In anticipation for Harris Dickinson’s new film, sci-fi thriller The Darkest Minds, we revisit our HERO 19 interview with the British star.
Harris Dickinson came out of nowhere, and wasn’t afraid to jump right in at the deep end. Shining in his first movie last year – Sundance award-winning Beach Rats – Dickinson brought a personal connection to his raw and honest portrayal of a young man growing up in New York’s Brooklyn during a long, never-ending summer. With a thirst for depth in character and keen to bring to light stories of those often sidestepped in mainstream culture, Dickinson is is busy ploughing the foundations for a solid career.
Jumping forward to this year, the actor has a number of new projects on the go. From the lead in current FX series Trust, depicting the true 1973 story of kidnapped Getty heir Jean Paul III, to his next film Postcards from London, directed by cult filmmaker Steve McLean, which sees the actor taking on the role of a post-coital ‘raconteur’ set in London’s Soho.
Fabien Kruszelnicki How’s everything going, whereabouts are you?
Harris Dickinson: I’m in New York, I just got here about an hour ago.
FK: Did you fly on Virgin or British Airways?
FK: Oh ok, different, how was that?
HD: [laughs] Yeah, it was alright, I mean we got a bit of stick on the plane because I’m here with my girlfriend and we’re just like two scruffy teenagers ultimately, so I think they were kind of baffled as to why we’re sitting in the nice business area.
FK: They’re like, “What?” So what are you in New York for at the moment then?
HD: I’m here for some press, my TV show Trust has got a few screenings and there’s a taste-maker event, so just a couple of days of screenings and press and panels and stuff like that.
FK: The show looks really interesting.
HD: I’ve watched most of it and it’s really great, from a very un-biased opinion!
FK: So you shot the whole thing already?
HD: Yeah, we finished it at the beginning of December so it was a five to six month shoot, it’s quite a quick turnaround which is always nice because normally you wait a long time, you know?
FK: Yeah I know, it’s got to be hard – I was searching for you on Google to see what other interviews you’d done before and everything’s about Beach Rats, you must have shot that like two years ago now?
HD: Yeah, I mean it premiered at Sundance 2017 and we shot it in summer of 2016, so almost two years ago.
FK: Oh that’s actually quite a quick turnaround as well.
HD: Yeah, it was such a quick turnaround. They finished editing it in the October and then they had it ready for Sundance in January, really quick.
FK: How was it going to Sundance, did you go to other festivals too?
HD: We went to Sundance, we went to Locarno in Switzerland, which was lovely, and I know it played at a few other festivals in America. It played at London Film Festival but I was filming and wasn’t able to go, which I was gutted about because I grew up walking past the BFI and seeing the programme and thinking, “Ah man that would be cool.”
FK: Ah that’s tough.
HD: All my family went anyway, so that was nice.
FK: That’s good, were they taking pictures and texting you and stuff?
HD: [laughs] Yeah yeah.
FK: So how did it feel going to those festivals? It’s pretty major and you kind of went straight into it, it was one of your first big movies right?
HD: Yeah, I hadn’t done anything really, I’d done some theatre and TV and then Beach Rats came along, and then I was at Sundance like four months later, it was mad. It was lovely though. Obviously you hear about it online and through people in the industry, but going with the film was a really lovely experience, getting people’s reactions for the first time and you see it grow from there. It was great, really great.
FK: Was it how you expected it to be?
HD: I don’t know what I expected really. I think I went into it with a very open mind and without any preconceived ideas, because I knew I’d either be disappointed by it or overwhelmed. You do get a better understanding of the whole film-making process, and you get to see the common themes in the films that are doing well. You also get to meet a lot of the upcoming actors and like-minded people, and that was really great for me. It was snowing as well, it snowed so much that year, everyone kept telling me how dramatic the weather was, and I was like, “OK!”
FK: Doesn’t it always snow there? I thought it was like that all the time?
