Charlie Rowe has worked with Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Rhys Ifans, Anna Friel and Bob Hoskins, appeared in hit films The Golden Compass and The Boat That Rocked, won an award for a short film and boasts more than 23,000 followers on Twitter.
For any actor, this would be quite some achievement, but for one who is only 16-years-old (he’ll turn 17 next month), it’s pretty extraordinary. When I met Rowe during rehearsals for The Winslow Boy, he was the youngest person I’d ever interviewed – well apart from the Matildas, but they always come in fours so it sort of amounts to interviewing one very excitable 40-year-old – and I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found was a frighteningly eloquent young performer, genuinely passionate about learning everything he can from working at the Old Vic theatre and filled with enough ambition and drive to ensure he’ll probably not only ace the A-Levels he’s about to take but also wow critics with his first leading stage role.
On a rare break from rehearsals, homework, making videos for his fans and indulging his other love for music, Rowe told Official London Theatre what it feels like to be a teenager with a (very female-heavy) fan base, why theatre is in his blood and how his ultimate dream lies behind the camera.
CV in brief:
2005: Makes theatrical debut in The Snowman at the Peacock theatre
2007: Makes film debut in The Golden Compass
2009: Appears in Richard Curtis’ The Boat That Rocked
2010: Makes appearances in films Never Let Me Go and The Nutcracker In 3D
2011: Stars in TV mini-series Neverland as Peter Pan
2013: Stars in The Winslow Boy at the Old Vic theatre
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Islington and live in North London still. I’ve got one little sister called Mattie.
What first sparked your interested in performing?
It’s in my family; my Mum teaches drama, my Dad writes stuff, my Aunty is in the theatre and so is my Grandma. I started out doing the whole jazz hands, tap dancing courses at drama schools and then it progressed from there.
You were in The Golden Compass when you were only 10-years-old. Was that your professional debut?
No, I did a few commercials and billboard photos and stuff like that before. I also did The Snowman at the Peacock theatre, but The Golden Compass was pretty big and it felt ridiculous and exciting.
Did that give you the acting bug?
Yes, it definitely kicked it off. I got to meet Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman, it was unbelievable.
Tell me about your character in The Winslow Boy.
He’s been expelled from Naval College for stealing some money. He’s his father’s last chance at having a respected son and a son who is doing well in school, and I let him down and I’m just incredibly scared.
Are you enjoying playing him?
I am yes. I can sort of relate to him, that whole thing about being told off by teachers and just being slightly nervous of your father [laughs]. I think we all are!
So you’re naughty at school then, is that what you’re saying?
This happened last time I was interviewed! I need to stop saying it; I’m not naughty at school, I’m perfectly behaved! I’ve never been expelled, I’ve never been suspended, I’m a good boy in school, but everyone’s been told off once or twice…
You’re doing your A-Levels at the moment. How do you balance acting and school?
By working very hard! It’s quite tough, but I’m getting there. I’ve got exams during the run of this show and I’ll be going to school every day and then doing the show at night.
This is your first leading role on stage. It must feel like quite a new experience.
The Snowman was dancing, it was movement, I had one line in it and that was “Boo”, and there were three other boys doing eight shows a week on rotation. This is just me, at the Old Vic and it’s a serious play.
Are you nervous?
I’m really scared! But very excited and I know I can do it, so that’s fine.
What drew you to the play?
The fact that it was theatre, it was at the Old Vic and it was Lindsay [Posner, the director]. I’d been doing a lot of film and this was a chance to do something English and theatre is just incredibly respected. Already it’s been a crash course in the craft. It was that whole idea of ‘I’m going to learn so much here’ which drew me to it.
So are you a big theatre fan?
Yes. The last thing I saw was Uncle Vanya, directed by Lindsay. Anna Friel, who is a friend of mine, was in that. We try to go as much as we can.
Has your co-star Henry Goodman given you any advice?
Everything he does is advice. He’s incredible, he really is. Just the way he studies his character, learns his lines, he’s very professional and he can just snap out of it, come out here and have a laugh with us in the breaks.
You already have lots of fans and thousands of Twitter followers [the total stands at 23,664 at the time of going to print]. How does that feel?
It’s a bit surreal. It’s weird because you get stuff sent in the post and things like that.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve been sent?
I got a sock sent to me in the post once. Just one sock. A baby’s sock… very strange! But it’s nice, they all support what you’re doing and it’s great because you can promote yourself and your colleagues and what they’re doing. I don’t Tweet all the time, but it’s nice that people are interested in my career.
The Old Vic theatre has a great scheme for young theatregoers. Do you think this play will attract a younger audience because of your fan base?
I hope so, it’s really exciting and hopefully younger people will come to the theatre. I’m sick of going to the theatre and it just being filled with elderly folk [laughs]! I’d like more kids to go and see theatre because it really is amazing.
Did playing Peter Pan in the television show Neverland feel like a big break for you?
It was a leading role, an iconic role, and it was definitely something new. I’d never really done a scene where I was playing a challenging character with an incredible actor and this was a chance to work with Rhys Ifans and Anna Friel and Bob Hoskins and people like that; it was just fantastic.
Everything’s exciting, every film feels like a big break and this [The Winslow Boy] feels like a big break as well.
You’ve already worked with lots of famous actors. Do you have any particular favourites?
It’s hard to single one out. I’m so lucky to just meet them and work with them. Rhys and Anna were pretty incredible because of the fact that we did have a lot of scenes together and I spent a lot of time with them. They became my mum and dad on set.
Looking forward, do you want to carry on education and go to university?
I definitely want to complete my A-Levels, just because this career is so unreliable really. I’m not so sure about university. I’ve got time, whether it’s university, film school, drama school or I just head out there into the big wide world…
You also sing and write songs. Is that something you’d like to do as a career?
I’ve always been interested in singing. My sister’s a fantastic singer and it’s just something that’s always been around. I play saxophone and guitar. I’d definitely like to pursue it and it’s something I’d like to keep going, if not as a career then as a hobby.
What about combining the two and doing a musical?
Oh hello! There we go. Whatever comes up, I’m up for!
What’s been the most memorable point in your career so far?
Every time you get told you get a part, it’s just wonderfully soothing and incredibly fantastic and healing. You have a bad day at school, you come home and get told you’ve got a part in something and it’s just like ‘Yeah, it’s all worth it’.
I did a short film called Disco and won an award for Best Supporting Actor at an indie film festival and that was nice. Hopefully there’s lots more to come.
What do you have coming up next?
There’s a film coming out in December, Walking With Dinosaurs, and then possibly a film [400 Boys] we’d be going off to China to film. But it’s been postponed for a bit so it just depends.
Are there any particular roles you’d like to play in your career?
I think every boy would quite like to play James Bond!
Who would be your dream Bond girl?
Oh no! [Laughs and thinks for a split second] Mila Kunis is gorgeous so it would have to be her.
What drives you? Awards, the work, fame?
I’ve never really thought of doing anything else but this. It just seems so natural and I love it. I love the fact that I can work here every day and go home and stay up doing my homework, I like my days being packed. I don’t see myself doing anything else; I just want to be successful with this. If fame comes, then so be it, I’ll try and enjoy it.
If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
I want to direct films ultimately. Hopefully I’ll have a fantastic career in acting and then go on to do that. That’s my dream, that’s the ultimate goal.