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Harris Dickinson: ‘Female nudity is part of cinema history – I don’t mind balancing the playing field’ | Film

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The punk provocateur Dennis Pennis, played by Paul Kaye, once famously asked Demi Moore whether, if it wasn’t gratuitous and it was tastefully done, she would consider keeping her clothes on in a movie. Harris Dickinson chuckles when I bring up that prickly comic encounter during our Zoom conversation. But the question remains: what are the odds that the 24-year-old actor will appear in something where he isn’t required to get his kit off?

Audiences will be more familiar by now with his armour-plated pecs, washboard stomach and seashell-shaped belly button than they are with their own bodies. In Danny Boyle’s glossy miniseries Trust, he wore ringlets, Speedo swimming trunks and precious little else to play the kidnapped heir John Paul Getty III. In Postcards from London, he disrobed as an erudite rent boy. He even went full-frontal as a closeted Coney Island teen in Beach Rats. “I was up for it, man,” he shrugs. “Female nudity has been part of cinema throughout history so I didn’t mind balancing the playing field.”

His forthcoming action romp The King’s Man – a prequel to the Kingsman series – includes a spot of shirtless combat, while Triangle of Sadness, which he is currently shooting with Ruben Östlund, the devilish director of Force Majeure and The Square, won’t buck the trend: Dickinson stars as a former model stranded on a desert island. “It’s gonna have to stop, innit?” he says with a bashful laugh. “Then again, I don’t know how much longer my body’s gonna be in decent shape, so I might as well embrace it while it lasts. The older years will have to be a bit more covered up.”

If that mention of the distant future suggests a touching faith in his own longevity, no one could claim it isn’t justified. It was Beach Rats that first showed what an alert and watchful actor he could be, capable of dominating the screen not through any Method-style huffing and puffing but with the concentrated intensity of his stillness. If you want one scene that distills his ability to convey complex emotions through imperceptible interior shifts, watch the moment when he looks on as his friends beat up a young man whom he has lured into their clutches. Pity, anger, remorse and self-loathing play on his face all at once, but he barely moves.

Despite Dickinson’s acting experience, and his sleepy-sexy East End drawl, he fitted in seamlessly on that movie with the cast of Brooklynite non-professionals. “I thought: ‘OK, I can go with this.’ It was hard because I had my training, whereas they’d turn up sometimes and say: ‘I don’t know my lines, bro.’ I’d be, like,” – he puts on a haughty RP accent – “‘OK, well I do.’”

Harris Dickinson (top right) with his crew in Eliza Hittman’s Beach Rats.
Sons of beaches … Harris Dickinson (top right) with his crew in Eliza Hittman’s Beach Rats. Photograph: Neon

Although there was some improvisation on Beach Rats, Joanna Hogg’s forthcoming arthouse sequel The Souvenir Part II was nothing but. “Joanna works with a structure but no script, so it was strange turning up on set and not getting your lines,” says Dickinson, one of two actors hired when Hogg reshaped the film after Robert Pattinson dropped out. “But without tooting my own horn, I’m capable. I never thought: ‘I dunno what to say.’”

His career to date has been a savvy mix of low-budget, high-calibre projects such as Hogg’s film and Xavier Dolan’s recent Matthias & Maxime, and occasional forays into the mainstream. He played a dashing Prince Charming figure opposite Angelina Jolie in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, and now in The King’s Man he is the swashbuckling hero, whose father (Ralph Fiennes) inducts him into the upper-class secret service against the backdrop of the first world war.

“My character is from a more well-to-do family than me, that’s for sure,” says Dickinson, who is the son of a hairdresser and a social worker and still lives in the same unflashy corner of east London where he was raised. Previous instalments in the Kingsman series have been disagreeably laddish in nature, but Dickinson insists that the director Matthew Vaughn has brought a slightly more dramatic tone to this prequel, despite a fantastical approach to history, featuring a conglomerate of real-world super-villains that includes Rhys Ifans as Rasputin.

“Matthew wanted to approach this one with some weight, and not to make a mockery of the sacrifices that so many people went through,” he says. “There’s still a playful energy, though. No one takes themselves too seriously.”

That includes his screen father. “Ralph is incredibly disciplined but he’s also very free and funny.” He grins sheepishly. “I’m a bit of a fanboy with everyone. When I worked with Angelina Jolie, that wasn’t a small thing for me, you know? That was massive. I play it down, otherwise I get starry eyes.”

Dickinson as Prince Phillip in Disney’s Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.
Prince charming … Dickinson as Prince Phillip in Disney’s Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. Photograph: Disney

He used to watch Jolie’s dad, Jon Voight, in Midnight Cowboy, and marvel at his performance as the gormless Joe Buck. Then it dawned on him that it was actually the snivelling Ratso Rizzo, played by Dustin Hoffman, who represented the meatier acting challenge. “I’d love to play Ratso!” he says. “That’s where the grime is.”

The closest he has come himself is in the bleak new British drama County Lines, in which he is an east London drugs kingpin who grooms boys for the criminal life. “That was really exciting for me,” he says. “There was no vanity with that character. He’s just not a very nice person; he’s a predator. He thinks he’s Pablo Escobar with his little empire. I met a lot of ex-gang members who had been living that life, so I really got to understand that existence. Also, I know that sort of person much better than I know my character in The King’s Man. Those sorts of boys went to my school, you know?”

