THE things you don’t expect to talk to actors about, part 627: “See trying to get car insurance as an actor. It’s a nightmare. You’re in a red group.”
Jack Lowden is sitting in a cafe somewhere in London, headphones on his ears talking to me on Zoom about the challenge of getting cover in his profession.
“I always thought it was to do with them thinking you’re going to have Al Pacino in your back seat or something like that,” he continues. “But I think it’s because they believe you’re more susceptible to outlandish lifestyle and you’re not responsible, which is really not fair at all.”
The implication is clear here, isn’t it? Lowden isn’t living an outlandish lifestyle. Nor is he having Al Pacino in the back of his car.
That said, increasingly the latter at least maybe less unlikely than it was (though Al would probably have to be hanging around the Scottish borders which is where Lowden is based these days).
Because, just turned 31, Lowden is very much the coming man. He’s gone from playing Morrissey in the indie movie England is Mine to turning up in Christopher Nolan’s wartime epic Dunkirk (he was the RAF Pilot who wasn’t Tom Hardy). He played Florence Pugh’s brother in Stephen Marchant’s wrestling comedy drama Fighting with my Family and Darnley in Mary Queen of Scots opposite Saoirse Ronan (they are an item apparently according to the tabloids).
And, before we speak today, he’s been filming new spy thriller Slow Horses, based on Mick Herron’s novel. Bit of a tough day, actually, he says. But it can’t be too bad when you’re part of a cast that includes Jonathan Pryce, Kristin Scott Thomas and Gary Oldman, no less.
Though that has its own form of intimidation that comes with it. The first few scenes he shot with Oldman he says he forgot he had to act too. It’s weird, he says, getting used to being surrounded by such familiar faces.
“They sort of morph before you like a weird film, morph into 50 different characters they’ve played. ‘Oh f*** aye, you were a Bond villain.’ But they’re all lovely, they really are.”
His other new project, Kindred, which has just become available on Sky Cinema and Now, has a pretty decent cast too. Fiona Shaw for one.
“She’s one of my favourite actors, full stop,” he says, visibly thrilled. “So, the fact that we were able to land her … I didn’t quite believe it to be honest.
“God, she did this take. I was thinking about this the other day. There’s a scene in the film where she does this one long monologue sat at a table. She did it on the first take. It’s one long slow creep with the camera. I think it’s about a four-minute take and she just came in and she did it in the first take in the middle of this film. It was just incredible.”
Kindred is a psychological thriller (with the emphasis on the psycho perhaps) which finds a pregnant woman (played by Tamara Lawrance) trapped in her boyfriend’s family home surrounded by his rather worrying family.
Lowden’s character – the stepbrother – we might sum up as “creepy weirdo”. I think that’s fair, Jack.
“Yeah,” he agrees. Typecasting? “I think everybody has a creepy weirdo inside somewhere, so it was quite therapeutic to get it out in a safe space.
“He is very strange. But the fun was trying to find ways of playing against it.
“But then you stick him in a shirt and a jumper, and that combo I’ve always found creepy.”
I do point out to him that is my normal wardrobe, but he doesn’t take it back.
Lowden, I suspect, is good company. Really, if Al Pacino does end up in the back of his car, Al would probably enjoy himself. In our short Zoom time together, we talk about his favourite restaurant on Skye, his sense of imposter syndrome, moving back to the Borders where he was raised and turning 30 during a pandemic last year (he had a Zoom party).
In short, he’s chatty, slightly sweary, and up for new challenges.
Which might explain why he took on the role of producer on Kindred, too. He’d been talking about getting into production for ages, he says.
“As actors, we all sit around and say, ‘One day I’m going to make X. One day I’m going to make Y.’ You never do it. So, I thought this was where I could trap myself into doing it.
“And I was thrown completely in at the deep end. I asked to be chucked straight in and I was, on everything from casting to location recces to the script development meeting.”
At one point the shoot needed a car to pass by in the background of a shot, he recalls. “I just put my hand up and said, ‘I’ll go and get my car.’ And I went and got my car, sped my car through the shot. Cut. It felt like proper hands-on producing.
