After appearing in Lisa Azuelos’ English-language remake of LOL (Laughing Out Loud), British actor Douglas Booth dove headfirst into a couple of classics. First, the 19-year-old starred as Pip in Brian Kirk’s television adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations which airs this Sunday, and then, in a role that will make him an instant teen idol, he’s currently shooting the male lead in Carlo Carlei’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, opposite Hailee Steinfeld. We spoke to Booth about the pressures of playing the iconic star-crossed lover, why playing a gay character doesn’t scare him (he’s already done it), and our kind of depressing future.
Did you have a proper childhood or were you auditioning from a super young age?
I fell in love with acting from a very young age, but I didn’t do my first film until I was sixteen. But I had a very normal upbringing and I was very lucky. I was born into a middle-class family, and I never really wanted for anything and was lucky in that sense. I had parents that brought me up very well and always supported me in what I wanted to do. I can imagine it being quite hard if your parents don’t support you at all, and have no interest in your wanting to be an actor, or if they really wanted me to be an actor and they were pushing me.
That’s definitely rare. Usually when somebody says they want to be an actor at a young age their parents are like, shit, instant poverty.
Exactly. And my sister is studying to be an artist—so they have two complete paupers on their hands.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Greenwich in London. I lived in Greenwich in Blackheath until I was about 10, and then I moved about forty-five minutes out of London to a town called Sevenoaks in the country.
With it feels like literary projects just find. Or do you look for them?
I look for interesting characters, interesting material, interesting filmmaking. The first lead I played was Boy George, and it was an exceedingly risky thing to do—but it pulled off and was really critically acclaimed, and did me a huge amount of good in my career. I want to have a career that’s completely full of variety. They wanted to screen test me for LOL while I was in Ireland filming Christopher and His Kind. Later I came to London and I met the filmmaker Lisa Azuelos. She was really brilliant and she directed the original movie in France which was a huge hit there. I knew that if they loved this film in France, with their discerning taste, there must be something there.
For Great Expectations, were you forced to read the book when you were younger or did you just recently read it for the role?
We did have to read it in school and I loved it. Dickens writes such brilliant characters—I think in all his works he’s written over 900 characters and they’re all so individual and brilliant, he was so talented in that way. And his book is still so relevant today, with its social themes and commentary. I think that’s why everyone still loves the book today.
And you’re slated to play Romeo, which is not intimidating at all.
Just a tiny bit intimidating, especially looking at the person who’s played it in the last film. But you commonly think about that with adaptations. You just have to think about the character for yourself. The way I’m trying to prepare is by removing this big banner of ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ I want to think about it as just these two young people who fall in love. I’ve been looking for stories in the media—there’s one specific story I cut out, a young girl, she’s about fifteen, and she was cleaning her boyfriend’s shotgun, and it went off and it shot her and it killed her. And the boyfriend was so sad that he instantly killed himself as well. I’m trying to place this story in complete reality, so nothing is far-fetched, nothing is fictional, it’s two real people, and this stuff happens to people. Arranged marriages have been going on for centuries and they’re still going on today in certain cultures. People are torn away from people they actually love to be forced to marry other people that they don’t. All these themes that run through it are very relevant today, and very real.
What’s one of the things you look forward to about getting older.
Loads. I can’t wait to grow old—not that I’m going to wish away any of my time, but I think—especially for a man—you get better with age. I just want to make sure I keep making choices that I’m happy with, and doing jobs that I connect with. I’m nineteen, I’m young, and I’ve got a good load of work behind me. I’m completely comfortable where I am now, I know what I’m doing in front of a camera. But now I feel like there are no limits, I can do anything, I can approach anything, so I think that just improves. I like to challenge myself. So hopefully I will continually challenge myself and keep myself interested in my art as I grow up.
And it’s interesting that your career has already surpassed a lot of stigma. Actors older than you are still told ‘you can’t play gay, it will ruin your career,’ but obviously you’ve already done that at such a young age and proved that it’s not the case.
I think it’s very naïve for people to say that playing a gay character will ruin your career. I don’t think any role will ruin your career just because of who that person is, whatever their gender or sexuality. If they’re saying that’s going to ruin my career, that’s a completely naïve person and I don’t want to be taking any advice from them. If the script is shit, okay, that will ruin my career. But if it’s just something about the character, no. Bullocks.
Is there anything that you’ve been disillusioned with lately?
I’m sure there is—nothing instantly comes to mind, I don’t think. There’s a million things on this planet that, if you start worrying about them, will completely turn you mad. The fact that we’re probably going to be drowned in however many years because of global warming, I mean there’s a million. We’re all driving big SUVS around and killing our planet, chopping down trees for god knows what. Many things are depressing. The fact that when I grew up we always used to get photos and they were put in photo albums and now everything’s digital. No one prints their photos out anymore properly, and our records are all up in the air somewhere, and if it all crashed we’d lose everything. These are things that depress me sometimes.
Styling by Ruben Moreira.
Photography by Grant Thomas