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The first time Joe Alwyn came to the Cannes Film Festival in 2018, he walked away with the Trophée Chopard. Now he is back to help director Claire Denis compete for the Palme d’Or with The Stars at Noon, based on the novel by Denis Johnson. Alwyn stars in the romantic thriller as a mysterious businessman in Nicaragua who falls in love with an American journalist, played by Margaret Qualley. In addition to The Stars at Noon, Alwyn also stars in the recent BBC Three/Hulu series Conversations with Friends, directed by Lenny Abrahamson and based on the Sally Rooney novel.

Interview by Ryan Fleming

How did you get involved with The Stars at Noon?

I got involved pretty late in the game. I was sent the script on literally a Friday morning to read with an email saying Claire would like to Zoom me that afternoon. “If you’re interested, and if they want you, then you’ll be flying to Panama. Can you go tomorrow?” Claire was already there. So, I read the script and obviously I was never going to say no to working with Claire Denis. I Zoomed with her a few hours later and she said, “Will you join us?” That was on a Friday, and I think by Tuesday I was on a plane, and we started a few days later. I’d read the script, but it’s based on the book. I didn’t even get a chance to look at the book until I was there. But hopefully everything happens for a reason.

What was it like working with Claire Denis?

It was amazing. She’s unlike anyone I have ever worked with, and her sets are unlike any other set I’ve ever been on. She is a force. She is completely singular and of herself and a real orator. She can be both fierce in knowing what she wants and then incredibly tender about what she wants. It feels like she discovers everything in the moment and in such a way that… I don’t know. I think I’m probably still working out how she works. I don’t think I’ll ever work out how she works. Maybe she wouldn’t be able to answer, either. It was definitely the most unique experience I’ve had with a director on set, but I think she is completely grand.

What’s your character like?

My character is a mysterious English businessman who’s pretty enigmatic and we don’t know a whole lot about him or why’s he’s in Nicaragua. He falls into the path of Margaret (Qualley)’s character or vice versa. And they’re both sort of playing a game and sort of pretending to be someone they’re not amidst this backdrop of political unrest and turmoil and complete mistrust. But then amidst that, these two strangers, who themselves don’t give a lot away really about what they are at heart, fall for each other and have some strange kind of connection, but then they fall into trouble. Well, he particularly falls into trouble, and they have to escape to the border, maybe together. That’s the narrative of it, but I think as much as anything, reading it, it was about those moments of tenderness between two people that managed to break through in an environment and world of mistrust and games and falsity.

So how do you prep for that kind of character?

I only had a choice to approach it a certain way because it came about quite last minute and the whole shoot was kind of up and down in the air and thrown together right at the last minute, so there wasn’t a couple of months to think about it. It really was just digesting the script as quickly as possible, getting what you can from that, thinking about bits and pieces of backstory that perhaps could lend itself to something deeper. But more than anything, just jumping in on instinct from what was on the page and going with that, and also going with Claire and seeing where she felt. Not just in terms of character story, but you’re almost informed as much by the way that she’s making the film and the feel of it.

 I feel like it’s so much guided by tone and atmosphere as much as it is kind of academically doing her homework about who this character is or where they’ve come from, like with all of her films. I think this one is slightly more narrative driven than some of the others are, almost animalistic and drive by feeling as much as dialogue. Dialogue seems to sit on top of everything else in her films, almost like a kind of soundtrack. It’s more about feeling, and that’s obviously created through character and actors, but it’s also so much about everything else, the world and the tones and the colors and the camera and the music. You are just a part of that. I think a part of the images that she creates and it’s all about the images that she creates.

How was the shoot in Panama?

It was incredible. I’d never been to Panama before. everything was shot on location, so we got to see a fair bit of Panama, but also, we were really at the mercy of the weather, which was interesting. It’s great being on the soundstage and it’s amazing seeing the worlds that you can create in a studio, but there’s something about being on location that just gives it something. whatever it is, that little spark that can be different

That can be both amazing, and it can also completely mess with the schedule because you want the sun and it’s a tropical rain, or you want tropical rain and it’s sunny. We were literally at the mercy of the weather and the world around us. but there was something really special about that. It was really incredible seeing the locations that Panama had to offer in the people there were just so friendly.

The crew was amazing. It was quite chaotic in some ways just because logistically there was trickiness, because you can’t control the sky. But it was a beautiful place to shoot and I’m really so happy we shot there.

What are some highlights from your times on this project?

The highlight was really, first and foremost, Claire. And of course, Margaret and Panama, and everyone that we collaborated with. Eric Gautier shot it, and everyone was brilliant, but Claire was really at the helm of it. Seeing the way that she worked out how to work, and what she wanted, how she communicated with the heads of department around her, and how she functioned, was amazing. She’d be in the trunk of the car. We’d be driving around town with her. She’d be locked in the trunk, screaming out instructions in French to us who were sitting in the car — crowded with like five other people filming us — and she’s just bellowing out what she wants. She’s just a force like nothing else. I’m really lucky to have gone on that mad ride with her.

This is your first time back to Cannes after you won the Trophée Chopard in 2018. What does it mean to you to have The Stars at Noon by your first film to play in Competition at the festival?

It’s amazing. It’s obviously such a renowned festival and such a filmmakers festival. It’s such a special place to have your film seen. So,  to be a part of something that’s going there in that capacity, and to be with a director like Claire, going to Cannes and obviously her being French and her being a legend in that world in cinema, it’s really, really special. it was lovely going a few years ago for the award, but also to be there with the film that you’re in will be a really amazing experience, I hope.

You also have the BBC Three/Hulu series Conversations With Friends coming out where you play Nick Conway. What did you make of him?

He’s someone who’s in a point of recovery when you meet him and has come through a bit of a storm. He’s a married man who is slightly numb to the world, and just functioning. He embarks on his affair with a woman who’s about 10 years younger than him. It’s about the relationships between him and his wife and also this girl called Frances. He’s also quite aloof actually, but he’s someone coming back to life a bit.

Conway is also an actor, so what similarities did find between his acting career and in your own?

I don’t know if I thought about specifics of what his career might have been or what he would have done comparatively to mine, but certainly he’s a character who has had ups and downs, and he’s also struggling with mental health, and that’s been formed probably by many things, including his job. I think I can relate to the strangeness of the job and the ups and downs of it and how it can be the best thing and also something tough to navigate. So although I don’t know the specifics of how our careers might be different, I felt like I could really relate to him on the level of understanding how strange it is to dress up and pretend to be someone for a living and all the weirdness that comes with just trying to do it as a job.

Were you familiar with this book before you started?

I read it when it came out. I really like Sally Rooney’s books. I’d also read Normal People when it came out, before it was made into a show. So, both books I was a big fan of. Then I saw what they had done with Normal People and was also a big fan of Lenny Abrahamson who made Normal People, so the chance to be a part of his world in his mind and Sally Rooney’s world in her mind combined was really exciting.

What was it like working with Lenny Abrahamson?

It was amazing. I think he’s truly brilliant. he’s an incredible director. he’s very detailed in the way he works, interrogating the material, almost beat by beat and looking to mine each moment for what might be there in a very subtle way. but he’s never overbearing and doing so and he’s also very collaborative. I like his very naturalistic, very subtle, very intimate worlds that he creates, obviously most recently with Normal People but in plenty of his other work as well. It feels very grounded and very real, and very much about what’s not said as much as what is said. and also, just as a person, he’s the nicest man in the world. Hilarious and just a great friend.

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Joe Alwyn is the rare leading man who manages to steer his path just out of the blinding glare of fame. In the seven years since Academy Award–winning director Ang Lee tapped Alwyn, then acting at London’s Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, to play the lead in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Alwyn has chosen his roles with the discernment of somebody who is far more interested in being in the right place than everywhere at once. As the 31-year-old British actor awaits the release of Conversations With Friends, though, his days among the normal-ish people are numbered.

