Inside Hero 29

Contemporaries in conversation: Harry Lawtey and Lucy Boynton
Film+TV | 24 April 2023
Photographer Fabien Kruszelnicki
Stylist Keeley Dawson.

jacket, shirt and tie all by PRADA SS23

Bad-boy stockbroker turned sober self-doubter, Harry Lawtey’s portrayal of Robert Spearing in HBO’s Industry is vivid – a chronically driven character on the edge. Eyeballs deep in London’s finance sector, the show’s protagonists battle it out at one of the city’s top trading desks, driven by sex, drugs and pound signs: it’s not pretty. Season three is set to release in 2024.

Lawtey met Lucy Boynton when they starred together opposite Christian Bale and Gillian Anderson in last year’s The Pale Blue Eye as two siblings at the ominous centre of a grizzly, satanic Edgar Allen Poe vision. And in 2024, Lawtey will be a part of Todd Phillips’ highly-anticipated Joker sequel, Joker: Folie à Deux. Currently in LA, the actor finds himself staying in a building whose previous tenant was… Lucy Boynton.

Lucy Boynton: Hey, pal!
Harry Lawtey: Hey, how are you?

LB: I’ve just realised I was living at the place you’re staying for three months!
HL: No way! I haven’t got to grips with it yet, I only got here last night.

LB: How is LA? When we were filming Pale Blue Eye, it was your first time there.
HL: It’s all ahead of me, I still don’t know anything about this place. It was my first time here in December and it was really exciting. I really enjoyed it, it felt very unapologetically showbiz, which is not something I normally indulge in or particularly enjoy, but it had a nice feeling of being in a movie. [laughs]

LB: Filming there feels like a dip into Old Hollywood.
HL: I’m looking forward to getting to know it a little bit more. I think it’s a bit like Marmite as a place, before I came here people were either really passionate about it or really didn’t like it.

LB: It’s fashionable to say you hate it. [both laugh] You’re supposed to turn your nose up at it and be like, “No, I like the real cities.”
HL: Exactly. You do have to remember that you get a very tailored experience wherever you go [with work] because not many things are under your control. In some ways it’s an enormous privilege, but I do leave places sometimes not knowing if I understood it fully.

LB: You seem like you’re good at travelling. You were really good at getting out in Pittsburg and seeing as much of the city as you could when it was minus ten. I [also] remember you talking about moving back to London alone when you were thirteen to go to theatre school. This makes me think you’re a good independent traveller and someone who adapts easily.
HL: I don’t necessarily feel like I’m a natural, but I suppose if you look at my track record then maybe I am.

LB: That really stood out to me, I’m so shocked you did something so independent at such a young age.
HL: I was very young and it was burning ambition, the whole thing felt like a happy accident really. It was very much the kind of thing where I was thrown into this opportunity that came my way and, even as a young person, it felt like something I was obligated to take. I’m glad I did because it has definitely changed my life. The lovely thing about acting is it invariably takes you somewhere else, I’ve only shot one thing in London in my career so far. I find it a really weird experience to go to work and come back to the place you actually live.

LB: In a way, it can be harder because you still have to keep one foot in your everyday life and all of those relationships.
HL: Exactly. They do all feel like solo adventures. Even though you meet really nice people who you become friends with, it does feel like something you did alone. I like that though, I love a podcast and I love getting to a new place and walking but not really knowing where I’m going. I did that in Pittsburg quite a lot, I think I might have exhausted that. [laughs] It was very cold, that was quite spiriting though I suppose. I do quite like the snow.

jacket, shirt, trousers and belt all by SAINT LAURENT by ANTHONY VACCARELLO SS23; jewellery, worn throughout, HARRY’S own; shoes by CHURCH’S SS23

LB: You were better than me, I admired it from inside the warm and looked out my window. I’m really interested in asking other actors this – when you’re filming far away from home and you’re allowed to disconnect, are you someone who leans into the work and the characters in that way? Or, are you very good at leaving the work at work, then when you come home you’re 100 percent Harry?
HL: These are very good questions.

LB: I’m using this as an opportunity to grill you, also as someone who went to drama school I’m genuinely fascinated.
HL: This is really nice, it’s something I was thinking about before. I’m always the person on set who wants to ask loads of questions but sometimes don’t because I don’t want to bother people when they’re at work. Especially when you’re less experienced, you worry people might think it’s a bit amateur if you ask them tons of questions.

