Last year, Clash met young British actor Will Poulter – now 21, then building on his breakthrough role in Son Of Rambow by appearing in the Dexter Fletcher-directed drama Wild Bill. The corresponding feature ran in Clash’s special Cannes issue, and later in issue 88 – our sold-out 1975 cover. So, because you can’t actually get the article in print anymore, and in light of his winning of the BAFTA Rising Star Award earlier this month, we thought we’d dig the piece out of the archive. That’s it, down there.
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Although he has just three feature-length film credits to his name, young British actor Will Poulter has already made a huge impression since debuting in Garth Jennings’ surprise indie hit Son Of Rambow. After his performance as the film’s tough-yet-sensitive joint lead character Lee Carter, Poulter’s profile rocketed after he portrayed Eustace Scrubb in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which was followed by the altogether grittier Wild Bill. Cast as Dean, a teenager forced to be wise beyond his years by a dysfunctional family background, it proved that Poulter could tackle character-driven drama within an emotionally palpable context.
Son Of Rambow earned Poulter a British Independent Film Award nomination for Most Promising Newcomer, while his following two films saw him shortlisted for Young British Performer of the Year at the London Critics’ Circle Film Awards. It’s certainly fine progress for someone who decided that a career in acting or football would enable him to avoid a nine-to-five desk job.
“I wasn’t good enough at football, but I’m managing to fool people that I’m good enough at acting,” he laughs, with a healthy sense of self-deprecation. “So it’s going well, I love it and it’s my passion. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
The coming months should see Poulter make the leap from a rising prospect to become a star in his own right. Central to such an ascension will be his role as Kenny in We’re The Millers, the first major comedy from director Rawson Marshall Thurber since he hit box office overload with 2004’s DodgeBall. The film is headed by Jason Sudeikis as David, a dealer who creates a fake family completed by Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts and Poulter in order to help smuggle a huge shipment of marijuana over the Mexican border. It is, he agrees, an outlandish story for a film pitched at the mainstream.
“Rawson has written a fantastic script, and I can’t stress that enough,” he continues. “It’s a really fun movie. We’re portraying a family and by the end of it we very much become a family, and it’s something a family can enjoy, which is important.”
Of course, Poulter, like so many others, grew up on a diet of Friends. Suddenly having Aniston as a colleague wasn’t so daunting – at least, it wasn’t after initially meeting her and realising she was “just Jen” after the first day. Just observing her at work was a lesson in itself.
“She’s so at ease in front of the camera as well. I think it’s really something that’s born out of experience. Watching her and Jason, I learned to relax a little bit and not be so conscious of the camera. With comedy it’s so easy to watch yourself and try to evaluate everything you’re doing – is it funny? – so to just do it and let go is something I had to learn, but something she’s got down to the nth degree.”
We’re The Millers sees Poulter return to comedy, a genre that he originally worked in as a regular cast member on the TV sketch show School Of Comedy. “That was a long, long time ago, so to be able to re-engage with my comic roots was really fun,” he enthuses. “I have a really enjoyable experience doing comedy. It’s weird, I love doing drama, but I find it torturous – even though I also love that aspect of it. I don’t find comedy torturous; I just have fun with it. It’s a weird thing. They’re different types of rewards.”
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Son Of Ranbow, trailer
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Poulter is currently in Louisiana filming The Maze Runner as part of a cast that includes fellow rising Brits Kaya Scodelario and Aml Ameen. An adaptation of James Dashner’s dystopian young adult novel, it sees Poulter play Gally, who he describes as a “very passionate, strong-headed kid”. It sounds like very similar territory to The Hunger Games?
“It’s a dystopian series and based on a popular teen fiction series – naturally there will be comparisons,” Poulter concurs. “But it’s very much its own film. [Director] Wes Ball has got a very clear, unique vision for the movie, and he really knows what he’s doing. He’s not interested in chasing a representation of another film or trying to emulate The Hunger Games in any way. However well it does it up to the viewer.”
The Maze Runner will also provide Poulter with his first full excursion into the world of sci-fi. What are his favourites from the genre?
“Oh, man!” he exclaims, screwing his face into a contortion of confusion as he struggles to decide. “It’s funny, I don’t watch a lot of science fiction movies, but doing one is a really exciting thought. I don’t really watch horror either, but then I saw Scorsese and Di Caprio’s Shutter Island. I absolutely loved it and that slightly converted me, so I started watching a lot more – things like The Birds. But pure gore doesn’t really do it for me.”
Completing a triumvirate of confirmed projects is Plastic, helmed by Rise Of The Footsoldiers director Julian Gilbey. Poulter plays Fordy, one of two students who turn to fraud to make some easy cash – easy, that is, until they pick on the wrong person. It’s billed, perhaps optimistically, as Catch Me If You Can meets The Italian Job.
“If that’s how the audience are describing it after they’ve seen it, we’ll be very happy,” smiles Poulter. “My character Fordy is a decent kid from a poor background who worked hard and is very intelligent, which was a challenge.” There’s that self-deprecation again.
Although Poulter’s future is as yet unwritten, sketches are already emerging. He’s nearing completion on a screenplay of his own – “I’ve always wanted to write but never really had the balls, but a friend of mine pushed me into it and I’m pleased with how it’s going” – and dreams of working with his self-proclaimed idol, Ben Affleck.
“He got a lot of stick as an actor, which was echoed in his BAFTA and Oscar speeches (in 2013). I really think he was undervalued, but now he’s having the last laugh over the people who doubted him because he’s scooping up awards. If I could choose to work with five directors, Ben Affleck would be in that five. I like the way he works, I love his material. He’s making really good, honest stuff, and it’s very accessible too.”
Maybe one day the Affleck-Poulter dream team will become a reality. In the meantime, Good Will Poulter possesses the potential, the charm – and, soon enough, the profile – to hit his hero’s radar.
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Words: Ben Hopkins
Photos: Liam MF Warwick
We’re The Millers is available on home formats now. Plastic is scheduled for a May release in the UK. The Maze Runner follows in September.