Conversations With Friends is the TV adaptation of the debut novel by Sally Rooney, the young Irish writer whose millennial fairy tales are imbued with socialist politics, sadness and sex, and have sold millions of copies. Conversations, which published in 2017 and catapulted the then-unknown writer to cult “great millennial author” status, is the sunniest of her works. Alwyn plays Nick Conway, a married actor who is the sole male member of a thoroughly modern love quadrangle. Though the adaptation, which will premiere on Hulu this May, doesn’t take many liberties with the story’s choreography, it breathes new life into Rooney’s pared-down prose.

When the TV adaptation of Rooney’s Normal People came out on Hulu early in the pandemic, there were Instagram accounts devoted to its heroine Marianne’s bangs and the chain that glistened from the neck of her sometimes-beau Connell. Musician Phoebe Bridgers took to Twitter to profess how horny she felt after bingeing the series. (Weeks later, Bridgers and series star Paul Mescal were spotted together in the Irish countryside, lockdowns be damned.) “I just really hope people like the show,” Alwyn says, as if enough modesty and denial could work like a dam against the surge of Rooneymania that’s coming straight at him.

Nick’s charisma is grounded in his looks. In Rooney’s telling, he is described as “luminously attractive,” “handsome in the most generic way” and “looking like an advertisement for cologne.” With Alwyn’s rosy cheeks (“[It’s] the first time I shaved in like two years,” he says), floppy golden hair and affable smile, he seems younger than his character in the series, in which he sports a scruffy face and a perpetually furrowed brow. He is Zooming from a shadowy room in London that he reveals is his bedroom. Behind him are a gray backdrop and dark-purple curtains with tassels. Alwyn’s energy today is different from that of the shifty-eyed lothario he portrays on screen: He is hyperfocused and hospitable.

Like much of his generation, Alwyn was familiar with the work of Rooney, which he’d read at the recommendation of his friends and his psychotherapist mother. When the opportunity arose to read for the part of Nick, in a Hulu, BBC and Element Pictures production helmed by Lenny Abrahamson (as both an executive producer and the lead director), he was all for it. It took the powers that be, Rooney among them, about a week to decide that Alwyn was the man for the job. Upon learning that he had been cast as Nick, Alwyn sent Rooney an email thanking her and telling her how much he loved the book. He says the author’s response didn’t get into Marxism, as many of her characters’ emails do. Rooney shared the Spotify playlist she’d created for Nick—including “Blood on the Leaves,” by Kanye West, New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” and Pavement’s “Spit on a Stranger” among its 11 tracks.

There are easier roles than a lead who is always at a slight remove and whose defining trait is his alternately paralyzing and energizing effect on Frances (Alison Oliver), the 21-year-old protagonist. But when asked about the challenge of playing Nick, Alwyn says the hardest part was technical. The program’s twelve 30-minute episodes were shot out of order, so there was a lot of mental organization required. “All the jumping around and having to keep track was quite complicated,” he says.

Filming took place over six months in Dublin and Croatia and in Belfast, where the cast members lived in Airbnbs and functioned as a makeshift family, spending all their free time together since the pandemic prohibited extracurricular socializing.

His trick for getting into character was to focus on Nick’s vulnerabilities and pain. “He’s kind of in a place of recovery,” Alwyn says, “and he’s slightly numb to the world.” Only after shooting, when he watched the first few episodes, did he manage to step out of Nick’s psyche and view him with critical distance. “I was a lot more frustrated with him than I felt when I played him,” he says.

The role may have come easier to Alwyn than others. “We both have the personality that we don’t need to try so hard,” says Sasha Lane, who plays Bobbi (Frances’s best friend and ex-girlfriend), of Alwyn. “There’d be days on set where we didn’t speak to each other at all for nine hours, and then all of a sudden we’d be having conversations nonstop.”

Lane’s father died while they were filming, which revealed a protective and mature side of her co-star. “Joe was gentle and he wasn’t overly pushy, because he knew I’m not good at mushy stuff,” she says. “Boys age differently, they’re f—ing idiots until they get older. But he’s a kind man with good manners.”

“When you’re speaking to him you feel like he’s only listening to you,” says Alison Oliver of Alwyn. Oliver learned that she had the role of Frances one day after graduating from drama school in Dublin and minutes after being hired at a vegan burger takeaway counter in the city. (She worked the fast-food job right up until shooting started.) Having a down-to-earth co-star who “will be one of my pals, forever friends” helped the 24-year-old overcome her nerves, as did working with an intimacy coordinator and Abrahamson to plan the shapes their bodies would form during the series’ myriad sex scenes.

“There was a lot of talk about the quality of intimacy,” she says. The focus was on how each sex scene can take its cues from and help deepen the lovers’ ever-yo-yoing emotional dynamic. “Lenny puts you at ease,” she says. “His big thing is a sex scene [should] not just be dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, and then boom: sex! The way he sees it, they should be a continuation of each other.”

Off set, Alwyn shared funny YouTube videos (“We used to laugh a lot at a video of an Irish guy trying to cook dinner when a bat flies through the window of his kitchen,” says Oliver). They also discussed more serious topics, such as helping the newcomer wrap her head around the inevitable barrage of career opportunities. His counsel: “Just do the things that excite you,” says Oliver.

Conversations‘ production was meant to begin at the end of 2020, but Covid-19 delays postponed shooting until April 2021. Alwyn tried to fill that time with something constructive that could count as work, if only to quell his anxiety. He suggested to Abrahamson that he work on bulking up, but the motion was denied. (Alwyn is 6 foot 1 and has the physique of somebody who has been playing soccer his entire life.) “I tried to do a little bit of exercise but I wasn’t, like, eating all the chicken and doing all that protein shake stuff,” he says.

He spent about five months in 2020 hunkered down in Los Angeles, spending time with his significant other, who happens to be Taylor Swift. “It was actually quite nice because you guys have sun,” he says. The inability to work at first took some getting used to—“It was a weird, weird time”—but he found other ways to stay productive. Namely, co-writing two songs and co-producing six songs on Swift’s quarantine album, Folklore, for which he won a Grammy Award. (He also co-wrote three songs on its companion album, Evermore.) Alwyn appears as a writer in the album credits as William Bowery, a pseudonym he says he pulled out in a “pretty off-the-cuff” manner. William was a tribute to his great-grandfather, William Alwyn, a musical composer he never met. And Bowery was for the downtown New York area where he spent a lot of time when he first came to the U.S.

He didn’t visit the States as a child. The middle of three brothers, Alwyn grew up in the North London neighborhood of Tufnell Park, the son of a documentary filmmaker and his therapist mother. His upbringing sounds fairly normal. “Every family has stuff they go through,” Alwyn says. “But I can’t really complain.” He briefly took guitar lessons and around 13 played in “an awful school band called Anger Management,” he says, laughing at the idea that any of the members had anything to be remotely angry about. He played sports—rugby and soccer—and took in a lot of theater and film. “I’d always kind of secretly wanted to be a part of that world,” he says. “But I didn’t know really where I necessarily fit in.”

It wasn’t until university, at Bristol, studying English and drama, that he started to picture what such a life might look like. He acted in “so many awful student productions,” including Shakespeare and a student show that traveled to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. He went on to enroll in the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in his hometown, where he was introduced to the art of clowning, a course he says he’s blocked out because of the trauma. “You’re wheeled into a room and your classmates are standing there and you’re told: ‘Make them laugh.’ It just felt like torture. That was not the class for me.”

Midway through his third year of drama school in London, Alwyn signed with an agent who’d seen him at a student showcase. He assumed he’d slowly ramp up into a postgraduate life of regular auditioning and praying for a role on a production at the Young Vic, the experimental theater on London’s South Bank. Before he knew it, though, his agent informed him that a production company was looking to cast the title character of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, based on the Ben Fountain novel and directed by Ang Lee. “I got my dad to film me doing a scene with some friends during a lunch break,” he says. Four days later, he was in America for the first time in his life.