LB: Yeah you don’t want to be intrusive or you don’t know if someone is trying to stay in character or something, and then you’re like “So where are you from?” [laughs]
HL: That was what I really liked about Pale Blue Eye, because I was doing the majority of my work with you or Harry [Melling] – you’re both people who are very talented, kind and a lot more experienced than I am, but crucially not too much older than me. I had this really nice space of feeling like I had people I could learn from but also people who were colleagues and peers I could have a laugh with. I remember laughing a lot with you guys, especially towards the end of filming.

LB: Yeah, the last four days of hysteria.
HL: When I watched it I was thinking about how much of a laugh we had while making it, but we did go a bit crazy.

LB: It makes sense because if you’re going to the extremes emotionally, I don’t know how you just pare that back and chill out in your chair between takes.
HL: It’s the way it goes sometimes, you find the levity where you can. Remind me of the question!

LB: Are you good at leaning into the character and dislocating from your life?
HL: It’s a tough one. I’ve worked with some really lovely actors, and I think part of the strength of what they do is that there is a part of themselves in their characters, and that is a good thing because they’re such interesting people. So to have a small portion of you in everything you do is nice and feels all the more authentic. I definitely work with people whose USP is themselves and I think that’s a nice quality, I think I maybe have a bit of that, I suppose there is a bit of me in everything. It’s not so much that I struggle with attachment between character and myself, but I do struggle not to bring work home and find I do get quite consumed with the notion of doing a ‘good job’. I find that quite exhausting at times. I know some actors who are like, “Oh, it’s done,” and then they leave and even if they don’t feel like they were at their best it’s fine.

LB: I don’t understand those people.
HL: It’s mad, I’m jealous. Maybe it’s not a bad thing I’m preoccupied with wanting to repay the faith people have shown in me. I think it might be a life stage because I worked with an actor last year and she’d had a baby about seven months before, which inevitably is going to change so many things about the way you perceive the world. But it was so clear this gorgeous baby had had a real influence on her approach to work because it completely expanded her universe in the nicest way. If she had a bad scene or a bad day she was like, “Oh who gives a shit really?” She had this really inspiring outlook, it’s not that she didn’t care about work, but she knew it wasn’t the be-all and end-all. Being around me and all my neurosis was a funny mismatch and I tried to pinch a bit of that. I don’t necessarily think I have too much trouble with characters. Not to make myself sound too basic but I like to see it as dressing up and I think that’s what it always was for me. That’s why I enjoy it and why I can still move away from it. But I have found that if I’m doing really taxing, traumatic stuff at work, it is sometimes difficult not to go home in a funny spot.

“To have a small portion of you in everything you do is nice and feels all the more authentic”

jacket, shirt and tie all by CELINE HOMME by HEDI SLIMANE SS2

LB: But it’s also probably better if you’re anchored in the idea of it being dress-up, or something that is lighter. Like your friend, if she’s got a broader perspective of what is important, then the things tethered to this job are lighter and it probably allows you to be a better actor because you’re more experimental and less precious about yourself and the job. Whereas when I drive myself crazy, it’s because I’ve got to get it right, and in a job where there is literally no such thing, where every single person would do it differently, you’re probably better if you’ve got it rooted in something else.
HL: It’s so true, it does feel like we’re obsessed with this concept of doing it right, which doesn’t objectively exist. I had a teacher who used to say; “Acting is like a never-ending attempt at a sensation.” You’ll search for it forever and maybe once in a blue moon you’ll find yourself in a spot where if you’re in the right space and the environment is conducive to it then you really do feel the things you’re supposed to feel and it just flows, and you generate from a place of freedom. But it is rare, and the rest of the time he used to say, “That’s where you work, that’s where your technique happens and that’s where the business lives.” What about you? Also, you’ve done a hell of a lot of period stuff and I was wondering if that’s something you’re actively drawn to or if it’s just the way they fall sometimes?

LB: I really love doing period pieces because of what we were talking about, you’re dislocated from your own life. We were talking about this when we were doing press for Pale Blue, you’re so extracted from the context of your day-to-day, the surroundings and costume become half of the work in terms of removing you from the equation.
HL: Does it help with detachment, or does it make it harder?