HD: Yeah it is, but that year had the most snow ever… so it was a bit more difficult to get around, everyone was panicking a bit.
FK: [laughs] It’s like England, as soon as it snows, everything stops.
HD: Yeah exactly, or like in LA when it rains and everyone shits themselves.
FK: [laughs] Yeah. So you were saying you meet a lot of different actors at Sundance as well – there’s a lot of great actors coming out of Britain at the moment. Josh O’Connor is doing well too.
HD: Josh O’Connor, yeah, lovely guy. He’s a top bloke, we met at Sundance actually. I knew about that film [God’s Own Country] because I read for it a while ago, and I saw that it was at Sundance, and Josh knew of me and Beach Rats, so we finally met and we got to actually chat and get to know each other.
FK: How is it reading for parts and then not getting it, but then you know the person that does get it?
HD: It is what it is, I believe in things happening for a reason, you know? With projects that you want that don’t go your way, you might end up doing something that’s more right for you… I don’t know, it’s a weird old industry but I think you can only ever be happy and proud for the other projects, especially when there’s such lovely people involved, otherwise you just end of being a bitter actor [laughs].
FK: It will just run you to the ground, it’s not good.
HD: Yeah and it’s there in every industry – competition and jealousy – and if you let that affect you then you’re just ruining it for yourself really.
FK: So tell me a bit more about Trust, it’s coming out soon, where did you film it? Did you do some in Italy?
HD: Yeah we shot in Italy and London for the beginning, Rome, Calabria, Morocco, we shot all over, they were really beautiful locations, I felt very lucky to be shipped off to these cool places.
FK: I guess one of the good things about acting is you get to travel to lots of different places and stay there for a while.
HD: Yeah, you get relocated with a job normally, I haven’t done many in London.
FK: Oh really?
HD: Not really, I’ve done a couple, but the majority of my jobs have been overseas or in America, and it’s great, you get to spend a long period of time somewhere and get a sense of the place.
FK: Do you ever go back after you’ve finished filming, just for yourself?
HD: Well I want to go back to Italy, I feel a strong bond with Italy now because I spent such a long time there. I was trying to learn Italian and failing because I was a bit too preoccupied with my own lines and shit, but I love it as a place and culture and I want to go back. But often you’re just ready to get home and see your family and friends, you know?
FK: Yeah. So with Trust it’s interesting that the TV show is coming out very close to the movie timing [Ridley Scott’s All The Money in the World, which also covers the Getty kidnapping], because that only came out a few months ago. Did you guys know beforehand that the movie was coming out?
HD: I did know it was in production around the same time, and I knew it was meant to be coming out in December or something. I haven’t seen it yet, I need to watch it. It’s funny, I think a few people will have assumed we’ve made a series off of the film, some people see these things quite black and white sometimes.
FK: You’re still of the generation who remembers films as films and TV as not quite the same, but over the last five years it’s totally changed, lots of actors are doing TV now because they have huge budgets and great stories.
HD: Yeah you’re right, the scale of TV has changed over the years, and the stories and length of series. Before this, I’d never done a TV series for ten episodes, and now I really appreciate it as a medium; being able to tell a story for ten hours and get to stay with that character for such a long time. It’s definitely changed due to the success of so many TV series, particularly American ones, actors are more inclined to go for projects that are interesting, and if it happens to be TV then so be it. If there’s a wicked character and an amazing story and the creatives and the directors on board are working at such a high level, I think anyone’s going to be up for it.
FK: So you have another film coming out too, Postcards from London. How’s that going – or is that already shot as well?
HD: We shot that at the end of 2016 actually, Postcards had a bit of a longer turnaround, but it’s closing the BFI Flare Festival at the end of this month so I’m excited for people to see that, it’s a really cool little quirky project. The director Steve [McLean] made Postcards from America twenty years ago, and it went to Sundance and was a really big success. Then he sat back and wrote this.
FK: It’s interesting to have that big gap.
