A self-confessed latecomer to acting, Rupert Friend’s debut role as Billy Downs in The Libertine was a biggie. Playing alongside Johnny Depp and Samantha Morton, his portrayal earned him a nomination for Best International Newcomer at The Ischia Global Film Festival. Nowadays he occupies a prime position in the industry, with his pivotal role as Peter Quinn in the Emmy-winning TV drama series Homeland. We catch up with the British actor, and talk never settling down, DIY home improvement and music.
HOW ARE YOU RUPERT, WHAT ARE YOU UP TO?
I’m in North Carolina, which is steamy and hot and great. We’re doing the third season of Homeland.
HOW’S THAT GOING?
It’s going really well, we’re shooting the first two episodes at the same time. There are a lot of changes – particularly some new, very exciting cast members that I’m not allowed to mention, but they’re people I have admired for a long time. There are some pretty explosive story lines; every time we get the script, it’s a shock to us. So I hope it is for everyone else, too.
HOW DID YOUR SHOOT FOR THE MAGAZINE GO?
It was really fun. I don’t do a lot of photo shoots, so I kind of dread them. But I had a funny feeling about Danielle [Levitt], that we would get along well. I knew her work, and when I arrived it felt like she was an old friend that I’d lost touch with. We ran around the hotel like a couple of five-year-olds. There were stylists and lots of other people who wanted to make sure everything went well, but Danielle and I didn’t care. And I think that made it go really well. I hadn’t actually slept, for various reasons, so I was thinking, “I hope I don’t pass out during the shoot.”
YOU GREW UP IN OXFORDSHIRE. WHERE ARE YOU BASED NOW, IF YOU DO IN FACT HAVE A BASE?
I don’t really, but I guess if I did, it would be New York, although I don’t have a place [there]; I stay with friends. I’ve been in the States for the last couple of years, and I’ve had a really good time. I’ve never really gotten into the idea of having a base or settling down somewhere, because I find that many of the things I’m interested in are spread around the world. I’ve always been into the opposite: exploring everything, everywhere and everyone.
THAT MUST FIT IN PERFECTLY WITH YOUR CAREER?
Yes, it does. I knew when I began acting that one of the things I would love is someone saying: “Will you get on a plane and go to Caracas?”
YOU HAVE DESCRIBED YOURSELF AS A LATE STARTER IN TERMS OF ACTING. WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD HAVE DONE IF YOU HADN’T BECOME AN ACTOR?
I like working with my hands and being physically tired. One of my early dreams was to become a lumberjack. That manifested itself in a place I bought in London that was a wreck, an old shoe factory. I did it up with a friend, and learned about carpentry, plumbing, electrics, stone-cutting and welding. I thought to myself, “This makes me really happy.” I went to bed with a big smile every night.
WAS IT BECAUSE YOU WERE MAKING SOMETHING?
Yes, whatever it is, whether you’re making dinner or making a table, you have created something that wasn’t there before.
DO YOU THINK IT IS IMPORTANT TO MIX STAGE AND FILM?
I don’t have any hard and fast rules about acting – or about anything actually; I think they’re dangerous. I think it’s interesting to see what inspires your enthusiasm within the moment, and that could be stage, theatre, screen, or standing on the street doing some mime.
HAS THERE EVER BEEN A LINE IN A SCRIPT THAT YOU DIDN’T WANT TO SAY?
No. I don’t see myself as being relevant in the work. It’s not relevant whether I would say it or not, because it is not me saying it. I have had to produce some pretty horrible things in acting, according to my moral compass. I had to rape a girl with locked-in syndrome on the stage; I kicked a Jew to death playing a Nazi. But if they serve their story and are true to the character, then I’m doing my job.
WHO WOULD YOU SAY IS YOUR FAMOUS LOOKY-LIKEY? DO YOU EVER GET MISTAKEN FOR ANYONE ELSE?
A looky-likey? Umm, no. I don’t even get recognised as myself! But I’m not complaining, it’s great! It suits me really well.
DO YOU THINK THAT BEING AN ACTOR MAKES IT EASY FOR YOU TO LIE?
To lie? [Laughs] I don’t know really. I guess the defence would be that actors are pretending to be someone else. Weirdly, I think actors find it quite hard to be themselves, so I would say it makes it hard for them to lie, as they don’t even know who they are.
YOUR DEBUT ROLE WAS IN THE LIBERTINE, HAVE YOU LEARNED MUCH ABOUT ACTING SINCE THEN?
I think I’ve learned less. If anything, I’ve learned to worry less, to think less. It has become what I think it should be, like with anything. The only thing I can equate it to is music: you learn to play the music and not worry about the instrument.
SPEAKING OF WHICH, YOU’VE RECENTLY BEEN INVOLVED IN MAKING MUSIC.
Yes I have. There’s a group called Kairos 4Tet who won a MOBO award for best jazz act. They have an album out this year, which Jamie Cullum has been banging on about, and I wrote the lyrics. That was an opportunity I was given, where I was able to branch out into another thing I’m passionate about. I love films, I love stories, but I also love music. I grew up playing in bands, so to be given a way into that world and to go into the studio and work with the vocalists was just a joy. We had some incredible musicians to play in the album: we had Omar, a big soul singer, he sang one of the songs; Marc O’Reilly, a French-Irish singer; and Emilia Mårtensson, a Swedish singer. We’re all really excited about the project.