Tom Beasley sits down with British actor and star of God’s Own Country, Josh O’Connor, to discuss his nomination for the EE Rising Star Award at the BAFTAs…
Josh O’Connor was today named as one of the five nominees for the EE Rising Star Award at the BAFTAs. The public will now vote on the shortlist of young performers, which also includes Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth) and Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok). The lucky winner will be announced as part of the glitzy BAFTAs ceremony on February 18.
Previous winners of the award have gone on to big things, with last year’s prize going to Spider-Man: Homecoming superhero star Tom Holland and other recent Rising Star Awards being handed to Star Wars leading man John Boyega and Hollywood stalwart Tom Hardy.
O’Connor broke out this year as gay Yorkshire farmer Johnny in the brilliant romantic drama God’s Own Country, alongside Alec Secareanu as a Romanian immigrant working on the farm, with whom Johnny forms a tentative relationship.
The actor took the time to sit down with Flickering Myth after the nominees were announced at BAFTA HQ.
First of all, congratulations on the nomination and on the film, which was one of my favourites of last year. What’s it like to be nominated among these other great actors?
It’s crazy to be nominated among these people. Those guys are amazing contemporaries of mine and I respect their performances in every single film. I’m very honoured.
When you first took on God’s Own Country, did you ever think it would get the reaction it has or that you’d be here?
You choose roles by what’s special and exciting to you. I always knew it was a beautiful story and that it was myself, [co-star] Alec Secereanu and [director] Francis Lee’s job to bring what Francis’s script gave on to the screen and to do that successfully. That was my job and my focus. Everything else came later. The fact people went out and paid money to see our film still baffles me, so any of this stuff is a bonus.
The thing that struck me about it was, not only was it a success over here, but it travelled really well to America. What was it like to get the reaction over there as well?
People have responded to a story of hope and a story of change. We see Johnny at the beginning of the film as a character who is closed-off emotionally and unable to be vulnerable. Then, by the end, we see a possibility of change. I remember thinking that would ring true in England but I also thought if it goes to America, they are in a political climate right now where people are hungry for hope and hungry for change. I was really glad it translated over there and did what it did.
What was it like to work, not only with Alec, but with Ian Hart and Gemma Jones as well?
Gemma is an idol of mine, and Ian as well. I remember the first day, Ian turned up on set and I was staying in character as much as I could, but he entered into the spirit of it and Gemma did as well. They have their own techniques and they have been working in this industry far longer than I have and know it so well, yet they were open to the way I wanted to work. I will be forever grateful to them for that because they were brilliant.
What was the shoot like? Those locations are fantastic and so beautiful to look at. What was it like being out there shooting?
[laughs] It was less beautiful… quite wet.
Yeah, it looks quite cold and in some of those scenes, you’re not wearing very much!
It was quite cold and muddy. It was obviously spectacular and it is beautiful. Every time the sun would come up, you would pinch yourself but, ultimately, you’re naked and you’re wet and you’re cold. It was full-on. It was unforgiving and it wasn’t pleasant, apart from the fact we had this incredible team and we all got on so well. That will always be special to me, so it was certainly gruelling, but there were moments of beauty.
We have also got Timothée Chalamet on the list. What’s it like for you to be part of a year that has been so good to LGBT cinema, with Call Me By Your Name and with Moonlight winning the Oscar?
It’s incredible. Hopefully, this is a clear sign to the industry that there’s a hunger for these films. There’s a hunger for representation of these stories in the arts and to be part of that is brilliant. We showed our film first at Sundance at the beginning of 2017. Timothée and the team for Call Me By Your Name were there. I remember seeing that film and just being so proud to be in the same kind of world as those guys. It’s great that these films are being made. It’s really special.
One of the films I would like to talk about is The Riot Club, which I think is one of the most under-appreciated British films of the last few years. Obviously, in that your character could not be more different to Johnny. How important is it for you to take on this variety of roles?
Johnny was so interesting to me because it required a transformation. Likewise, with The Riot Club, playing the kind of weak and privileged and aggressive role, I found that really fascinating. That was a really special experience for me, making that film, because Lone Scherfig is such an extraordinary director. I loved it and it all influenced how I work and my process now. I will always search for roles that push me in a way I don’t recognise in myself.
As a final point, if you don’t win the Rising Star Award, who would you like to win?
Well, Florence is here in the room. I love her in Lady Macbeth. I think she’s extraordinary, but I’d find it hard saying that and not saying Daniel Kaluuya or Timothée or Tessa. But maybe I’ll say Florence.
Thank you very much for your time, Josh O’Connor!
The 2018 BAFTA ceremony will take place at the Royal Albert Hall in London on February 18.
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.