I was first alerted to Harris Dickinson through his mesmeric performance in Beach Rats, released last year, where he played a closeted Brooklyn delinquent with a secret penchant for meeting older men online.
Director Elisa Hittman capitalised on Dickinson’s genteel masculinity, boyish handsomeness and innate sensitivity, where familial and peer pressure has his character subvert the usual coming-of-age genre by hiding further in the closet.
Dickinson's portrayal of this wasted youth shines through and unsurprisingly he has since been picking up parts, left, right and centre. Playing the prince in the upcoming Maleficent 2; currently starring in BBC TV show Trust, directed by Danny Boyle; as well as featuring in the blockbuster The Darkest Minds released earlier this year as well as host of other forthcoming productions.
In Postcards from London, the film we are interviewing Dickinson about, sees him team up with director Steve McLean, who seized on the same attributes that Hittman saw, but thematically and stylistically diverged into a completely different direction.
Dickinson leads in a puzzling tale of rent boys, art connoisseurs and existentialist tête-à-tête in the background of an imagined Soho. He plays Jim, who hails from Essex and whose foray into Soho to finds him meet a loquacious group of high class rent boys from all corners of Europe. Jim becomes the star of the show as the new boy in town, finding notoriety through his good-looks, endearing naivety but also as a rare health condition where he passes out at the sight of exceptional art, making him a lucrative, authenticating prospect for art dealers.
Postcards from London won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, as it's a film one would describe as a theatre movie, where realism is rejected for a heightened reality. Set in a nostalgic fabricated Soho, that perhaps never existed; a mergence of past and present perspectives. In some respect, this is where the film's merits and uniqueness lie; in this conjuring of an alternate universe where existential conversation, the avant-garde and effervescent colour, coalesce.
We spoke to Harris Dickinson about the film; proving to be the nicest of interviewees. Talking to us on his way to rehearsals at Pinewood studios, this is what he had to say…
Thanks for the interview. Where do we find you at the moment?
I’m in the car heading to Pinewood. Not too exciting in terms of geography. I’m doing some fight training for my next project, which is fun!
What's the project?
Hmmmm… I don’t think it’s even been announced, so maybe I shouldn’t say anything.
I loved Beach Rats. I thought you were great in it.
Yes, I do too. But thats s a very different film to Postcards. Some people have gone into this film thinking it would be a similar film, but it certainly isn’t. It’s not a character study in that sense. I like to do interesting and varied things.
How did you get involved with Postcards from London?
A long time ago, it was a couple of years now. I auditioned with Steven [McLean] and the casting director. I had series of auditions. So, it was pretty standard in terms of that. It was fun, a very strange script.
I had seen Steve’s previous film Postcards from America. I enjoyed everything about that film, the absurdity of it. I felt it would be something truly interesting regardless of the outcome. I enjoyed the idea of it.
Can you tell us about your character Jim?
Jim is a teenager from a suburban area of Essex. He is trying to figure out who he is. He is using Soho, as his imagination. It's set in a Soho that doesn’t really exist. It’s an idea of Soho merged with the art and culture of various times. The time is of different eras; like a floating illusive dream time.
Also, there is nothing set where this Soho is. He came to Soho with the intention to figure out who he is and he gets involved with a group of raconteurs who are specialised male escorts that are skilled in post-coital conversation on an intellectual level. It’s a weird film and it’s all a strange set of circumstances…
The film being what it is, with the theatricality, with the set and the dialogue, what was it like working within those parameters?
It was very much like doing theatre. We did long takes and it was all set on a stage. We had a whole rehearsal process. It was a heightened reality, it definitely wasn’t grounded in realism. The whole cast gets a sense of that before coming into it.
We would discuss stuff throughout filming, things like tone and how all the different actors brought something different. And as a result, it turned out to be this eclectic mix of tones… Maybe to some its strange… To some very interesting…
For me as an actor working on it, it was enjoyable, different and new and it forced me to adapt, as I had to be on point because there wasn’t this stop-start process that you get with regular films.
Do you think there is a mainstream appeal for a film such as this?
It depends what your idea of mainstream is. I don’t necessarily think it’s a film for everyone. Nor should it be!
I think its specific in the sense that it'ss full of references that Steve has been inspired by, that he grew up with, his life as a director but also as an artist. And that’s what gives the film that fullness and abundant colour –all these references of art such as Caravaggio and Kavafi’s poetry.
If you enjoy the mix of all these things, you would probably enjoy it and come out with an understanding of it… Or maybe not. It’s not a plot-driven film. It’s an idea-driven film. A mesh of things put together and laid out in a dreamscape. [It's] not a film for everyone, but then my brother, a young twenty-four-year-old, loved it, so who knows!
For me what I enjoyed most was the stylistic elements, reminding me of the photography of Martin Parr, David La Chappell and Pierre and Giles, but also Derek Jarman’s film work. Had you been aware of these influences previously?
A bit of both. It was almost like an education. Steve’s influences were being shown to me throughout. And some stuff that I had known and appreciated personally.
Even though Jim is a rent boy with only male clients, his sexuality seems ambiguous. Was this intentional?
I think the main reason behind the ambiguity of it I would say, is because his sexuality isn’t a major feature of this film. I don’t think Steve wanted it to be a question of struggle or a question of hardship.
Sex was something that was inevitable, and a given. It was more a celebration rather than being troubled by it. I think it was intentional that Steve wanted to create that ambiguity even though the film is about using sexuality as a means of an occupation.
It isn’t questioned, if that makes sense? I knew that whilst we were making the film and I found it very refreshing.
The condition that Jim suffers with, Stendhal Syndrome, had you heard of it before? And do you believe it exists?
I hadn’t heard of it. It's mad isn’t it? I did a lot research on it before we started on the film. I know that the writer Stendhal went around Florence, Rome and Sicily and had these bouts of fainting spells when he was looking high levels of art. And also, they say that certain people, when they get exposed to something that stimulates them artistically, that [they get] some form of dizziness or an overwhelming sensation of inertia. There are accounts of it but it doesn’t sound like it something thoroughly researched or scientifically proven.
You are in Maleficent 2, you were in a blockbuster this summer The Darkest Minds and you’re in Danny Boyles’ BBC TV show being aired as we speak. How do you feel about it all at the moment?[Laughs] Big question. I feel very lucky, very fortunate to be doing it all. Acting is the most amazing thing I could be doing. It inspires me. I am learning so much with each film, the different scenarios that each film has, the set up and the various sizes of each production. It truly is a gift!
Postcards from London is out now.
Words by Daniel Theophanous@danny_theo_.
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