It’s been years since Joe Dempsie first shot to fame in E4’s cult youth drama, Skins. Since then his career has been notable for its’ breadth, including roles in projects as diverse as This is England ’86, Doctor Who and Game of Thrones. With a summer of monster movies and period dramas looming, Dempsie talks typecasting, career planning — and surviving his own Harry Styles moment.
The first thing you think on seeing Joe Dempsie, as he makes his genial way into an anonymous office in an achingly fashionable part of East London, is: I’ve seen that face before. The fact that you’re not sure exactly where is testament to the 26-year old’s ability to shapeshift his way into a variety of subtle but powerful parts.
A Nottingham native (and passionate Forest fan), Dempsie got his big break as druggie doofus Chris Miles in Skins, as part of the show’s illustrious first-series cast. Since then, he’s played a young soldier on leave from Afghanistan in the devastating small-town-shooting drama Southcliffe; donned long blonde tresses as an idealistic young colonist in New Worlds (alongside The Fall star, Jamie Dornan); and landed a recurring role as Gendry, the bastard blacksmith son of King Robert Baratheon, in the HBO epic Game of Thrones. His disappearance from that show’s fourth season has been greeted with dismay by his growing army of followers — but they’ll take some solace from his forthcoming turn as an alien avenger in Monsters: Dark Continent, a sequel to the quirky British creature-feature original.
Stuart Husband: Let’s start with the most pressing question — why are you entirely absent from this season of Game of Thrones?
Joe Dempsie: I think one of the minor problems with the series, till now, has been that there are so many different storylines and strands being juggled — all these different groups of people that you have to check in with, in every episode — that you end up only getting five minutes with each one. It’s like a colossal soap. So what they want to try to do is spend a greater chunk of time on one part of the story, and that means other characters (including Gendry in this instance) vanish for a time before they’re taken up again later. In acting parlance, he’s being ‘rested.’ But Game of Thrones is a long game, and he’ll be back. Or so I’ve been led to believe!
SH: You must have been a little taken aback when you were first told, though?
JD: Of course. I was starting to feel quite at home there. But then I realised that it actually frees me up to try my hand at a bunch of other stuff before going back to it, which is quite an exciting prospect.
SH: And Gendry fans can maybe plug the gap with some fanfiction?
JD: They can — and who knows, maybe they’ll get another Fifty Shades Of Grey out of it. I mean, it’s nuts that that whole phenomenon grew out of Twilight fan-fiction, and a perfect sign of the times; it encapsulates what’s good and bad about the power of the internet. The whole Fifty Shades thing is really interesting for me, because I’m really good friends with Sam Taylor-Johnson, who’s just directed the movie version — which is a huge step for her — and Jamie Dornan was going through the audition process for Christian Grey while we were working together on New Worlds, so I experienced the ups and downs of that with him; Charlie Hunnam initially getting the part, then dropping out, then Jamie being in the frame again. He knows it’s going to change his life, whatever happens, and I think there’s a mixture of excitement and apprehension that goes along with that.
SH: Because of the level of scrutiny he’ll be subjected to?
JD: Yeah. And it really brought home to me that, as an actor, your career takes certain paths, and you only have a limited amount of control over it — at least in the early stages. There’s a certain point in every year where I’ll arrange a lunch with my agent, with the idea of sitting down and discussing our ‘strategy’ for the next twelve months. And all that really amounts to is us sitting there and going, “Well, let’s hope something good comes along, right?” That’s essentially as far ahead as you can plan when you’re at the stage that I’m at — still auditioning for every role, knowing the kind of scripts I’m looking for, working your arse off to get the parts when they come along, and hoping you’re fortunate enough to be given a chance. The only power you really have is in choosing what you don’t do — in resisting the temptation of a nice solid paycheck because it might send you down a path you don’t want to go.
SH: Isn’t that what happened after Skins — that you got offered a lot of Chris-style parts?
JD: Yeah; and I’d somehow worked out that, in terms of career longevity, I needed to prove myself as a serious dramatic actor. I think that, particularly in the UK, we don’t like people deviating too much from how we’re used to seeing them; actors releasing singles, for instance — and rightly so, because they’re mostly shite. I didn’t want to be defined in people’s minds, that early on, as the guy who did these goofily comic Chris-style roles. I was only 19 at the time, and you can call it the arrogance of youth, but I didn’t want to get trapped.
SH: And you had the courage of your convictions, to the point of dropping off the radar for a while...
JD: There was a lot of sitting on my arse watching Sky Sports! And you get to a point where, if you’ve been out of work for nine months, you go, OK, it might as well be another nine. Of course, you panic a bit, but you also think; ‘Well, I’ve held out this long, what’s the point of caving in now?’ Plus, I had no fallback option. In those two years post-Skins, where nothing was happening, I went through everything — from thinking I was the worst actor in the world and would never work again, to just coming out the other side of it. And, ironically enough, it’s when you stop giving a shit that things seem to start happening for you. It can be weirdly appealing, like wanting to be with the girl that’s obviously not the least bit interested.
(This original article continues in our Issue Three)