Interview with John Locke
We caught up with talented character actor John Locke, who performed in our film The Last Lighthouse Keeper, to talk about his experiences across film, theatre and TV, while also touching on the perspective he has gained from his work championing new film makers.
After some years away from the profession working in government, John made a successful return to acting in 2012. He is known for many roles in notable films including Jupiter Ascending for the Wachowskis, The Favourite for Yorgos Lanthimos, and Year of the Rabbit for Ben Taylor. John is supportive of those looking to develop their careers and creative skills in film making, and runs a blog to support the independent film industry worldwide.
When did you decide you wanted to become an actor?
Aged about four. We didn’t have TV but we did have 78 records, and over and over again my Father would play the soundtrack for the Olivier 1944 Henry V film. That voice accompanied by the William Walton music gave me such a thrill every time I heard it, which was many, many times. Still does. Hearing Olivier performing the Speech before St Crispin’s Day I knew then that was what I wanted to do with my life, no question.
Has there been anyone in particular that has influenced you during your career?
So many. Mike Croft and David Weston of the National Youth Theatre, Joan Littlewood who gave me my first job for Theatre Workshop at Stratford E.15, and the great Alan Clarke, on television, for whom I worked on Play for Today in 1974. All those directors who rely to a greater extent on improvisation or working at the cutting edge of what is possible such as Joe Wright for whom I did “Darkest Hour” and Yorgus Lanthimos with “The Favourite”.
But since returning to the business in 2012 after a long absence, it is the independents that are worthy of attention for the way they do so much with so little. Directors and writers like Elliott Hasler at Relsah Productions and, of course, Moving Pictures Theatre where Lucy Nordberg and Marc Green are also working with cutting edge technology such as 360 degree filming, placing the viewer in the room with the performance and giving the audience the ability to look all around the room and feel integral to what’s going on. It is an extraordinary concept. That along with filmed theatre in large venues that lends an additional excitement to the notion of performance. The independents are where the future of the film industry lies and they need to be encouraged at every opportunity.
What drew you to the role of ‘The Last Lighthouse Keeper?
The power and narrative quality of Lucy Nordberg’s poem. That and the prospect of filming on a lightship accompanied by the business plan of Moving Pictures Theatre and their work with new technology, 360 degree filming and also seeing the poem as a great launchpad for the development of an interesting, dynamic and unusual company with a fine future ahead of it. Interestingly also, the quality of the poem was demonstrable in how easy it was to learn. There was a strength and an interest in the piece that I found highly accessible. In fact, I was convinced that Lucy must have had some personal, family, link to the lighthouse service, which was not the case.
What is the hardest role you’ve played to date?
Every role I play, at the time of filming and playing! The art of being a character actor is far from straightforward and each character part brings its own issues. I work on the basis of “back-story” for each character, no matter how big or small, the size of the scripted part is irrelevant. But each character needs an entire life-history; where were they born? Where were they brought up? Who were their parents, friends, employers, loves of their life? You get the picture. For each character it should be possible to answer any question. The lens of the camera sees everything, including all that history. To be convincing each character has therefore to be complete. That takes serious preparation, in addition to simply “learning the lines”. It is also exhausting in filming. I am not a Method Actor but I do believe that, as the camera picks up every minute nuance, it is essential to be in full command of the character and the character’s history and that is a demanding process.
What advice would you offer to aspiring actors trying to get into the profession?
Do not for one moment underestimate the importance of what you are doing now, whatever that may be, and do it with pride. Nursing orderly, barman, housing officer, road-sweeper, gardener, driver, construction worker, shop-assistant, salesman, shelf-stacker, etc. – value it, for it is the foundation of your acting. Look around you while you are doing it, take the characters in, appreciate them and all their parts in the world in which you find yourself. Directors will want to know about them and what you do and have been doing.
Do not be ashamed if you haven’t acted for months. Any director worth the time (and believe me the best of the directors will WANT that experience!) will talk to you about what you are doing with interest. If you see these jobs and careers as supportive of your acting but also an integral part of it, you stand every chance of becoming a professional actor! And most of all, remember it is fine to leave the business and return to it later.
What are the funniest moments you’ve had on set?
Unfortunately most of them can’t be spoken of here, because they involve other guilty parties or were so embarrassing or gross that reporting them would run the risk of doing serious damage to the careers of others…or to mine. In my green youth, I was also very politically intense in my quest for social justice and spent a lot of time working with campaigning theatre companies in riot-torn inner city areas, to the utter despair of my then (very high profile) agent and manager – who sacked me in the end because of it! There were numerous incidents there and then that I have since laughed at but, at the time, were actually quite dangerous.