His home turf is never far from his mind. He kept busy during lockdown by mucking in at Project Parker, a disused Walthamstow dairy that was transformed into a makeshift homeless shelter. And the dreamy videos he has directed for two singles by his girlfriend Rose Gray were both shot locally. Those film-making ambitions predate his acting ones: he started out as a crew member on music videos before catching the youth theatre bug. Now, in post-production on a new short of his own, he believes directing has helped him develop a thicker skin.

“There’s a tendency as an actor to be wrapped up in your insecurities, and I don’t know if I have that any more. I’ve said to a lot of directors: ‘Please, I don’t do well with praise.’ I’d rather be told: ‘That was rubbish.’ Praise isn’t constructive; it doesn’t force you to be better. Praise is what you get at the end.” So he’s fine with a glowing review, then? “I personally find it embarrassing,” he admits. “I need to work on that.”

What scares him more than praise is the idea of being pigeonholed by his looks. “As a person, I’m not just one thing, so it would be silly to just play one type of role.” That said, there’s only so far he can get from his own physicality. “I know I’m this lanky, six-foot-two … ” He grapples for the right noun, “boy. So it’s about searching for different types of characters. In terms of moving forward, I don’t think I’d find too much pleasure doing things that are solely based around my appearance.” In other words, we’ll be seeing both more and less of him in the future.

County Lines is released on 20 November; The King’s Man is released on 26 February

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Here Are 10 Popular Movie Theater Snacks — Pair Them With Movies And We'll Guess Your Generation

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Cordelia review – reality-bending drama of creepy neighbours | Film

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There’s a really interesting pairing of two really interesting screen presences – Antonia Campbell-Hughes and Johnny Flynn – in this flawed but potent psychological chiller. It’s a claustrophobic chamber drama about emotional breakdown co-written for the screen by Campbell-Hughes with the film’s director Adrian Shergold. In some ways, it’s a riff on Polanski’s Repulsion, with the story of a lonely young woman beginning to get unmoored from unreality.

Campbell-Hughes plays Cordelia, a troubled, damaged soul who is only just recovering after some unnamed trauma; she is an actor rehearsing a play and comes to stay in a creepy London mansion flat occupied by her twin sister Caroline (also played by Campbell-Hughes) and Caroline’s boyfriend Matt (Joel Fry); they leave her alone there. Cordelia strikes up a friendship with Frank (Flynn) the charming, but strange and unreliable young man they can hear practising his cello in the upstairs flat – a relationship which quickly becomes very disturbing.

Shergold and Campbell-Hughes orchestrate some very disquieting dream sequences, and scenes in which ostensible reality bleeds into a hallucinatory dream state. And they have some excellent moments down in the London Underground, whose potential for horror is often mishandled by film-makers but works well here, especially at the very beginning. And there’s a genuinely unsettling moment where Cordelia leaves London for an interlude at her stepmother’s house in East Anglia, a journey which proceeds as weightlessly as a dream – and perhaps it is a dream.

Cordelia contains cameos from Alun Armstrong and also Michael Gambon, as the scatterbrained elderly neighbour who starts a highly unwelcome conversation about whether or not having mice in your flat means you won’t have rats. Perhaps this film doesn’t entirely work all the way through, but it is a shard of malevolence that jabs into your skin.

• Released on 23 October in cinemas.


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Max Winslow and the House of Secrets review – lightweight Wonka-esque movie puzzle | Film

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Targeting the demographic intersection between geeky YA fiction readers, folks interested in psychology that doesn’t go much deeper than an internet quiz, and supermarket puzzle magazine fans, this sci-fi-inflected thriller is moderately satisfying as long as you don’t think about it too much.

In a bland Arkansas suburb that happens to have been the home town of tech billionaire inventor Atticus Virtue (Chad Michael Murray), five very different high-school kids are invited to take part in an exclusive competition at his secluded mansion. The prize is a lifetime supply of chocolate … oh, sorry, no … the prize is the mansion itself – but the Willy Wonka parallels are about as blatant as the nominative determinism of the mysterious benefactor’s surname. Only this time, given Mr Virtue has been detained, the role of maybe-malevolent host-guide is taken by the disembodied voice of the house’s sentient computer, Haven (voiced by Star Trek alumna Marina Sirtis), who sets the kids a series of problems to solve that may be more dangerous than just counting jelly beans.

The title character Max (Sydne Mikelle) is a shy-but-pretty-under-her-flannel-shirts coding champ with daddy issues; she pals up with Connor (Tanner Buchanan), the school star lacrosse player, who turns out to be a more sensitive soul than his jock reputation would suggest. A popular girl obsessed with her online image (Jade Chynoweth), a bully (Emery Kelly) and a gaming addict (Jason Genao) fill out the quintet. Before the night is over, all of them must confront their darkest fears, generated with simple effects and the magic wand that is a screenwriter’s “because tech” justification.

This is hardly profound stuff, although the most creepy and resonant aspect is arguably the plotline revolving around the popular girl who gets stuck in a bathroom staring into a mirror version of herself that’s much nastier than the real thing, a simple cinematic sleight-of-hand that depends entirely on Chynoweth’s skill in projecting bitchy malevolence. A darker, hipper version of this movie might have made her the protagonist and proved more amusing to watch than the simpering leads we have here.


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