Glass interviews British actor Douglas Booth

This Charming Man – Glass talks to Douglas Booth, an emerging UK actor who combines his profession with a passion for human rights

DOUGLAS Booth is a thoroughly modern British gent. Born in Greenwich, south-east London, and raised in Kent, the 25-year-old Booth had an idealistic upbringing only slightly marred by the struggles he faced due to his severe dyslexia, which prompted his interest in performing. He joined the National Youth Theatre when he was 14, and it was through losing himself in his passion for drama that Booth began to find himself. His prodigious talent was recognised early on, and he joined one of the oldest literary and talent agencies in Europe, Curtis Brown, at the age of 15.

Acting roles (such as the young Boy George in 2010’s Worried About The Boy, and Pip in the BBC adaptation of Great Expectations) then gave the opportunity for his talent to develop and shine. He found recognition in the fashion world as well and has modelled for Burberry, among others. Booth’s star was well on the rise: bigger film roles swiftly followed, with his appearance in Carlo Carlei’s 2013 film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; then Harry in 2014’s The Riot Club and in Darren Aronofsky’s biblical epic Noah, alongside Emma Watson.

Recently Booth played Dan Leno in The Limehouse Golem (2016), directed by Juan Carlos Medina, which also starred Bill Nighy and Olivia Cooke. And this October, Booth will be seen in the world’s first fully painted feature film Loving Vincent, which is about the last few months of the life of Van Gogh, alongside Eleanor Tomlinson, Helen McCrory, Aidan Turner, Saoirse Ronan and Chris O’Dowd.

As well as his commitment to acting, Booth has passions outside his profession; he is an ardent supporter of refugee rights and is also a feminist.

 

D Glass Magazine - Issue 31 - Patience - Douglas Booth copy copy Douglas Booth. Photograph: Hew Hood

You were born and raised in London. How did that shape your early life?
I grew up in London but at the age of eight moved to the country and then returned to London at around the age of 18. I went to drama school every Saturday at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama so spent every single weekend in London nevertheless. For the most part I feel like I grew up there. I absolutely love it really – It feels like my home. And how it shaped me? I don’t know, I think it’s such a wonderfully diverse city brimming with culture and I’m sure that influenced my career path.

Douglas Booth by Hew HoodDouglas Booth. Photograph: Hew Hood

At school, where did some of your interests lie and subsequently grow?
As I’m severely dyslexic, I always knew it wasn’t going to be an academic life for me. I had a very creative heart, as it were. I first wanted to be a jazz musician because I used to love Louis Armstrong when I listened to him with my grandparents. I took up the trumpet and learnt it to grade seven by practising every day. The trouble was, my school only taught classical.

At the age of 13, there I was really wanting to be a jazz musician and there was everybody else, picking up guitars and doing their wannabe rockstar thing. I auditioned for a school play, I got it and I kind of just fell in love with it from there. I found myself, and indeed a way to express myself, that way. It’s a fantastic way to discover yourself by looking through other characters.

 

Douglas Booth by Hew HoodDouglas Booth. Photograph: Hew Hood

When you first began getting involved in the dramatic arts, what areas of this field did you most enjoy?
I think being creative along with a group of like-minded young individuals. At the National Youth Theatre you spend two weeks devising a piece and you find out a lot about each other and about yourself. One of the greatest things was to learn new skills along the way, meet interesting new people and make friends all over the world. Back here in Italy, I’m working with a lot of the same crew that I worked with on Romeo and Juliet. These kind of connections I’ve made with people all over the world have introduced me to a fascinating creative community and I’m always eager to travel non-stop for that very reason.

Douglas Booth by Hew HoodDouglas Booth. Photograph: Hew Hood

You are a familiar face in the fashion world, having cut your teeth modelling in a series of Burberry ads photographed by Mario Testino nearly a decade ago. What did fashion represent to you then?
It didn’t really represent anything to me off the top of my head. I had always liked clothes and shown interest in what I was wearing. Although even then I was a kid who didn’t really know much about what was going on, and Burberry came about after a couple of acting jobs. I thought it sounded like a terrific opportunity, starring alongside Emma Watson in the campaign.

