Glass meets rising star, actor Callum Turner

CALLUM Turner has had the kind of start to his career that most young actors can only dream of. Having modelled for Burberry, for his debut film he was cast as the lead role in the critically acclaimed Queen & Country (2014), the long-awaited sequel to John Boorman’s award-winning 1987 Hope and Glory.

The London-born, 27 year old Turner then starred alongside acting legend Patrick Stewart in 2015’s Green Room and in 2016 was picked as part of a stellar ensemble cast, including fellow rising British actor Lily James, in the BBC’s jaw-dropping production of War and Peace. Having launched the careers of the likes of Helena Bonham Carter, Keira Knightley, Idris Elba, Rachel Weisz and countless other Hollywood names, BBC dramas have a long-held reputation of being the benchmark for talent-spotting, making this role a special mark of honour.

When Turner arrives for our photo and interview session, his London accent is in stark contrast to the received pronunciation of his Prince Anatole Kuragin in War and Peace, or his American characters from the 207 Netflix hit Tramps and recent movie The only Living Boy in New York, in which he leads a car including such names as Jeff Bridges, Kate Beckinsale, Pierce Brosnan and Cynthia Nixon.

He is friendly, funny and extremely likeable. He has something of a carefree Jack the Lad charm which is tempered, his interview reveals, by a deep love of artistry and quest for creativity. He immediately asks for a speaker so that he can put on one of his playlists – a surprising mix of retro soul, modern rap and ’90s rock ensues, a combination almost as multi-faceted as Turner himself.

Callum Turner. Photograph: Neil Kirk

How do you feel about “Hollywood’s Next Big Thing” label that’s been assigned to you?
It’s nice and exciting because it means you’re doing the right thing and heading in the right direction. But if you’re asking if that makes me feel a pressure or anything, not really. I just enjoy working with people who are going to push me and I try to look for that.

Does the label mean anything to you?
Yeah. It’s nice because it’s recognition, in terms of a path and being seen. There’s only been one thing in Hollywood Reporter that said that. But I don’t really pay attention to that sort of thing – it doesn’t really come into my mind. For me, it’s not about that, it’s about the work and judging yourself on the work and the things you do. That’s what excites me. When I’m on set with someone I have watched for a long time, or a director that really excites me, or if the Director of Photography is amazing and is doing wonderful things then I am learning from it. They push their boundaries and in turn yours.

Callum Turner. Photograph: Neil Kirk

It’s nice that you recognise people like the Director of Photography, because there are so many people behind the scenes that are not as recognised. They may not become household names but their role in making an amazing film is just as crucial.
Absolutely. Filmmaking is such a team game. The set design, the costume, the sound design, the CGI – you’re just one piece of a jigsaw. You want to be working with all the people who are exciting. You want to work with the best costume designer, the best sound maker – even though it’s the director who chooses them. But you want to be in that realm. When I did Tramps it was really exciting for me for many reasons, but Nicholas Britell created the music. He composed the soundtrack and he made it all himself – and that is an artistry. He did Moonlight and Tramps in the same year. It was really amazing to see the two differences, and how he and Adam Leon [Director of Tramps] worked together. Adam and I talked about that a lot during that process, and how the soundtrack makes the movie.

In the same way, I think Ashley Connor is an amazing Director of Photography. Adam gave her the room to be free, and that was a real collaboration. It was exciting to be out in front of that. We did a two-and-a-half-minute scene where we were in an overground subway and our characters ran down, and first it’s close up and the camera goes in, then zooms out and then back in again – and that’s cool That’s filmmaking. That’s what’s exciting. That’s what gets me going. The truth is in the work – always.

Callum Turner. Photograph: Neil Kirk

How was it been a newbie going into making The Only Living Boy in New York (2017) with Jeff Bridges?
It was amazing. It was an incredible. Jeff Bridges is an icon of cinema.

Were you nervous going into that?
When I first met him, we both arrived at the director’s apartment in New York at the same time. He was getting out and I think I was like, “Hey man, can I take your bags”. Like, what do I do? Then we were in the elevator together and I was thinking, don’t say anything, or should I? I was so nervous I couldn’t think of anything to say.

What’s Jeff like to work with – did he give you any words of wisdom?
Jeff’s amazing. The best thing Jeff said to me was actually after we shot. We were getting ok reviews, we weren’t getting spectacular ones and there were a couple that weren’t great. He was upset by that, as we all were. But he was like, “I’ve done so many of these movies. You go and you pick the thing you want to do and you work the people you want to work with and you have a good time, and you make some friends if you’re lucky. And then if the movie is good, that’s a bonus. If it’s not well received, you keep going.” It’s not about whether or not you’re a star, or you’re hot shit. It’s about having fun and doing the actual work. It’s easy to forget that, when you’re looking at the future and you want certain things. But the fun in its purest form is when you have the job, and you’re working and collaborating with people. That’s it, and that’s what I want to do.