His initial visit to the U.S. put him in the barracks at a two-week boot camp alongside U.S. Navy SEALs in Georgia, where he and a handful of actors playing soldiers trained before shooting. “He’s got…the greatest head on his shoulders,” says Garrett Hedlund, his Billy Lynn co-star and a close friend in the industry. The pair, who were each other’s dates at the 2016 Met Gala, text and chat regularly and last saw each other in person in fall 2020, when they met up for a tennis battle in L.A. (“He’s got all the tricks,” Hedlund says of his opponent’s skills on the court.)

They share similar concerns about their careers, like “not wanting to step into certain roles just to do them,” Hedlund says. “I have known Joe to turn down credible scripts and films with first-time directors, knowing he wanted to be with somebody he can trust.”

In the seven years since he shot his first film with Lee, Alwyn has worked alongside Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling in the film adaptation of the Julian Barnes novel The Sense of an Ending and appeared as a wildly rouged and bewigged nobleman romping about with Emma Stone in Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite. Alwyn keeps a running list of directors he’d like to work with. The Coen brothers and Luca Guadagnino sit at the top. Next on the agenda: He’ll be in Lena Dunham’s forthcoming medieval comedy Catherine, Called Birdy, based on a children’s book of the same name, and French director Claire Denis’s upcoming drama The Stars at Noon (based on Denis Johnson’s novel), which he shot last December in Panama alongside Margaret Qualley.

No matter how in-demand an actor is, there is still plenty of unstructured downtime between projects, pandemic or not. “I can stress about stuff like that,” says Alwyn. Being in London for the past few months has facilitated spending time with school friends and his family. He also relies on books to keep him company. “I just read the new Jonathan Franzen, which was great,” he says. Next up: To Paradise, by Hanya Yanagihara, the author of A Little Life. As for his streaming tastes, “I just watched the Beatles documentary Get Back,” he shares. “If you’re one of the seven people in the world who don’t like the Beatles, then it’s not the thing for you. But I’m not one of the seven people, so I loved it.”

He tries to keep his private life private. Rare is the young man who can date one of the most famous superstars on earth and maintain a relatively low profile. Alwyn says it’s what happens when you don’t court attention: “We live in a culture that people expect so much to be given. So that if you’re not posting all the time about what you’re doing, how you’re spending a day or how you made a breakfast, does that make you a recluse?” He shrugs. “I’d also like to feel slightly less guarded sometimes in interviews or in whatever kind of interactions, but it’s just a knee-jerk response to the culture we live in. If you give it to them, it just opens the door.”

And even if you don’t give it to them, engagement rumors will abound. “If I had a pound for every time I think I’ve been told I’ve been engaged, then I’d have a lot of pound coins,” he says. “I mean, the truth is, if the answer was yes, I wouldn’t say, and if the answer was no, I wouldn’t say.”

Lenny Abrahamson: In Conversations with Friends your character, Nick, is an actor. And there’s a scene where Frances asks him about his work and Nick says that the thing he likes about acting, as opposed to real life, is ‘knowing what to say, what comes next.’ Is there anything in this that chimes with your own relationship with what you do?

Joe Alwyn: I find that very hard to answer, so thanks for starting there Lenny!… But I guess one: it means I don’t have to be myself, and two, it means I do get to be myself! That sounds really unclear, I know, but what I mean is I like playing other people because you get to step out of your own shoes, and there’s a part of me that has always liked that removal. But at the same time, in pretending to be someone else, in totally unrelated and ridiculous circumstances, there’s an odd kind of catharsis. You can funnel yourself through other people and express things that you might otherwise put a lid on and bury as ‘you’. And so there can be this great feeling of release. Jesus, I don’t know if that makes any sense?? But with my character Nick… Well, I don’t think it’s as crippling for me, Joe, as it is for Nick, with regards to knowing what to say, or what comes next. I certainly like the structure of the job in general, once you have it. A few months of knowing where you’re going to be and what you’re going to work on, that’s a nice luxury before the panic of not knowing what’s next kicks in.

LA: After a day’s filming, can you let it go or do you rethink and critique what you’ve done? How do you get along with yourself when you’re working?

JA: I’m British, so I think it’s in my nature to second-guess and rethink what I’ve done. I’d love to have a bit more of that American self-belief, but it just seems to built into our bones to question everything we do. I do it more at the start of a shoot when I’m still finding my feet and wondering why on earth I’ve been trusted to do the job. It gets easier as it goes on, but I suppose I’m harder on myself more often than kind, which is something I’m trying to work on and change. I feel like working on this show taught me a huge amount. And to be clear, I had so, so much fun making this. It was a dream job and in many ways I could not have been happier. I feel ridiculously lucky. So, thank you, Lenny…

LA: Do you remember how you felt when you first read Conversations with Friends? What excited you about it? Now that you’ve seen what we made together, do you think we’ve captured the things you admired about the book?

JA: I loved it when I read it. I loved how human they all were, Sally’s characters. And I loved how it was funny and moving and extraordinary and had these huge shifts but actually always in quite a subtle way. It just felt very real. I’ve not seen all of our episodes yet but I do think we held onto those qualities. At least I hope we have. And really that starts with you, Lenny! The way that you approached the material, you seem to interrogate every line and moment in such detail, looking at all the possibilities of what each beat could be. Your knack for building a world that just feels really, really genuine — complex and intricate and alive and subtle — is amazing. It’s there in a lot of your work — obviously most recently in Normal People. An attention to detail (without ever being overbearing) that creates these very real worlds and people, and watching how you track each of us within that… it’s incredible to see. I also think that to accept the complexity of what Sally is talking about you have to see both positives and negatives in all the characters. It’s not as simple as having good and bad. There’s a joy in accepting the complexity of it all, and so you can’t really ever know exactly who you’re fully ‘rooting’ for. There can’t be an outright villain or anything. I think that feels well done here.  it’s messy and complicated in the right way.

LA: Forgive me for this, but what’s it like being so handsome? I promise this is a straight-up and very serious question!

JA: If it helps, I’m incredibly stupid.

LA: One of the great pleasures for me in making this show was watching how you and the other actors formed such strong bonds and how much fun you had. How would you describe the dynamic between you all?

JA: We got lucky there! When you spend five months with a group of people you cross your fingers that you’ll get along. And we all really did. We were shooting in a time of partial lockdown, so we had no choice but to hang out with each other on the weekends. Luckily, everyone just clicked. And I think that really fed into the work on screen too. we all weirdly morphed into our characters a bit but maybe that’s inevitable. It was great though — it was a job, but it was also a really special life experience with a special group. We’d be filming on the beach in Croatia during the week, only to all go back to the same spot at the weekend. It was just so much fun.

LA: Most of your big scenes are with the wonderful Alison Oliver who plays Frances. How was it working with her?

JA: It’s incredible that this is her first role out of drama school. She’s wonderful in the show. I don’t think that there could have been a better Frances. She brings so much to the role and worked so hard, and you could see that each day on set. Beyond her being so talented, she was just the most joyful, genuinely excited person to have around; completely positive and willing to jump in and try anything. It was inspiring to see that positivity and enthusiasm each day.

LA: What was it like playing a middle-class South Dubliner? How did you work on the accent and get a sense of that very specific world?

JA: I remember you when I chatting right after being cast and wondering whether we wanted to do this British or Irish. The South Dublin voice we landed on isn’t too far from home, really. In some ways I find that trickier, when there isn’t a huge departure from how you normally sound. It really is quite light and almost anglicized. We also decided that this was someone who had spent a number of years in London, and was married to a Brit… so his accent was at a place where it come a lot softer than it could be. I listen to a lot of people like Andrew Scott and Tom Vaughn-Lawlor, worked a lot with the wonderful coaches — Neil Swain and Judith McSpadden — and luckily, you and Ed [Guiney] we’re never too far out of earshot! I didn’t want it too twangy, which I noticed it can sometimes be. That didn’t feel right for Nick. It was useful talking to you about that very particular world and upbringing. And although in some ways it’s very different, it was useful to get a flavour of some of those types of schools and boys and backgrounds from What Richard Did.

