It’s hard to think of British actor Douglas Booth as a newcomer, but having landed on the scene just five years ago with From Time to Time, where he cut his teeth with Timothy Spall and Downton Abbey‘s Maggie Smith, the title is still appropriate. Since then, this Brit has infiltrated the States and worked with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, like Demi Moore in LOL and as the eldest son of Russell Crowe in Darren Aronofsky’s biblical epic Noah, which has recently released on DVD. His upcoming projects are just as anticipated, including the Wachowski siblings’ sci-fi thriller Jupiter Ascending and The Riot Club which will premiere at the Toronto Film Festival with Natalie Dormer and Sam Clafin. With dashing looks and charming smile, it’s no surprise that rumors of romances with his young co-stars are a frequent. But Booth lives a relatively quiet life in London where he still resides with his two whippets, Niles and Daphne. (Yes, they are named after the characters on Frasier.) We chatted with Douglas about his leading ladies, his connection with Winston Churchill, and how he pilots a spaceship in Jupiter Ascending.
What made you want to be an actor?
I was dyslexic so I struggled to read and write when I was in school. It was really difficult so I knew I wasn’t going to be great behind a desk, I struggled with exams. Things like being a doctor weren’t in my future. I loved Louis Armstrong so I decided I wanted to become a jazz musician. I played for a while. When I turned thirteen everyone was playing guitar, joining rock bands and it didn’t appear that it was cool to play the trumpet. So I quit. I started taking up acting just because it was another option and fell in love with it.
What was your first role ever?
It was in primary school. It was the story of King Agamemnon and it was a musical.
I’m going to guess you played the lead role.
[Laughs] Yes. I played Agamemnon.
Young male actors like you seem pretty susceptible to falling into the typecasting as the handsome leading actor.
I’ve always fought that. The first lead that I ever played was a young Boy George when I was seventeen. I shaved my eyebrows off. That’s as far from leading man looks as you can get. I’ve never been scared to push myself. That’s actually when I’m most happy, when I’m doing things that are challenging me or pushing me.
What do you feel about the current trend of British actors coming to Hollywood and playing American roles?
It’s great for us! I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of British actors here who don’t make it across the pond. There are a few that are very fortunate. I think that’s really because Hollywood likes the certain work ethic that we bring to acting. We think about it really as a craft.
Speaking of a role that you’re doing in England, you just played Winston Churchill in a radio show.
I love history, and Churchill is one of my favorite people to study. He’s a fascinating, fascinating man. I just sort of challenged myself to go do radio, which is a very bizarre medium where you only use your voice. It’s going to be a while before I’m able to play Churchill in any medium besides radio so I took the opportunity.
Do you have a favorite story or quotation from Winston Churchill?
I have a personal one actually! My grandfather was a great chef. He was Spanish and he came over and ended up being a chef for a Lady over here in England after the war. I have a letter from Winston Churchill asking my grandfather to come and be his personal chef. He declined for some reason! I wish I could say that my grandfather was Winston Churchill’s chef.
Your first real American role was working with Miley Cyrus and Demi Moore.
It was fun. I was only seventeen and got to fly off to film with Miley and Demi to film in Detroit. It was all very surreal — to the point where I don’t remember shooting a film actually. I just remember having a great time and making some great friends.
Then you go on to play the title role of Romeo & Juliet with Hailee Steinfeld. What kind of training did it take to play Romeo?
We had to do some sword training and horse training, but I rode when I was a kid so that was fun. I’ve always enjoyed being on a horse. I got to gallop around the Italian countryside. It was like a dream.
How much time did you spend with a sword?
It was a good many hours and some shaved skin, but it was good fun. I had done it before on my second job The Pillars of the Earth. Not that I had to use much of it on that show because I was killed within three scenes! The first scene I was alive, second scene I got killed, third scene I appeared as a ghost. It didn’t really get used to its full extent but I definitely picked some up. It’s a guy’s dream to pick up a sword and mess around on horses.
I saw you use some of those sword skills in the trailer of The Riot Club, which is coming soon.
Yeah. We did some Sabrage, which is where you open a champagne bottle with a sword. It’s not as easy as it looks!
That’s a fun party trick. Do you have a sword at home?
I actually do have a sword at home. It’s not the same sword.
You did Noah with the Gladiator himself, Russell Crowe.
I grew up watching Gladiator and every movie he’s done. We became a family very quickly, he fit into that father figure very well, and he sets the example in the same way he brings a level of intensity to his performance. It was also great to work with Ray Winstone again, who I did Great Expectations with in the UK. We needed leaders like them and Darren Aronofsky, because the filming conditions were intense, with like five thousand gallons of water being dumped on our heads during the New York winter.
And Jupiter Ascending: There’s a lot of mystique around this film because of the Wachowski siblings. What was it like working with them?
The experience was amazing. The Wachowskis have created a universe unlike anything else. Completely original, their minds are so massive. You can ask them, “What is this prop?” and they can talk to you for thirty to forty minutes about what it is, and what place it has in the world that they’ve created. They have answers for everything.
Your role has you living in space right?
My character lives in space. His family is in the harvesting industry. I play a bit of a playboy who is chasing Mila Kunis, who plays my reincarnated mother. Does that make sense? I’m fighting Eddie Redmayne and Tuppence Middleton to get her first. Channing Tatum plays the man I send out to chase her and bring her back to me.
I can’t wait for people to see the film. It’s totally bizarre and out there and different. There are huge blockbusters but it’s unlike any blockbuster that people have seen before. It doesn’t follow any other film. No one is going to go this film and know what it is before they see it. Whatever I told you, you still have no idea what you’re in for.