“Not to offend anyone but producing is one of those roles that has always been a bit of a mystery to a lot of people. What it is they actually physically do? And some of them are often just dead-eyed sharks that sit with the old thumb up and thumb down. But I’ve worked with others who are just literally there helping to make the thing, jumping in where they can, lending a hand in everything from big major problems to driving your car in the back of shot.”
He sounds beguiled by the experience. “This is why I’ve done it, Teddy. I love acting and I love the process of it. I also hate the part of it where you do get paid to sit around.”
That sounds very Scottish, doesn’t it? “It’s just an inherent guilt I’ve always had about it.”
Plus, he says, it has advantages for the day job. “What’s wonderful is it makes you forget about the fact that you have to act. Actors will tell you they spend six hours in their trailer going over and over three lines they’ve got in a scene, and they’ve overthought it. And so, what’s quite fun about this is you’re thinking about, ‘Is that shot working? How can I help the other actors out?’ And then they turn the camera around and it’s my turn and I go, ‘Oh f***.’ And my lines come out in a way where you’ve not overthought.
“So, it was a very long roundabout way of making me feel like I can be a better actor.”
Producing is just one of the ways life has changed for Lowden in the last couple of years. The last time we met was at the junket for Mary Queen of Scots which came out at the start of 2019. At that point he was telling me that, having grown up in Oxton in the Borders, he was keen to move back to Scotland.
And he did. “I lived in Edinburgh, in Leith, up until May of this year. And then I moved back to the Borders. That’s currently where I am. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”
What has also changed is that these days his social media content often becomes the stuff of newspaper stories. Ahead of the England-Scotland game at Euro 2020 he posted a video on Instagram of himself and his Mary co-star Saoirse Ronan recreating a scene from Braveheart, and it became a headline. Pictures of the couple together have also appeared in the papers.
In short, Lowden has become more of a public figure. Enough of one, at least, to be papped by the tabloids. He’s not totally convinced, though?
“You know what man. I’ve not noticed it. I’ve not noticed it at all. I really haven’t. So, if it’s happening, they’re very good photographers.
“And I don’t think I’m anywhere near that yet. Whether through my doing or not, I feel like I’m still being given the same space I had when I first started.
“So, I’ve not felt that in the slightest really. No, I don’t get recognised. It’s great. It’s great to just get on. My life hasn’t really changed, to be honest. I’ve just gotten to work with more special people so I’m very lucky in that sense. Or I’ve not done anything yet that seems to warrant that, which I’m again thankful for. I know it must be a pain in the arse.”
Be that as it may, the thing I wanted to talk to him about, I say, is how in his position you get used to having a public voice. How do you find the confidence to speak out when you know every word will be pored over and judged?
“I’ve been saying my opinions since I was running about at school,” he begins bullishly. “It’s not me that’s changed. If more people want to hear what I say that’s up to them. I’m at no point ever seeking for people to hear my opinion. If I’m asked it, I’ll give it. But it’s not something that I’ve been seeking …”
He pauses for a moment as if really thinking about the question. And then simply asks, “What do you mean?”
Well, I say, you’ve been willing to talk about your position on Scottish independence, for example.
But that was how he was brought up, he says. “I’ve grown up with incredibly outspoken people my entire life. But nobody puts a microphone in front of their face. If people agree with my view on independence brilliant. If they don’t, whatever.
“It’s definitely not something I seek at all.”
He worries away at this question. “The other side of the coin is, why should I not have an opinion like every other punter does? I’ve never had an exceptional opinion of myself or need to be heard more than others. Christ no, almost the complete opposite.
“In Scotland I like this culture that’s building. I’m from that generation now, from the 2014 generation, where I wasn’t particularly engaged in politics and now I am. And I quite enjoy the fact that people are sharing their opinions.”
Later on, he will return to this part of our conversation, worried that this interview will be all about independence. But that’s not really what I’m interested in. Or what we actually talked about.
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Perhaps things are changing anyway, he concludes. One of the upsides of social media, he suggests is, “I think we have a little bit more control.”