LA: I think it’s hard for people in our industry who gets a lot of attention not to let it go to their heads. You manage to be open, generous and kind to everyone that you’re working with. How do you guard against becoming disconnected from other people?

JA: Well, thanks for saying that but I make sure my days include plenty of crippling insecurity, impostor syndrome, and self-doubt. Plus, I’m awful to people behind their backs! No, I guess because why wouldn’t you be? it makes me frustrated, the rare times that you see people treat others unkindly on set. Who do you think you are?! I don’t know. you don’t see it often, and I’m lucky that I’ve never worked with a real tyrant, but I’ve seen flavours of that kind of behaviour and it doesn’t help anyone. I honestly think I’d find it harder to work if I ostracized myself from people in that way. it’s also literally our job to stay very connected and empathize with others… not to disconnect altogether and stand on some higher ground.

LA: Now that you worked with me, does it feel like you’ve peaked? Joking aside — I’m not joking — who are the filmmakers you’d be most excited to collaborate with?

JA: During these past few months that you’ve been in postproduction, I finally managed to process and (just about) come to terms with the fact that you were indeed my peak, my everything, my summit. My perfect pint of Guinness on a warm, sunny day. Where do I go from here? In all honesty, I have an overly long list of people I’d love to work with. Brace yourself… Off the top of my head… Chloé Zhao, Rob Eggers, Sean Durkin, Lynne Ramsey, the Coens, Luca Guadagnino, Debra Granik, Eliza Hittman, PTA, Francis Lee, Barry Jenkins, Marin McDonagh, Guillermo Del Toro, Chris Nolan, Andrea Arnold, Ruben Östlund, László Nemes, Greta Gerwig, Craig Gillespie… Okay enough! But it goes on…

LA: I love The Souvenir Part 2. Joanna Hogg is a brilliant filmmaker with a particular way of working with script. How was that experience for you?

JA: I loved being a part of that film! Joanna doesn’t, to my knowledge, ever give a script to the actors, so everything is improvised. You have no idea what the full story is, and only a few directions are given as to the shape of the scene. I found the improvisation scary but oddly liberating, and really refreshing. There’s nowhere to hide. You can’t not listen to whoever you’re talking to. There is no incoming queue. It feels real and alive. And Joanna will curate the scene after each take, honing in on the bits that worked well. I only popped in for a couple of days on the film but I’m so happy to have been a part of it and I’d love to work with Joanna again. Yes, she’s a brilliant filmmaker.

LA: Now that we are close to broadcasting the show, do you feel nervous about how it will be received, particularly in light of the success of Normal People?

JA: I don’t think it’s hit me at the people will actually see it. it still feels like we’re in this bubble of making it, maybe because the turn around was so fast and we only finished a few months ago… or maybe because it was created in the pandemic. Inevitably, as with anything, there are nerves about people seeing it. I do feel that it’s very different to normal people though. it shares similar qualities, but it does feel very much its own thing. It isn’t ‘Normal People Part II,’ and I think that separation helps. I’m happy that people will see the show soon. I hope it will at least spark some conversations… with… well, I don’t know, perhaps, their friends? Alright, enough for me! thanks so much for taking the time to ask me these questions, Lenny. I appreciate it. See you soon for a pint.

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Foi divulgada hoje uma nova entrevista do Joe, nela ele fala sobre sua família, seu trabalho como ator e sua participação na música pra ocupar seu tempo durante o isolamento, e responde mais um vez a repetitiva pergunta sobre uma parte da sua vida que ele já demonstrou não querer compartilhar.

Estava nos planos encontrar Joe Alwyn em um pub antigo na área de Londres onde ele cresceu. É um pub legal, minúsculo, uma seleção de cervejas com nomes malucos na torneira, provas de porcentagem que fariam seus olhos lacrimejarem. Mas nós dois chegamos pouco antes do meio-dia, e as portas estão trancadas, então ficamos sem jeito do lado de fora, espiando pela janela, olhando para todo mundo como se estivéssemos desesperados por uma bebida no final da manhã.

Não tenho certeza se Alwyn está tão desesperado para falar comigo, embora ao longo de uma cerveja lenta e constante, ele seja uma companhia muito educada e fácil. O ator, de 31 anos, está à beira de ser uma grande estrela desde que deixou a escola de teatro em 2015. Ele é alto, bonito, com o cabelo desleixado dos anos 90. Ele é rápido, engraçado e confiante, discreto em um jeans.

Por um tempo, nós somos as únicas pessoas no pub. Ele usa o humor para desviar o constrangimento, e eu suspeito que combina com ele que ninguém pode ouvir o que estamos dizendo. Alwyn está prestes a estrelar como Nick, o ator casado e sentimental que tem um caso com uma estudante, Frances, em Conversas com Amigos . O diretor de Lenny Abrahamson, disse que escalou Alwyn como Nick em parte porque ele “tinha alma”. “O que isso significa?” Alwyn balbucia. Você me diz, Joe. “Eu vou levar. Não sei! Tão cheio de alma”, ele repete, com uma pitada de constrangimento.

Rooney teve uma palavra a dizer sobre quem interpretou seus personagens. “Disseram-me que ela estava fazendo isso e aquilo”, diz ele, balançando o polegar para cima e para baixo. “Quero dizer, não literalmente fazendo isso, como um gladiador ou um imperador. Ela estava envolvida no elenco e assistindo a videos.” Quando ele conseguiu o papel, ele entrou em contato com o autor e eles trocaram alguns e-mails. A filmagem seria em Dublin, onde eles planejavam se encontrar, mas no final do dia mudou-se para Belfast. “Então não fizemos. Mas eu mandei um e-mail para ela apenas dizendo, ‘Obrigado’, basicamente. Obrigado pelos polegares para cima, Sally.” Os livros de Rooney estão cheios de e-mails e textos altamente articulados. “Ela faz um bom e-mail”, ele diz. Então, como você abordou a pressão de enviar um e-mail para ela? “Muitos, muitos rascunhos. Eu fiz o meu melhor e-mail. Foi muito bom ter a bênção dela.”

Alwyn já havia lido Conversas com amigos e pessoas normais , muito antes de seu envolvimento no primeiro. “Eu li Normal People antes de saber que eles estavam fazendo uma serie, e me lembro de quando  a vi fiquei pensando, “eu adoraria estar em algo assim.” As cenas de sexo de Normal People entre Connell (Paul Mescal) e Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) tornaram-se um ponto de discussão que as pessoas começaram a cobiçar Mescal. Em Conversations With Friends, Nick tem um caso acalorado com Frances, e Alwyn está nu com bastante regularidade, ainda que de bom gosto. “Fomos orientados por uma coordenadora de intimidade, Ita O’Brien, que é ótima”, diz ele. “Elas são essencialmente coreografadas. Então são como cenas de luta. São bastante mecânicas. E obviamente são coisas estranhas, engraçadas e estranhas para fazer com seus amigos. Mas quando Lenny está na sala, contando piadas, e há 10 membros da equipe ao redor, e está muito frio ou quente, isso tira toda a sensualidade disso.”

Além disso, diz ele, as cenas de sexo existem por um motivo. “Elas são meio que extensões das conversas, à sua maneira. Cada uma, espero, deve parecer um pouco diferente e significar algo diferente para as pessoas envolvidas, e elas não são apenas jogadas gratuitamente. Mas, quero dizer, obviamente, é uma parte estranha do trabalho.”

