is in cinemas from April 25th and out on DVD 5th May.