The Wylde Interview: Luke Newberry
THE TALENTED MR NEWBERRY
THIS YEAR’S HOT OUTSIDER, LUKE NEWBERRY IS A REGULAR ON INDUSTRY LISTS OF PROMISING YOUNG ACTORS AND THIS PROFESSIONAL RISK-TAKER IS ONE TO WATCH… AND WATCH. BUT THERE’S MORE TO HIM THAN CHISELLED CHEEKBONES AND THOSE EYES: DAVID NEWTON DISCOVERS A CONCERNED, FASCINATING THINKER WITH A TALENT TO SURPRISE.
PORTRAITS BY NEIL O'KEEFFE
“I would go to the cinema three times a day, if I could!”
Luke Newberry, the most fascinating (to this writer) of the current crop of Next-Big-Thing actors, is describing his love of movies to me. “It’s the whole immersive experience. I can’t just watch something on a small TV screen in a room; I have to be immersed in it.”
Luke himself is an actor not to be confined to the small screen, and makes regular forays up on to the large, immersive, silver one. He’s been in the business since the age of seven, and right now he’s probably best known for his role as troubled teen-zombie Kieren in the BAFTA-winning BBC3 series In The Flesh. Despite its well-trodden theme, the series won much acclaim for its different handling of the genre; covering guilt, depression and self-reflection.
Not exactly a barrel of laughs, but Luke’s depiction of Kieren as an outsider dealing with small-town prejudice struck a chord with a huge amount of viewers and the actor has become a cultish poster boy for the “different”. And in the flesh (groan!) he possesses the kind of mercurial good looks that will serve him well playing the gamut of roles from cute-but-kooky boys next door to (one hopes) the odd chilling villain.
When we meet he has just finished filming his first cinematic lead role in this autumn’s feel-good Brit-comDusty and Me, a misfit boy/chip-shop girl/greyhound ménage that Luke himself describes as “Billy Elliot meetsSeabiscuit meets Starter For Ten”. Sounds good! And with profile-boosting synchronicity, Luke will also this autumn be appearing at the Donmar Warehouse theatre in London in the UK premiere of new US drama Teddy Ferrara. And this one sounds good too: “I’m playing an American student in his final year at university and it basically explores identity in US campus life and all the problems that students face. And how, if you’re not a cheerleader, you’re a geek. It’s so box-y and black and white and people fall off the end of the wagon because they don’t know what to identify with.”
The Donmar’s website describes the play as ”insightful and revealing… which explores society’s uncomfortable embrace of the outsider."
That word again! I wonder if Luke is attracted to parts that he can relate to? “Most actors say ‘Oh it’s just the escape to be something!’ But I am attracted to doing very different projects,” he replies. “I’ve got a nice mix with the things that are coming out soon, which are so polar-opposite-different. And I have played a lot of characters who are very different to me. I love new writing and being surprised by roles that come along and not knowing if I could pull them off.”
Does he have a favourite, so far? “It would have to be Kieren from In The Flesh, just because it was so challenging on every level and came to me at a time when I needed a part like that,” Luke tells me. I ask: does he enjoy the element of risk and danger in his work? “Yes, I rely on instinct and I don’t know what I’m going to do until I turn up on the first day. Which might not always work! Kieren was just pure instinct, that part. And I trusted the writing; I didn’t have to question anything about it. It was just ‘Let’s shoot this!’ "
A great interviewee, Luke plays an infuriating game of giving good answers that leave me with a mis-matched jigsaw puzzle. I am dying to build up a coherent picture (pigeonhole?) of Luke Newberry, your Go-To Outsider, but a lot of the pieces don’t conform to my desired James-Dean-by-numbers final picture. I know: favourite movies! This will fill in some gaps, I reckon. Obligingly, and like the film buff he is, Luke has even listed his current Top Ten on his mobile phone, and reads them out: “The Talented Mr Ripley, The Ipcress File, Melancholia, Revolutionary Road, Death Becomes Her, Force Majeure, Moonrise Kingdom, Man On Wire, Hot Fuzz and Birdman.”
I am baffled! Where’s Rebel without a Cause, The Man Who Fell To Earth, Edward Scissorhands?! A very satisfying answer comes however, when I ask what kind of roles he would give himself, if he was his own casting director. “I’d like to do a biopic, and play someone real. It would be quite good if they were still alive because you could talk to them potentially, and really ‘dig’ into them. And the pressure of the responsibility that comes with it could, I think , break you or propel you to do the best you can.”
Anyone in particular?
“I’d like to play somebody like David Bowie!”
Ah, that’s a good one! And I can easily see this angular, cerebral, nonconformist in that part; a role that has, inexplicably, not materialised yet.
Our conversation moves on to Passions. Can one be cerebral AND feel strongly about various issues? After some deliberation, Luke decides: “Yes, I’ve got quite strong opinions on gender, I think. I’m fascinated by it and I think our gender limits us a lot, and the way we think about our gender. It goes back to childhood and being told you can’t play with that toy because that’s for boys or you can’t play with that because it’s for girls. It messes us up and I think we’d all have a happier time of it if we weren’t so hung up about what we should and shouldn’t be doing, based on our gender. I’d like to study Gender Studies, at some point.”
Would he explore that in his work, if the opportunity came along? “Yes,” is the straight answer.
As previously mentioned, Luke is an interviewer’s dream: generous, honest, different. But for every direct “Yes”, there can be a seemingly endless wait for his carefully thought-out reply. I ask him what advice he would give his much-younger self and he takes a full minute to answer: ................................................“Being an adult is not as scary as you think it’s going to be. It’s hard, but things don’t turn out how you imagine they will, either in a good way or a bad way. Trust that things are in place, be it Love or Work, and that you are being guided to those things.”
Worth the wait? Absolutely.