People were really paying attention to who was in those campaigns at that point. Christopher Bailey was shaking up British fashion and it felt good to be at the forefront. I spent two days on set with Mario Testino, who I adore to this day. It was kind of a unique experience, working with someone who is at the very top of their craft and it was so exciting for that reason. Plus, the pictures were everywhere.

Douglas Booth by Hew HoodDouglas Booth. Photograph: Hew Hood

You are known as a champion of British style, appearing on best dressed lists celebrating this. How does it feel to be given this kind of accolade?
I’ve always supported British menswear and will go on to do so to the end. I’ve been fortunate enough to learn how to dress the best from the best from a young age so any accolades can be credited to some of my mentors more than they are to me I suppose. When you’re plopped in between Victoria Beckham and Sarah Jessica Parker on the front row at a Burberry fashion show you kind of just soak up style.

You rose to public awareness in an assortment of often colourful television roles. Can you tell us more about how you came to be cast as Boy George in the BBC drama Worried About The Boy?
I just auditioned like everyone else. After a couple of rounds of auditioning I was in. I admittedly didn’t really know too much about Boy George before. I knew he was a massive popstar naturally but never grew up dreaming I was going to play Boy George. It was a first to say the least! An ostentatious hat at the audition worked wonders too, and they gave me a job. About 20 minutes after I had been cast, George sent me a message to say, “I hear you are going to be playing me. I can’t say that I’m complaining but don’t be camp.” I met him a bunch of times from then on during the filming. He lent the production the most fabulous clothes and only had nice things to say about me in the en

Douglas Booth by Hew WoodDouglas Booth. Photograph: Hew Hood

This led to gaining increased exposure on the big screen in feature films starring alongside many A-listers. How did this further your development as an actor?
I’ve tried to learn from every single person that I’ve had the privilege of working with. I’ve learnt different things from different people, how to behave and how not to behave and some tricks of the trade. Working with A-listers doesn’t really make a difference if they are treating you with equal respect. That’s when you learn the most valuable lessons.

While your career was never besmirched by the “teen star” typecast, you were still relatively young during your showbiz ascent. How was this experience for you?
I’m 25 now and sometimes I feel old but I’m not really. I’ve tried my best to keep my feet on the ground with my friends and family around me and just stay as normal as possible. I always remind myself how very fortunate I am to be doing what I’m doing and be where I’m at for my age.

Outside of acting, you are a known supporter of causes like feminism and gender equality specifically. Can you tell us more about where this stems from?
I think I’ve always been socially conscious and cared for those around me from a very early age. I’ve never been in a bubble. I am really fascinated about what’s going on all over the world. From being socially conscious you start looking at ways you can interact and get involved in some way. The main work I do is with the UN Refugee Agency to protect refugees. The refugee crisis is harrowing and so I’ve been working with them for the past couple of years and I’ve been to Greece to meet Syrian refugees there, which really impacted my thinking.

My support of feminism, which to me is a duty to anyone raised by a guiding mother and supportive sister who I grew up alongside, was fuelled by these two brilliant strong women who guided me. From there, I’ve had the massive privilege of working with Emma Watson, who was working with UN Women during the press tour for the film Noah. I was influenced by her in many ways and I’m very grateful for that, I think she’s very impressive.

What would you yourself like to do that ultimately leaves an impact on the world?
It’s very difficult for one person to make an impact, per se: it’s about a collective impact. We all must work together because there is only one world. I’d like to generally have a positive influence on my generation. They are a young generation which I have so much hope for. I intend to continue to promote sensible thinking and compassion, and to do what I can to contribute to the collective and worthwhile changes made for a brighter future.

Introduction by Caroline Simpson

Interview by Livia Feltham

Photographer: Hew Wood

Taken from the Glass Archive issue 31 – Patience

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