Gritty boy Floyd – Glass meets up-and-coming young British actor James Floyd

Impressed by his performance as a conflicted gangster in Sally El Hosaini’s 2012 début My Brother The Devil, and seeing him in a Q&A session with that film’s co-star Fady Elsayed a few weeks ago at the BFI, Glass was eager to meet with young British actor James Floyd to talk about education, ethnic profiling, and what it was like to play Freddie Mercury. His new film, Rogue Agent, hits cinemas this July.

Rogue Agent featuring James Floyd

Floyd quit his philosophy degree at the LSE after one year to pursue acting, finding his first agent at 20. Now 28 years old, he’s credibly claimed Streep, De Niro and early Brando as influences, and is currently in South Africa filming Of Kings And Prophets, an American TV series about the Israelites under Kings Saul and David. Filming began nearly two months ago; the show is set to air on ABC next year.

You dropped out of a philosophy degree at the LSE. If you could go back, would you ever want to finish it?
Not at LSE. I think LSE is a place for people who want to go into social sciences-related jobs, especially finance and politics and those sorts of things. I felt like a fish out of water there – an artist who was being muffled.

Look – I really believe in education. I don’t believe you should pay for education; I think education should be free. [But] I think also, now I’m going into my late 20s, you realise you can teach yourself a heck of a lot… just from reading certain great things, and being around certain interesting people. As much as formal education is important, I think informal education is even more important. It teaches you about your life.

But to answer your question, maybe at the Open University or something. Maybe something to do with maths. Maths or science. Science I still love to this day; it’s something I regret, not listening in science classes. But you can teach yourself. I’ve watched every Attenborough documentary, every Neil de Grasse Tyson movie [sic]. It’s not like doing a degree, but it’s still a very important education.

James Floyd (cineuropa.org)

James Floyd. Photograph: cineuropa.org

In 2011, you said, “If it’s a Muslim character [being cast], nine times out of 10 terrorism is involved.” Is this still the case?
I [managed to avoid] it because I’m half-white. I’m good enough and versatile enough to play various things, racially or culturally or whatever. Things are different – my career’s in a different place now, I’m doing things that are perhaps a little bit bigger and hopefully better than I was doing a few years ago.

Once people start responding to you, and wanting to put you in their film rather than you trying to get into their movie, they start supporting you and your cause. I made that clear to people – “I may have played a British Egyptian, but as a person, I have a lot of other facets to me that I want to explore.” I was saying to my agents and the industry that I can do A-Z, not just A-B. I don’t want to do A-B.

But for the actor just starting out again now, I think it’s still pretty bad, from what I’m told by my younger actor friends. There are still racial stereotypes out there. Nine times out of 10, my statement remains true.

How did you go “Method” to play Freddie Mercury in the BBC’s Kenny Everett biopic The Best Possible Taste?
Freddie was an extremely difficult character to play, [not so much because he was] an icon – it was more that he was an extraordinary human being. Some people are icons in the sense that their image has been promoted to us all over the media as something complex and magical and amazing. Usually they’re not. But Freddie Mercury was that – an extraordinary human who happened to become an icon.

I think I did an okay job. I didn’t really have enough time to “become” Freddie. I like to do long, detailed preparation before I get on set. It’s not really “Method acting”, it’s just common sense. I was cast nine days before filming started. I’d love to have another crack at playing Freddie.

James Floyd James Floyd. Photograph: Neil Bedford

Who’s your ideal real-life figure to play?
[Floyd thinks for a while] Christ, that’s a tough question… You’ve got me stumped there! There [are] probably loads.[After a beat] There’s one guy – he’s a very difficult character to crack, but he’s a very interesting character. Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.

In the book, he’s described as looking like a “lascar”. Lascars were sailors of southeast Asian origin, either Indian or Sri Lankan. So he’s a more interesting character than we think. He’s been whitewashed – though the recent interpretation of him by [James Howson in Andrea Arnold’s 2011 adaptation] was pretty good.

You’ve worked on a bunch of action movies and historical epics – is this your choice, or do you more-or-less take what you’re given?
I’ve never done a spy thriller before. To be honest, I don’t really believe in “genre”. It’s [practical], but really, genre doesn’t exist. All films should have all colours in them. Like life. Sometimes it’s comic, sometimes tragic, boring, thrilling …

With Newcomer, basically, the way the filmmaker had presented the character in the script – he’s a very rough-and-tumble, young, all-American working-class guy who follows his father figure [played by Anthony LaPaglia] into this private spy ring in Belgrade. That to me was a very intriguing premise. I was very lucky to get the role. Initially before they cast me they were going for the usual movie star names. Once they got me, it’s more human. It’s more “European independent” than “American thriller”. The more we get away from that kind of crap, the better it’ll be. And I hope they’ve succeeded.

Do you think they’ve succeeded?
I think it was really well shot, and Kai [Barry, the director] did a really good job with the actors. He’s a smart guy. I think people worked really hard on that film, from the Serbian grips to the international actors. And when I saw it, I could really see certain people liking this film a lot.

But I’m in every scene, so it was quite uncomfortable for me to watch… it was quite weird. All I could see was how weird I look in a close-up.

by Arjun Sajip

Images courtesy of Neil Bedford and cineuropa.org

Follow James on twitter here