A multi-faceted man: Glass interviews Iwan Rheon

IWAN Rheon was born in Carmarthen, a rural town in south-west Wales and a world away from the fantastical locations of his future career. When he was five, his family moved to Cardiff and he began to discover a love and talent for singing and acting, and participated in youth theatre and the National Eisteddfod before going on to study at the London Academy of Music and Drama. Within just a few years, he received an Olivier for his role in Spring Awakening after studying at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. This breakthrough was quickly followed by the role of shy superhero Simon Bellamy on Misfits. His spine-chilling portrayal of the horrifying villain Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones was a complete credit to his acting abilities, as the man I’m speaking to is nothing like him in any manner at all. Calm, cool and collected – and entirely without blood thirst – now 33 years old, Rheon is simply a Welshman with extraordinary artistic talents. His subsequent roles on Riviera, Vicious and Inhumans proved Rheon an actor with incredible reach and fantastical abilities, both on earth and in space.

In his recent performances, Rheon has chosen to portray the real-life accounts of characters from history, for example, taking on the role of Polish pilot Jan Zumbach in 2018’s Hurricane, a film retelling the long forgotten story of Poland’s aeronauts in World War II. Fast forward 50 years, and you’ll meet his next role, rock icon Mick Mars in Netflix’s upcoming Mötley Crüe biopic The Dirt. In amongst these various characters, Rheon has also released an album, several EPs and just last year became a father. As we speak, Glass discovers the man behind the guises, finding out what gives him purpose and fulfilment in his career as an actor, as a passionate musician and a first-time father.

Iwan Rheon. Photograph: Daniel Benson

How was 2018 for you, Iwan?

It was a very different year. I did a play for the first time in years. I’d been trying to get back on stage for a while and finally managed it. I think theatre is very good for actors. It takes you out of the comfort of filming and really exposes you. It’s scary but rewarding. I also played my first living character, Mick Mars, in The Dirt. We had a lot of fun filming this in New Orleans with a great bunch of people. I also did a film called The Toll in Wales. It was great to go back to the motherland and do a bit of acting. It’s a dark comedy with a great script and cast. I look forward to seeing it. But the most important thing that happened is that I became a father. It’s wonderful. I never knew how much love one is capable of.

I have to ask, as Game of Thrones enters its final season, what emotions stand out for you when you think back to your time playing Ramsay Bolton?

It was such a wonderful thing to be involved in. I feel very lucky. It was such a great character that was written so well. Every season, I got to do scenes that every actor dreams of and work with such fantastic people. He was a horrible little bastard but I feel privileged to have been part of such a great show. I can’t wait to see how it all ends.

Iwan Rheon. Photograph: Daniel Benson

After playing some fantastical figures in the past, your role in Hurricane retold the courageous stories of forgotten WW2 heroes, the pilots of Hurricane Squadron 303. How did that responsibility affect your performance as an actor?

It was crucial for us to make it as authentic as possible out of respect for these brave men who sacrificed everything to protect an island that wasn’t even their home. Talking to the director, David Blair, we felt it was important to play the scenes in Polish to achieve that authenticity. This was a massive challenge as there was a lot of it and I had no grasp of the language apart from “thank you”. We felt that, when the Poles were speaking to each other, it should be in their mother tongue. I didn’t sleep very much because it’s a tricky language and I didn’t have much time to learn it. I hope I did justice to those heroes.

Your acting career began on the stage, even winning an Olivier for your performance in Spring Awakening. In what ways do you feel stage performance differs from acting on screen?

It’s a very different discipline. The focus of your energy is very different. In many ways, you’re doing the same thing but you’re projecting your thoughts to an auditorium instead of the camera. There are no second takes and you have to get it right up there or you’ll look very stupid. It’s very rewarding in that sense when it works. You get an immediate interaction with the audience. I think it is very important to do stage and screen as an actor. It keeps you on your toes.

Iwan Rheon. Photograph: Daniel Benson

 If you were to return to the stage sometime soon, what kind of role would we expect to see you play?

I’d like to do some Shakespeare someday. I always like to push myself and it’s something I haven’t done professionally. That would be fun. I’ll hopefully get to do that soon.

It seems you’ve conquered every performance platform: TV, film, stage and now online in the form of Mötley Crüe biopic The Dirt for Netflix. How do you feel about the rise of these new streaming platforms?

I think it’s great. There is so much content out there. Netflix are making so much high quality, great stuff. It’s changed the way people view stuff in many languages all over the world. It’s a very exciting time. Things are moving forward so fast.

What can we expect from your portrayal of character Mick Mars, and was he just as rock’n’roll in person?

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet Mick but I spoke to him on the phone. We talked about guitars and amps. He’s a true musician. He was also very lovely, open and supportive. He even sent me a replica of a T-shirt he always used to wear. I tried to get it into the film as much as I could. I hope he’s happy with my performance. It must be exceptionally weird seeing someone play you. I think he was the wisest member of the band and I hope that comes across.

Iwan Rheon. Photograph: Daniel Benson

If one were to listen to your 2015 album Dinard, they would find your own musical style is quite different from that of the Mötley Crüe. What does music mean to you today?

It is very different. It was fun to learn the songs and play a completely different style. Playing really loud heavy music felt good. I love playing music. It’s a great release for me. I love sitting in a room playing my acoustic guitar and singing my ass off. I’m going to try and record another album soon. I’m always writing tunes. I do it for fun. It’s not something I want to become a career because I fear losing the love for it and what it represents in my life.

You’re appearing in the new Berlin, I Love You series, playing a role that we presume will be very different from your villainous past. Can you tell us anything about Greg?

It’s a very different role again. It was really fun shooting. Greg is a much gentler person trying to do the right thing. I guess you’ll have to watch the film to learn more as I don’t want to give too much away. I look forward to seeing the film.

Iwan Rheon. Photograph: Daniel Benson

You’ve spoken about the issue of typecasting in the past – are you hoping your recent roles will help break any perceptions about you as an actor?

I hope so. I would hate to play the same kind of characters all the time. I’m always looking for something different that can challenge me. I hope I get to play lots of different roles in the future.

The theme of this issue of Glass is Purpose. Where do you find purpose in your day to day life? Could you share with us some insights into your life purpose at all?

I guess my purpose has changed a lot recently. I’m now a father so I have to provide for my child. I want to give my child everything I can in order to create a brighter future. It also means I can now walk around singing made-up songs in public and no one bats an eyelid, which gives me great purpose! Life is good.

by Lucy May McCracken

Photographer: DANIEL BENSON 
Photographer assistant: HARRY HARDWOOD 
Fashion assistant: STEPHANIE PAULO 

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Suit, shirt: GIVENCHY

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All Clothing: DIOR

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