Glass sits down with Jack Lowden to delve into the beauty of acting

Scottish actor JACK LOWDEN speaks to Glass Man about the pull he’s always felt for the stage, the beauty in flawed characters and appearing in Apple TV’s British spy drama, Slow Horses.

The conclusion I came to after speaking to Jack Lowden was that he’s a thoroughbred thespian. He uses this exact term to describe others in his field, comparing them to racehorses, as he conscientiously observes others on set.

“It’s like getting to see these brilliant racehorses, you just watch them in the paddock essentially and see how they twitch and and move, because the way they twitch and move is different to other people,” he explains admiringly naming Stephen Dillane and Saskia Reeves as examples of this rare breed. The Scottish actor’s career has evolved in an equally as impressive manner, unravelling a track record as ambitious and fertile as those he reveres.

After graduating from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in 2011, the young actor quickly garnered critical acclaim following a successful year-long stint as the lead, Cammy, in the Olivier award-winning play Black Watch, and as Eric Liddell in the stage adaptation of Chariots of Fire.

But the defining role that lauded his innate ability to transfix an audience was his role as Oswald in Richard Eyre’s adaption of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts, rendering a fascination with the then-unknown actor after he received both the Olivier and Ian Charleson award for his performance.

Photographer: Joseph Sinclair

“I feel like I’ve come to screen and film quite late. I’m sort of going through a process of education in that way,” says Lowden about the latter stages of his career in which he transitioned from theatrics to film sets.

“I grew up on stage, I come from a really heavy stage background – not only that, that’s what I went to watch a lot as a kid as there was a lot of amateur dramatics”. Growing up in the rural village of Oxton in the Scottish Borders, his journey into acting stemmed from his younger brother’s passion for dance, following him to extracurricular activities and weekend programmes: “I was shite at [dance] and quite quickly was given narrating parts in his ballet show”, he smiles.

“When I was about 10 or 11, I realised that I could make people laugh,” Lowden pauses to reflect. “All of this comes from me realising I can make people laugh. I could make all of these parents laugh”. Describing himself as a “very shy” child growing up, and even confessing he still is quite shy now, what Lowden felt when he walked in front of an audience during his childhood gave him a sense of acceptance he hasn’t found elsewhere.

“For some reason, on stage, still not on camera, but on stage, I just feel completely and utterly at home. I don’t know what it is, I just love it. That’s how it started and I got into that wonderful realm that is really useful but maybe not necessarily romantic where you realise what you can do and not necessarily what you want to do. I think everybody makes that really boring presumption that if you’re an actor you get to do what you love. I think for me, I do love it but I realised I could do this when I didn’t think I could do a lot”.

Photographer: Joseph Sinclair

In his summers during secondary school, his music teacher would put on a week-long show after six months of rehearsing. Perhaps a part of it was this prolonged build-up, but it was the emotions that Lowden felt after it was done that solidified his necessity to continue to act.

“I would get super down as a kid when that week would be over,” he recalls. Still to this day, despite all the accolades, he reminisces about those plays. “I probably will always feel that that time when I was a teenager was the best, the most fun I’ve ever had with acting because it was pure enjoyment. Whereas now, it’s all about being better every time I do it, which is a wonderful feeling but it’s not as much enjoyment as back then”.

As we look at the different landmarks of his career, we speak about his transition from stage to screen, which was slow and considered. Lowden steadily parlayed minor roles until 2016, when his portrayal in the BBC’s War & Peace prompted positive reviews, and a year later he took a mammoth leap into the spotlight with his permeating performance in Christopher Nolan’s WWII blockbuster, Dunkirk.

Since then his subtle yet potent nuances have made him a force to be reckoned with, playing leads in Mary Queen of Scots (2018), Capone (2020) and Benediction (2021), and being favoured by directors like Terence Davies and Steve McQueen, all helping him ascend to a perennial place in British film.

The expansion of his resumé is marked by a myriad of characters that can be described as flawed, or somewhat unconventional. “I went through a period where I was offered a lot of self-destructive men, feckless men, as they were described to me at one point. The sort of finished article, the sort of ‘leaning against the French door, squinting off into the distance with all the answers’ roles I never got,” says Lowden.

