HOW DOES A CHILD STAR SIDESTEP THE USUAL HOLLYWOOD CRASH-AND-BURN TO BECOME A SUCCESSFUL ADULT ACTOR? THOMAS BRODIE-SANGSTER COULD WRITE THE BOOK. FROM CUTE-FACED IMP IN LOVE ACTUALLY, TO NEWT IN THE ANGST-TASTIC MAZE RUNNER FILMS, THIS LEVEL-HEADED PLAYER HAS AVOIDED TYPECASTING AND BUILT A FASCINATING, VARIED CAREER. INTERVIEW BY PIPPA BROOKS
PORTRAITS BY ETIENNE GILFILLAN
I was surprised to learn that Thomas Brodie-Sangster is 25. As a child, in films such as Love Actually (2003) and Nanny McPhee (2005), his extraordinary features call to mind a snub-nosed Jack Wild, but this young veteran of some 20 films and numerous TV series has surpassed his “cuteness” and made choices in which his talent and unique appearance have been used perfectly – not least as Jojen Reed, the prophetic dreamer in Game of Thrones and Newt in post-apocalyptic science-fiction hit The Maze Runner, part two of which comes out this Autumn. When I talk to him, he has just finished a short run on the stage at London’s St James Theatre in Summer Of Love, about a family in crisis.
You’ve been acting since you were tiny. Did you have any kind of formal training or have you learned to act purely from experience?
Just from doing it. I never had any training or went to drama school, or anything.
I thought you were younger than your 25 years. Do you get that a lot, and does it bother you?
Throughout my life it has bothered me a little bit. Like, if I'm going to the corner shop without my ID and I want to buy a beer, and I’m like: “I'm 25!” So it’s a bit annoying. And in school, growing up, all the girls in my class who I wanted to appeal to thought I was “cute”! So it’s pissed me off from time to time, but it’s not a major annoyance in my life.
I think you’ve dealt with the transition from child- to man-actor really well. It must be hard for people who start young to make that change.
I know it is. When audiences and casting directors know you for being a cute little kid and suddenly you’re not, you’re an awkward teenager. There aren’t many roles for that. There are a lot of roles for teenagers, but generally they’re played by people my age. There aren’t many roles around for that awkward stage when you don’t know who you are. So now, at 25, I’m playing the teenagers!
You’re getting there! Do you look to anyone for advice in the roles you take?
Yes and no. I mean, it’s my choice. Everyone around me, from publicist to agent or whatever, are people I genuinely get on with as people. I feel that they’ve got my best interests at heart and aren’t out to scrounge me for every penny they can! So I trust them, and my family and friends. But it’s my decision at the end of the day.
You’ve been involved in quite a lot of cult productions, from Game of Thrones, through Doctor Who to the Maze Runner films. Is it strange to experience that kind of obsessive fandom?
I think it's a little odd, but they really love it! The Maze Runner films have more teen female fans. They’re very different to the Game of Thrones or the Doctor Who fans. They’re more obsessed with us as people. Whereas the Game of Thrones fans are more into the characters. They absolutely love the characters and love us for playing the character, rather than you yourself.
Summer Of Love was your first time acting on stage, wasn’t it? How was that for you?
It was a small space, only a week run and it was a 40-minute play. It was written and performed by friends I’ve known for quite a while, so it was perfect.
You’ve done so much screen acting already; did going out on stage make you nervous?
I didn’t get nervous throughout the whole experience until 10 minutes before the first performance. Sitting there, hearing the audience gather, all my nerves came in then! I had been wondering if I was going to be nervous. Of course, you get up on stage and you have no choice but to get over it! I did feel my mouth drying out a few times. But I knew I knew it, so I was fine.
What was the last mainstream film you went to see?
I went to see the Pixar film Inside Out. They kind of hit the nail on the head, whatever they do. It’s a kids’ movie about diving into the internals of your mind and subconscious. Although it’s aimed at kids, at the same time it’s kind of weird and trippy. Really good.
And what other kinds of movies do you like?
I really like the Coen brothers. I like watching something really cinematic that feels like theatre, almost. When it all gels together perfectly, so you can appreciate the sounds and the acting and the visuals and the story, but it all works together as one piece. I think that’s very clever.
Are there any roles you would have loved to have played?
That was a cool part in Whiplash.
Good call! That was a wonderful film, and what a great part!
He [Miles Teller] does it so well. But that would have been cool to do.
You’ve also recently been playing John Tracy in the Thunderbirds series remake, haven’t you? I used to love Thunderbirds when I was young.
Yes, I was a huge fan when I was a kid too. John was never much of a character in the original series.
Have they developed him more for the new version?
Yes, I’m up in space. I guess in the Sixties, satellites were still pretty new and weren’t used for much, really, other than to spy on the Russians, but nowadays we have sat nav and everything, so the scripts are much more organised around the viewpoint of outer space, which is my character’s viewpoint. I kind of organise the whole mission. It’s aimed at kids, but there are loads of little nuances that remain faithful to the original, whilst updating it.
On set, there must be a lot of waiting around. What music do you listen to when you’re lolling in your trailer?
I've been listening to Bonobo a lot, but I like all other kinds of music, too. I like Nina Simone, Jeff Beck, Pink Floyd, all kinds of stuff.
I read you play the bass guitar? Why did you pick the bass?
Playing bass is another way of expressing yourself and performing, but it’s great because you’re not the centre of attention. You’re there, holding down the groove. You listen to the guitar or the trumpet or whatever, but the bass is there being the glue, holding the rhythm and the melody together. It’s the cool bit, without everyone realising it’s the cool bit!
We realise you’re the “cool bit”, Thomas! Unconventionally attractive and averse to typecasting… It’s going to be so exciting to see Brodie-Sangster enter the next phase of his career, whether as a leading man, or “holding down the groove”!
HAIR AND GROOMING BY REBEKAH LIDSTONE @ STELLA CREATIVE ARTISTS, USING BUMBLE AND BUMBLE
LEATHER JACKET WITH SHEARLING COLLAR BY BELSTAFF / ALL OTHER CLOTHES, THOMAS'S OWN