Callum Turner. Photograph: Neil Kirk

I read that you wanted to play for Chelsea originally, as a footballer.
I still do! (he laughs)

When did you decide that acting was a good idea?
I gave up football when I was 17. Throughout my life, my childhood, I watched films all the time. It was just always there, for some reason, in my mind. And then I started doing it, and it wasn’t until about two years in that I realised that I wanted to do it properly. Before that I wasn’t really invested. I just thought it was quite fun. I was 23 when I started working with my acting coach – who I still work with now. That was when it took off for me, when I started taking it seriously.

I read in an interview that you grew up on the “less shiny side of Chelsea”, as you described it. Could you tell me about where you grew up?

Well there’s a shiny end and there’s a not shiny end (he laughs). I grew up in a really beautiful place, a beautiful part of the world. Central London, Chelsea. I grew up on an estate. I had a beautiful childhood. I was an only child, but there were so many kids – probably 20 of us that would play out all day. There was nowhere we couldn’t really go as long as it was on the estate. It’s so funny as your world expands. I remember that feeling of “you can’t go past the estate lines.” There were a few estates together and a road called Edith Grove that surrounds where I grew up, and then there’s the Kings Road, so we were in an island. I remember looking out, and seeing the road, I’d go as far as that at six years old and think “I am not allowed to go out there”. Then as you get older, your world gets bigger.

As a kid from an estate in Chelsea, was it very surreal for you when you were filming War and Peace and walked onto a set with such an incredible cast of actors like Jim Broadbent, Gillian Anderson, Paul Dano and Stephen Rea?

I’m trying to think what I had one before that. Green Room I had shot before that, and Tramps before that. I had a little bit of it on Queen and Country – it was the first film I had that surreal feeling on. David Thewlis was in the film and I love David Thewlis so much. That performance in Naked, but just David Thewlis in general –  he’s incredible. That was a real pinch yourself moment, working with him. I had a lot of scenes with him But War and Peace was the one with the big cast. I wasn’t nervous, I was more excited, because I knew it was going to be good and it was going to be special. Tom Harper is very cool. The way he directed, I could tell it was going to be something good. But Paul Dano, I’ve watched There Will Be Blood and Twelve Years A Slave just for is performances, just to look at what he does and where he goes. He’s one of the best ever. I only had one little scene with him which was annoying. I would’ve liked to have done more with Paul because he is just so good. That felt like something. I really appreciated that, being such a fan of someone.

Callum Turner. Photograph: Neil Kirk

The character you played was extraordinarily confident and sure of himself, but also not very likeable.
The character was amazing to play. I sort of combined a house cat, a really beautiful one with that energy, with a really beautiful woman because that was the confidence that he had. But underneath this was a dust of man who dies. You have got to find the essence of someone who you know is going to die soon, as soon as they go to war. He’s not a hero. The truth of the man is that he is a bit of a pussy. But power is funny, and money is funny – and people have that over others.

You don’t have an Instagram account which is pretty unusual for a young actor – why is that?
Because I am already addicted to my phone now and I just make playlists.

Not even Facebook? You don’t feel a pressure to build up your public persona? You don’t care about how many followers you have?
I don’t look down on it, it’s really just that I’m already addicted to my phone. By removing myself from that, I spend less time looking at it. I’ve got an app that tells me how much time I spend on my phone, and on a good day it’s two hours. Two hours! That’s mad. That’s lost time. It’s getting better now, because I deleted my Twitter. It’s just another numbing app – just another addiction. On your phone you’re not living in the present moment. You’re escaping your feelings, you might as well face them.

Would you consider yourself a celebrity yet?

Do you think you ever would? What would it take?
(He thinks for a moment then laughs). It would take me going on Takeshi’s Castle for me to be a celebrity.

What has been one of the best moments for you so far?
I don’t know, I’ve had some really cool moments. Like me, my best friend, Jeff Bridges and his friend got a helicopter from upstate down to New York City. It was cool because we all pretended we could take the helicopter, and then when we got in and it started taking off we were all giddy and we were all filming. We all reverted back to being nine years old, all of us, while I think the pilot just felt embarrassed for us. The funny thing was that someone saw a picture and texted my friend asking, “is that Kurt Russell?” hahaha.

What would you last meal be?
My mum’s cooking – because that means I get to see her as well. I’d have a Sunday roast and sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream. That’s the best.

by Nicola Kavanagh

Callum Turner can be seen as Shaun Emery in the BBC One TV Series The Capture

From the Glass Archive – Glass Man Magazine, Decade, Issue 39, Spring 2019

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Photographer: NEIL KIRK
Fashion assistant: FREYA BROOKE

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