HD: Yeah, and what I like about Steve and this film is that he hasn’t shied away from making risky choices in his film-making style, it’s quirky and it’s set in this Soho [in London] of an imagination, it really doesn’t stick to any sort of preset which is cool.
FK: Your role in it is an escort?
HD: Yes, they’re called ‘raconteurs’, they’re like high-class escorts, but specialising in post-coital conversation, they’re trained in poetry and art and literacy.
FK: Ah interesting. The characters you go for have quite a bit of depth to them, more darkness. How do you start to get into character for those kinds of roles?
HD: It differs, with Beach Rats I had quite a long period beforehand to spend some time in the area, and I think I’m gradually learning that the area and the environment and the people influence my performance quite a lot, because it grounds it in the world it’s set in. So I think it’s important to be there and get a very good sense of who the character was in that particular area, and what he was going through. So it’s different for each role.
FK: I never thought of it like that, that you have to go to the area – whether it’s set now or 30 years ago, you still get an idea of the people and the neighbourhoods.
HD: It’s difficult to just jump onto a project and try to portray it from just the material, I mean as much as Eliza [Hittman, Beach Rats director] and everyone that was involved helped me, if I had just come in – this British kid who’d never been to New York – it would have been a very false version. So it’s important to try and ground it in something real.
FK: Do you think those are the kind of roles you enjoy doing then? They’re not the easy roles that you know how to play by just reading a script.
HD: Yeah for sure, I think when it scares me a little bit… it sounds really pretentious, but when it’s a little bit scary you just know you’re gonna have a good time figuring it out.
FK: Do you read much?
HD: Yeah, I love to read. I read a lot of scripts… there was a period when I was reading so many scripts, script after script, and you kind of get to a point where you don’t want to read anymore. But when you’re on jobs or when you’re in-between jobs I certainly do like to read novels or biographies.
FK: Do you have to get into a certain mindset to start reading scripts, or can you just pick one up and read it any time of the day? Because I always feel like whenever I read a book I have to be in the right mindset to read it, and I never am.
HD: Yeah, why is that? Why do people limit themselves to when they can and can’t read? I’m the same, I think everyone’s like that. So when you’re reading a book do you go days without reading it? Is that what you mean, when you’re not really feeling it?
FK: No, sometimes if I’m distracted with work or something – I just like to be able to read when I’m relaxed. Then I feel like I can take it in more because I personally read quite slowly, I try and read every word and take it all in. I’ve never been good at reading quickly.
HD: Me neither, yeah you’re right, you need to be in the right headspace or it doesn’t go in, does it? I think it’s different with scripts sometimes because it’s work and if you know you’ve got to read it by a certain time, you have to get that script finished and read and absorb and figure out what you’re gong to do for the audition or self-tape. I guess reading a novel is a bit more leisurely, isn’t it.
“I’m still young, I’m gonna try and continually grow and pursue that [filmmaking] path as well.’
FK: Yeah. Are there times when you’re reading scripts and you just think, “I can’t! I can’t get to the next page.”
HD: [laughs] Err sometimes, if it’s shit! [both laugh] I always try and finish it, I’d hate to just block it off.
FK: Yeah, and it’s a lost opportunity. What kind of biographies do you like?
HD: Musicians, artists – it varies. I like all kinds of biographies because they feel like a first-person story, like a script, and if they’re done well then you feel like you really get a sense of their voice and the way they’re telling that story, and I think that’s pretty cool. It’s kind of close to a novel and you know it’s real, or maybe it’s not, maybe some of it is dramatised… but you get the true set of circumstances and then you get to fully invest in that story.
FK: Going back to Postcards from London for a second, you were saying you shot it in Soho, and is it supposed to be based in the 70s?
HD: We shot it in a studio actually, so it’s set in Soho, but it’s like an imagined Soho, it’s not meant to be that real. It’s not really set in any specific time, it does feel like quite a timeless piece.
