Having appeared in Elfie Hopkins last year and with the lead role in Fright Night 2 – Payne admits he is still unsure as to where his future lies, with roles in both film and television. He discusses with us his ambitions, working on stage, and exactly how you get into the head of a cannibal…
I recently interviewed Rupert Evans in similar surroundings, and then read that he’s a friend of yours…
He’s a really lovely guy and I learnt a lot from him, he’s very knowledgeable and been around a while. He’s had his own ups and downs and seen it all already.
Do you two keep in touch?
Sometimes, when I can. But he’s very busy and all over the place. I try to keep up with as many people as possible really after a job. That’s one of the downsides of being an actor I think, is that you get so close to people in such a short space of time, you become this family, you see each other every day and become very close, and then suddenly the job is over, and what do you do? Everyone goes off to do their own things and it’s really sad. Although I wouldn’t want to work in an office, you never have that same kind of unit.
Talking of which, there is a great on Mr Selfridge, with the likes of Jeremy Piven and Samuel West – must be great to be around that calibre of actor?
It is, that was one of the first things when I got offered the job, was knowing who I was going to be working with and who most of my scenes would be with. So that was incredibly exciting. Watching them do their job is fascinating, and all the little techniques they would have picked up and learnt over the years. It’s small things, like finding the light, finding the mark, all these technical things that at the end of the day is what makes a great performance on camera.
So tell me about your character ‘Tony’?
Tony is not the nicest of guys, but he’s just quite naïve, and he’s been thrust into this social hierarchy, purely from being Lady Mae’s young lover, but I don’t think he really likes it, he’s just living day to day and making lots of money, living that kind of high life. He’s a bit of a despicable character.
Do you find it easier to play characters that are quite removed from yourself?
I guess so. I mean, there’s nothing more fun than playing a horrible character because it’s not something that I’ll hopefully ever be in my life. So yeah I love playing the unhinged roles and you get to explore so much more. Playing the every day man is great, but you’re right, you’re still sticking to who you are more or less as a person, and you need to find the differences somehow. So playing the unhinged, darker roles are always very fun. Like in Elfie Hopkins where I played as part of the Gammon family, a mental family, which was brilliant.
How do you get into the head of such a sinister character who eats other humans?
What was interesting was when I first got offered that role, it was my first substantial job and I was incredibly excited doing it. It had a brilliant cast. At the time, about a year before that, obviously after finding out I was playing a cannibal I was reading up about different things about cannibalism to try and understand it, and there was a guy who had been labelled the crossbow killer, who was killing people with a crossbow, and then eating them – which is what my character did in the film. So that made it a bit more realistic to me, because in the beginning I had no idea how to do this, but there was somebody out there who had done it, which was interesting. I saw him as being a sort of Patrick Bateman kind of character, because he looks very clean cut from the outside but there is a darker purpose.
If you look at your roles, in Elfie Hopkins, Fright Night 2 and Mariah Mundi and the Midas Box, they’re all quite dark, gothic pieces – is that a deliberate move on your part, or is that just where the roles have been?
That’s just where the roles have been. I get told quite a lot that I have a period looking face, so whatever that means, I guess putting into those gothic situations is the natural place to put me. I do probably gravitate towards those slightly unusual roles as there is something more interesting when reading a script like that. Although saying that, I would love to do something more realistic. I did a play called Backbeat in the West End and I played George Harrison, and that for me was probably the best job I’ve done as an actor. It was so much fun playing a Beatle, who were a bunch of lads going to Hamburg and fucking around, essentially, and learning their craft. That was so much fun, and I was playing a real person as well, an idol to so many people and a legend. That was terrifying, but as an actor a great challenge.
Despite the fact The Beatles are just humans, to us they’re almost mythical beings, was it difficult to humanise one of them?
You’re right, they are Gods. I was supposed to be playing George Harrison when he was around 17 so at that point the general public didn’t know who he was, so it kind of gave me the license to do what I wanted with the part, and then obviously before the end of the play become the man who everybody knew.
How is theatre work? Because I’ve always assumed it’s very challenging, but then again the most rewarding too?
