Wild Bill and Maze Runner star Will Poulter tells Andrew Dickens about the pup-eat-pup world of young Brit actors
“He’s a lot smaller in real life.” People say that a lot about actors and, let’s be honest, there’s no cliché without fire.
But the opposite is true of Will Poulter. To put it mildly, he looks a lot taller in real life. It’s as if they’ve taken him off the screen and stretched him to 6ft 2in. He’s quite a presence and, aged 21, he’s probably still growing – and I don’t just mean ‘as a person’. We meet at one of his favourite restaurants and, judging by his enthusiasm for the menu, he could fuel himself to beyond 7ft.
Of course, he is growing as a person as well. Just a year ago he featured on our Brit List as one of the UK’s most promising young talents. Since then, he’s won a Bafta, copped off with Jennifer Aniston in We’re The Millers and is currently filming Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.
He’s also in ‘Young Adult’ book adaptation The Maze Runner, playing one of the young prisoners in a deadly paddock. Don’t be put off by its YA tag, though. If you thought The Hunger Games was gruesome, wait until you see this.
This film is a lot heavier going than people might think…
I think what will surprise people is that it explores darker corners of the genre it’s seen as belonging to. It’s been labelled as a YA project. With that comes expectation: a romantic thread, a strong female lead, kids pitted against each other. It’s got none of those. It’s scarier than people will expect.
It’s more Lord Of The Flies than Hunger Games…
Yeah. Young people establishing a hierarchy in a foreign environment. It is more reflective of Lord Of The Flies and The Goonies; films that depict relationships between young people. There’s no point having superhuman characters.
Your character, Gally, is interesting. You usually play quite nice guys, so how did it feel to play someone more malevolent?
In the book he came across as more villainous and was very much a d*ck. We tried to flesh him out, so he’s more understandable. I have to be able to respect an element of my character, even if it is among a pile of d*ckheadness, otherwise it’s difficult for me to tap into them.
You also had your first taste of Comic-Con. James Dashner’s [The Maze Runner’s author] books have a ‘passionate’ following, so how was that?
That’s good, the way you phrased it, because it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It was my first taste of how hard it must be for people of gargantuan fame. You couldn’t leave your hotel without 100 people outside, you couldn’t walk the streets without a mask or without security. It’s like, “Boo hoo, poor actors”, but I wouldn’t want that to become my everyday life.
Our Brit List is coming around again soon and you were on the inaugural one last year.
Thank you, I was so honoured to be on that. I’m friends with Tom Sellers [the chef featured on the cover with Poulter] actually, from that shoot, because he’s good at cooking and I’m good at eating.
Evidently. Would you class eating as your hobby?
Yeah. Food’s a big interest. I spend a lot of time – and more money than I have – eating it. It’s a big ambition of mine to open a restaurant. If I wasn’t an actor, I would love to be a chef. My dream is to be in a film where I play a chef.
Do you watch cooking shows?
Yeah. I love Great British Menu. I watch all the MasterChefs: Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the US ones, the whole lot. The Good Food Channel is all that’s on in my bedroom.
Almost literal food porn: “Will, what are you doing in there?”
“Nothing Mum! Just watching some ribs marinade.”
You won the Rising Star Bafta and seemed very emotional when you picked it up. Had the length of the ceremony got to you?
How did you feel?
Sh*t, man – the most mental moment of my life. And I was sitting next to my mum – it really was emotional. I cried my eyes out backstage. I had to get off stage because I was about to embarrass myself. Whatever the f*ck was said up there, it’s not what I had written on the card in case I did win. I didn’t go inside my pocket to get it.
There’s a strong wave of young British acting talent. Does it make you more competitive?
The biggest lesson you can learn as a young person in this industry is, as soon as you think, “I’ve made it”, you’ve made a fatal error. The person behind you who is hungrier is gaining on you. It’s a competition – the young actor who’s on the next Brit List or wins the next Bafta Rising Star, you’re going to be in the same auditions as them.
What director would you most like to work with?
Gus Van Sant. I auditioned to do three lines in a film he’s making next year. I chased it, but I couldn’t do it due to scheduling. I was like, “I will walk in the background, I will make coffee for everyone on set.” I just want to work with that man.
And you’re working with Alejandro González Iñárritu…
He’s absolutely phenomenal. There’s no way to say it without sounding cheesy or pretentious, but he captures human emotion in the rawest form. My favourite on-screen kiss is Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in Babel while she’s weeing into a pan. She’s got a gun wound and he’s cradling her. There are too many people in Hollywood who would say, “You can’t do that. They should go and kiss in the sunlight with flares on the lens.”
Film sets can look like the happiest workplaces on Earth. Is that what you’ve found?
The hours are insane and there’s nothing quite like it but, generally, everyone does just f*cking love their job. It’s this undiscovered world. They can also be f*cking miserable. If you’re shooting in a sh*tty location or working with difficult people I’m sure it’s horrible. I’m lucky I’ve only worked with one person I didn’t see eye to eye with.
Who’ll remain nameless?
Who’ll remain nameless.
The Maze Runner is at cinemas nationwide from 10 October