Pessoas normais e Conversas com amigos são histórias diferentes, e séries diferentes, em muitos aspectos, mas se sua série segue a trajetória de Mescal, ele está preparado para a ideia de que pode se tornar uma pin-up? “Eu honestamente não tenho nenhum pensamento sobre isso”, diz ele. Eles só terminaram de filmar quatro meses atrás. “Eu não me permiti pensar, ‘Oh Deus, as pessoas realmente vão ver isso’, então eu não pensei sobre esse lado das coisas. O que é uma resposta chata, eu sei.”

Enfim, este é um drama sério e trata de temas sérios. Nick é casado com Melissa (Jemima Kirke), uma escritora de sucesso, e seu casamento nem sempre foi monogâmico. Mas quando Frances (a novata Alison Oliver) e sua melhor amiga e ex-namorada Bobby (Sasha Lane) começam a se envolver em suas vidas, os quatro são forçados a fazer perguntas adultas sobre amor, ciúme e honestidade. Nick é certamente um personagem complicado que é quente e frio, e ele é difícil de definir. “Quando você o conhece, ele está em recuperação – ele passou por uma tempestade e está um pouco insensível ao mundo. E ele está apenas funcionando, e conhecemos essa versão dele, mas não sabemos realmente o porquê”, diz Alwyn. Não é até mais tarde na série que começamos a aprender quem ele é. “Ele pode ser um verdadeiro enigma, e às vezes de forma frustrante. Ele é bastante distante, enigmático e ilegível.”

Não tenho certeza de que Alwyn seja indiferente, mas ele tem mais do que um toque de enigmático e ilegível sobre ele. Ele tem sido um ator com trabalho constante, desde 2016 com Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk , dirigido por Ang Lee, ao lado de Kristen Stewart. Ele seguiu com papéis menores em uma série de filmes premiados, incluindo The Favorite , Mary Queen of Scots e Harriet . Ele estrelou campanhas para a Prada e também ganhou um Grammy, depois de colaborar com Swift em seu álbum de 2020 Folklore. Apesar de tudo isso, digo, não sei muito sobre você. Poucos detalhes de sua vida são públicos, o que ele parece preferir, mas isso significa que temos que começar do começo. Então você cresceu…

“Eu cresci neste pub”, ele interrompe, sorrindo. “Nasci neste jardim e nunca mais saí. Muito feliz aqui, obrigado.”

Na verdade, ele cresceu perto de onde estamos hoje, em Tufnell Park, um bairro abastado no norte de Londres. Sua mãe é psicoterapeuta. “Nunca me senti como se estivesse deitado no sofá e sendo analisado todas as noites, o que provavelmente é uma coisa boa. Eu consegui escapar disso. Mas ela é ótima com as pessoas e ótima para conversar. As pessoas sempre acham que deve ser estranho ter uma mãe que é terapeuta.” Bem, é interessante. “Definitivamente é. É um trabalho incrível. Na verdade, acho que se não fizesse isso (atuar), estaria interessado em fazer algo assim.”

Seu pai é um documentarista que também ensina cinema. Ele incutiu o amor pelos filmes no jovem Alwyn, dando-lhe pilhas de fitas VHS para seu aniversário e presentes de Natal. “Ele faz histórias humanas observacionais e inusitadas. Quando eu estava crescendo, ele estava sempre fora, e eu me lembro dele estar muito nesses lugares distantes, trazendo presentes legais para mim e meu irmão.” Você já foi com ele? “Nunca fui convidado”. Ele diz. “Não se preocupe, eu falei com minha mãe sobre isso,” ele brinca.

Ele tem dois irmãos, um mais velho, que trabalha para uma ONG, e um bem mais novo, que nasceu quando estava no ensino médio e acabou de sair da escola. Alwyn foi para uma escola particular para meninos, com bolsa. Ele gostou e fez um grupo de amigos com quem ainda fala o tempo todo, até hoje. Ele realmente não atuava na escola; ele praticava principalmente esportes. “Eu era bom no futebol. Tênis. Eu só gosto de atletismo, em geral.” Ele se contorce. “’Só em geral’.  

As pessoas ficaram surpresas por ele querer ser ator? “Sinto que dei dicas suficientes e que não foi uma bomba completa quando quis fazê-lo, mas acho que provavelmente havia um sentimento de por quê?” Ele estudou inglês e teatro na Universidade de Bristol e depois foi para a escola de teatro em Londres. Imediatamente após sua apresentação final, segundo a versão de conto de fadas da história, ele assinou com um agente e foi convidado a fazer um teste para Lee, o diretor vencedor do Oscar de Brokeback Mountain, Razão e Sensibilidade e A Tempestade de Gelo.

Era realmente tão simples? “Foi tão louco quanto isso”, diz Alwyn. Ele enviou uma fita e recebeu uma ligação dizendo que Lee queria conhecê-lo naquele fim de semana. “Então eles me colocaram em um avião. Eu não tinha estado na América antes.” Ele desembarcou em Nova York, na neve, e imediatamente saiu para encontrar uma fatia de pizza de Nova York. “Dentro de cinco dias, eu tinha saído da escola, tinha visto e estava no campo de treinamento em Atlanta. Com o passar do tempo, consegui relaxar e aproveitar. Mas no começo, na primeira ou duas semanas de filmagem, eu estava me cagando.” E então acabou. “Todo mundo ficou na América. Eu tive que voltar para casa e passear com o cachorro no dia seguinte, estava chovendo e eu estava de volta neste jardim”, ele sorri. “E a vida continuou.”

Depois de Billy Lynn, Alwyn teve uma série de personagens desagradáveis, figuras históricas e, às vezes, ambos. Ele era proprietário de escravos em Harriet e filho de um nazista na Operação Finale . Em A Favorita, ele tem uma reviravolta cômica como Masham, que seduz a Abigail de Emma Stone, dança uma dança boba com Rachel Weisz como Lady Sarah e é uma pedra no sapato da rainha Anne de Olivia Colman. “Todas as três são incríveis. Apenas pessoas pé no chão, engraçadas e legais.” Ele diz que é fascinante ver o trabalho de Colman. “Porque pode ser tão fácil sentar no canto cheio de nervos se animando para uma cena, mas ela é tão descontraída e divertida e conta piadas, e então quando você percebe está feito.”

Masham é um personagem coadjuvante, um papel pequeno, mas Alwyn decidiu desde cedo que preferia ter papéis menores com diretores que admirava do que sempre ir para os grandes e chamativos trabalhos. “Há algumas coisas que provavelmente fiz só porque queria trabalhar, mas tentei ser bem exigente”, diz ele. Isso requer um ego saudável, para estar feliz em desempenhar o papel de coadjuvante, em vez de insistir em ser a estrela? “A ideia de ser o papel principal só por fazer parece ridícula,” ele diz, então se corrige. Ele gosta de ter certeza de que está sendo compreendido. “Bem, não parece ridículo. Cada um na sua. Mas prefiro desempenhar um papel coadjuvante interessante em um filme interessante. Acho isso mais atraente.”


Desde 2016, se acreditarmos na internet – os detalhes são escassos e continuarão assim, em grande parte – Alwyn tem um relacionamento com Swift. Sua carreira cinematográfica trouxe-lhe um nível de reconhecimento, mas o nível de fama a que ele foi exposto em torno de seu relacionamento é algo completamente diferente. Isso foi um choque? “Não é algo em que eu pense, a menos que esteja em situações como essa e alguém diga: ‘Como é?’ e eu tenho que pensar sobre o que dizer sobre isso”, diz ele, embora tenha muito a dizer sobre isso, o que sugere que ele pensou sobre isso pelo menos um pouco. Ele é mais cortante quando fala sobre esse lado das coisas, e um pouco menos brincalhão, como se tivesse prática em ser firme. “Não é apenas para outras pessoas”, diz ele, sobre seu relacionamento. “E eu não digo isso com agressividade.”

