Freddie Fox is as much a ‘born actor’ as you could expect to meet. The youngest son of actors Edward Fox and Joanna David, and brother to Emilia Fox, he has already affirmed himself a match for his distinguished kin. With an air of eccentricity, Freddie exudes an erudite confidence that prepared him well for his future acting roles.
Before even finishing at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, he had played the part of transvestite singer, Marilyn, in BBC Boy George biopic Worried About the Boy. Fresh from drama school last year, he landed a role opposite Tom Hollander in Feydeau’s farcical A Flea in Her Ear at the Old Vic, barely taking a breath before he was back on the same stage, alongside Anne-Marie Duff in Terence Rattigan’s, Cause Celebre. He has since starred as the young writer Peter Scabius in Channel 4’s acclaimed adaptation of William Boyd’s Any Human Heart.
Following in the footsteps of three generations of thespians, descending from his great-grandfather, playwright Frederick Lonsdale, Freddie found himself magnetically drawn to the profession. But the 22-year- old should not be judged on the merit of his family; while his surname has no doubt opened doors, it has also increased expectation, and Freddie has done well to meet, if not exceed, them. Playing a bisexual assassin in BBC thriller-noir The Shadow Line, and starring as King Louis XIII in The Three Musketeers, he has proved his versatility and flair for creating character.
Recently commencing filming on Tom Stoppard’s Parades End, as well as the BBC’s major new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ unfinished work, The Mystery Of Edwin Drood, 2012 is going to be a big year for Freddie Fox.
“I was an arrogant fucker who needed to have his feet put back down on the ground.”
The Hunger: The arts were undoubtedly a big part of your upbringing. Were you a bookish child?
Freddie Fox: I was a terrible reader and I still am. I get scared at read-throughs because I’m dyslexic. I think that from reading scripts, I’ve got a lot better, but when I was at school, the words jumped around on the page. I tried all those pink, yellow and green glasses to try and make the words stay still. I ended up looking like something out of a 60s LSD trip.
What motivated you to follow the family tradition and move into performing?
It was inescapable. I’d toyed with romantic ideas about being a fisherman, but gradually it became part of who I was, and what I wanted to do. My parents and my family never put any pressure on me to do it, but when they found out that I wanted to become an actor, they gave me their blessing. I’d had a really boring time interning for a barrister. The room was packed with murderers and I still found it dull. I thought I should try something else, but my brain was telling me that acting was what I wanted. I don’t know whether it’s going to be what I want for the rest of my life – I know I want to direct one day and I write screenplays – but, for the moment, the acting bug is still very much biting at me.
It must have put a lot of pressure on you to be good?
Definitely – I’ve got to make my mark. I’ve got to put my ink stamp down on my performances. I revere my family an awful lot, certainly my dad: he’s one of my heroes. I want to show them what I can do and be able to play lots of parts; I want to be chameleonic.
You went to the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Do you think formal training is necessary?
I learned a shitload there. I arrived having been –ifIdoblowmyowntrumpet–abitofabigfish in a small pond when I was at school. I flexed my acting muscles and was allowed to do whatever I wanted, playing all these crazy roles. I turned up for my Guildhall auditions and this actor Daniel Evans, who is a friend, was on the panel. I finished my piece and he said, “That was the most preposterous piece of acting I have ever seen”. For some reason, it was preposterous enough to get me in. When I got to drama school, it made me realise that I had so much to learn and that I was an arrogant fucker who needed to have his feet put back down on the ground.
You’ve not been out of work since you left drama school. It seems to have come very easily to you?
I have been lucky, definitely. I would like to think it was me working hard and being good, but that’s never all of it. I would be naïve to think that the fact that I have Fox at the end of my name isn’t of interest to people, because it is. So maybe it allows me to get into the room in the first place. If you don’t prove yourself, you’re still remembered, as opposed to Joe Bloggs who might have done a shit job, but two weeks later the same casting agent will have forgotten who he was. They’re less likely to forget who I am, because of my name, so it’s a double edged sword.
You’ve proved yourself so far playing a range of unusual roles and eccentric characters. Why do you think you are so well-equipped to play these parts?
You’re always more interesting as an actor if you do something unexpected. Danger is so important, so I think it’s a quest to try and be castable for the right reasons – for being an interesting actor as opposed to being a young Fox and a blonde head of hair. Also, I get drawn to those kind of characters because I’m quite a flamboyant personality. I don’t shut up, so I think those colourful characters are easier for me to get.
How do you prepare for such challenging roles?
With Marilyn, I watched him in interviews on YouTube. I ended up going to a club to try and find people like him and, bizarrely, bumped into one of his great friends, a guy called Philip Sallon; he was a new romantic. I spoke to him for hours, while this music was going and all these guys in nipple tassels were running all over the place. It was good to get Marilyn’s opinion of himself and, at the same time, other people’s opinions of him. He was a coquettish bitch, which I don’t think he’d disagree with, but I didn’t want to make him unappealingly bitchy; he had to have a charm and something likeable.
What do you think the difference is between a good actor and a great actor?
I’d say I’m a good actor, because I work hard and I get employed and people say they like what I do. I’m definitely not a great actor. I think you know whether you’re good, but I don’t think you know when you have become great; it’s something people label you as. Being a really great actor is something that comes with age, something that is characterized by humility and technique on top of a basis of talent. You grow into greatness, I guess.
Is there any role that you’ve missed out on that you wish you had a chance to play?
I’d have loved to have played Colin, the part that Eddie Redmayne got in My Week with Marilyn, which is the new film about Marilyn Monroe. It was a really brilliant script, and that part, for a young man, is fantastic. Eddie will be great in it. You win some, you lose some. That’s the way the business works.
What would be your ideal role?
One day I’d like to play Iago [in Othello], who is a proper villain without reason. Dominic West is playing him at the Sheffield Crucible; he’s a fantastic actor and I’m longing to see it. I’d love to go out guns blazing in an action movie too, but I don’t think that will happen for a little while.
You’ve just finished filming a BBC adaptation of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Can you tell us about the character you’re playing?
The Mystery of Edwin Drood is Dickens’s last novel and he died halfway through doing it. There are even people called fucking Droodologists who analyse what the likely ending would have been. The BBC have invented a very good one – it’s mysterious, but conclusive. He’s young and cocky; a charming young man who has never experienced any great barriers in his life. He believes he is in love with the beautiful Rosa Bud, who he’s been engaged to – as part of an arranged marriage – since he was a baby. They find out that marriage may not be the best thing for them… I won’t give away the ending, but it’s a very good story.
It sounds like you like a good story?
There’s nothing I like more. My dad used to read to me when I was a kid – Robinson Crusoe, Robin Hood, The Count of Monte Cristo. I studied classical civilisation when I was at school because I loved Greek myths. They’re such great stories filled with blood, sex and monsters – what more could you want? My life has always been, in one way or another, infected by stories. Whether I’ve been listening to them on audiotapes, have them read to me, read them myself, acted them out… maybe, one day, I’ll write or direct them. That’s what my life will always be about.
Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Parade’s End will be shown on BBC Two, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood will be shown on BBC One, both in 2012.