Freddie Fox: ‘As an actor you should preserve your mystery’

Freddie Fox (Henry Carr). Picture: Johan Persson

Freddie Fox (Henry Carr). Picture: Johan Persson - Credit: Archant

BRIDGET GALTON talks to actor Freddie Fox about poetry, fame and dodging ‘posh boy’ typecasting

Freddie Fox jokes that his family have taken over Hampstead Theatre.

This Saturday, his sister Emilia stars in their latest production Sex With Stangers, (see review page 28) while on Sunday he turned up to read his poetry.

“They’ve given us the theatre, it’s like our living room,” jokes the 27-year-old, who made an early career impact at the Eton Avenue venue as Bosie to Rupert Everett’s Oscar Wilde in The Judas Kiss.

“That part was a big responsibility. It gave me an identity within my industry in a positive way and taught me a lot. I am grateful.”

The poems are part of a three day festival that also includes talks by Mike Leigh and Julian Fellowes.

The youngest of the Fox acting dynasty, Freddie is increasingly garnering praise for stage and screen work – not least as amoral sexually voracious northerner Freddie Baxter in Russell T Davies’ Cucumber. But he started writing verse as preparation for a more conventional lover - immersing himself in Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter to play Romeo.

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“Poetry has entered my bloodstream in the last two years,” he says, wincing that he knows how pretentious that sounds.

“I was in Sheffield and had a lot of time on my own, learning lines and reading Shakespeare’s sonnets and John Donne to access the language and soul of Shakespeare’s work. I started writing poems as an exercise and brought them into the rehearsal with my Juliet.”

He was soon hooked and found a style: “I played with it, focused it, pared away the ones that are rubbish and worked on a short set of the best.”

Relationships, sex, family and the natural world loom large. Fox adores his family’s “arcadian” Dorset retreat which made him decry its increasing vulnerability.

“I spend a lot of time there with my family, it’s a secluded, pretty part of the country. I realise how lucky I am to be brought up with that bucolic freedom and how many don’t have that.”

His poems sound an environmental alarm that “we don’t have the luxury to enjoy nature for free any more, we have to work for it, protect it, fight for it. Nature is a finite resource, we have been ligging off the planet for a long time but we have a responsibility to take preventive action, hopefully the poems will inspire others.”

After his Sheffield Romeo, Fox was called upon to reprise the role in a classic bit of actor’s luck. When both Richard Madden and his understudy hurt their legs during Kenneth Branagh’s West End production last June, Fox stepped in at short notice and aced it. He says it was made easier by playing opposite drama school chum Lily James.

“It was ridiculously thrilling, a rare opportunity. In my right mind I would have said no but the defining decision was it was my friend Lily, we have been pals for 10 years I’d always wanted to play Romeo opposite her. We did so much acting at school that we already had a shorthand, but I’d never worked professionally with her. It could all have gone wrong but it was all the more exciting to do it with her.”

Since then he’s played Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream “not natural casting but it was so freeing and anarchic and silly” and has his sights on other Shakespeare roles

“The most testing, rewarding and soulful experiences I’ve had have been playing his parts. There’s a Benedict an Iago and a Hamlet in me but the reason you see older actors playing Hamlet is you have to be ready to do it. He’s a young passionate man but experiencing things you come up against as an older man. I am not ready to go there yet but hopefully in a few years.”

What with being public school educated and part of a dynasty that includes father Edward, mother Joanna David and sister Emilia he’s aware of being typecast. After parts in Bullingdon-inspired movie The Riot Club and the inevitable Coward and Rattigan he’s making a mark with roles like Cucumber. Upcoming movies include Guy Ritchie’s mockney King Arthur and a West Country anarchist.

“Drama school throws you into everything they won’t let you play what’s most in your comfort zone but as an, inverted commas, posh boy, the world will try to box you in. It often takes the theatre to allow actors to break out. People think of me more as Downton Abbey fare, but I want to play the broadest range of parts while making money and not having to wait tables. It’s a fine balance.”

Still confounding expectations his “dazzling” turn as Dada poet and artist Tristan Tzara in Tom Stoppard’s Travesties is about to transfer to the West End. (until April 24 at The Apollo) Set in Zurich in 1918 as James Joyce stages a production of the Importance of Being Earnest, it collides fellow Swiss refugees Lenin and Tzara through the eyes of Tom Hollander’s consular official Henry Carr.

“On the face of it, it’s completely incomprehensible, classic Tom being very clever so we can all stand back and admire how amazing and brilliant he is. But at his very best as he is here, it’s not only terrifically sparkling and intelligent but brings the audience up to that level with great humanity, drama and wit. It’s not incomprehensible even though it’s addressing some more obscure political and cultural ideas, he somehow manages to make it totally relevant to everyone.”

Director Patrick Marber works in song and dance routines which chime with Tzara’s “bombastic avant-garde Dadaistic ideas” but proved testing for Fox. “It’s true to the style of the show and silly fun. I am confident as a singer and it’s a waking dream to sing on the West End stage but I am no triple threat west end hoofer.”

“My character speaks very fast so you have to be fully on top of it, Even though I am playing Tristan the revolutionary Dadaist dandy as retold through the faulty memory of Henry Carr and a Wildean version of Jack Worthing in Importance of being Earnest, I still have to believe everything I am saying. You have to find the truth in it and as an audience it draws you into that heightened state of awareness and intellectual stimulation while washing you with a bath of pleasure.”

Should he get any more successful Fox can at least turn to his family to avoid the pitfalls of fame.

“I’m aware of the pitfalls but not necessarily going to avoid making the same mistakes,” says Fox who was briefly involved in a media circus when he was pictured with Prince Harry’s ex Cressida Bonas. “It’s always a surprise when you experience it yourself.”

Avoiding what he calls “the celebrity Twitter element” is part of his plan: “It’s been subliminally impressed upon me so I have no interest in it,” he says, adding:“My relationship with privacy is unusual I have to keep a boundary while talking about things I am interested in without divulging all my inner treasures.

“As an actor you should preserve your mystery.”