It’s definitely very rewarding. It’s something that I’d love to do more of, as there is nothing better I feel than being an actor and having that audience there responding to everything you’re doing. The audience are telling you, essentially, whether you’re doing something wrong or not, because if they’re not laughing at points they should be, or not crying, if they aren’t having the emotional response you’re trying to give them then you’ve failed in some respect, so you’re learning every night, which is fantastic.
Going back to Mr Selfridge, of course it’s a period piece – is that fun, to dress up and pretend you’re 100 in the past?
I’d love to say it was fun, but the costumes were so uncomfortable I would dread getting into them every day. The clothes do look really cool but they are so uncomfortable, such a nightmare.
Do you find when you wear a costume it helps get into the character a bit more, as you’re almost becoming them?
Absolutely, especially with something like that. These costumes forced you to stand up straight so immediately you’re a different person. I try to stand up as straight as possible, but I’m only human. So yeah, completely, ot gives you a different feel and way of walking.
There are four different directors on Mr Selfridge, was it difficult to adjust to four different types of methods and directing styles?
Yeah I found it really difficult actually, I’d never had that experience before. I’ve never done a TV series so never had that experience, though it is quite normal. I find it really hard because I’d get an idea of who my character was through one director, and then he’d go and a new director would come in who hadn’t engaged with me in this context, so it was difficult. It’s all of part of the job though, you find a balance.
It was shot in London – must have been nice filming in your hometown?
Brilliant. They were shooting in Neasden which is just down the road, so I’d roll out of bed in the morning and it was easy, a real luxury.
Because you have come back from Romania recently shooting Fright Night 2… How was that?
It was a lot of fun. We were filming in Bucharest which is a really nice city. I didn’t expect it, but there’s a lot of stuff that gets filmed in Eastern Europe at the moment, and when you get told you’re going out there you think, “Hmmm, okay” but it’s a really nice place, despite being a really heavy experience for me. It was my first time playing a lead role so that was tough. Especially because we only had a month filming and it was pretty full on – the first three weeks were night shoots. A lot of fun though.
So you’re revising the role that belonged to Anton Yelchin in the first, did you speak to him at all about it, or go in with your own approach completely?
No, but it has all the same producers and stuff so I spoke to them about it. I decided that I didn’t want to emulate anything that he’d done, nor William Ragsdale from the original, this is a whole new cast so why not try and make this my own characters, my own creation? This film is a lot darker too, they’ve tried to go back to make it as scary as possible and really make it a horror film.
You’ve done a handful of films and TV now, but where do you see your future predominantly?
I dunno mate. I just take each day as it comes. I’m going out to LA in a couple of weeks for a while to go to meetings and stuff, and there are a few things that may or may not happen, I don’t know, and some great parts I’d love to do. You never know though, the acting business is what it is, you never know.
Do you think about the future though? Where you may be in 10 years time?
I try not to think about that, in case I may not be where I want to be. I might have a completely different job, doing something else. Though I hope not! I’d like to see myself doing more films, I think that is probably the career trajectory I’d love to do. But to be honest now I take every job that comes my way, because the more you do the more experience you gain and the more people respect you. As a man I think the best roles come in your 30’s, that’s when the real, gritty roles come, because you’re a man, you can deal with that. I’ve got a few years to go, but I’m excited for the future.
Of course as your career rises your life is always changing, are you adapting with it? Are you noticing changes?
Yeah I’m definitely noticing changes. It’s definitely changed in how I’m perceived, and I’ve realised how lucky I am to be in the position I’m in, but hopefully I’ll stay as grounded as possible. I’ve got plenty of people to slap me back into shape if not. There is a lot changing in my life right now, but I’m grateful for it.
It must be exciting to know that thanks to Mr Selfridge, your face is on millions of TV screens across the world?
It is exciting, it’s brilliant. The other thing is, Backbeat, the play I was in is now in LA and I left after the West End but they went to Toronto and now they’re in LA, and they haven’t changed the posters, so my face is all over LA on these posters which is crazy. My brother sent me a picture message, so that’s cool. It’s slightly mad, but I am so excited and so pleased that Mr Selfridge is on and people are seeing it, and people are enjoying it, which is the main thing. There is nothing worse than the anticipation of waiting for something to come out and just praying and hoping that people will like it.