Lowden was busy during lockdown. He shot a new film with the great British film director Terence Davies in which he plays the war poet Siegfried Sassoon. “This film is him,” he says of Davies. “I’m pretty sure Sassoon is him. He sees himself in Sassoon.”
He hasn’t seen it yet, but it should be another feather in his cap, to go alongside his role in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe film Mangrove. All in all, his fourth decade on the planet is shaping up well, wouldn’t you say Jack?
“I remember when I turned 25 and someone said a wonderful thing. He said, ‘25 eh. That’s the age you go from promising to the final product.’
“I remember being 25 and on a job, and thinking, ‘F*** me, I can’t even hide behind promising now.’
“I don’t know what 31 means. It does feel like starting again, it’s quite nice.”
Like most of us, Lowden is never really sure he’s done a good job. It’s why he can’t watch himself back, he says.
“Somebody will be like, ‘Oh I saw it. Oh, it was amazing. God, you were this.’ And then I watch and I’m like, ‘Really? That’s just me in a pair of glasses.”
“Matt LeBlanc summed that up beautifully recently in that Friends reunion when they asked, ‘Does anybody ever watch any of the episodes?’ And he said he does. ‘I can’t watch me, though. Because I just see me.’ And that’s the thing. You do just see you.”
He talks again about his current project Slow Horses. “The thing I’m doing just now, you think you’re running around like Jason Bourne as an MI5 officer. And then by accident I saw a tiny little screenshot and I’m like, ‘That’s just me running about trying to be Jason Bourne.’”
Perhaps that helps explain his interest in production. It sounds as if his producing role in Kindred is only the start. “Part of me would like to do this until I’m 40 and then go and do something else and have moved properly into the directing or producing side of things.
“I see actors who have been acting their entire life and I have a huge admiration for them. But I can see my head wandering other places all the time now when I’m acting which I’m just embracing and enjoying seeing where I end up.”
Almost time to wrap up. This is when he starts to worry that we’ve been talking too much about independence. “I don’t get asked about it that often,” he says. “Do you start going, ‘I dinnae want to talk about it’?”
He starts to tell me about a dating app he’s read about. “There’s a dating app that you can go on. They ask you 25 questions, and they tell you who you would vote for in an election and they purposely pair you up with someone who has the completely opposite views. It sounds amazing and I wonder just how many of them are now married or have bairns, or how many have ended up throwing chairs across the restaurant?”
Sometimes we are not our politics. Lowden is much, much more. Al Pacino should give him a call.
Kindred is available on Sky Cinema and Now
Jack Lowden on favourite movies, music and meals
My favourite movie of all time is Master and Commander. It comes from an obsession I have with the sea and the relationship of Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany. This almost husband-and-wife relationship that they have, one never letting the other do what he wants. It’s a relationship between two men that I’ve not really seen on screen since.
The soundtrack to that film is a soundtrack that I listen to every other day. I also love Orange Juice. Big on Orange Juice. Any Joy Division track I’m absolutely obsessed with.
Foodwise, we went recently to Skye which is one of my favourite places on the planet. There’s a restaurant there called Scorrybreac in Portree. You really have to fight to get a table and it’s like in somebody’s front room.
But the food is just exceptional. It’s the best food in Scotland. Tom Kitchin’s in Leith is outstanding as well, but this guy up there … That’s the best food in Scotland for me.
He did a fish with Douglas fir. You could smell it in the room. ‘Christ, are we going to buy a Christmas tree or something?’ In came this plate of fish that the maitre D’ had caught himself that day and then the brilliant chef had done something daft with it with oranges, and sprinkled Douglas Fir through it. The whole thing just worked. The food up there is insane.
I managed to get there for my birthday. And because of Covid there was only one other couple sat over there. I think they were German. And the guy just kept putting his head in his hands in between courses and we were saying, ‘That’s a date gone wrong in’t it? What’s happening there?’
Every time the maitre D’ came over to take away the plates the guy was just so amazed by the food he kept getting emotional. And here I thought he was having a row.