The last time Rupert Young and I spoke, we had our time together cut short by an odd phone operator. The Merlin star, currently in Australia for the Supanova Pop Culture Expo, and I went round two in Adelaide over the weekend, the day after he fielded fans’ questions at his Q&A and multiple photo and signing sessions on Saturday. Comfortably sat on a couch away from the craziness of the main floor, Young describes the craziness of the opportunities which are afforded him these days, all the while remaining incredibly aware of other possibilities to be cropping up for him, career-wise.
“Coming to things like this,” he says. “I mean, was so lucky to be on Merlin and now I’m in Australia! I was having breakfast with Louise [Brealey] today and we were laughing and saying, ‘We’re in Australia, having breakfast. How amazing is this?’ It’s brilliant. You also that that I could very easily be going, in two years’ time, ‘Yeah I was in Merlin and nobody wants to see me anymore and I haven’t really done anything else since’. You’re very aware of how this industry works. There is no rhyme or reason; you could do a big role and that could be it. Every job I do is the last job, in my head. I think, ‘This is it. People don’t want you anymore.’ I think you’ve just got to find the joy of being employed!”
Since Merlin wrapped on the BBC a few years ago now, Young has thrown himself into other TV and film work, but has particularly thrived onstage. The last time we spoke, Young was incredibly proud and enthusiastic about performing the plays of Noël Coward alongside a talented cast of British actors. He comments on landing the role and how the process brought him to the attention of London director Blanche McIntyre and the affect she went on to have on him.
“You’re always looking for things to thrill you and excite you,” Young says. “I love doing stage, but it can take up a lot of time. Finding the right project is always exciting. I went into audition and I’d heard about this project and I thought it sounded really interesting. I’d read the plays and obviously, you think of the Noel Coward plays and you think, ‘He’s written some great plays, but maybe it’s going to be a bit dated’. I read them and it was so brilliantly relevant and yeah, there are a few words we wouldn’t say now and some minor things that made you go, ‘We can’t say that now’, but the stories were brilliant and dark. There were some comedies, but there were some really brutal plays in there and some heartbreaking plays. I met a director who is amazing, she’s big in London and she’s getting bigger and bigger, a girl called Blanche McIntyre. She is so brilliant, that I walked in the room and met her and she was lovely, but she just understood my energy and knew what I was doing.”
“It wasn’t like I gave the perfect performance in the room,” he continues. “But she was like, ‘Okay this’ll work’ and I left the room and felt that by just knowing people like her were in this industry, it made me want to stay in it. I was so positive about it and I went, ‘It doesn’t matter if I get it or not, I would love to do it’. She gives me hope about it, because there are so many arrogant directors and yeah, there are some brilliant ones and I’ve met some great people but, to meet someone like that…I loved the play and loved the two leads I had and the idea of working in a company where you play a tiny part in one play and then [a lead in another]. You don’t really have that now. If you play a small part, people go, ‘Oh why is he doing that?’ I love to learn on every job I do. You meet people and you learn from different people. Years ago, you used to go into the National Theatre in a small part and build up, but now it’s like, you go in and if you play a small part, they see you as a small part player if you don’t go in at the top. I think that whole nurturing and people learning from people is going away, so to have the opportunity to do that in brilliant plays and to do nine plays every Saturday, was great. To get all those people with no ego, working with each other, the support and the discipline…it was great.”
Though this Australian trip is as much of a holiday for Young and the international guests as it is paid appearances, he admits that he’s still preparing for upcoming auditions and meetings with producers and directors overseas. At the rate productions are being churned out and actors are being picked up or dropped for these projects, technology has played a huge part in connecting actors and directors in all different areas of the globe.
“Now you can just film a lot of stuff here or in London or anywhere,” Young says. “I’ve got to do a tape here and I was helping one of the Phelps twins do a tape before, it’s very easy to just film it and send it off, but it’s just better being in the room. You meet people and it just happens very fast in the States. It’s like, ‘Come back this afternoon for a meeting with the director and the producer’.”
“Videoing yourself for auditions is horrendous,” he laughs. “I mean, I get friends to look and choose or I listen to the one that sounds good, because otherwise you’re looking at what you’re looking like and it’s not about that. When you go to an audition or someone else films it, you never watch the tape. There is a bit of you that can overdo it and get it better, but it’s been great with this film and Skyping with the director, because I’ll record things on tape and then he’ll call me and say, ‘Maybe change this’ or ‘Maybe try this’. It can work quite well, but it’s still quite awkward. You can always do better, this is the thing!”
Following the Christmas and New Year’s season, Young will be US-bound, where he’ll begin shooting on a film out in LA. Joining the latest crop of Brits heading out to America chasing meetings and potential spotlight during the always hectic pilot season, Young comments on the risky side of taking yourself out to the US market in hopes of landing acting work…and sustaining it.
“I’ve spent a bit of time in the States, but I need to do it a bit more.” he admits. “It’s nice to go and do it, but you’ve got to commit to it. If you go for a month and it’s the first time out, it’s kind of a holiday. I loved it, don’t get me wrong, it made the meetings easier because it was all a bit of fun. It’s easier to fly out there [and back] now, but it’s a gambling town, you know? With LA, I think it’s very easy to get sucked in. You’re told you’re brilliant all the time, you’re told that you need to stay a bit longer. It’s like going to the casino with $100 and you go, ‘Alright, I’m spending $100 and that’s it’s and then you’re like, ‘Okay, I’m going to do $150 and that’s it‘ and then it becomes, ‘You know what? Fuck it, I’m going to do $250’. It’s like, ‘Okay, I’m going for a month’ and then, ‘Okay I’ll do two months’. All of a sudden it’s, ‘I’m going to do a year’ and then before you know it, you’re penniless and you’re being promised you might be promised a job. You’ve got to be realistic, but also know where the jobs are.”
