From working with Lesley Manville and Kristin Scott Thomas to winning an Olivier Award and travelling the globe with Black Watch, life since graduating drama school three years ago – yes you read that right – has been something of an incredible ride for Scottish actor Jack Lowden.
It’s a ride that the Chariots Of Fire star has clearly taken in his stride, however. When we meet during rehearsals for his latest turn on the London stage in Ian Rickson’s much-anticipated production of Greek tragedy Electra, in which Lowden will make his Old Vic debut alongside Scott Thomas, the starriest thing about this young star is his complex takeaway order from Byron Burger.
Technical periods of rehearsals are notoriously hard work – hence the burger – but with fake blood encrusted on his fingertips and a horrifyingly realistic fake corpse being painted ready for previews, it seems this tech has been particularly deadly. Then again, for Lowden this darkness is something he has become accustomed to following his role in the harrowing drama Ghosts.
It’s a strange turn of events for the man who spent his youth “trying to make people laugh” at youth theatre. Find out exactly how he has travelled form the Scottish Borders to The Old Vic in his words.
My brother’s a ballet dancer. I’ve no idea [how we both ended up in the arts]. Our parents were just brilliant parents who encouraged us to do whatever we wanted to do. My brother started the dancing thing first and I followed him into that and realised quickly how useless I was, but I was really shy so I ended up going to youth theatre classes and liked making people laugh.
I grew up on comedies; I don’t take myself seriously in the slightest, so it does amaze me that I’ve ended up being in all these very dark, sinister plays. But I love it because, touch wood, I’m lucky enough not to have that level of darkness in my life.
In Electra I play Orestes who is the younger brother of Electra. When our father was killed by our mother, Electra saves me from being killed and sends me away across the sea. The story picks up about 20 years later when I come back as a man to avenge my father’s murder and help Electra.
After Ghosts I wanted to do some filming and I was lucky enough to do some great jobs. And then this came along. Before you even get started on the play, the combination of Kristin and Ian…
I really didn’t want rehearsals to end. I love Ian’s work, he’s just tremendous. He’s so enthusiastic and he will literally try anything, there’s no ‘Right you stand over there, you sit there’. He’s so comfortable with himself and you learn to make a tit of yourself and completely let go all perceptions of yourself that you have when you’re in his room.
Kristin is outstanding. There’s lots of long speeches [in the play], lots of covering – she might argue with me – the same subject, because she’s so utterly obsessed with grieving for her father, but Kristin manages to make every single speech different, every single moment utterly believable. These massive speeches, which I think nine times out of 10 actors would spend a lot of time saying, Kristin can batter through them which such a conviction and believability that it’s like somebody talking in a kitchen and I love that.
Electra is set in roasting hot, beautiful Greece, so it’s very warm. A lot of the colours are very warm and the heat makes people do crazy things, as we know. The set is outstanding, it’s simple but it’s beautiful and it smacks you in the face.
This play is staged in the round and I think there’s far more freedom involved when people are around you on all sides. The fact that plays are more and more coming in at an hour and a half straight through as well, it’s great, it’s giving theatre a good kick up the arse.
I’m so fortunate, I’m learning from these brilliant people and, on the last couple of jobs, these brilliant women. It’s nice to play different shades of men opposite them. Oswald [in Ghosts] was a domineering idiot, but he was a lost child at the end of the day and this guy here, Orestes, is someone who’s trying to be a man when he’s got this incredibly powerful woman in his life. It’s been such a luxury working with people like Lesley and Kristin, I’m so lucky, it’s ridiculous.
The music by PJ Harvey is awesome. We’re all fans. She watched a couple of rehearsals, would go away, do stuff, ping it into rehearsals and if it worked, it worked, if she wanted to improve it she’d go away. It’s so brilliantly subtle, but it sticks in your head. It’s quite haunting.
Because acting is such a self-indulgent profession, I don’t see the point of doing it unless you’re going to try and do it in the best places you can. I’ve no idea if I want to do this for the rest of my life, so I want to try and work with the best people I can.
I’d love to work with John Heffernan, I think he’s fantastic. I’ve met him a couple of times. I remember walking into an audition once and he was sitting in the waiting room, and I went ‘Oh f*cking hell’ out loud!’ It turned out he was up for a different part so it was fine!
A lot of my close friends are actors and are actors my age. Two or three guys from my drama school are on the London stage playing roles right now; Kevin Guthrie’s at the Royal Court in Teh Internet Is Serious Business, Andrew Rothney, who’s playing James II at the National just across the street. That’s a nice feeling.
Winning the Olivier Award was a massive surprise. It was a bit mental, but the biggest thing about it was that – without sounding like an a***hole – it’s come this early. It still hasn’t sunk in and I don’t think it ever will because it was just sprung on me because I got this part in a Richard Eyre play – the part was fantastic, any actor playing that part… – which is incredible anyway.
I saw the other nominees in my category afterwards. I’d just finished doing Wolf Hall for the BBC and Mark Gatiss was on it and he came into the make-up truck one day and gave me a hug. He’s a hero of mine. I did a play reading with Ron Cook after and I hung about with Ardal [O’Hanlon] after [the awards] which was cool. It was a mad, mad night.
All the filming I did in the summer was either First World War or it was the 1500s, so I’d like to do something in this day and age. I want to play in as many theatres as possible, work with as many brilliant people as possible, but definitely do a new play.