Alex Lawther on his directorial debut: “I don’t feel an obligation to just be an actor”

'The End Of The F***ing World' star has an exciting new side hustle. He tells Ralph Jones about directing his first music video

Alex Lawther isn’t like other actors. Usually, there is a transactional quality to a conversation with someone promoting their latest project: both interviewer and interviewee understand that one of you is there to write a piece, and the other wants to sell their stuff. Lawther, however, ends many of his answers with questions. “How are you, whereabouts are you?” “What about you, what do your parents do?”

It’s disarming, though unsurprising if you’ve seen Lawther in action before. The End Of The F***ing World actor has a gentle, unaffected manner quite rare in the world of showbiz. He’s happy to give out his mobile number, dismissing any concerns about privacy and dispelling any illusion of ego. He’s also more than happy to talk about his work, even if there’s a sense that he doesn’t quite buy into his own hype. And, as any research on Lawther proves, there is hype by the bucketload. He is the kind of actor about whom teenagers go wobbly and entire Twitter accounts are created, some of them named after his neck alone.

Lawther divides his time between France and the UK, where he’s currently promoting his directorial debut: the music video for a song called ‘Fountainhead’, which was written and sung by Linus Fenton, a childhood friend of his. “I had wanted to go behind the camera but I hadn’t thought to make music videos,” Lawther says. During a strange time when both socialising and getting acting work was difficult, he loved having a project that gave him both work and the opportunity to see a friend.

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The video stars Roman Griffin Davis, now known for playing the lead in Jojo Rabbit, as a young Linus. Alternating between the real present-day Linus singing and his younger self dancing with another young boy, the video’s style is stripped-back and intimate, filmed in a small theatre. Lawther, who had been crossing his fingers that he was going to enjoy being behind the camera, felt “quite at home” on the shoot. He realised that it was what a dream job would look like. He found that it gave him back some control: as an actor, he says, you spend a lot of your time waiting.

Now, he says, he would love to be able to do a bit of both directing and acting. “I don’t feel a particular obligation to draw a line around being an actor,” he says, not the first time saying something that belies his years. ‘Fountainhead’ provided him with a glimpse into a world in which he could make his own work or help other people make theirs.

Up to this point, Lawther has been an actor who, it would be fair to say, has tended to stand out. The Netflix and Channel 4 series The End of the F***ing World, the second season of which ended in 2019, has done the most to cement his standing as a fascinating screen presence: damaged, uncertain, almost alien. Although Lawther had already starred on the West End as a teenager, played a young Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, and taken the lead in an episode of Black Mirror, The End of the F***ing World (written by Charlie Covell) was the first series in which he was able to demonstrate his talents over more than a dozen episodes. Asked about a potential third series, Lawther says: “The last thing I heard, Charlie Covell would like to make a season three in 10 years’ time when we’re all approaching middle age.” Would he say yes? “I would do anything that Charlie Covell wanted me to do.”

A show as prominent as The End of the F***ing World will have propelled Lawther, who played James, a teenager with no social skills who kills animals, onto the lists of casting directors worldwide. This year alone he is in Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch and Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel. Yet often he is approached about work and he feels he’s “already told that story”. It is easy to imagine a raft of characters like James being laid at Lawther’s feet. “Sometimes you do feel like you’ve mined a certain world or a certain way of saying things or looking at things and you want to come at it from a slightly different perspective,” he says, “or a very different one.” But when it comes to working out which things he does want to say, he doesn’t know until the scripts reach him. “Until the proposition is there it’s really hard for me to imagine,” he says. “I wish it was clearer; I wish there was a clearer line to follow.”

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Were his parents, both of them lawyers (now retired), worried about his decision to pursue acting, given how unclear the path is? “I think they were nervous about it, which now I totally understand,” he laughs. But they saw that he was getting immense joy from working in theatre. They are apprehensive when he is worried about employment, he says, but this isn’t too dissimilar from any other line of work. This is the point at which he asks what my parents do.

 

Alex Lawther
Lawther as James in ‘The End Of The F***ing World’. CREDIT: Channel 4 / Netflix

For now, Lawther is missing the immediacy of face-to-face auditions, where there are no internet connections or webcams to blame. (We switch to the phone after his WiFi causes our Zoom chat to end prematurely.) “There’s something essential, I think, about meeting a person in real life,” he says. Though he’s good at instantly forgetting the awkwardness of bad auditions (not that there will be many), they underscore the precariousness of the profession.

Lawther’s future looks a little more stable now that he may be inclined to take on directorial projects alongside his acting work. Does he feel like he’s in control of his future? No, he says. “I feel like you’re just floating along the river and then sometimes you grab onto a log or a bit of driftwood, or sometimes you go down the rapids. Nobody really knows how things are gonna work out.”

Linus Fenton’s ‘Fountainhead’ is out now

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