It has been said that the best way to predict the future is to create it, and Harris Dickinson clearly took notes. Splayed across a leather Chesterfield couch at Hackney City Farm's café, he doesn't exactly look the part of oracle at the moment, but after adjusting his baseball cap to reveal his fine, linear features and a smattering of freckles, he muses on how he got here and what's to come. "It's a weird one innit? Because you grow up and you're influenced by famous and successful people. Fame is a strange thing to attach to success, and to consider as part of your future. I just like the idea of being able to work, continuing to act and doing what I love, basically." He is sincere and earnest in the way that only someone freshly post-adolescent can be. "In the future I'm going to have to remember what's important, that is: you, your health, happiness, and your loved ones."
Regardless of whether you're twenty-one or thirty-one, it's pretty tricky to look into the future with anything more than a haphazard notion of what's next. But, perhaps you and I find that challenging because we are not, alas, a rangy, beguilingly attractive, box-fresh award-winning young British actor, whose name—Harris Dickinson—if I can be granted a prediction, will soon be on your radar.
His greatest strength seems to be his versatility. At 22, he’s already played enough characters to populate a postmodern Dickens novel. In 2017’s Beach Rats, he portrayed a teen struggling with his sexuality amidst the lurid, corrupting backdrop of Coney Island. The role won him the London Film Critics' Circle Award for Young British/Irish Performer of the Year. He recently starred alongside Hilary Swank and Donald Sutherland in the critically acclaimed FX TV series Trust as 16-year-old J Paul Getty III, an aspiring artist living a bohemian lifestyle in Rome. He'll next appear in theaters as the superpower wielding Liam in the sci-fi thriller The Darkest Minds, alongside fellow rising star Amandla Stenberg. And he’s about to tick the lucrative Disney box as well, sharing the screen with Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, and Michelle Pfeiffer in Maleficent 2 as Prince Phillip.
It's a lot for anyone to take on. Does this progression to the biggest of big screens daunt him? "No, not yet!" He giggles in a slightly bashful fashion. "I guess it is daunting, but I haven't started on the bulk of Maleficent as yet, or met Angelina. It's exciting and it's weird. I dunno. Ultimately, I'm just working with someone, so it becomes a professional relationship quite quickly. I do consider Maleficent 2 to be my first Hollywood blockbuster, and it is the largest production I've ever worked on. I think it impacts you in that it's made me more self-aware. You kind of have this more imminent presence of everything. Everyone is lovely, but there's more people, space, and pressure. But you just have to try and apply the same shit as normal."
I'm impressed by his chameleon-like abilities. Watching him in Trust, I'm immediately sucked into the world of corruption and greed. There's a scene with Hilary Swank (who plays John Paul Getty III’s mother, Gail Getty—Swank's first TV role in 20 years), where he intimates that he perhaps did arrange his own kidnapping. He's seductively vulnerable and haunted, but also adds a telling, subtle touch of Machiavellian manipulation to the character. (Ultimately, I believe good acting is about believing the performer—I believe Harris Dickinson.) Is he consciously trying to be a 'good all-rounder' from the get-go? Dickinson nods, growing animated. "Yes! I do want to, not just to say that I can, but just because I enjoy variety in all senses. I get bored easily. I love performers who are really able to sculpt themselves into different characters—James McAvoy, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Joaquin Phoenix, for instance. Peter Skarsgaard in particular—I watch him on screen and think, fucking hell, you are that character,” he laughs. “I enjoyed making Trust because I got to explore that character for six months. It was also difficult physically (Dickinson dropped around 30 pounds to play the young Getty), but it was satisfying to finish."
Harris Dickinson is clearly ambitious and talented, but he's also refreshingly grounded and genuine. He attributes much of his mushrooming success to his upbringing: "I've been shaped quite definitively by my mum’s spirit of letting me just do what I need to do in life. She never told me what I ‘should be doing.’ She just always believed in me, and more importantly believed me." There were other role models as well. "My acting coach Graham Bryan swayed me away from joining the marines, and made me believe in myself when I didn't." Dickinson chuckles, "I sound like I'm doing a motivational speech now..." I tell him, now that I've known him for all of 27 minutes, that I think he might have the physique for war (he's a sizable 6'1"), but not the emotional capacity for it. He laughs and agrees. "I am incredibly sensitive, and no, I couldn't do it, I couldn't kill someone. Listen, I wanted to be a marine because I thought I'd find a sense of purpose there, but I certainly wasn't prepared for the prospect of fighting a war that, more than likely, I wouldn't full understand."
Talk of war momentarily turns the subject to America, and, as always these days, Trump. Will Harris Dickinson move stateside if his acting career continues to flourish? He only pauses for a moment. "I love London. I wanna stay in London. America is a big country. I’ve had some really amazing experiences there, in New York in particular—we filmed 'Beach Rats' there and I loved it, the NY way of life. But, I certainly enjoy the British sensibility a little bit more. You learn in this job that LA is tough and the industry can feel false. I didn’t get any jobs there for two years because I was maybe a little too polite. Fuck being 'cool'—it’s just silly."
Harris believes it is important to stay loyal to your roots—and not just geographically. He recently tweeted about English actor Christopher Eccleston highlighting the underrepresentation of working class actors. It’s a cause that resonates for him, as someone who grew up outside of the business. There were struggles along the way. He dropped out of school, considered joining the marines, worked in a bar as he waited for his break. “I don’t want to dwell on it—it’s not a real issue for me right now—but the industry is changing and the idea of what an actor should ‘be’ is changing. It’s more accessible now, but you do still see a lack of working class actors. Whether that’s because of background, opportunity, their family situation, or self-belief, I don't know. Maybe it’s down to aspirations and what surrounds you and what you believe you can achieve,” he muses. “I always knew I loved acting, but even at school I felt like I didn’t belong. So then you start thinking: ‘Maybe I’m not good enough.’ There’s always that fear and doubt and insecurity. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to try and do what they love, but if you can—well, why not just try?"
Written by Josephine Smith
Photographed by Justin Campbell
Styled by Jay Hines
Grooming by Jody Taylor