Ele admitirá que pode ver por que as pessoas podem se interessar por isso. E as pessoas estão interessadas. Há rumores de que sua música de 2019 , London Boy , sobre gostar de um garoto charmoso e esportivo do norte de Londres com muitos amigos, é sobre ele, mas, além disso, eles falam muito pouco um sobre o outro em público. Digo a ele que assisti a uma compilação de nove minutos no YouTube que reuniu tudo o que eles disseram sobre seu relacionamento em público em um vídeo útil. “Bem, espero que tenha sido esclarecedor”, diz ele. Não foi, na verdade. “Isso não me surpreende, porque não sei o que as pessoas estariam fazendo.”

Ele faz uma pausa, pelo que parece uma eternidade. “Eu não sei a melhor forma de falar sobre isso. Quero dizer, estou ciente do interesse das pessoas… desse tamanho de interesse, e desse mundo existente. Simplesmente não é algo que eu particularmente me importe, ou tenha muito interesse em alimentar, eu acho, porque quanto mais é alimentado, mais você está abrindo um portão para intrusão.” Ele está ciente de que isso o faz soar cauteloso. “Acho que essa é apenas minha resposta a uma cultura que tem essa expectativa crescente de que tudo será dado. Se você não postar sobre como faz seu café pela manhã, ou se você não deixar alguém tirar uma foto quando você sair pela porta da frente, isso é ser privado? Eu não sei se é. Então, eu realmente não alimento isso.”

Seu próprio Instagram é estritamente baseado no trabalho, e há pouca sugestão de algo além de um set de filmagem. “Se você e eu estivéssemos conversando e tendo um shandy em minha casa, e não estivesse sendo gravado, então, é claro, outras coisas seriam ditas”, diz ele, ecoando o que Swift disse a este jornal em 2019 . (“Se você e eu estivéssemos tomando uma taça de vinho agora, estaríamos falando sobre isso – mas é só que isso vai para o mundo”, disse ela, naquela época.) Eles decidiram, desde o início, ter uma linha partidária e não falar um do outro? “Er. Era como, bem, por quê? Há coisas mais interessantes para falar e acho que isso alimenta uma parte estranha da cultura da qual não estou realmente interessado em fazer parte.”

Uma coisa que ele vai falar é sobre a colaboração musical deles, que o transformou em um vencedor do Grammy. Eu queria perguntar sobre música, eu digo. “Vá em frente, e eu vou cantar para você”, ele brinca, mais feliz por estar de volta em terra firme. Quando Swift lançou Folklore, duas das músicas, Betty and Exile, creditaram um misterioso co-escritor chamado William Bowery. Os fãs especularam sobre quem poderia ser, e Swift revelou mais tarde que era um pseudônimo para Alwyn, que também co-escreveu algumas das músicas de seu sucessor, Evermore. “Esse foi um bônus surreal do isolamento”, diz ele, verificando-se. “Isso é um eufemismo.”

Como foi trabalhar com sua outra metade, em sua linha de negócios? “Não era como, ‘São cinco horas, é hora de tentar escrever uma música juntos’”, diz ele. “Surgiu por brincar ao piano e cantar mal, depois ser ouvido e dizer, ‘Vamos ver o que acontece se chegarmos ao fim juntos.’ ” Ele gostou porque não havia expectativas e nenhuma pressão. “Quero dizer, diversão é uma palavra tão estúpida, mas foi muito divertido. E nunca foi uma coisa de trabalho, ou uma coisa de ‘Vamos tentar fazer isso porque vamos lançar isso’. Era como assar massa fermentada no confinamento.” Mas nem o melhor fermento de todos resultou em um Grammy. “O Grammy foi obviamente esse bônus absurdo.”

Ele tinha alguma ambição musical antes disso? “Eu gosto de música, e toquei um pouco de violão em uma banda da escola quando eu tinha 12 anos.” “Eu posso tocar piano muito mal, mas nunca com a intenção de, ‘Certo, é hora do meu álbum de jazz-fusion’.” Ele sorri. “Infelizmente.”

Ele está prestes a tirar uma folga e não tem empregos imediatos, diz ele, o que é bom para ele, já que o ano passado foi muito ocupado. Seu trabalho recente indica uma guinada no estilo de Robert Pattinson para o arthouse. Ele teve um pequeno papel em The Souvenir: Part II de Joanna Hogg, e seus próximos dois filmes serão Stars at Noon, uma adaptação de um romance de Denis Johnson dirigido por Claire Denis, e Catherine, Called Birdy, uma comédia medieval dirigida por Lena Dunham. “Mais uma vez, acho que tudo vem do trabalho com Ang Lee e do luxo disso no começo”, diz ele. “Eu preferiria fazer isso por enquanto e ‘construir’, o que soa horrível”, diz ele, começando a se encolher, “e tipo, crescer como ator, o que também soa horrível”. Ele parece mortificado. “Você sabe o que eu quero dizer?”

Acho que sei o que ele quer dizer. Ele soa como alguém que está satisfeito com a vida como ela é, e onde ela está prestes a levá-lo. Terminamos nossas cervejas. Alwyn está indo encontrar alguém em Hampstead Heath, e nós apertamos as mãos, educadamente, enquanto nos despedimos. Ele sai para a rua, os olhos no caminho à frente.

Fonte | Tradução e adaptação – Joe Alwyn Online

He’s about to make you swoon in the new adaptation of the Sally Rooney blockbuster. The actor talks about earning the author’s seal of approval and winning a Grammy alongside Taylor Swift

The plan was to meet Joe Alwyn at an old fashioned pub in the area of London where he grew up. It’s a nice pub, tiny, a selection of beers with wacky names on tap, percentage proofs that would make your eyes water. But we both arrive just before noon, and the doors are locked, so we awkwardly hang around outside, peering in through the window, looking to all the world as though we are desperate for a late-morning drink.

I am not sure that Alwyn is as desperate to speak to me, though over the course of a slow and steady pint, he is very polite and easy company. The actor, 31, has been on the brink of being a big star ever since he left drama school in 2015, but his route to fame has run at a slightly different angle from his route to acting success. His partner is Taylor Swift, one of the most famous women on the planet, so there is that. He is tall, handsome, with floppy 90s heart-throb hair. He is quick and funny and confident, low-key in a fleece and jeans.

For a while, we are the only people in the pub. He uses humour to deflect awkwardness, and I suspect it suits him that nobody can hear what we’re saying. Alwyn is about to star as Nick, the married, maudlin actor who has an affair with a student, Frances, in Conversations With Friends. The adaptation is the second of Sally Rooney’s novels to be made into a television series, after the lockdown-fuelled smash hit Normal People. The director of both, Lenny Abrahamson, said he cast Alwyn as Nick in part because he was “soulful”. “What does that mean?” Alwyn splutters. You tell me, Joe. “I’ll take it. I don’t know! So soulful,” he repeats, with a hint of embarrassment.

Rooney had a say in who played her characters. “I was told she was doing this and that,” he says, waggling a thumb up and down. “I mean, not literally doing that, like a gladiator or an emperor. She was involved in casting and watching tapes.” When he got the part, due to his soulfulness presumably, he contacted the author, and they exchanged a few emails. The shoot was going to be in Dublin, where they planned to meet, but late in the day it moved to Belfast. “So we didn’t. But I sent her an email just being like, ‘Thank you’, basically. Thanks for the thumbs up, Sally.” Rooney’s books are full of highly articulate emails and texts. “She does a good email,” he nods. So how did you approach the pressure of emailing her? “Many, many drafts. I did my best email. It just felt really nice to have her blessing.”