Having obviously established himself in England through the success of Merlin and other projects, Young is sharp and upfront when it comes to aspects of the British film industry which can sometimes act as a hindrance to actors trying to break the mould. Similarly to Australian actors who have found it hard to break out of the soap mould the local industry has carved around them (Hemsworths and Kwantens exempt), it would seem like there are some perceptions some British actors can’t seem to shake, but once in the States, such negatives aren’t present at all.
“I was actually talking to Jamie [Bamber] about this yesterday,” Young admits. “In America, you’re not judged so much and there’s not that class system that England sometimes has. People go, ‘Rupert, okay you played this certain character’, but in America they don’t know the difference between posh or whatever. Dominic West would never have gotten his role in The Wire in England and Hugh Laurie would never have played House in England, because they’re seen as very posh, upper class boys who went to really good schools. You get into acting to play different parts and to really want to continue playing different versions of yourself. When you don’t get them you go, ‘Oh my God, I can’t even play myself!’ so then it becomes this whole self-hatred thing.”
“You can’t take away from those types of shows [soaps], in terms of screen time and knowing how to do things very fast. John Kazinsky, who did a soap in England, he suddenly went to America and was in Pacific Rim and then True Blood. With Australians too, I mean it’s ridiculous that all the superheroes are either Australian or English at the moment! It’s weird, I turned up in the States and I’m 6’4 and people were like, ‘Wow, you’re really tall!’ and I’m like, ‘Well, thanks…?’ – you meet these supposed hunks who are tiny, you go, ‘Well, I’m sure if I was that high I could be as built as you! What, you do a couple of press ups?’ I love it out there but also, in life, when you go somewhere else, you feel a bit unique and you feel a bit different. It gets that joy back. In England, you know everyone in the room and you go, ‘Oh God, that guy got a part over me once and I know that person…’ and in England, there’s more judgement. They’re looking for you to mess up, but in America they’re going, ‘You’re not right for this, but we’ll get you in again’ and you can be someone different. You can go in and be whoever you want to be and no one knows you, really. They all say they’ve seen Merlin and they say they’ve seen everything you’ve done and have loved your work, which you know isn’t true, but they Google you and they see those photos of you and go, ‘Okay some people have heard of him, so he must be great!’ and they’ll watch half a minute of your showreel and will go, ‘Wow, I love your look’.”
Young’s Merlin co-star and fellow Knight, Eoin Macken has been one of the Euro-crop of actors to land a successful pilot in recent times, with the Irish actor currently starring in the lead role on NBC medical drama, The Night Shift. Although Young would joke about him during his Q&A, he had nothing but praise for the way Macken’s been able to tackle work and creative projects, an ethic they both seem to share.
“To put yourself out there and do things yourself,” he enthuses. “I mean, I was always in awe of Eoin from the show. He’s just been published, he’s just written his first novel, he’s made two or three films, he got fans to make the film…he just goes and does it! He gets people to fund it and the fans were so happy to help out and be part of something that they love and he just does it, and now he’s on this big show in the US. He’s just always working. It’s so easy to go, ‘Things are quite difficult now and I haven’t worked for a bit’ and get lazy. We all have good ideas and the amount of people who go out and do it, like you’ve done…yeah, it’s hard work, but how much easier is it when you’re working hard for something you’ve created? When you’re doing something for a job that you don’t like and it’s hard to get the impetus up. It’s brilliant.”
“Whenever I hang out with him, it’s ridiculous, he’s like, ‘I can’t be out tonight because I’ve got a Skype chat and I’ve got this and this…’ and you’re like, ‘Really?’ and he does! He’ll says he’ll do something and he does it. I think we can all see why people work like that, work breeds work and it’s about keeping that energy up. When you’re acting and you’re working a lot on whatever you do and you’re busy, you do keep that energy. Doing the play, it was great to be busy, busy, busy and when it stopped, everything gets rustier and you’re like, ‘I’ve got to get back’.”
Constantly seeking out creative challenges, it seems that stage work has even given Young the opportunity to flex his singing muscles as well, a talent he’s keen on further developing.
“I’m always looking for something and I always like to try and do things differently.” he says. “I sing a bit and I like getting into that discipline. With filming, not that you get lazy, but if you have a couple of drinks or whatever, someone makes you up and makes you look good! With [singing] you have to be better and you have to switch off and I love strengthening my voice or whatever it is. It’s the same with normal plays, you have to get your voice up to scratch and you have to work hard. I like those challenges. Merlin was great, because you go to the gym and you’re working on the fights and you feel you’re really getting into something. You’re not just turning up and saying a couple of lines and leaving, you have to work hard. I think we’re all inherently lazy, I know I am, so when you have to be good and you have to push yourself to embrace it, it’s great.”
Ask Rupert to sing you something at the Supanova Pop Culture Expo when it comes through Brisbane this weekend, November 28th-30th. Hit up www.supanova.com.au for more info!