interview Fionn Whitehead talks Him

Fionn Whitehead talks Him

We sat down to talk to Whitehead, who stars as a mysterious 17-year-old boy, known only as Him.

Him, a three-part ‘domestic horror’ drama from the producers of Unforgotten, is set to premiere on ITV this October. Written by the multi award-winning screenwriter Paula Milne, Him stars Katherine Kelly (Mr Selfridge, The Night Manager), James Murray (Cucumber, Primeval) and Patrick Robinson (Casualty, Holby City), alongside Simona Brown (The Casual Vacancy) and newcomer Fionn Whitehead.

The story focuses on a 17-year-old boy, known only as Him (Whitehead), who is caught in the limbo between childhood and adulthood. But he’s also trapped in a limbo between the two homes of his divorced parents, mum Hannah (Kelly) and dad Edward (Murray), each now remarried with new families. Patrick Robinson plays his step dad Victor, and Simona Brown is step-sister Faith.

Him is the cuckoo in both families nests, a reminder of the failure of their past and a threat to their newfound domestic bliss. Like any teenager, he is riding a rollercoaster of confusing emotions. Like most boys he finds it hard to process his feelings so tends to “act out”. But his behaviour is also triggered by something else. He is engaged in a primal struggle to contain the terrifying secret of a supernatural power he inherited from his grandfather. A power that only his ageing grandmother, played by Susan Jameson (New Tricks) understands, who urges him to use his gift only for good for she knows if he doesn’t it could end in tragedy.

When his 17-year-old step-sister Faith (Simona Brown) moves into the family home, Him finds himself irrevocably drawn to her. They both know their mutual attraction could rupture the family. The turmoil this causes in Him escalates out of control and with it his supernatural power – and those closest to him are in his line of fire.

Ahead of the series’ first airing, we recently chatted to Fionn (pronounced “Finn”) Whitehead all about it.

So, first off, can you tell me a little more about the show, about Him?
Yeah. Well it’s about a seventeen-year-old boy who’s from a broken family. His parents are divorced and both have young families, and he feels left out, he feels like he’s been left high and dry a bit, and it’s kind of about his coming of age and drama about his relationships with his family, oh, and he’s got a supernatural ability. Although I think that is kind of side-lined in a way. That is a kind of by-product of his situation. I would say it’s more of a drama than a sci-fi.

OK. Tell me more about your character, and why he doesn’t have a name.
Him is a… kind of intensely lonely young man who shies away from a lot of people and kind of pushes a lot of people away. I think that’s because he’s afraid of what he’ll do, and I think a lot of people can relate with being that age and feeling quite lonely. He doesn’t have a name… he doesn’t have a name… the writer did say when we did the read through – and I completely agree – that he doesn’t have a name because he should represent kind of every teenager really. I think that a lot of the running themes, apart from the supernatural element, throughout the drama and his kind of general vibe should be easy to empathise. I think most teenagers will be fairly sympathetic towards it, and I think he should represent most teenagers and not be too specific.

That’s cool. What was it specifically that attracted you to playing the part?
Well I was applying for as many open casting calls as I could. I was just out of college and knew I wanted to act and hadn’t got into drama school and was kind of just wondering what was next. I was waiting for my reapplication to drama school to open up and so I was just kind of like going for as many open casting calls as possible, emailing as many casting directors as possible and getting no response, and going for the odd audition.

This came up and I applied and luckily got a call, an email back from Daniel Edwards, who’s an amazing director and great guy, and has helped me out phenomenally. I went for the audition and he hooked me up with some agents he knew and sent my tapes to them and then luckily I got Him, and got my agent through him – she’s amazing – and gone from there really. So, yeah.

What were you doing for your audition monologue? Were you doing something from Him or do you have a bit from a movie or play or something you like to do?
No, no, we got sent a scene from this, we were allowed to do a scene from this. Then for the recall phases I got allowed to read the whole script and was doing more scenes from Him, yeah.

Tell me about your co-stars, about meeting them.
They’re all really great. They’re all amazing actors, and all-round lovely people. I kind of just learned so much from them really. Most of them have a vast wealth of experience behind them, so it was just great being able to soak up their general vibe, and listen to their stories, and ask some questions. It was really, really useful.