LB: I think it helps because there is such a clear divide between you and them and your world and theirs, so it’s hard to allow them to bleed together. I’m the same, I don’t find it hard to let a character go, but I sometimes find it hard to want to. Half of that can be going over scenes thinking, “Oh I wish I had done it this way,” and half of it is just genuinely really enjoying it. I played a character last year in an Agatha Christie adaptation [Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? directed by Hugh Laurie] and it was so liberating. It unlocks something in you, rather than bringing myself to the characters it was more about what I could steal from them, which was really great.
HL: How was that job? It looked great.

LB: It was fucking amazing.
HL: I wanted to ask you about it when we were doing press because I’m a big Hugh Laurie fan and I think we only got to speak about it for that 30-second pocket of break time.

LB: The tiny little break between interviews! It was amazing.
HL: I know Will [Poulter, Boynton’s co-star in Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?] a little bit and he seems like the nicest person.

LB: He is literally the nicest person on this planet. Also being directed by an actor changes everything. [Hugh] has such tremendous respect for the work, but without ego, you’re just suddenly free. It gives you the opportunity to not have an ego about anything either, so it became the best version of what we do, to be led by a genius and Agatha Christie’s writing – it was brilliant and fun.
HL: It was a cool character as well.

LB: Playing someone who is better than you in a way, more confident than you or has all these attributes you’d love to lean into is great.
HL: That’s really interesting. I’ve had that as well where you’re playing someone who to a certain degree fills in your gaps, you have the opportunity to…

LB: Pinch a few attributes and take them with you!
HL: Exactly, and embody them for a little while. I can’t remember if I told you, but I’m at the same agency as Hugh Laurie. I signed when I came out of drama school, and they put my photo and my CV on the website. I was just excited to have an agent, but when I looked at the client list it was done in alphabetical order and my initials are HL so I was right next to Hugh Laurie. My mum was so excited by it, she thought it was the best thing ever.

shirt, trousers and belt all by SAINT LAURENT by ANTHONY VACCARELLO SS23

LB: [laughs] I love that so much.
HL: He’s such a prolific creator. Years back it felt like he’d reached a point in his career where he had a certain level of security and a lack of ego, then he decided he was going to make a jazz album because his first passion was music. You got the sense when he spoke about it that it wasn’t for any reason other than it was something he wanted to do. Even that was critically acclaimed.

LB: He’s someone who sustains so much interest and curiosity outside of this job.
HL: People always talk about multi-hyphenates these days, which sounds like a very official term, but the broader spectrum of your experiences just makes you a more holistic performer. You’ve worked with some serious people, who pops to mind in terms of people you’ve taken something from?

LB: Kelvin Harrison Jr. is someone I find really interesting because he’s similar in the sense that he is someone you know has done so much preparation, then when he gets there he has the ability to be really playful with it and knows the characters and the space so well. This is me projecting onto him, but he has a very clear playground to operate within and it seems to give him a lot of freedom, which as a scene partner was so much fun. It means you’re living in the moment and you are very much reacting off each other. There is a relaxed energy around it. I loved working with him. What about you?
HL: That’s nice. I have a few, I just worked with Ciarán Hinds and that was really great, I only worked with him for about four or five days. First and foremost, you’d struggle to meet a nicer man, I was overwhelmed by how kind, gracious and generous he was, but I found it fascinating to watch him work. There’s a one-man show Ian McKellen did a few years ago [With Tolkien, Shakespeare, Others and YOU] and it reminded me of that in a sense because actors of a certain age and level of experience, gravitas or security feel so at ease to just speak. It felt like he could read the Shipping Forecast and it would sound profound, watching him do so little yet offer so much was great schooling for me. I like to think it comes with time, know-how and a lack of fear. I found it really amazing to watch.

LB: Does having gone to drama school give you a sense of confidence either in preparation for a job or when you arrive on set? If so, what did you learn at drama school that you consciously apply when arriving on set or approaching a character?
HL: Maybe, but I’d say that the whole drama school thing is a bit of a misnomer and I think people lean on it too heavily in terms of the foundation it brings to you. I learned a lot there for sure and I definitely came out a far better actor and person than I was when I went in. But that’s doubled again in the couple of years I’ve been in the industry and I’ve learned just as much since then. It’s a specific type of schooling, but growing up on film sets is perhaps an even more specific type of schooling. I imagine that will load you with all sorts of different experiences and wisdom you don’t get at drama school because it’s a very theoretical kind of training. I suppose a lot of things do drop in, or rise to the surface when you’re not expecting them. It’s happened before where a phrase a certain teacher used to hammer home would become meaningless after a while because it was repeated so much, then I’ll find myself in a moment go, “Oh it’s like that.” Thinking about drama school really makes me want to do theatre again because overwhelmingly it’s theatre-based training and I’ve been mostly preoccupied with screen work over the past couple of years, which I’m really grateful for but it makes me miss that kind of work.

