A new major character in Peaky Blinders season four, actor Jack Rowan has spoken out about the ‘honour’ of playing gypsy boxer Bonnie Gold – and what it’s like to work with Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy. Read our full Q&A with Rowan below, as we learn what it’s like to become a Blinder, and how his fate in the ring is set to unfold.
How did you come to be involved in the show?
“I had a tape audition. At the time I was actually filming to Born to Kill. My agent started sending me some tapes. I was like, ‘Do you mind if I focus on filming instead?’ But this one came through. And Peaky Blinders is my favourite show. They wanted a “gypsy boxer”, and I was like, ‘I’ve gotta do this.’ I didn’t get sent a script at that point, but I got sent a few scenes. The kid had a lot of action, and I was eager to show I could do that. I was eager to get a role where I could get that boxing skill. It’s just a bonus that it’s such a cool show like Peaky.”
Does Cillian Murphy have a hands on approach to the show and your work?
“He exudes ‘boss’. He has this quality where he’s just a leader. When I met him, he treated me like I was part of the family. It didn’t feel like I was joining season four of a show. I felt like I belonged there, that we were partners and colleagues. Just as an actor, I was really excited to be working with him. You feel safe around him. He’s not only the leader of the Shelby’s, he’s the leader of the show. There was never an awkward moment between us. He’s so easy to get on with.”
During production, how much is he Cillian and how much is he Tommy Shelby?
“He pretty much turns it off and on. I’d speak to him before a scene and he’d be in his normal accent. A few seconds before the scene, he’d just switch it on. His accent on the show is so different to real life. I thought he might talk like that all the time. But he turns from Tommy to Cillian. The more I got to know him and the more scenes we had together, we’d end up cracking jokes. Then all of a sudden he’d become Tommy Shelby.”
He must be a difficult character to get your head inside.
“When I got given the part, it gave me proper motivation to train [boxing] again. In the past, I had a fight to prepare for. So I almost saw this job as a fight. This character… 1920’s was before any technology was available, and that led me to choose this weird accent. He’s a kid who would have been travelling his whole life, so he wouldn’t have a distinct Birmingham accent or be a cockney – it’d be a mix of everything. I actually based the voice off the boxer Tyson Fury. The main thing I wanted to get down was the boxing element. That’s my story. He comes in as help for the Shelby’s, but essentially Bonnie Gold story comes from set pieces in the ring, as opposed to really deep scenes.”
Without giving away too spoilers, how integral does your character become?
“Tommy Shelby says, ‘Let’s take the kid on,’ so he becomes a business element for the family. The journey essentially sees me becoming a part of their team. I don’t become a Peaky Blinder, I stay loyal and I do what I’m told. Not because I’m dumb, but that’s his principle. He ends up becoming part of their crew, but he stays an outsider. He only really wants to become a boxer, and he can’t do that without the Shelby’s. As the story grows, I get into the professional boxing world.”
Does he get emotionally involved in the Shelby’s world?
“The way I saw it, his objective is to become a boxing champion. Bonnie is the son of an assassin, a powerful man. But what I love about Aiden [Gillen] and his character [Aberama Gold] is the love he has for his son. The way I looked at it, from Bonnie’s perspective, he’s using the Shelby’s in a way. They have contacts, they’re a well known crew amongst people. I’m part of their team, but the life I want is as a boxer. He doesn’t get emotionally invested in them as people, but he gets emotionally invested in the world of boxing. If he loses, he loses everything. He doesn’t want the criminal life.”
What was Tom Hardy like to work with?
“I only had the one day with him, but he was perfect. I had no expectations of what these people are like, but he was everything I wanted him to be. He offered to get people water. He was such a kind person. Considering he’s one of the biggest stars on the planet, he’s such an approachable guy. We shook hands, we started talking about boxing, and he treated me like a colleague. I learnt a hell of a lot on the day we met, just subconsciously and by watching him. But when we were having lunch, he was normal. He’s famous, but he’s easy to get on with. He doesn’t see any difference between him and you, and more people should be like that.”
What are your musical highlights of this year? Can you tell us about any of the songs that match your scenes?
“I’m a huge fan of the Arctic Monkeys, and they’re one of the main draws of the soundtrack. The main song they use, ‘Red Right Hand’, is such an iconic song. Those are choices the director makes though, so I have no idea what music they’re gonna choose.”
Did you get to meet Nick Cave?
“I did, yeah. We were going to set, and I met him coming out of the hotel, fully in his kit, at 5.45am. I remember my first day on set, which is when it becomes very real. I had a water bottle with Peaky Blinders on it. I was in the kit, I had the hat on. I wanted to prove myself. It’s such an iconic song.”
Without giving the game away, is there space for you to return in future seasons?
“I don’t know how much I can say. Let’s see where Bonnie ends up.”
‘Peaky Blinders’ continues, Wednesday nights at 9pm on BBC 2.