Photographer: Joseph Sinclair

“I’d be lying if I said ‘no I would never like to play that sort of guy’ but it turns out they were far more interesting”.

Ruminating on this, in the past couple of years, in light of the #MeToo movement, antiquated ideals embedded in certain gender roles on-screen have become more diluted. “I don’t know if it’s a direct repercussion of it, but a lot of parts that I know that come my way as a man, they are a lot more reckless than they probably were 10 years ago where the guy had all the answers. My characters make a shit tonne more mistakes than they did years ago and ironically it’s actually super interesting,” deciphers the actor thoughtfully.

“It’s interesting to think that the generation of male actors before would not be playing those parts. Whatever’s happened in the industry, whatever you want to call it, or even in society, it’s better for all sexes. And I don’t even know if it’s necessarily to do with sex, it’s more to do with people not being interested in the final product. In the past 5 to 10 years, when it comes to discussions around mental health, our generation is a lot more willing to poke into those corners”.

Photographer: Joseph Sinclair

Imbuing this affinity to complex characters, Lowden reprises the role of a disgraced MI5 officer, River Cartwright in Apple TV+’s British series, Slow Horses. Based on Mick Herron’s novel, the adaption is an unmissable concoction of dark sarcastic one-liners and gripping drama, set on the fringes of British espionage where veteran agent Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman) leads a unit of exiled operatives to do menial work at an MI5 dumping ground known as Slough House. Returning for its second season, and already renewed for a third and fourth, the misfit team are involved when they discover Russian sleeper agents are reactivated in the capital following a note reading ‘cicada’ left by an ex-service agent.

Without giving away the plot that diligently unfolds over six episodes, I ask Lowden how he feels about continuing with a character over what will be a two-year period. “I think the whole point of being an actor is to play every part under the sun and to show every different level of yourself but it’s nice to get the opportunity to go into as much detail as you can with something like this and to see where it goes,” he says earnestly.

“Strangely in a way, it’s the first time I’ve ever found on camera where in a warped way you are getting to get better and get more comfortable. It’s definitely my favourite thing about this. We are in the middle of shooting the third season and River is definitely more supple, and intricate than he was in the first season. And it’s not necessarily his storyline or that it’s better written, and I know it sounds like I’ve given myself all the credit but it’s more because of the amount of time you get to spend with them – it’s really wonderful”.

Photographer: Joseph Sinclair

Mirroring the same bond, Lowden expresses the growing relationship between cast and crew, describing the beauty of being on a project for so long, and the space in which creativity on both sides has been able to grow. “I think with anything like this, you sink into it and everybody starts completely trusting each other,” he notes. “I listened to the audiobooks [of Slow Horses] that are read by Sean Barrett, and I love shooting the season and listening to it as I go along. It just informs me a little bit and you run in and you go ‘what if we do this?’”.

Lowden is the antithesis of River Cartwright. One is calm, thoughtful and meticulous with every word, while the other is inadvertently chaotic with a charismatic anger to him. So what does he enjoy most about playing this contrast? “I love his impatience and I love his cynicism,” smiles the actor. “I grew up around a shit tonne of that and it makes you a brilliant pessimist, you know you’re never ever disappointed and I think he’s never disappointed. That’s the thing that I always found very in common with him”.

Though Jack Lowden might be a self- proclaimed glass-half-empty type, his career trajectory is seeing him in exceedingly more ambitious roles, turning his metaphor of certain actors being racehorses directly back at him. The race may still be long and there are hurdles to overcome but, as I said at the beginning, Lowden is a thoroughbred actor and I have confidently placed my bet on him.

by Imogen Clark

Photographer: Joseph Sinclair

Stylist: Holly Macnaghten

Grooming: Carlos Ferraz at Carol Hayes Management

Talent: Jack Lowden

Look 1: All clothing GIORGIO ARMANI, Necklace CARTIER

Look 2, 4 & 5: All clothing ALEXANDER McQUEEN, Necklace CARTIER, Rings STEPHEN WEBSTER

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