After being plucked out of school by Shane Meadows in 2006 for his breakthrough role as schoolboy skinhead Shaun in This is England, Thomas Turgoose has worked hard at building a name for himself as an actor. Now, just shy of his eighteenth birthday, Turgoose talks to LWLies about growing up for his latest role in Tom Harper's directorial debut, The Scouting Book for Boys.
LWLies: Tell us a little bit about David, your character in the film, and also about how you came to the project.
Turgoose: Basically David’s the kind of serious character where you never know what he’s up to. You’ll look at him and you’ll think, ‘Fucking hell, what’s he up to now? What’s he planning next?’ He’s one of them characters who doesn’t really speak much. There’s one scene in the film where he kind of expresses how he feels about Emily, and it’s kind of weird to see him talking if you get what I mean because he hardly ever, ever talks in the film. You get who he is by the way he acts. He’s a quiet character. A man of few words. It’s a difficult one to answer.
How did you come to be working on the project? How did you first meet Jack and Tom?
It was just a normal audition through my agent. I went for an audition and I did the audition when I was filming on Eden Lake, and I forgot I’d even done the audition, then my agent rang me saying I’d got the part. He said, 'You’ve got the part in Scouting Book For Boys' and I was like, ‘Which one was that?’ I couldn’t remember which part it was. After that I went up to London every weekend for about a month to help cast Emily – running auditions with other girls.
That’s kind of cool. That’s like movie star stuff where you’re the make or break guy.
Yeah, now you come to mention it I do feel quite cool.
Do you feel like the older you get and the more you understand yourself, the more you understand what you want to do and how you want to be seen? Do you feel like you’re taking control of that reputation a bit more now?
Yeah, definitely. I think I’ve grown up a lot anyway since This is England, when I was 14. I’ve grown up a lot. I hope I have, anyway.
All four of your roles to date have been in very complex, gritty dramas. Don't you ever feel like taking it easy? Or is it all about challenging yourself?
I don’t know. I’m not too sure. Now, like I said with the recession and everything, chances like that only come along once in a blue moon. But I’d love to film abroad, I’d love to do that and have a good laugh, and spend time with my girlfriend when I’m not filming and what have you. For now I think I want to stay in England, but you never know what’ll happen in the next few years.
That’s the thing. It doesn’t always feel that there’s a huge amount of variety in the UK. It can be quite stifling...
A lot of it is gritty drama, set on an estate, drugs and all that. I don’t know, there’s just something about it that I really like. A lot of other young actors will say the same. If they’re interested in that kind of thing… It’s more, like, real films that I like to do. I like realism more than big car explosions and all that.
But because you’re not drama school taught and you don’t talk posh, do you think your background will always hang over you and make people expect certain things from you?
Yeah. If I was to audition for Harry Potter, they’d be like, ‘I don’t know, he doesn’t speak in the dialogue…’ I don’t even know what they say. ‘He doesn’t have the posh voice.’ So I might get overlooked for that kind of thing.
What can you personally do about that?
I think it’s just fighting my corner and doing as good as I can. Building my reputation and doing good work.
Now that you’re older and people expect good work from you, is there more pressure on you than the This is England days? How do you deal with that?
Obviously I put more into it, and it does make me feel, ‘Well, people really like my performances in This is England, what if this one isn’t as good?’ But, you know, up to now I haven’t read anywhere that I’m a shit actor. I don’t really take on board what people say to be honest. Like when people were praising my performance in This is England, I don’t really take much notice because I never want it to get to me.
Do you read your own reviews?
Sometimes. But only on the films, you know? I’ll read up the film’s reviews but not just personally for me.
You mentioned before about growing up a bit since This is England, in what ways do you think your life has changed over the years since then?
I’d say one hundred per cent turned around really. Because before I did that I was a little shit running around smashing windows, calling people names and doing things that didn’t really need to be done. But now, smashing windows and being that kind of person just doesn’t appeal to me at all. Like, looking back, it’s quite stupid, but everyone has their bad side, don’t they?
Do you think you would have grown out of that without film?
I think with my mother dying and then with me having to come and live with my dad, I think that had quite a big impact on me as well. My dad and my mum had lived two completely different lives. My mum, it’s not that she didn’t care but she knew I would never listen to her. But my dad is completely different. It’s not that I was scared of my dad but I was more wary because I didn’t really know my dad that much. It was different with my dad. But I think I probably would have grown out of it.
The older you get, you look back on the way you used to treat your parents and you can’t believe it.
If I had a young child who was talking to me the way I used to talk to my mum, I wouldn’t be able to believe what I was hearing. It makes you realise that you need to treat your parents with respect. When I’m round at my friend’s house and he’s saying things to his mum that are not the nicest things to say, and you just want to say to him, ‘Trust me, don’t.’ Because the day that comes when your mum passes away, you’re going to completely regret everything you’ve ever said and done to her.
Do you try and plan for the future? You talked a little bit before about your ‘career’. Is that very much how you see it?
Me personally, I’m not really involved in it all. My agent speaks to my stepmum and then my stepmum will tell me that I’ve got auditions and that kind of thing. Which is why I’m doing the photography, in case it all doesn’t go to plan and acting stops and then I’ve got my photography to fall back on. But I mean, doing what I’m doing, I love doing my photography and I love occasionally being on set. If I could stay this way forever I probably would but I know I’ve got to grow up and decide what I want to do with the rest of my life.
Have you got your eye on people that you’d like to work with over the next few years?
There’s a lot of people. Obviously, the people I’ve already worked with like Stephen Graham and Jo Hartley and all the people I’ve worked with are amazing. I’d pay money to work with them again. But I never really dream about working with people and stuff. I suppose to me it can’t really get much better than working with people I’ve already worked with.
You’ve peaked pretty early. This is the problem.
Yeah I know. It’s a pain in the arse.
Given your background, do you ever feel like a role model for other kids who don’t think they’ll be able to become actors because of where they come from or who they are?
All the time. I’ve been to schools and done talks. I’m always happy to go there and explain how I got into it and basically just say that anything is possible. Just don’t try to be anyone you’re not – that’s what I tend to say because, you know, when I got cast in This is England, Shane says to me nowadays that it’s because I wasn’t trying to be anyone different. I was just myself and I’m a cheeky little shit. I wasn’t trying to be anyone else.