Lewis Gribben: Acting was an escapism from being in the reality of the weird kid with autism.
Alice Gee | 14/10/2022
In his Leicester Square hotel room, Lewis Gribben joins me with the light bustling of London in the background. Responding he’s well, having traveled from Glasgow, Scotland, I ask him about the journey and the madness that is London, “I’ve been down to London a bunch of times for in-person auditions, and I always remember how mad it is here. I remember being told of professional pickpocketers and thinking, is that an actual thing?” I chuckle, telling him they really do exist, having had my own experiences. Having grown up in a small town outside Glasgow, I ask the furthest he’s travelled in the UK in relation to his auditions and roles, “a job in Buckinghamshire or Cardiff,” as he takes a moment to clearly remember. On the topic of film locations, I quickly ask where he’d love to travel if he has the opportunity, “Canada for sure,” he exclaims after little thought. “I feel like you always see films there, and it looks just beautiful. I love winter, so I feel a film or TV show in Canada would fit that well. I could see it as a great place for a thriller film.”
Known for his roles in Trainspotting T2 and Shetland, Lewis has become somewhat of a household name over the past 2 years, taking on role upon role acting, something he continues to praise as his happy place. Growing up in Scotland, I’m curious about his upbringing and its role in his love of acting. “My childhood was good. I grew up in a small town outside Glasgow and went to primary school around the local area.” He tells me he was quite an imaginative child, always flying around on brooms, talking to himself, and casting spells. “I guess I felt isolated at the time, so acting became a bit like a mental strength. I would have imaginary conversations with myself”. Seeing his love for his imagination, he tells me his parents gifted him tickets for a drama class at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre, “At around 14, I decided I’m gonna chase the dream, so I’ve been acting ever since.”
It seems to me, as he tells me more about his childhood and being diagnosed at the age of five with Autism and Dysgraphia (a type of dyslexia) that acting became something of an escape, even a deep-rooted need for enjoyment and respite. “When I went to secondary school, I was offered extra help. The school I went to, I didn’t live close to it. There was a bus that would pick up the kids with disabilities. I think that alongside the fact that I couldn’t write made it difficult.” Pausing briefly, he continues, “I think I’m fairly intelligent when it comes to speaking, vocalising, and visualisation, but dysgraphia, made it difficult.” I asked whether living further from school than his friends made him feel disconnected? “I think the downside is you can’t form friendships by going out with your mates after school. It was quite isolating. I think that’s why I fell so much in love with drama because it was my only class where it was mostly practical. It was escapism from being the reality of the weird kid with autism.” His dark humor then appears. “If it wasn’t for that, I would have wanted to jump off a cliff or something, but in all seriousness it allowed me to feel more comfortable. And from that, I found my tribe of people that also liked to imagine and create just like me. Acting has been a constant in my life. And even if it wasn’t my career path or it didn’t work, I will always find ways to still do it.”
It’s clear from his rather large smile, beaming from ear to ear, how much acting means to him. How did you find your first few roles, I ask? “Professionally, I started when I was 20, but I know some kids have grown up in the business side of it. I was 20 when I got my role on Trainspotting T2. It was the first thing I did properly, and I’m a huge fan of the first film. It’s funny, as I was definitely an extra but credited in full. Even so, it was a bit nuts because I got a better role despite not getting the one I wanted. But I think from going from that as my first proper job to getting Get Duped! (a film that premiered on Amazon Prime), I went from an extra in one scene to an actor in other films. I then got an agent and went forward from there.”
Making a clear impact on directors around him, I wonder if he’s preferred auditioning in person rather than self-tapes? “I don’t mind them” (self-tapes). I mean, the self-tape part of it is bizarre because I like being in the room of us casting directors. That’s where you can have fun being able to experiment with.” As for self-taped auditions, he tells me how he’s not so keen on having to watch himself back. “You can get ahead of yourself,” he honestly exclaims, continuing to tell me more of the practical side of things in redoing them “It’s not as easy as you’d think just doing it again. You either have to get someone on the other end, or you have to get a friend to come back to the house, which can be a pain in the ass, but I understand it’s only because they want me to do the best. But I love being in the environment with the people directing it, producing it, casting it, and working with them.”
