Borders actor Jack’s flying high as Second World War blockbuster opens

Jack Lowden in Dunkirk.
Jack Lowden in Dunkirk.

Big-budget film premieres are coming thick and fast for Borders-raised actor Jack Lowden.

Steven Morrissey biopic England is Mine was given its world premiere in Edinburgh at the start of the month and goes on general release on Friday, August 4; golfing drama Tommy’s Honour, also premiered in Edinburgh but a year previously, is out now; and Second World War drama Dunkirk, given the red-carpet treatment in London last week, can be seen in cinemas from tomorrow.

Jack Lowden in Edinburgh earlier this month.

Jack Lowden in Edinburgh earlier this month.

The 27-year-old, born in Essex but brought up in Oxton, is certainly having something of a moment.

Not only does he play the Smiths frontman in a new film about Morrissey’s early struggle to find his voice, but he’s about to go global with his starring role as a Spitfire pilot in Interstellar director Christopher Nolan’s latest movie, Dunkirk.

“That was immense,” said Lowden of working with Nolan, 46.

“He doesn’t like to use a lot of computer-generated imagery, so you would be confronted with this spectacle every day.

“I think we had 1,200 extras on the beach one day. It was an incredible sight.

“And the flying scenes were pretty cool. We were up in the air, over the Channel, flying Spitfires, so that was great.”

That kind of old-school epic film-making is a world away England is Mine, which Lowden wrapped just two weeks before shooting started on Dunkirk.

“I think the hardest thing was getting my hair from black back to blond,” he joked of the swift transition from playing a moody pop-star-in-the-making to a pilot involved in the evacuation of 300,000 British troops from France.

“There was no time for boot camp on Dunkirk, so I just dove right in, which happens sometimes.”

Playing Morrissey, of course, comes with its own weight of expectation. For hordes of fans, critics and pop culture historians, he’s one of the most significant lyricists, singers and rock stars of the modern era.

Lowden is too young to have grown up with the Smiths and wasn’t really a fan before co-writer and director Mark Gill sent him the script.

But after putting himself on tape and meeting Gill, he immersed himself in the singer’s life “as much as Mark would let me”, he added.

“The whole point is that it’s not about the Morrissey that is known, it’s about the making of him,” he explained

Set in Manchester between 1976 and 1982, when Morrissey, 58, and Johnny Marr, 53, jammed for the first time, the unauthorised film expands what would normally be the first act of a biopic into an entire movie, which means no music by the Smiths and none of Morrissey’s solo material.

“Everybody knows the story of the Smiths,” said Lowden, anticipating the backlash the film might receive for not telling the whole story.

“You can still go and see Morrissey. There’s no need to make a film about him from that point onwards.”

For Lowden, who’s the first to admit he doesn’t really look like the Manchester-born singer, the film is all about hesitation.

“It’s about a young man’s hesitation and how hesitation can kill you, can stop you doing things, can stop you becoming the optimum version of yourself that you have in your head,” he said.

“He struggles letting out, and the couple of times he does let it out, he falls flat on his face, so it was way more about that than about Morrissey himself.”

Lowden developed his own love of performing as a child.

“My younger brother Calum is a ballet dancer. He dances with the Royal Swedish Ballet and was doing ballet from a very young age, so I tried it out and was gradually pushed towards the speaking parts,” he recalled.

He enrolled in the Scottish Youth Theatre early on and took part in summer shows at Earlston High School, as well as performing with Galashiels Amateur Operatic Society.

“That’s what I grew up doing. It was just kind of fun and something I could do, so I went and did it, and nobody told me I couldn’t do it,” he said.

Although his casting alongside the likes of Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy in a blockbuster such as Dunkirk might seem like an overnight breakthrough, it comes hot on the heels of last year’s BBC adaptation of War and Peace and an award-winning theatre career since graduating in 2011 from what’s now the Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow.

“There’s never been a plan,” he said. “The parts I’ve got to create are a little bit different to a lot of guys my age.

“I’m not running about playing romantic leads. I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing, but it’s the way it’s sort of working out. I do constantly get to change the way I look, which is sort of an old-school idea of acting.”

That’ll continue with his next few roles. He’s just wrapped Stephen Merchant’s directorial debut, Fighting With My Family, in which he plays a wrestler from Norfolk.

Later this summer, he’ll be back in Scotland to play Henry Stuart, the Duke of Albany, in a big-budget film about Mary, Queen of Scots, opposite Saoirse Ronan.

“I’m doing a bit of research on that now, and growing a beard as well,” he said.

“I’ve been doing this for about six or seven years now, and I’ve been fortunate to work with brilliant people from quite early on.

“From my perspective, I’ve just been trying to enjoy it, but it’s always been exciting.”