Joe Alwyn (Class of 2009)

After leaving City in 2009, Joe Alwyn went on to read English and Drama at University of Bristol before heading to The Royal Central School of Speech & Drama- securing shortly after his big-break as Billy Lynn in Netflix’s film of the same name. From there on, he has had leading roles alongside Nicole Kidman and Olivia Colman in the films ‘Boy Erased’ and ‘The Favourite’- the latter winning Best British Film at the BAFTAs.

Whilst quarantining in the US, Joe was interviewed by Louis and Erik (Junior Sixth), this was first published in The eCitizen in May 2020.

What are your fondest memories from City?

I have a lot of good memories from school. I loved being in the heart of the city, right by the Thames. I had a lot of good teachers, and I was lucky enough to make friends with people that I still speak to now, every day. It was a good time to be there. I loved the sport that it offered and I played football throughout. I loved the Art department and the teachers there. There was a freedom to explore and leave the building and do your own thing. I think I owe the Art department a lot of stolen pens, and maybe a few hours of ducking out of class and lying on the roof of the school in the sun. It was the people though - the teachers, and of course my classmates - that made my time there what it was.

Which teachers are most memorable to you, and why?

There are a few teachers that have stuck with me. Mr Keates, our English teacher… He thought (and taught) outside the box and ‘against’ the syllabus in the best way. It was unconventional and refreshing and I liked it a lot. Mr Biltcliffe (and Joe, in the technical department) ran Drama and I loved that class. Mr Pomeroy in the Art Department was excellent. I only did one year of Spanish, but there was a teacher, Senor Cruz, who used to jump on the tables and make a lot of noise. Mr Dowler, who used to try and make me cut my hair short. (At the end of every school report there would be a message from Mrs Ralph: ‘Ps. Joe: get a haircut’). Mr Chamberlain, who we used to lock out of the classroom to try and delay maths. Mr Cornwall who ran sports. I was a defender, and I was asked to play for the First XI football team a year early, I think. I scored an own goal. It was the only goal I ever scored for City.

Were you involved much in Drama at City?

I actually wasn’t too heavily involved in extra-curricular Drama at school. I took it for GCSE and A-level, and loved that, but I wish I’d taken more advantage of the facilities beyond. There was a great theatre at school. I’m not sure why I didn’t do more. It was something that I knew I enjoyed, but part of me shied away from that side of things… perhaps because I played a lot of sport, and that took up a fair amount of time.

I knew at school that I wanted to do this, but I didn’t know how to go about getting there. As far as I knew nobody else wanted to be an actor, and so there wasn’t really a clear road-map on how achieve it! I largely kept it to myself. I would look up Drama Schools online and think about applying, but almost like a secret. In fact, I ended up going to Bristol University first - which I loved – and it was only after going there that I applied to Drama School and was accepted.

How did you get into acting?

I grew up watching a lot of films and going to the theatre. I always wanted to be a part of that world. My own involvement, or realisation that this was what I wanted to do, was gradual though. There wasn’t really a lightbulb moment, or not one that I remember. I studied it at school…performed a lot at university in what were probably some terrible, terrible productions (but great experiences) …and then went to Drama School. It was getting into Drama School that really made me think that I can do this. It was a really big moment for me.

What was your first major role?

I was very lucky with how things started. It was quite early in my final year of training, and I’d just signed with an agent from my showcase. I was sent a self-tape – an audition – for a film called ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’. Ang Lee was the director. I’d never really made a self-tape before, but I got some friends to tape me doing a scene during a lunch break. Within a few days they brought me over to New York to meet Ang and the casting director. I then went through about 10 days of testing in New York and Atlanta. I’d never been to America before but had always wanted to go. It was very surreal and it happened very quickly. I’d grown up watching Ang’s films (Life of Pi, The Ice storm, Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon). They cast me right after that trip, and I only had a few days to pack my things before leaving for military bootcamp. I left school and spent the next few months filming in Atlanta. I played ‘Billy’, a young Texan Soldier, a ‘war hero’, returning home from Iraq for a victory tour in the United States. It was a completely amazing experience, especially to be thrown into as my first job.

What has been favourite acting job so far?

‘Billy Lynn’ has been my favourite job for many reasons, but there are others too that I’ve really enjoyed. I loved being a part of a film called ‘The Favourite’. That was a very special, unique experience.

Yorgos Lanthimos, who you worked with on The Favourite, is known for his extremely odd movies such as The Lobster and Dogtooth. What is it like working with such a unique director?

Yorgos is fantastic, and completely singular. He’s very different from Ang… but they’re both strong auteurs. Yorgos is very unconventional in terms of direction. He doesn’t give a lot away. He doesn’t ‘direct’ you in a way that you expect, whatever that might mean. To be honest I’m not sure how he does it, but it works! He has a real aesthetic and vision though, and creates a really nice environment on set. There was a brilliant cast and team of people on ‘The Favourite’, and it was amazing to be a part of.

You have played extremely complex characters, especially in films like Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and Boy Erased. How do you work on your character development?

I suppose it depends on the nature of the project. Something like Billy Lynn was very intense – it was a long shoot and I was there for a long time. We went through military bootcamp, had a dialect coach, physically bulked up etc. I was also in a new country for the first time, with a new group of people. It was quite immersive, I suppose. It depends on who you’re playing and the story you’re telling. I watched a lot of documentaries (there’s a great one called ‘Restrepo’), read a lot of books, talked to military advisers, soldiers with PTSD... And of course, a lot of conversations with the director. It really depends though. I think I’m still working it out. It’s something that shifts each time. You make mistakes and you learn something new each time.

Boy Erased I really enjoyed being a part of, but I had less to do there. I knew I was kind of being brought in for one big, important moment in the film… and so a lot of it centred around the psychology of that event, and why this boy behaved the way he did.

Now living in the States, what do you miss most about London?

I live in London! I spend quite a bit of time in America, but London is still my home.

How are you finding quarantine? What impact has it had on the acting industry?

It’s very odd! Trying to stay busy, but also enjoying a slower pace and not worrying too much when things drift (which they do). Reading, watching old films, talking to friends. Zoom meetings. Skype calls. Just today actually, I had a Zoom call with my closest friends from school. I’m not in London at the moment but I’ve loved seeing these videos of everyone clapping for the NHS.

In terms of the industry, everything has sort of shut down. I was supposed to start a job this month in UK but that’s had to push back. I’m not sure when things will start up again, or how this will change things going forward. I think it’s going to be tricky for while…but there’ll be a way through.

Obviously, The eCitizen is the least of your press commitments. How have you found media attention?

It depends a bit on how much you choose to engage with it, and where it’s coming from. Maybe what’s strange is that media attention is an abnormal thing, and the implication of the attention is that something abnormal has happened to you… But actually, whilst I can see that some things have changed in my life, ultimately, I feel the same as I ever did.

It is old Citizen tradition for interviewees to finish with a joke...

What time does Sean Connery go to Wimbledon?