Over the past few years, Lewis has championed roles, even winning awards. “Winning an audience award is always the nicest because it’s a genuine case that people like it.” If the audience can see how much you enjoyed the role, creating such a convincing portrayal must have been a clear inspiration for you in some sense of the role. “It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve done. Danny has a lot of vulnerability. Even when he’s not crying, his eyes are really sad. It’s like he’s constantly sad even when he’s happy.” I asked what stood out for him when reading for the role. “There was always an edge that this guy could get hurt or be exploited at any moment. I guess it made me uncomfortable that he was the odd one out trying to fit in. There are a lot of emotions in it. It was quite dark.” I asked if it was something he felt he’d adapted to. “I spoke in the accent the whole time I was there. I didn’t break at all, so I lost a version of myself. It was almost a hybrid version of me. I was in a whirlwind.”
When it comes to roles Lewis would love to play, he tells me, much to my surprise, something a little different from what I expected, “If I could pick a role, I would have said something like Jeffrey Dahmer. Ironically it came out a week later. I have been thinking about it. But something really dark. I want to do something different to your generic horror films as I don’t tend to think they are scary. But playing a murderer or serial killer, that’s horror, that’s real. It’d be great still having that vulnerability, just a bit more of a twisted one.”
If we’ve learned anything as avid viewers over the past couple of years, it’s that Biopics and dramatisations on actual events are having their moment. As for 2023, viewers will get the chance to see Lewis in action alongside acting royalty in Apple’s Masters of the Air. The dramatisation has been the topic on many critics’ minds the past year of production, as Lewis explains to me the best bits about the series. “It’s great as all the characters have been alive at one point. My character got injured at one point and crashed over Germany. I’m playing a ball turret gunner. It was awesome being swiveled around on set in the machinery. It was the biggest production I’ve been on. The only thing that was a shame was I was meant to be in a few episodes as a different character, but I was on Shetland at the time. Because COVID was rife at the time, they couldn’t overlap sets in case it could shut down two things. So with Masters of the Air in Buckinghamshire and Shetland in Scotland, it was a travel problem. It was frustrating, but I must admit when I got Somewhere Boy, it made up for it.”
I admit to Lewis that I’ve been waiting avidly to see the final product, especially with what is a stellar cast. In terms of Lewis’s next role, Somewhere Boy, which you can see him starring in from 16th October, I wonder about his experience working with the same production company that created the renowned End Of The F*cking World for Somewhere Boy and the excitement surrounding this production. “Many fans worldwide still want more from End Of The Fucking World, which was created by the same production company. I love the quality of the program. I watched it after I finished filming Somewhere Boy. I think I found the characters relatable. So many teenagers get trapped by typecasting. So I really care about the role I play. There’s an element of feeling on the outside and wanting to connect with others.” It’s a role that will see a lot of attention, so I inquisitively ask what’s in the works next that fans can look forward to once they become obsessed with Somewhere Boy? “I’m not sure specifically when it comes out, probably April, but It’s called The Chemistry of Death. It’s a crime fiction. It’s a very cool cast of Scottish and English actors, Nick Blood, myself, and Stuart Bowman, amongst others who are great. I have one or two scenes that I’m quite proud of. I’m very close to one thing I’d love to do, but I won’t say anything incase I jinx it.”
In the space of 5 short years, almost three of those following a Global Pandemic, Lewis seems to have found his footing being cast from one great production to another. And in the hopes of not jinxing his next significant role, we come to a close, waving goodbye to Lewis, who’s due to take on London that night. It only makes sense for me to say that you’d be a fool not to tune into Somewhere Boy this month and the highly anticipated Masters of the Air in 2023.
Lewis Gribben can be seen starring in Somewhere Boy on Channel 4 and All4 from 16th October.
Words: Alice Gee