Alwyn had read Conversations With Friends and Normal People already, long before his involvement in the former. “I read Normal People before I knew they were making a show out of it, and I remember when I saw it thinking, I’d love to be in something like that.” Normal People’s sex scenes between Connell (Paul Mescal) and Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) became such a talking point that people began to lust over Mescal’s silver chain, as if everything else about him had been exhausted. In Conversations With Friends, Nick has a heated affair with Frances, and Alwyn is fairly regularly, if tastefully, naked in it. “We were guided through it with an intimacy coordinator, Ita O’Brien, who is great,” he says. “They’re essentially choreographed. So they’re like fight scenes. They’re quite mechanical. And obviously they’re weird, funny, strange things to do with your friends. But when Lenny’s in the room, cracking jokes, and there’s 10 crew members around, and it’s freezing cold or boiling hot, it just takes all the sexiness out of it.”

Besides, he says, the sex scenes are there for a reason. “They are kind of extensions of the conversations, in their own way. Each one, hopefully, should feel slightly different and mean something different to the people involved, and they’re not just kind of gratuitously thrown in. But, I mean, obviously, it’s a weird part of the job.”

Normal People and Conversations With Friends are different stories, and different series, in many ways, but if his series follows the Mescal trajectory, is he prepared for the idea that he might become a pin-up? “I honestly just don’t have any thoughts about it,” he says. They only finished filming four months ago. “I haven’t let myself think, ‘Oh God, people are actually going to see it’, so I haven’t thought about that side of things. Which is a boring answer, I know.”

Anyway, this is a serious drama, not a bonkbuster, and it deals with serious themes. Nick is married to Melissa (Jemima Kirke), a successful writer, and their marriage has not always been monogamous. But when Frances (newcomer Alison Oliver) and her best friend and ex-girlfriend Bobby (Sasha Lane) start to entangle themselves in their lives, the four of them are forced to ask grownup questions about love, jealousy and honesty. Nick is certainly a complicated character who runs hot and cold, and he is difficult to pin down. “When you meet him, he’s in a place of recovery – he’s been through a storm and is slightly numb to the world. And he’s just kind of functioning, and we meet that version of him, but we don’t really know why,” Alwyn says. It isn’t until later in the series that we start to learn who he is. “He can be a real enigma, and sometimes frustratingly so. He’s quite aloof and enigmatic and unreadable.”

I am not sure that Alwyn is aloof, but he has more than a touch of the enigmatic and unreadable about him. He has been a steadily successful actor since 2016, when his first job was to star in the Ang Lee-directed Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, alongside Kristen Stewart. He followed it up with smaller roles in a series of award-winning films, including The FavouriteMary Queen of Scots, and Harriet. He has fronted campaigns for Prada, and has also won a Grammy, after collaborating with Swift on her 2020 album Folklore. Despite all of this, I say, I don’t know very much about you. Few details of his life are public, which he seems to prefer, but it does mean we have to start at the beginning. So you grew up …

“I grew up in this pub,” he cuts in, grinning. “I was born in this garden and I’ve never left. Very happy here, thank you.”

He actually grew up near where we are today, in Tufnell Park, a well-to-do neighbourhood in north London. His mother is a psychotherapist. “I never felt like I was lying down on the couch and being analysed every evening, which is probably a good thing. I managed to escape that. But she’s great with people and great to talk to. People always think that must be strange, having a mum who’s a therapist.” Well, it is interesting. “It definitely is. It’s an amazing job. I actually think if I didn’t do this, I would be interested in doing something like that.”

His father is a documentary film-maker who also teaches film-making. He instilled a love of films in the young Alwyn by giving him stacks of VHS tapes for his birthday and Christmas presents. “He makes fly-on-the-wall, observational human stories. When I was growing up, he was often away, and I remember him being in these far-flung places a lot, bringing back cool gifts for me and my brother.” Did you ever go with him? “I was never invited.” He leaves a beat. “Don’t worry, I spoke to my mum about it,” he quips.

He has two brothers, one older, who works for an NGO, and one much younger, who was born when he was at secondary school, and has just left school himself. Alwyn went to a private boys’ school, on a scholarship and bursary. He enjoyed it, and made a group of friends that he still speaks to all the time, even today. He didn’t really act at school; he mostly played sport. “I was good at football. Tennis. I just like athletics, generally.” He squirms. “‘Just generally’. It sounds so arrogant! ‘All of them’.”

Were people surprised that he wanted to be an actor? “I feel like I’d given enough hints that it wasn’t a complete bombshell when I wanted to do it, but I do think there was probably a feeling of, why?” He studied English and drama at Bristol University, and then went to drama school in London. Immediately after his final showcase, so the fairytale version of the story goes, he signed with an agent and was asked to audition for Lee, the Oscar-winning director of Brokeback Mountain, Sense and Sensibility, and The Ice Storm.

Was it really that simple? “It was as mad as that,” Alwyn says. He sent over a tape, and got a call saying Lee wanted to meet him that weekend. “So they put me on a plane. I hadn’t been to America before.” He landed in New York, in the snow, and immediately went out to find a New York slice of pizza. “Within five days, I’d left school, had a visa and was in boot camp in Atlanta. As it went on, I managed to relax and enjoy it. But at the beginning, in the first week or two of shooting, I was shitting myself.” And then it was over. “Everyone else stayed in America. I had to go back home and walk the dog the next day, it was pouring rain and I was back in this garden,” he smiles. “And life continued.”Advertisement

After Billy Lynn, Alwyn had a run of nasty characters, historical figures, and sometimes both. He was a slave-owner in Harriet, and the son of a Nazi in Operation Finale. In The Favourite, he has a comic turn as Masham, who seduces Emma Stone’s Abigail, dances a silly dance with Rachel Weisz as Lady Sarah, and is a thorn in the side of Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne. “All three of them are amazing. Just down-to-earth, funny, nice people.” He says that it is fascinating to watch Colman work. “Because it can be so easy to sit in the corner full of nerves hyping yourself up for a scene, but she is so chilled and fun and cracking jokes, and then she’s just in it and out, and then it’s done.”

Masham is a supporting character, a small-ish role, but Alwyn decided early on that he would rather take smaller parts with directors he admired than always go for the big, splashy jobs. “There are a couple of things I probably did just because I wanted to work, but I’ve tried to be pretty picky,” he says. Does that require a healthy ego, to be happy to play the supporting role, rather than insisting on being the star? “The idea of being the lead role just for the sake of it seems ridiculous,” he says, then catches himself. He likes to make sure he is being understood. “Well, it doesn’t seem ridiculous. Each to their own. But I’d much rather play an interesting support role in an interesting film. I find that more attractive.”

Since 2016, if the internet is to be believed – details are sparse, and will remain so, largely – Alwyn has been in a relationship with Swift. His film career brought him a level of recognition, but the level of fame he has been exposed to around his relationship is something else entirely. Was that a shock? “It’s not something I think about, unless I’m in situations like this, and someone says, ‘What’s it like?’ and I have to think about what to say about it,” he says, though he does have plenty to say on it, which suggests he has thought about it at least a little bit. He is more clipped when he talks about this side of things, and a bit less jokey, as if practised in being firm. “It’s just not for other people,” he says, of their relationship. “And I don’t say that with aggression.”

He will concede that he can see why people might be interested in it. And people are interested. Her 2019 song London Boy, about fancying a charming, sporty north London boy with lots of mates, is rumoured to be about him, but, other than that, they say very little about each other in public. I tell him I watched a nine-minute compilation on YouTube that collected everything they had said about their relationship in public into one handy video. “Well, I hope that was illuminating,” he says, drily. It wasn’t, actually. “That doesn’t surprise me, because I don’t know what people would be going off.”

He pauses, for what seems like an age. “I don’t know how best to talk about it. I mean, I’m aware of people’s … of that size of interest, and that world existing. It’s just not something I particularly care about, or have much interest in feeding, I guess, because the more it’s fed, the more you are opening a gate for intrusion.” He is aware that this makes him sound guarded. “I think that’s just my response to a culture that has this increasing expectation that everything is going to be given. If you don’t post about the way you make your coffee in the morning, or if you don’t let someone take a picture when you walk out of your front door, is that being private? I don’t know if it is. So I just don’t really feed that.”

