Louise Donovan meets Joe Dempsie, a Brit actor on the rise
Joe Dempsie is a big Kanye West fan. You can tell because the 26-year-old Brit actor’s Twitter bio simply reads “Yeezy taught me”. Later, he will enthuse at length about the world’s most outspoken rapper’s string of recent rants and the fact that “everything he does is far more deliberate than people give him credit for”. And as we settle into the luxurious sofas in London’s Rosewood Hotel, it quickly transpires that Joe – like his hip-hop hero – is fond of an interview tangent or 12. Which is fine with us.
We’re ostensibly here to discuss his upcoming role in Channel 4’s epic drama New Worlds, a politically astute four-part series that follows the post-Civil War chaos on both sides of the Atlantic. This in itself is a history lesson, but we end up covering the British political system, Egypt’s 2013 uprising and Fifty Shades Of Grey. Then there’s nudity, Hollywood’s ludicrous big budgets and slightly stalker-ish fans. It’s a far cry from his days in Skins. But also proof that, following the exceptionally bleak Southcliffe, BBC’s Accused and Game Of Thrones, Dempsie is fast becoming the golden boy of British drama.
In New Worlds, your character Ned is a young revolutionary fighting in New England. What can you tell us about him?
The thing I really like about Ned, especially for an actor my age, is you rarely get to play men of conviction. When we were filming, the second uprising in Egypt was happening, and it made you question whether that would be possible over here any more. Are we too far past that? At least in the period we’re exploring, you could revolt against a figurehead. Now it’s far more complicated. It’s not just about government; it’s the big businesses that support those governments as well.
We spied Skins’ Freya Mavor, Beautiful Creatures’ Alice Englert and future Christian Grey Jamie Dornan in the show. How was it working together?
Really good. I don’t think I’ve worked on anything that has been so disorganised or manic. Alice Englert dislocated her knee at one point. We were filming in Romania and everything that could’ve gone wrong, did go wrong. To the point where, by the last day, I was the last man standing. Everybody else was either ill or injured.
It’s a noticeably young cast. Do you think there’s a dearth of decent scripts for young actors?
Yeah, I have a problem with the fact that there aren’t enough meaty, interesting, complex roles for people in their twenties. There is too much of a focus on the popcorn action movie. But then, I don’t have a problem with using relative unknowns in big-budget films. If the scripts were better, it’d be great, but Hollywood and the whole industry has wised up to the fact that audiences don’t care for stars any more. When I was growing up in the Nineties, you went to watch the new Mel Gibson or Tom Cruise film. People don’t do that any more. And that’s good.
You were filming New Worlds when it was announced Dornan would be in Fifty Shades Of Grey. How did the news go down?
On the first day of shooting, Jamie and I were chatting between scenes and he was like, “I’ve got to do a bit of reading.” He blushed a little bit. I asked if it was Fifty Shades Of Grey, because I knew they were auditioning. But it’s really exciting to be around when that sort of news breaks. It’s been great for us as well – a lot more people are going to watch New Worlds because Christian Grey is in it.
Is there a fear Jamie will forever be known as Christian Grey?
You’re only typecast if you allow yourself to be. If you complain that you’ve spent the past three years playing the same part, no one’s forcing you to play those roles. Decline offers of reprising the same roles and do something different. The key to longevity is variety. It all comes down to where you derive your satisfaction from, career-wise. For some people that’s a healthy figure in the bank, which is understandable. But I wouldn’t be happy if I did something I didn’t feel was interesting.
You’re probably best known for Game Of Thrones. How are you feeling about the imminent arrival of Season 4?
I’m as excited as everyone else. I think what Skins did so well was create that mentality in young people – if you hadn’t watched it the night before you wouldn’t know what anyone was talking about at school the next day. It's a very powerful thing. But with Game Of Thrones there’s a genuine obsession with the story. It has a cult following, but it’s gone mainstream.
You’ve made your mark as Gendry, but did you audition for any other parts?
Yeah. There was an initial casting for the pilot episode – I auditioned for Jon Snow, didn‘t get it. Then I auditioned for Pyp [Pypar]. I’d convinced myself the directors thought I was rubbish, because I kept coming in for these parts and not getting them. My final audition for Gendry was probably one of the worst auditions ever.
I was bad. One of the producers, Frank Doelger, kept telling me to slow down and lose my accent, because Americans wouldn't know what I was saying. I left the room thinking, “Forget about that.” I like to think they’d identified a group of people they wanted to work with and it was a case of which piece of the jigsaw fitted.
You’re renowned for getting naked in Skins and The Fades. What do you make of the controversy surrounding the nudity in Game Of Thrones?
Sex is a big part of the books and therefore has to be a prominent part of the show. I think they maybe could redress the balance between male and female nudity. I know that I would always do nudity if I felt the part requires it. But then, you know, in Game Of Thrones I’m forging a sword and I’m topless for no reason. I don’t know why I haven’t got a jumper on.
What’s the most outrageous reaction you’ve had from a fan?
I got an email from my agent saying, “This arrived for you in our inbox today.” It was a Danish girl talking to her webcam saying she thought I looked like a nice chap and would I like to go on a date with her, here was her number, Facebook and email. Within a week she’d discovered Twitter and sent it to everyone I’d ever interacted with, including my ex-girlfriend’s mum. Then video two came. It’s impressive. I was having Sunday dinner at Oona’s [Chaplin, his Game Of Thrones co-star]. We’d had a few drinks and decided to freeze-frame the video on her face, take a picture of me kissing her face and send it over.
Finally, is there anyone’s career you’d like to emulate?
I think Olivia Colman is incredible. I first saw her in Peep Show, then you see her in Tyrannosaur and forget – not that she’s ever done comedy, but that she’s ever smiled. She can turn it on and off like no one I’ve ever seen. And Michael Fassbender is an interesting one for me – when I was taken on by my agent I was 18, I hadn’t done a lot and was just really chuffed I had an agent. I remember looking down the client list, going, “Fassbender? That’s a weird name, I wonder who that guy is.” You can tell he’s picking and choosing what he does. I’d love to have half his career.
New Worlds starts on Channel 4, 1 April at 9pm