How did you find working with Katherine Kelly? How was she as a screen mum?
Oh, she’s lovely! She’s quite… I think she’s quite maternal by nature, so she really looked after me and gave me a lot of advice and yeah, it was really easy to click with her, I think, and to play her son, because she’s so caring in real life.

And what about Simona Brown, who plays your step-sister? It sounds like your characters have a rather complex relationship. Is that, or was that, ever at all difficult?
Not at all, not at all, no. She’s great, we get on very well. We had a great time filming it – we just kind of get on with it really. A role’s a role, you can’t let it interfere with your personal life. It would probably be pretty unprofessional really! If you’re playing a murderer or something you don’t go out on a killing spree at night. It’s just important to keep the two separate.

Fair enough. And how is it filming a three-part mini series? Is it hard to track where you are and what episode you’re up to in the story?
We didn’t do it chronologically, the only director I know who does it chronologically is Ken Loach, who I’m a massive fan of.

Apparently Nicolas Winding Refn shoots chronologically as he finds it confusing otherwise. Little fact for you there from the The Neon Demon commentary…
Oh, really? Nice little pop fact for me! It can get a little hard to follow, but I think if you’ve done enough work in your own time, and you know the script well enough then it should hopefully be easy to get bak to that place, that… er…

Headspace?
Headspace of the character, yeah, exactly.

You’re dealing with a lot of heavy themes in this. Is that difficult as an actor, or something that you relish?
Yeah, no, I think pretty much everything has painful themes, I think it’s kind of a necessary factor. If you’re watching something and don’t feel moved by it, it’s not doing its job. I think that it’s… I like doing stuff like that… I think it’s very important to shake it off at the end of the day. You know, if you’ve had a day filming the death of your best friend or something – that’s not in the show by the way, that’s just a random example.

Noted. No spoilers.
Then it’s kind of important to shake it off. But apart from that it’s good to do. It can be very interesting and very intense to watch on camera.

Let’s talk more about the horror and supernatural elements. Was that something that was fun to do?
Yeah, that was really fun actually! I think because a lot of it was done without visual effects actually, a lot of it was done kind of in real time with special effects, so that was really fun to do – kind of looking at stuff and having it flying across the room was pretty amazing. Yeah [laughs] that was pretty cool!

Yeah, I’ve spoken to actors portraying characters with telekinetic powers before who’ve said you can sometimes feel a little silly doing your “psychic powers face”…
[laughs] Yeah!
…you know your intense focussed moving-things-with-my-mind stare, did you find that difficult at all?
My “psychic face”, hah, yeah. I guess it can look a bit ridiculous, but if you’re going to worry about looking ridiculous then maybe you shouldn’t be acting! It’s not so bad – I can think of worse things to be doing than pulling a funny face on camera for a few hours!

How did you find working with your director Andy De Emmony?
Yeah, it was really, really good. Andy is amazing, really responsive, he’s really good at working with people – he really gets to know them and has time for you. That really shows on camera I think, because if you know the person it’s easy to know where to go with the character and where to go with the scene or whatever.

And was it a long shoot? And were you studio based, or out on location a lot?
No, this was seven weeks, so not too long – it flew by. It was all on location actually. Mostly in suburban London, because a lot of it is in houses and parks and stuff like that – all over really: a bit in High Wycombe, a bit in Wembley… all over the shop.

What are you doing next?
Next I will be doing… well, I’m not actually allowed to talk about it yet. That’s not ‘Dunkirk’, but I can’t talk about that either! I can say I was in it, and it was great.

To finish, as it’s Halloween, if you could be killed by any movie monster which one would it be, and what would your last words be?
[laughs] …killed by any movie monster?! [laughs] Hmmm… Probably, probably… like, Voldemort, or something like that.

Ooh, OK. No one’s ever picked him before. Would you have any last words for He-who-must-not-be-named?
Um, I don’t know, “Fuck you”? Am I allowed to say that?

Him starts on ITV on Wednesday 19th October at 9pm.

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