LB: What about it do you miss?
HL: It’s about the way it’s delivered. It feels more temporary and more transient. The thing that bothers me sometimes about working on screen in this preoccupation with being good, is that if I have a bad day on screen I think it stays a bad day forever, it feels like I’ve put something into the camera I can’t take back.

“Not to make myself sound too basic but I like to see it as dressing up and I think that’s what it always was for me. That’s why I enjoy it and why I can still move away from it.”

jacket, vest and trousers all by DANIEL w. FLETCHER SS23; shoes by ALEXANDER McQUEEN SS23

LB: That’s so brutal. [laughs]
HL: It is!

LB: You’ve committed to permanence.
HL: The other thing I like about theatre is I don’t have to watch it. [laughs] If I have ever watched footage of myself on stage I’m always disappointed because it doesn’t look how it felt and that’s why I don’t think stage work should be filmed. You do the play, you’re speaking and listening to people on stage, then it ends and hopefully people clap, you bow, then you go to see people in the bar and someone might come up to you if you’re lucky and go, “That was really good,” and you say, “Thanks!” Because, in my mind, I didn’t see it so I’ll just have to take their word for it.

LB: That’s so beautiful. It’s so much more like an exchange and an experience, there is something so wholesome about it. My friend who does a lot of theatre always says you have a greater sense of ownership over the experience, and of the character. Even though it can change from night to night, it is totally yours and theirs in the moment, whereas as a screen actor, you’re handing your performance over to someone else. Even if it is a good day and you’re proud of it, you hand it over to an editor and a director to dissect in a way that could not resemble what you did.
HL: I think ultimately most of us are control freaks. Of course, you still put faith in a theatre director, but it feels as though you have slightly more autonomy. As a group, you’re the arbiters of what people see and how they see it when you’re on stage. That’s why I’ve stopped watching stuff at this point, because I think it helps me to relinquish control. It doesn’t give me the opportunity to have an opinion on it.

LB: As in you’re not watching your projects or you’re not watching playback?
HL: Neither, I’d never watch playback, but I’m not watching projects at the moment. I hope it might change because I never wanted to be that kind of actor. I used to watch interviews with actors who would say stuff like this and I used to think it sounded a bit faux-modest to me. I remember not believing in it and I always used to think it was a shame because imagine being a painter and refusing to ever look at your work, it just wouldn’t make any sense. But at this moment in time, it’s not for me. It removes my own ego or insecurity about what might have been made and reminds me it is for other people to watch and my job is just part of providing that service.

LB: That’s really nice, you’re applying the repercussions of doing a theatrical piece to this – it’s not for you, it’s for an audience.
HL: Yeah, I’m trying to morph it closer to what theatre is I suppose. It’s all a learning curve, I’m sure that will change and I hope it will change because the only downside is you don’t get to see your friend’s work. Thankfully you get to see some stuff on the day, when we were filming Pale Blue, I’d always take an opportunity to sneak around the monitors and watch what’s happening. I don’t disappear because I feel like it’s a great opportunity to learn something. It’s a really unique, nuanced vantage point, because how many people get the chance to watch the thing as it happens in 3D? You can also pivot your head and watch the monitor to see it as it will be seen and how it’s intended to be seen, you get to go back and forth. I was watching a scene between you and Harry, the one where you’re chatting by the piano and I think I actually said something to you afterwards because I was properly blown away by it, you guys are really good. [laughs] I was so glad I got to watch it because there was so much detail, it was incredibly delicately done and Scott [Cooper, director] had pushed the camera extremely close on you both and you were both just making miniature movements that were massive for the moment – it was a masterclass in screen acting.

jacket and trousers both by ALEXANDER McQUEEN SS23; shirt by DRIES VAN NOTEN SS23

Interview originally published in HERO 29. 

photography assistant BRUNO McGUFFIE;
fashion assistant SETH CULLEN;
make-up assistant JODIE JACOBS

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