Pop-Culturalist Chats with Nicholas Galitzine
It hasn’t taken U.K. newcomer Nicholas Galitzine long to establish himself as a rising talent on the international stage. In 2014, he made his film debut in John Williams’ The Beat Beneath My Feet, opposite Luke Perry. And in 2015, he was recognized as one of Screen International’s Stars of Tomorrow. But Nicholas is set to make his breakout performance as Conor, a closeted jock struggling to be true to himself, in John Butler’s coming-of-age film, Handsome Devil. We chatted with Nicholas about the role, his favorite relationship to explore, and what he hopes audiences take away from seeing the film.
P-C: Can you tell us a bit about Handsome Devil and how you got involved in the project?
Nicholas: Handsome Devil is a film about a couple of young Irish lads who both attend a very strict rugby boarding school in Dublin, Ireland. They’re each outsiders in different ways. At first, they assume they have nothing in common, but they learn that they share a lot of similarities. In the end, it’s about being true to who they are. I became involved in the project about a year and a half ago. I read the script by John Butler and immediately fell in love with the character. I found Conor to be extremely multifaceted—having the ability to both be really tender and also aggressive and violent. It’s something that plays very interestingly and I just really loved the relationship that he has with Fionn O’Shea’s character, Ned. As an actor, you just get a feeling when you read a really good script—you know you want to be part of it immediately and this is one of those that hit me right away. I really, really loved it! It’s funny, I didn’t hear anything about it for months, and I was like, ‘Okay, that one is gone,’ and then, months later, they gave me the job…and here we are!
P-C: We heard the film is loosely based on John Butler’s own experience. What was the collaboration like onset?
Nicholas: John always says that he’s 50% Ned and 50% Conor. It was important to try and be as true to what John was trying to portray with this story. In terms of collaboration, we all became very, very close friends. John was an incredible leader and created an amazing atmosphere that you don’t always have on film sets. I think that’s something particular about indie films that you don’t always get with big Marvel films—you sometimes miss out on the intimacy and that’s something we had on set, which proved to be really important to the final outcome of the film.
P-C: You deliver a really terrific nuanced performance as Conor. What was the biggest challenge bringing this character to life considering he’s a little bit more reserved and conveys a lot of his feelings through silence and facial expressions rather than dialogue?
Nicholas: I think the most challenging aspect was trying to convey all of Conor’s anxiety and loneliness. He’s outed in front of the entire school and feels like he can’t be true to who he really is, and the people in his life who are in positions of power try to help, but as amazing as Andrew Scott’s character is, there’s a huge hypocrisy. He tells him, “It gets better,” which it surely does, but at the time it doesn’t feel like that for Conor; he feels even more isolated. As a straight guy, it was an honor to play.
P-C: Conor has a unique relationship with each of the men in his life. Which one was your favorite to explore and why?
Nicholas: Oh God! That’s an interesting question. I haven’t been asked that before, so thanks for that. They’re all really, really interesting to explore. The relationship with Pascal (his coach) is so tentative in a lot of ways because he’s a difficult person to deal with and has a singular mindset. He’s only passionate about rugby and that overshadows any other feelings that Conor may be harboring, but also brings a huge amount of joy to Conor, which is later followed by anxiety.
The relationship with Mr. Sherry (his teacher) was to me, as an actor, amazing because Andrew Scott is probably one of the most talented actors of his generation. He’s compelling in whatever role he’s in and personally, my favorite scene in the film is when the guys are on the rugby field at night together and Sherry’s telling me that it’s going to get better and, like I stated earlier, there’s so much hypocrisy in what he’s saying. Being able to feed off the raw emotion that’s naturally produced in that scene is so important to me as an actor. It was a huge learning experience and one that I hope to build upon in future performances.
With Ned…Fionn O’Shea is one of my best friends to this day and I love the story that we told together and the way the relationship evolves in the film.
P-C: The film delves into sexuality and sports. How did you prepare for the film?
Nicholas: I was planning on playing rugby professionally when I was younger and, unfortunately, I suffered from an injury that ended that dream. I don’t believe there are any rugby players who are currently playing that are out. For me, that lent itself to Conor’s feeling like not only was his own small school institution against him, but so was the grand institution of his passion. There’s an interesting conflict between what he wants to do for the rest of his life and not being accepted by that community. That led to the anxiety I tried to portray—the crippling shyness, awkwardness, and stiffness that Conor emotes on screen.
P-C: If you had to choose one scene in the movie that you’re excited for fans to see, what would it be and why?
Nicholas: The final scene really ties the film up together in a nice little bow. It’s beautiful and features an amazing song at the end by Rufus Wainwright. John actually wrote to Rufus and asked to use it in the film and he obliged so nicely. It shows that regardless of a person’s story or sexuality, as long as you stay true to who you are, at the end of the day there’s a happy ending of some sort, whatever that may be.
P-C: Handsome Devil has made its way through the film festival circuit. Have you had a favorite post-screening interaction?
Nicholas: Yeah, the Dublin International Film Festival was a really big one because it was the guys’ hometown. I’m obviously not from Ireland but bringing it back there was amazing and the audience was so responsive and giving.
I was actually doing another job when the film got selected for Toronto and all the other guys went besides me. I was in New Zealand, so I couldn’t fly over, unfortunately.
The film’s been well-received with amazing reviews in The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Screen Daily, and it’s snowballed from there. It’s been an interesting journey and luckily, it’s still growing in a sense and there are a few more stages until everyone can see it, which is going to be great. I’m excited for that!
Pop-Culturalist Speed Round
P-C: Guilty pleasure TV show?
Nicholas: Peaky Blinders
P-C: Guilty pleasure movie?
Nicholas: Love Actually
P-C: Favorite book?
Nicholas: Sapiens—an anthropology book about our history as human beings.
P-C: Favorite social media platform?
Nicholas: Instagram—it’s the only one I really use.
P-C: Favorite play or a musical?
Nicholas: A play—Jerusalem, and a musical—Wicked.
P-C: Hidden talent?
Nicholas: I’m pretty good at accents.
P-C: Go-to karaoke song?
Nicholas: It’s either “Wanted Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi or “I Want to Break Free” by Queen