Men

Joe Alwyn, the Man Who Would Be King

Appearing in no less than four films in 2018 alone, actor Joe Alwyn is quite a force in Hollywood, a star whose rise is marked as much by his talent as his desire to rise to the top on his own terms
Reading time 7 minutes

Photography by Blair Getz Mezibov 

Fashion by Julian Antetomaso

One of the first things you notice when you meet Joe Alwyn—aside from his striking blue eyes, which rarely break contact once his gaze has met yours—is his purposeful manner when speaking. Never in a rush, Alwyn often pauses before responding to a question. And when he feels a point he’s made hasn’t quite landed, he circles back to make sure it comes across. Some might interpret Alwyn’s measured nature as decidedly cool, perhaps distancing. To do so, however, would be to misunderstand Alwyn altogether. For what might come off as removed is, in fact, an indication of a deeper quality, one that points to the determined consideration and intense attention Alwyn pays to whatever it is he does, whether that’s speaking for an interview or choosing the movies he has thus far appeared in. Alywn is an actor who, in an age of instantaneous fame, is in no rush to claim it, unhurried to tout what are his very real successes. And yet, celebrity is nonetheless knocking at his door.

I join Alwyn for our second interview on a wild, blustery day, having arranged to meet in the lobby of a hotel just off the south corner of Central Park. After our session, he’s to sit for a panel hosted by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Having already interviewed in the past, and again during the shoot for this issue, I’ve come to appreciate his subtle inflections of manner. When pressed on how he feels about doing Q&A’s like the one’s for the HFPA—or with me, for that matter—his response is telling: “It's part of the job, but it's not my job,” Alwyn notes with a grin, before going on to say, “It's not an actor's job, so it's something that's added on. So, you either take it to it with ease, or you take it to and you’re kind of indifferent about it, or you fight it.

“It's part of the job, but it's not my job. It’s not an actor’s job, so it’s something that’s added on.”

His singular dedication to acting, focusing so intensively on executing that one thing to the best of his abilities, has done Alwyn well. In just a few short years, he has acted alongside a who’s-who of Hollywood’s biggest names and worked with some of its most respected directors. In 2018 alone, Alwyn will have appeared in four films—Operation Finale, The Favourite, Boy Erased, and Mary Queen of Scotts. Alwyn’s meteoric rise is the all more impressive given that his cinematic debut was a mere two years ago, when he starred in Ang Lee’s war-hero drama Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. It was Alwyn’s breakout role, but it was one that almost didn’t happen.

As the story goes, while he was studying acting at London’s Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in 2015, Alwyn—who was 22 at the time—read Lee’s screenplay adaptation of Ben Fountain’s novel of the same name and had his agent send in a demo tape. That same day, Lee’s team contacted Alwyn’s agent, asking first for additional demo tapes, before requesting to have the actor fly to New York to meet Lee. Internally, however, studio executives were less enthusiastic about casting Alwyn, who had never appeared in a film before. But Lee and his team persisted, and Alwyn ultimately landed the role, starring alongside Kirsten Stewart. Not a bad start in an industry where first appearances can make or break a career.

“People who interest me are people who are slightly unreachable to a degree, or unknowable and slightly mysterious.”

Since then, Alwyn has parlayed Billy Lynn’s success into securing roles with several of the year’s most exciting releases, two of which notably find the English actor returning more to his ancestral roots. In The Favourite, director Yorgos Lanthimos brings his wickedly irreverent eye to the story of Queen Anne, the early 18th century British monarch. Starring Olivia Colman as the queen, Rachel Weisz as her lifelong adviser, and Emma Stone as an upstart navigating the perils of palace intrigue, The Favourite is notable for highlighting the role that women played in an era that was decidedly dominated by men. Alwyn’s character in the film, a young minor noble named Samuel Masham, falls wildly in love with Emma Stone, who uses his affection and standing in court to advance her own purposes.

While very much historical in its setting, The Favourite calls to mind the likes of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, with Lanthimos dispatching historical modes of speaking in favor of more modern turns of phrase, in addition to utilizing a whole host of other cinematic conceits to shake off the expectations of a period drama. “Yorgos turned out history books,” Alwyn notes of the director’s approach to preparing the actors for the film, “he didn't want any discussion about the character or the period or the correct etiquette. He just wanted us to explore the relationships and the dynamics between us as people and us as characters.”

If Alwyn plays a love-struck aristocrat manipulated by the object of his affection in The Favourite, he’s an altogether more acutely strategic courtier in director Josie Rourke’s Mary Queen of Scots, a historical drama that explores the rivalry between Queen Elizabeth I, played by an unrecognizable Margot Robbie, and her cousin, the movie’s queenly namesake, portrayed by Saoirse Ronan. As Robert Dudley, Elizabeth’s longtime companion and unrequited suitor, Alywn portrays a figure who was perhaps the one male with whom the iconic queen was close with during her lifetime (as children, the two were imprisoned in the Tower of London at the same time).

And while preparing for The Favourite found the actor bucking traditional methods of pre-production research, director Josie Rourke steeped the Mary Queen of Scots cast in the history of the film’s time period. “We were all sitting down with highlighters and a historian in the room,” Alwyn recalls, "talking about the politics at the time.” When I interrupt to tell him that I am an Elizabethan history buff, he breaks into a big smile and replies, “Are you going to grill me?

Taking that as a cue, I take a pause from asking Alwyn questions about his movies and turn, instead, toward more personal questions. Often perceived as private—a label Alwyn chafes against—I ask him how he’d like to be perceived as an actor and an individual. Alwyn first responds by replying, “How would I like people to see me? I don't know how to answer that.” But then, in the final moments of our interview, he follows that up by noting, “People who interest me are people who are slightly unreachable to a degree, or unknowable and slightly mysterious.” To be sure, Alwyn has sides that he chooses to shield from the public eye, but with a list of accomplishments the continues to grow, it’s a sure bet that most of us will continue to take more than a passing interest in the career he has ahead of him.

Credits

Grooming: Amy Komorowski (Art Department) 

Digital Technician: Eric Bouthiller

Photo Assistants: Ricardo Fernandes and Iain Gomez

Stylist Assistants: Mina Erkli and Emily Drake 

On-set Production: Spencer Salley

Location: Milk Studios

Catering: Lemon & Olives Inc. 

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