FK: Ah I thought it was maybe based around the 70s or 80s when Soho was different.
HD: Well, that’s what I think the director was aiming for, a Soho that doesn’t really exist anymore, and that’s why he originally wanted to shoot it in a studio and create this Soho that is fading a little bit.
FK: It has changed so much. It’s almost turning into a mall, being whitewashed. The roles you go for tend to have interesting personalities and come from these kinds of places with a bit of character, how do you feel about getting rid of that kind of creativity from physical places?
HD: I think it’s certainly interesting in Postcards because it does depict a world that is very far from that slowly commercialised area, and it’s true what you’re saying, it’s happening everywhere, isn’t it? People and companies… I just went to Cuba and they’re slowly building more and more there, and you see the culture of the place… not disappearing, but just being covered a little bit by some companies.
FK: I also wanted to ask you – you’ve written and directed a couple of shorts haven’t you?
HD: Yes, I’ve always had an interest in film-making and from a young age I’ve always had a camera in my hand. It became part and parcel of performing, or trying to film someone else perform or make a story. I’ve always loved it, I’ve always tried to work on sets, in any job. I was doing a lot of PA-ing and assistant camera operating when I was a bit younger. I made a few short films that went to local festivals and stuff, it’s just difficult to balance both when you’re traveling around a lot. I’m not complaining but it’s just something that, in my mind, I’m constantly trying to work on. I’m still young, I’m gonna try and continually grow and pursue that path as well.
FK: I noticed on your Instagram you shoot on film as well don’t you?
HD: Yeah man, it’s beautiful. I kind of transitioned, I don’t want to sound like one of those millennials that shoots film to be trendy or to jump on a bandwagon of vintage tropes, but I genuinely like the process and the fact that you learn from it every time. You learn which camera you’re operating, and how to measure the light, I just really love it, I want to keep on shooting.
FK: It helps you edit differently as well. If you’re taking digital pictures you don’t even think about it, you just take another picture.
HD: Yeah, we’re in an age where people just shoot so many pictures and videos on their phone, and there are so many options, sometimes it’s nice to have limited options. Sometimes you’re disappointed because you only get a roll of twelve shots on medium format film, and you get three that are ok. But you learn from it, which is part of the experience, and I love that.
FK: What do you like to shoot?
HD: I love what’s around me, the people. I try and ask people if I can shoot them but a lot of the time they won’t let me!
FK: Yeah that’s the hardest thing when you’re taking pictures of people, what you can take a picture of and what you can’t. If you’re just on the street and you see something you want to take a picture of, like in a documentary kind of way, should you just do it, or do you go up and ask them?
HD: That’s what I’m wary of, exploiting people, exploiting someone’s vulnerability. I wanted to shoot homeless people and work with them in a way that didn’t feel like it was for my gain, in a way that was documenting them and chatting to them and helping them in some way. But then I realised that ultimately it’s about the picture and if people are appreciating a picture of someone suffering then what am I doing? It doesn’t sit right, but that’s documentary isn’t it?
FK: It depends on how you do it and the framing of it I guess.
FK: Just one last question, this whole issue is about the idea of fight, whether it’s literal or metaphorical. I wondered if there was anything specific that you thought would be a good thing to be fighting for at the moment?
HD: There are things that come to mind, but I’m reluctant to speak about them in interviews because I don’t want to come across as if I’m trying to change the world through my work. But what I love about how Beach Rats was received and hopefully about how Postcards from London is received is that those stories are about the LGBTQ community, and are bringing life to subjects that have previously been tabooed. They are telling stories that are important and that can continually broaden people’s perspective on subjects, and I think that’s important.
FK: Anything that helps broaden people’s idea of something else is vital.
HD: Yeah, especially if you can do that through storytelling or art or writing, which is meant to be thought-provoking, that’s amazing then isn’t it?
The Darkest Minds is out across US cinemas on 3rd August.