His own Instagram is strictly work-based, and there is little hint of anything beyond a film set. “If you and I were having a conversation, and having a shandy in my house, and it wasn’t being recorded, then, of course, other things would be said,” he says, echoing what Swift told this paper in 2019. (“If you and I were having a glass of wine right now, we’d be talking about it – but it’s just that it goes out into the world,” she said, back then.) Did they decide, from the beginning, to have a party line, and not to talk about each other? “Erm. It was just like, well, why? There are more interesting things to talk about and I just think it feeds into a weird part of the culture that I’m not really interested in being a part of.”

One thing he will talk about is their musical collaboration, which turned him into a Grammy winner. I did want to ask about music, I say. “Go for it, and I will sing for you,” he jokes, happier to be back on solid ground. When Swift released Folklore, two of the songs, Betty and Exile, credited a mysterious co-writer called William Bowery. Fans speculated as to who it might be, and Swift later revealed that it was a pseudonym for Alwyn, who also co-wrote some of the songs on its follow-up, Evermore. “That was a surreal bonus of lockdown,” he says, checking himself. “That’s an understatement.”

What was it like to work with your other half, in her line of business? “It wasn’t like, ‘It’s five o’clock, it’s time to try and write a song together,’” he says. “It came about from messing around on a piano, and singing badly, then being overheard, and being, like, ‘Let’s see what happens if we get to the end of it together.’ ” He liked it because there were no expectations and no pressure. “I mean fun is such a stupid word, but it was a lot of fun. And it was never a work thing, or a ‘Let’s try and do this because we’re going to put this out’ thing. It was just like baking sourdough in lockdown.” But not everyone’s sourdough resulted in a Grammy. “The Grammy was obviously this ridiculous bonus.”

Did he have any musical ambitions before this? “I like music, and I played a bit of guitar awfully in a school band when I was 12.” They were called Anger Management, and they covered Marilyn Manson’s version of the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). “I can play piano pretty badly, but never with the intent of, ‘Right, it’s time for my jazz-fusion album.’” He grins. “Unfortunately.”

He’s joking, but if a jazz-fusion album does emerge one day, it wouldn’t be such a curveball. He is about to take some time off and has no immediate jobs lined up, he says, which is fine by him, as last year was so busy. His recent work indicates a Robert Pattinson-style swerve into the arthouse. He had a small role in Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir: Part II, and his next two films will be Stars at Noon, an adaptation of a Denis Johnson novel directed by Claire Denis, and Catherine, Called Birdy, a medieval comedy directed by Lena Dunham. “Again, I think that all comes from working with Ang Lee, and the luxury of that at the beginning,” he says. “I would just much rather do that for now and ‘build’, which sounds awful,” he says, beginning to collapse into a cringe, “and like, oh, grow as an actor, which also sounds awful.” He looks mortified. “Do you know what I mean?”

I think I know what he means. He sounds like someone who is satisfied with life as it is, and where it’s about to take him. We finish our pints. Alwyn is heading off to meet someone on Hampstead Heath, and we shake hands, politely, as we say goodbye. He heads out into the street, eyes on the path just ahead.

 Conversations With Friends starts on BBC Three and BBC iPlayer on 15 May.

Joe discusses the upcoming series Conversations with Friends in the May 2022 issue of Elle UK. Read the full interview below:


CONVERSATIONS WITH… Joe Alwyn

The British actor is here to steal our hearts in the TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s book. Katie O’Malley meets the man giving Paul Mescal a run for his money

IF ANYTHING SUMS UP THE ABSURDITY of trying to find new ways to work during the pandemic, it might be the way that Joe Alwyn met his Conversations with Friends co-star, Alison Oliver. “A few months before shooting, Lenny [Abrahamson, the director] wanted us to meet with him, so we ended up both staying in an empty hotel during lockdown,” he says. “It felt like The Shining.” But it’s thanks, perhaps, to Northern Ireland’s lockdown restrictions that Alwyn and his co-stars (Oliver, Jemima Kirke and Sasha Lane) were able to form the tight-knit bond needed to depict the intense relationships of their characters in the adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends. “We all hung out loads,” he says, recalling hikes along the Giant’s Causeway and spending time at Abrahamson’s home.
The 12-part series, out this month, is an exploration of the complex, intertwining love stories between four unlikely individuals – two university students (Frances and Bobbi) and a married couple (Melissa and Nick). “It was a no-brainer,” London-born Alwyn says of the opportunity to pay Nick — a pained, quiet actor who navigates an affair with timid Frances while still in love with self-assured Melissa.
“He’s gone through a bit of a storm and is in a place of recovery. He’s numb to the world.” Today, the 31-year-old couldn’t be more different from the meek on-screen character. Speaking to me via Zoom from his home in North London, he’s warm and self-effacing. Addressing the discomfort of the students in the ‘adult’ settings of the story, Alwyn says he can relate to the characters’ gawkiness. “It’s definitely a familiar feeling — that sense of being out of your depth.”
It took just five days after sending in his audition tapes for Alwyn to learn that he’d landed the role. “I was so excited, I went to my parents’ house for drinks,” he says. The son of a psychotherapist and a documentary filmmaker, Alwyn developed a passion for acting at an early age. “I was Snowy the dog in The Adventures of Tintin,” he laughs, recalling his roles in school plays. Despite since starring in award-winning films such as Boy Erased and The Favourite, he admits he has not been immune to “struggle” in his career.
“It’s such a weird job. It’s full of so much confusion, rejections and ups and downs.” One of the downs is undoubtedly the public’s interest in his own life (Alwyn has been dating Taylor Swift since 2016). He still finds it hard to understand why sharing, rather than protecting, one’s private life is the expectation. “It’s not really [because I] want to be guarded, it’s more a response to something else,” he shrugs. “We live in a culture that is increasingly intrusive. The more you give — and frankly, even if you don’t give it — something will be taken.”
The success of the BBC’s Normal People — which swept the board at 2020s BAFTAs and Golden Globes — has set high expectations for Conversations, especially with the stories’ shared sensibilities. “But at the same time, it’s very different,” Alwyn says, noting that above all, he wants the new series to provoke debate. “[Rooney] never ties things up neatly at the end, which is one of the reasons I love [her books].”
While he’s yet to meet Rooney — he sent her a “fan message” after being cast — the actor has long appreciated her work. “She’s such a perceptive writer,” he says. In a similar vein to Normal People’s Connell and Marianne, played by Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones respectively, Alwyn says there’s a lot said in the unsaid between Nick and Frances.
“That’s very much part of Sally’s books,” he notes. “[They] really struggle with self-expression, and Nick finds it deeply irritating — he wishes he knew how to communicate better.” It looks like this series will make as many waves as its predecessor, but with upcoming roles in The Stars at Noon opposite Margaret Qualley, and Lena Dunham’s new film, Catherine, Called Birdy, it’s Alwyn who is set to make the biggest splash of all. Conversations With Friends is out in May




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Has joe said anything about Steve McQueen? Because I think I remember he wanted to do a war movie. And McQueen who I think is one of the most modern directors working is making one about the Blitz with saoirse who is of course fantastic and someone who joe has worked with. Additionally, the blitz was such a significant event for England, for London, for joe’s history that it would be interesting to see him in a movie with a personal quality.

he didn’t include Steve McQueen in his recent very long list of dream directors he’d love to work with lol but yeah he did say he’d want to do a world war movie. Could be a great project for him, however I don’t know if the scheduling would work with… [more]

I’m loving his hair rn! Different cut than we usually see on him for sure

yeah this is a great length on him, think it’s my favourite hairstyle joe’s had!

did he thank ryan thrice on his stories?! he’s so sweet hahaha

haha yes he did so cute!! seems it meant a lot to him 🥹🥰

Joe Alwyn Via Instagram Stories September 29

Joe Alwyn via Instagram stories, September 29

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