Jack Lowden: “For the first time, I’m playing a part I’ve played before. This role in Slow Horses has been the turning point for me in trying to get rid of that fear and feeling a lot more secure.”
Alice Gee | 17/01/2023
“I’m filming all weekend,” Jack Lowden tells me as he sits down for a moment’s break in his ever-busy schedule. Albeit ever busy, he appears excited, returning as River Cartwright in Apple’s critically acclaimed Slow Horses, his role in The Gold on the horizon and a fervent desire to continue his journey of producing his very own masterpieces.
As Jack talks about the beginning of his journey into acting, his brother, keen to perform from a young age, appears the initial catalyst. “It came from my younger brother, a ballet dancer. He wanted to do that from quite a young age. We saw Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance, which he wanted to try out for, so he went along, and he was very, very, very good, unlike me, I wasn’t that good.” Growing up, the brothers found joy in the arts, with Jack joining his brother in rehearsals and ballet shows in Edinburgh. It was there, Jack tells me, that he fell in love with being on stage and discovered a talent for narration. “I ended up reading and sort of took to it quite naturally.” In the years following, Jack, despite being a timid kid who was terrified of everything, found passion in acting and opera (something those closest to Jack found a bit bizarre considering his nerves), before attending the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. To me, Jack, both in person and within his roles, seems overtly confident with no trace of unease. Like his roles, he comes across assured, with the notion of apprehension lightyears away I’m curious whether he’s found some comfort in his abilities over the years or that inherent sense of fear is the force that drives him.
“I think I was heavily conscious as a kid. Even as a kid in my 20s, I was very scared of interaction. I was super aware of that, so I had an inherent sense of guilt. I think a large part of where I am today is driven by knowing that I’m scared of something but instead of running away from it, the guilt sort of results in me doing it.” That must be not easy at times, I put to him. “Everything’s been a trial, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that from the outside for most. I was certainly quite affable. I want to think I still am.”
Jack has delivered multiple characters brimming with tenacity and nerve, from TV Series Slow Horses to films including Terence Davies’ Benediction and Josie Rourke’s Mary Queen of Scots.
“I certainly survived by faking it; ironically, that’s what I do for a living. A large part of why I am where I am, and that I get to do great work with great people, is because I got very good at faking it. I probably spent a lot more time acting off camera and stage, and that’s where I learned to do what I do; through trying to convince someone that I’m actually like this, or I feel like this, when in truth I’m the complete opposite.”
It seems a reoccurring worry, an almost niggling thought that appears each time Jack prepares for a role, something he dubs as hilarious. But this time, it’s different, as returning to his role as River Cartwright in Slow Horses, he feels reassured and fearless. “For the first time, I’m playing a part I’ve played before. This role in Slow Horses has been the turning point for me in trying to get rid of that fear and feeling a lot more secure.” Growing up on stage, Jack tells me how his fear of failure partially stems from performances set in film. “On stage growing up, you would do it again and again. So, if you fucked it up on Monday, you could do it again on a Tuesday. And I’ve struggled with that, the idea of whatever you do, it’s burnt in. You can’t do it again on the DVD. It’s gone, and then it’s there forever. So, every time I go into a role, there is a battle of how I will do this every time.” How have you coped with that enormous pressure you feel, I ask? “For most of my career, I’ve coped with it badly - to the point where I’ve wanted to stop - and in fact, I did stop at one point. It was through just feeling like I didn’t know what I was doing and not knowing how to do it. I guess it was a level of self-criticism that was just unhealthy and, really, a waste of time because it’s film and TV. That’s what we’re making, you know, we’re not doing anything else.” But we know it’s more complex than that.
As I reassure him of its importance, Jack speaks candidly about those who had supported him over the years when he was suffering from anxiety. He tells me of moments in his 20s when he relied on occasion on family and friends when battling panic attacks. “There was a film I did about seven or eight years ago. One scene in particular, although it was a simple scene, I just started to panic. I was thinking I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know how to do this. I rang a friend in between takes and stood there in a period costume and a fake moustache. I remember saying I don’t know what to fucking do, and can you help me. He talked me down off this ledge (metaphorically) of me wanting to stop halfway through the film.” In an environment that can be all so consuming, where you are your product, Jack tells me of the pressures of being unable to leave your job in the workspace. “Whether that’s a piece of art, whether it’s a kid that you’ve taught, or someone that you’ve nursed back to health, you’re still separate from your work. The majority of people go somewhere, they do their work, and they can leave it, and they can walk away. There are probably many people who would argue that they have the same problems in their job, and probably some of the jobs I just mentioned make it tough to pull yourself away from. Still, we are the job, and it can be quite difficult if you’re not fully comfortable within yourself.” At the same time, dealing with the struggle that comes with confidence, I wonder when it changed for Jack. “Sadly, it wasn’t able to change for me until I felt like I’d worked out how to do it; how to act in a way that I thought was good.”
Fake it until you make it, whereas his returning role seems to lean on a process he’s already worked through. “It’s the first time I’ve ever done that. And it changed me being in a recurring role. We’re doing season three now, and it’s just such a joy not to be thinking the same things I was thinking before the first series; who the fuck is this I’m playing, and how the hell am I doing that? Having series two under our belt means there’s much more space in your head and much more creativity. I have access to more of my ability and creativity.”
