The End of the F***ing World star Alex Lawther on the reception of the show, young love, and his potential career as a gardener.
On-screen, Alex Lawther has done many things. He has killed a man in the woods. He has robbed a bank. Slit the throat of a predator. Been a predator himself. In the early days of his breakout role as psychopathic teen James in Netflix series The End of the F***ing World, we see his face plastered with a mirthless, mild smile as he plots to murder his friend. But for all the endless reels of dark, foreboding content, in real life, the Hampshire-born actor is warm and polite.
In fact, he’s apologising to me right now as we speak over the phone from Paris, because of a confusion over the interview time. Lawther splits his time between the French capital and London, and is currently out and about, but his voice lights up when I congratulate him on the new series of The End of the F***ing World – a jet-black viral comedy following the misadventures of bunch of misunderstood characters, in which he stars alongside Jessica Barden, who plays churlish teen Alyssa. “It’s lovely really,” he explains when I ask him how he feels about the show propelling him into daily recognition. “It’s often young people or teenagers that I otherwise don’t really have much contact with in my day-to-day life, and it’s lovely to just stop and have conversations with people of that age who were really touched by the show,” he deliberates. “It also really surprises me that sometimes parents, or even occasionally grandparents, have been touched by Alyssa and James’ story, or found it amusing in some way.”
At the end of the season one, the viewer is left on tenterhooks as to James’ fate, police bullets whizzing past him on a beach as the pair are close to being apprehended. Bonnie and Clyde-style, the two had gone on the run, developing an initially awkward but ultimately heartwarming romance, with some darkness and murder thrown in for good measure. Spoiler alert: if you haven’t yet been tempted by the highly-anticipated second season, look away now. It picks up with the two surviving the beach ordeal and dealing with the fallout over everything that happened previously, including Alyssa and James meeting a dangerous new adversary in the form of new character Bonnie. “In season two, James can’t stop crying, he doesn’t know how to stop feeling,” Lawther explains tenderly. “I think that’s one of his biggest obstacles actually, working out where to put all of that feeling. He’s quite ready to give it all to Alyssa, but in her own life she doesn’t have space for everything James is feeling because she’s trying to deal with her own shit. And that’s a big conflict between the two of them, where to put their feelings.”
The show has garnered praise due to its misanthropic, oft-hostile characters, plus the reassurance that no matter how eccentric we are, or however underserving we feel of love, there is someone out there for everyone. “When we were rehearsing as James, Alyssa and Bonnie, our first director got us to do an exercise where each of us in turn had to say something about the other characters, and each of us pointed out the fact that none of them had any friends,” he observes. “I think more than the fact that they’re misanthropic, they want to connect with people, but they just keep getting it wrong. I mean Bonnie and James in particular, but Alyssa too. She needs help, and she’s in need of support and love and all of the things we need from other people, but she doesn’t have the tools to get that, or to welcome that from other people. I think, maybe on one hand, it could be seen as misanthropic, but actually I think they’re just crying out for love, all three young adults.”
Coming up, Lawther has The Translators, a foreign language film which required him to fully learn French, that follows a group of translators confined in a luxury underground bunker, enlisted to do a translation of a top-secret manuscript. “It was so much work,” Lawther remembers. “It was kind of crazy, I don’t think I’ve ever done so much work for a job before, but it was amazing, I spent quite a lot of time in France, and I’m very, very lucky to be able to move between London and Paris like that.”
At one point of the interview, I laugh as I recall a video I’d seen of Lawther where he, in his soft-spoken tone, admits to the interviewer that he would be a gardener if he wasn’t an actor. But when he explains his thinking behind it, it makes complete sense, if anything unpacking the thought process that one of the most exciting young British acting talents right now employs in the consideration of his roles. “I just love the idea of being outside,” he chuckles. “I’m very impressed by people that have that connection to the natural world. I think there’s something nice as an actor, particularly when you’re in a film where you do your job and then it goes off into another realm and it becomes someone else’s baby for a few months after. You might never have anything to do with it again, but I like the idea of a job where you’re solely responsible for the growth of something.”