There’s no stopping Jack Lowden. Winner of the Ian Charleson Award and a Supporting Actor Olivier for his Oswald, in Richard Eyre’s 2013 revival of Ibsen’s Ghosts, the 26-year-old Scot is currently establishing himself as a screen performer with depth and guile.
Cast as Young Tom Morris, record-holding winner of four consecutive Open championships between 1868 and 1872, Lowden plays him as a cocky, abrasive working-class prodigy forced to battle with the upper-class Scottish golf establishment.
He also struggles against his restrictive father, Old Tom (Peter Mullan), himself a four-times Open champion and celebrated greenskeeper. Ophelia Lovibond gives a mettlesome performance as the wrongly disgraced woman, Meg, with whom Young Tom falls in love.
Lowden plays another sportsman, English professional wrestler, Zak “Zodiac” Bevis, in Fighting With My Family, due in 2018. This July, he’ll be seen as an RAF pilot in Christoper Nolan’s World War II epic Dunkirk.
The role that may define Lowden’s film career, though, is that of Morrissey, Manchester’s miserabilist rock legend, whom he portrays in pre-Smiths days, in Mark Gill’s unofficial biopic England Is Mine. In a recent interview at the London Hotel in Manhattan, Lowden’s eyes lit up when he talked about “the Mozfather.” First, though, we talked about golf.
Culture Trip: How’s your handicap?
Jack Lowden: I don’t the fuck know. Terrible probably. I’m not very good at golf and I was never very into it, though I’m a massive sports fan. The idea of playing a sportsman drew me, but it almost didn’t matter what sport the film was about.
CT: You look pretty useful teeing off.
JL: Yeah, we put a lot of hard work in. We had a great coach as well.
CT: The film’s about much more than Tommy Morris as a golf champion, isn’t it? It’s about the class war and the father-son struggle.
JL: Yeah, what he achieved in golf—all the Opens and things he won at such a young age—is dealt with in the first 20 minutes. Then, what I love about him, he becomes this reluctant sporting hero. Golf becomes secondary to everything else that’s going on in his life. He meets the woman he falls in love with and wants to have a family. His fame begins to irk him. He grows almost to despise golf.
CT: The way you play Tommy, he’s a little obnoxious. He isn’t one of those golden boys of sport.
JL: That’s what came across to me in the script. He had to be a bit like that because of the class thing. It was very pertinent in Britain at that time and still is. Anything that takes that on and tackles it is much needed. Golf was essentially a game for gentlemen to bet on—like horse racing, and they almost owned these golfers. Just because you have a title, you’re presumed to be a human being of a certain level, but in Tommy’s eyes respect is earned.
CT: The gentlemen members of the golf club at St. Andrews wear red coats and a couple of them have English accents—it’s a reminder of English imperialism in the Highlands in the 18th century. And the Royal Blackheath Golf Club in London tries to poach Tommy as its professional. Rich men just want to exploit him.
JL: To a certain degree, yeah, though in the film Tommy is excited about the idea of going down to London. Nationality doesn’t play any part in it for him—he’s just anti-upper class.
CT: Did he really die of a broken heart and a pulmonary hemorrhage?
JL: He drank himself to death as well. He was on top of the world in terms of golf, but he’d lost his wife and his kid in an instant. That’s what I found so tragic about the story. He was 16, 17 when he started doing amazing things on the golf course, but by 24 he’d gone. I don’t know if he had a death wish, but he wasn’t in a good fucking place after what happened to him, so you couldn’t blame him for feeling like that.
CT: You play Morrissey in England Is Mine. Were you a Smiths fan before you took the part?
JL: I listened to other music—I hadn’t listened to a lot of The Smiths. But, of course, when the script came along, I delved right into it, and I’ve not been able to stop listening to The Smiths and Morrissey since. Just like people are addicted to golf, people are addicted to Morrissey, and it was quite amazing to dive into that world. I’m obsessed with him now. We shot it in about five weeks on location, along the Kings Road [where Morrissey lived as a child in Stretford, Manchester], the Iron Bridge [Stretford; mentioned in The Smiths’ ‘Still Ill’], everywhere. It’s directed by a guy [Mark Gill], who grew up two or three streets from Morrissey, and there were people who worked on the film for free just because they’re obsessed with The Smiths.
CT: The film is about Morrissey before The Smiths, right?
JL: Yeah, it’s up until the day they [Morrissey and Johnny Marr] formed The Smiths. It’s not a period even diehard Smiths or Morrissey fans know an awful lot about, so we felt relaxed about that. On paper, it’s quite daunting to take on a guy like Morrissey, who’s still around, but the script was so beautiful. It’s just about this kid growing up in 1970s Manchester, seeing certain things about himself he doesn’t like or that he wants to improve, or seeing things in his surroundings that he thinks aren’t good enough. I related straight away to that feeling of wanting to do something different with your life.
CT: What was the key to finding Morrissey for you—to understanding who he was?
JL: In the script, there were a lot of situations he found himself in that I’ve found myself in. Sometimes you want a certain version of yourself to come across if you meet a certain person–if you meet a girl for the first time, or someone else you admire. Our Steven, as we refer to him in the story, is very much like that. He’s a typical teenager. It wasn’t that hard to get into the guy on the page, which took the weight off my shoulders a little bit. I guess it would have been a totally different experience if the film had been about The Smiths. That would have been harder to imagine than a film about a teenager growing up.
CT: Have you met Morrissey?
JL: No, I haven’t yet. I would love to, and I would absolutely love him to see the film. Obviously, it would be very hard for anyone to watch a film about themself—I appreciate that. I’ve only seen bits of it, but I really think it will be something special, whether diehard Smiths fans like it or not. You know, I don’t look anything like him…
CT: But you have Morrissey’s quiff when you play him?
JL: Oh, yeah.
CT: And there are references to his love of Oscar Wilde?
JL: Yeah. I read the books he read, and a lot of the music he liked and listened to it in the film. I think it’s a great testament to him.
CT: I’ve got to ask you about playing the Labour MP Tony Benn in A United Kingdom. You look a little more like Benn than Morrissey.
JL: Another great experience. I listened to hours and hours of Tony Benn’s diaries, which he dictated, and I got to make a speech in a debating chamber in the Houses of Parliament. It’s honestly wonderful to play all these guys–it’s a privilege.
CT: You want to get back to theatre?
JL: Yeah, as quick as possible. That’s what I grew up doing. Film and TV is relatively new for me and I’m still learning, but the stage is my home.
Below: a clip of Lowden’s award-winning performance in ‘Ghosts’ at the Almeida Theatre.
Tommy’s Honour is on release in the US.