As Jack lets me in on the extra headspace he’s been able to take full advantage of while visiting a role and character he knows well, with reading being an evident passion of his outside of the job, I can’t help but question whether that space is filled with part of the characters or roles that you hear often get taken home mentally. “I’ve never struggled with taking on a character’s burdens. Things that the characters that I play go through or experience, I leave with them. As soon as we go home for the day, or the curtain comes down on stage day, I leave it behind. The thing I love about acting, which sounds like a stupid thing to say, is I get to be one thing one minute and another thing the other. I have no interest in being the character off-stage or off-camera. It’s not how I work. And it’s not how I work well, either. It took me ages to realise what works for me is just to be me and revel in the fact that I love that magic moment where you step from the wings of that stage, and one minute you’re Jack, the next minute, you’re someone else.”
As for taking on the role of producing a film, let alone the delicacy involved when adapting a memoir to film, Jack explains the risks he took without crossing lines. “It is a delicate topic, I think, when it’s a memoir of someone who is unbelievably honest, and the centre of it is addiction, alcoholism, that the character struggled with and still does. It’s delicate. That’s why we had Amy involved as much as she wanted to be. She co-wrote the script with the director and was there on set as much as she could be, but we also talked about boundaries, and she understood that she would have to have a certain distance. You have to go at it with the right attitude, not too tentative. You’re not pussyfooting around, because that’s another mistake you can make if you’re too cautious and presumptuous, but it was wonderful.”
“We had to shoot in some challenging places where people haven’t shot feature films before, but the people of Orkney were fantastic. They welcomed us; me and my producing partner, Dominic Norris. When we walked onto the island, went into the village hall, and pitched the idea that we would do a film there, we were open to questions and any concerns. And we did that two or three times. It was challenging, but the people were wicked. They’re proud of it.”
It’s a reaffirming quality that Jack can tap into rather than dissociate into a character permanently. And as for The Gold, a role of debauchery, bad behaviour, and loose morals, the kind of story that catapults you to the 1980s, is quite the overt piece of a fun thing for both Jack to play and the audience to enjoy.
“I’m incredibly proud of being asked to be in it and being asked to play who I play. For a lot of my career, I’ve just been trying to see what I can get away with playing. There was no way that I would have cast myself in that role. And Lawrence Gough did. I badly wanted it. So, I went after it and thankfully got it. I’ve had roles similar before in terms of casting. There was a role about four or five years ago, and I played a wrestler from Norwich who’s, like, 19 stone, which is clearly not me. I read that and it was so well written, but that’s a part that terrified me because why would you cast me? But it made me want it more. I remember thinking if you run away from it, you’re going to have to live with that. And you cannot live with that. So, it’s more fear that drives me to do those kinds of things. The Gold was the same because it’s just a daft part for me to be allowed to play, and I’m thankful for it. But my God, the people involved are just ridiculously talented.”
Having found his home in front of the camera, I want to know more about his role behind the camera and the joy he embraces in being part of the creative control behind the narrative.
“I produced a film about two, three years ago, and it’s one of the most incredible things I’ve chosen to do because it wasn’t about me at all. As a producer, you’re not the source or the little thing that’s kept in a glass case. You’ve got to get it so right with an actor. It’s not a piece of equipment. The temperature’s got to be correct; they’ve got to be in the right mood. They are a human, after all, and they have feelings that you’re dealing with all the time. They are not a button you can dial up and down. So, it was beautiful not to be involved in a part and instead be involved in the more logistical and technical side of things. Anyone that’s made an independent film knows it is an absolute miracle because of how finance is structured and how people can get a hold of money for them. It was one hell of a journey. A tough shoot, with Orkney being about one mile by three miles. It was beautiful thinking about getting the film crew there and looking after them - I’ve always had quite a good brain for that as well, and alongside that, if you add the fact that I’m an actor, I have an understanding. It has worked so far. It’s tough, but it’s easily one of the best things I have ever chosen to do.
Before I let Jack go and live some of the little time left on a Friday evening, I pop the question of something he’d love to give a little love to, even produce.
“I have an absolute obsession with history, Scottish history in particular. That’s what I read when I’m not acting. You’ll find me reading countless Scottish history books. There are one or two stories that, in particular, I would love to make into a film. But I had a thought recently, do I want to do that, because do I want to ruin this thing that I love just for me? You go through hell financing them. But in terms of acting, I’ve said it before - and I know it sounds ridiculous - but I’ve always wanted to play someone shorter than myself. That’d be fun. I love the challenge. I was obsessed with Only Fools and Horses when I was younger and the height dynamic between Del Boy Dell boy and Rodney. I’d love to change it up.
As a new year rings in with the return of Slow Horses and the anticipation of The Gold, there’s no mistaking that Jack Lowden will deliver yet again another masterpiece. It’s no surprise there’s been very little time for Jack to completely lose himself in the books he pays credit to for a moment’s escapism. But in terms of his return to screen role after role, it’s his desire and artistic demure to play significant roles that sees excellent portrayals time after time. Although I was a little surprised to hear of his struggles regarding confidence, I understand the drive he not only feels but loves in the hopes of immersing himself in work in which he not only enjoys but thrives. And it’s that love that we, as an audience, continue to feel through the screen.
The Gold Feb 12th BBC1 9pm.
Writer - Alice Gee
Photographer - Simon Lipman
Groomer - Petra Sellge/The Wall Group
Special Thanks - Premier PR