How’s it going?
I’m great. You know you’re gettin’ somewhere when Total Film are talkin’ to ya. Man, I LOVE that magazine! I couldn’t believe it when my dad told me that Total Film wanted to speak to me! I liked your Snakes On A Plane issue.
So how are your classmates back in Donegal treating you now that you’ve starred in a film with Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench?
There’s no difference! I wish there was! All I ever get asked is, “When’s the film coming out?” It’s a nightmare. I can’t wait for it to come out so I can stop gettin’ asked!
In the original book, your character is from north London but you play him as Irish…
He was originally London in the script but Patrick Marber rewrote it for a Northern Irish kid. I asked if I could try on a London accent but they said the Northern Irish accent added a little something to the character, so they wanted to keep it. Some people like the Northern Irish accent but I had to make sure it was understandable for American listeners. So it was clearer and more delivered than I usually do.
How gruelling was the audition process?
Oh, it was tough! Do you wanna hear the full story? I was going on a rugby tour to Australia on the Friday, and the casting director rang my agent and said they were going to try in Northern Ireland because they couldn’t find anyone in England. So I flew over to London on the Monday and auditioned for the senior casting director. Then they flew me back on the Wednesday and I auditioned for Richard Eyre and Patrick Marber. Then I went on tour and they rang and wanted me back, so they flew me back from Australia! And I did a screen test with an actress and then flew back out to Australia, finished the tour, came back and they wanted me back for another screen test with Cate Blanchett this time! Couple of weeks later I heard I got it.
Nicholas Hoult [from About A Boy] was in the running since January, so it was tough for a lot of people. I just walked in and said, “That’s the boy from About A Boy! How tall are you?” I was starstruck. He’s probably sick to death of being asked what it was like to work with Hugh Grant!
What was it like meeting Cate Blanchett that first time?
For the screen test she was really nice. You had to sell yourself in half an hour and it was really nerve-racking. But after that, you could just talk to her about anything. I used most of the time to badger her about scenes and what I should be doing and how I should be doing it. Because I wanted to get the character right and I had my own opinions on it but I wanted to ask what other people’s take on it was.
Was she helpful?
She was really encouraging. The first days she was saying to me that if I had any problems I should come and see her. That proved invaluable. Especially on a set that you’re really not used to.
Were you starstruck with her?
I was scared more than anything! I don’t know about starstruck. But it’s like your eyes are immediately drawn to her when she’s in the room. And when you talk to her she’s one of the nicest people, so that dispels all the views you have of her as Cate Blanchett. She’s just a really nice person.
So what do you make of your character, Steven?
He’s a bit of a lad, isn’t he? A bit of a chancer! I think he kind of represents what every young boy in the UK would think when they go to school and see a nice teacher. Like, everyone does think about it; I know that even by talking to my friends beforehand and doing research. We had a teacher in the second year and every boy wanted her! She was just the hottest. I used to say if I was older, say sixth form, and she was still upper school, I would have... It’s not as unrealistic as people think, what Steven does! He just represents a carefree teenage boy who gets caught up in something that really is bigger than he thought.
He tries to make himself very vulnerable to her. It seems like he has a plan.
He’s got it all sorted out, but then when he finds out her feelings for him and that the stories are coming out… He’s just in it for the excitement, and he gets bloody bored after they do it a few times. He’s looking for the next one; the grass is always greener!
So you’ve gotta tell me: what were the sex scenes like to shoot with Cate?
[Laughs] They were cold and wet and horrible and it was night shoots! Two night shoots in a row! I was so tired and it was freezing. We were by an old railway track and the other ones were inside where it was all nice and warm. There were about 15-20 people there, gaffers looking at you and waving at you! We just talked most of the time and she talked me through and Richard Eyre helped a lot, too, talking to us beforehand in terms of what should be done in the scene. We knew what boundaries couldn’t be passed.
Because of your age there are certain things you can’t show.
I didn’t feel anything wrong, but it was a bit nerve-racking because it was one of the first days on set. They were doing a backside shot of me walking away – I dunno if it’s coming out over here but he said it was for Asia, because they can show my backside at 16 there. So on my very first day I had to drop everything! Richard was there saying, “Any time you’re ready.” I had to wear a thong for the whole thing, like in Jackass! To be fair, Cate was great. She didn’t look, which was helpful.
Did you get to know Judi Dench even though you don’t have many scenes with her?
We were really close; we just hit it off. The first time I saw her she walked up and said, “I hear you did very well on your GCSEs.” The woman is just the nicest person I’ve ever met in this business. She was so nice to my dad; she chilled out with him for the whole time we were there. They just chatted. She chatted to me and gave me loads of advice. She asked me to her play over here; she wants to come over to Ireland. She’s just open and warm and lovely. No one deserves success more than her. She taught me a lot about life. I learnt focus from Cate but in terms of life and how to treat people, Judi was great.
Notes On A Scandal is released in cinemas nationwide on 2 February 2007.