Olly Alexander is cool in the nerdiest way possible. He is soft-spoken with a charming English accent and the ability to downplay impressive acting credits ranging from Skins to Enter the Void. He is also the lead singer of the band Years & Years, and has a Fuck Yeah Tumblr decked out in gifs of him effortlessly looking aloof. Most recently, he stars alongside Emily Browning and Game of Thrones’ Hannah Murray in Belle & Sebastian singer Stuart Murdoch’s God Help the Girl, a sweet pop musical set in Scotland about three teenage misfits who find solace by forming a rock band one summer. Throughout the film, we accompany the characters on a whimsical journey through psychiatric wards, hole-in-the-wall rock clubs, and beautiful panoramas of the Scottish countryside. We caught up with Alexander to talk about making the movie, his dream project, and bad reality TV.
What are some of the challenges you faced making an indie musical for the screen?
One of the main challenges is finding the right tone because it can go in so many different ways. When you make an indie movie there are limitations: the hours, the scheduling, working six days a week. It’s really tight, but they’re good limitations because they push you to work hard and work fast. [Regarding the musical aspect], you have to embrace the whimsicalness. It’s kind of unusual in the sense that nobody breaks out into song in real life. It feels so much different from making a regular movie.
What was it like working with Stuart?
Stuart’s very Zen-like, kind of like a guru. He’s a such an easy person to be around and made everyone in the crew relax. He seems in control.
Do you think a little of that rubbed off on you?
Yeah, definitely. That kind of general vibe trickled down the pyramid to everyone else in the cast and crew. He had this great approach to making the film: if the schedule went out the window one day, we’d just shoot stuff and maybe improvise dialogue. Stuart always said, “This is going to work, just go with it” so I was quite willing to do so.
Were you and Emily close on set at all?
Me and Emily and Hannah got along really well. We all felt really comfortable with each other. We were like a little gang and are still very good mates.
I remember watching the scene where all of you drifted down a Scottish river in a canoe, thinking it was all very genuine.
And it was. We had two weeks rehearsal before we started shooting, and during one of our rehearsal days we got taken out by these two guys in a canoe to this beautiful lock. It was raining and we were wearing wet-weather gear in this canoe, traveling down a river on a canoe-safari seeing all these beautiful islands.
What are the similarities you have with the character, James, you play in the film?
I think when I was a bit younger I used my opinions as a barrier between me and reality. I also definitely understand the musician lifestyle.
God Help the Girl was a very unique project in that it combined your two main passions: music and acting. Do you see yourself gravitating more towards one or the other in the near future?
I haven’t done much acting in the past year or so. It’s mostly been music, and that was a decision I had to make based on what I wanted to do. It’s music now, but I’d love to do acting again in a few years.
Would you ever date a girl like Eve?
There’s something always attractive about someone with a dark story. Maybe I would.
While I was researching you, I found a number of fan sites created about you. There’s a Fuck Yeah Tumblr devoted to you. Have you seen this one?
(Laughs) Yeah, I’ve seen it.
What goes through your head when you see something like that?
It’s difficult to actually get your head around. You see someone there that I’ve never seen before. It’s kind of over-whelming and when I see it, I see a different guy and don’t really relate it to myself. It’s kind of flattering, but I don’t take it seriously.
It must be weird looking through your own lens at the lens other people project onto you.
Yeah. That’s a really good way of putting it. It’s weird because there are so many pictures where I look the same, but I feel very different. It’s jarring, but kind of nice.
You said earlier you’re gravitating more towards music. Do you have a dream project currently sitting on the backburner of your mind that you’d love to see come to fruition?
I think I would really like to write a movie and do the music for it. That’s kind of always been a life goal. I don’t really know what the movie will be about, but I know it will definitely be fun and be a good combination of my skills.
Do you have any weird hobbies or interests people may not know about you?
I really like trashy reality television shows. They have to be competition based though. People’s dreams need to be crushed. I also like documentary stuff, like where women have chimps as babies.
What would your life be as a reality show?
I’d like to maybe immerse myself within weird sections of society and try and create something interesting and funny.