Talent Discovery

Verge List: Sundance

Josh O'Connor

Interview by James Patrick Herman

Photographs by Jeff Vespa

Where are you from?

I’m a Cheltenham boy. Cheltenham is a peaceful spa town in Gloucestershire, which is southwest England, and about two-and-a-half hours from London. It’s very old England with beautiful Victorian houses. The most Gloucestershire thing about me used to be my accent because it was very distinct and thick, but I lost it. Now I’d say it’s the fact that I love the countryside.  I live in London now and I don’t fit in there; it’s clear that I need to be by trees and fields. I’m a true country boy.

Are you a Sundance virgin?

I am a Sundance virgin. It’s quite nice to be the fresh face on the scene. I’m sure there are people who’ve been there loads and everybody knows them. But that’s cool for me because they’ll be like: “Who’s this guy?” I’m an innocent bystander ready to be corrupted by Sundance.

Let’s talk about your film. It sounds like a British Brokeback Mountain.

It sounds like Brokeback Mountain, sure. But as far as my character is concerned, he is comfortable with his sexuality. He is damaged, and he beats himself up because of his relationship with his father. This world that we see in God’s Own Country, it’s not glamorous; it’s grim. Getting completely shit-faced on booze is his release. The sex he has is also damaging; it’s like self-abuse in some ways, until this wonderful Romanian migrant worker comes in and they fall in love.

So how exactly is it not like Brokeback Mountain?

OK, good question. Heath Ledger’s character was denying his sexuality. What my character is not comfortable with is the idea of love as opposed of to sex. What becomes uncomfortable is someone he has real feelings for and an emotional connection to. It’s similar in the sense of a gay love story. And I guess because they’re herding in Brokeback Mountain, aren’t they? So there are aspects that are similar, but I think it’s a very different film, actually. There aren’t many LGBTQ films that are hopeful and focus on something other than dealing with sexuality or coming out. This is a universal love story that happens to be between two men.

What’s the buzz?

The buzz and the relevance is that we just had Brexit — we’ve left the EU — and here is a story about a Romanian migrant worker toiling on a British farm. So it’s almost like a period piece now. When we made the movie, we hadn’t had the referendum. The big thing of Brexit was immigration — and what’s great about our film is that it shows this wonderful aspect of immigration that people don’t see in the press or in the media or at the cinema.

Josh O’Connor


Josh O'Connor

How does it feel to be a Sundance sensation?

It feels great. It’s like my dream has come true, really. [laughs.] Put that down! Have that as the quote: “He said it’s his dream come true.” Send that to Robert Redford now! It’s actually not my dream come true — I really wanted Cannes. Or Venice or Toronto. Sundance is sixth on my list. Sundance is definitely in my top hundred festivals in America.

How would you describe your character?

Johnny is an angry young boy whose world is very small. He has a routine, which means that he gets up, he works, he goes to the pub, he vomits. He’s gotten into a pattern of self-destruction, but inside, he’s a loving person.

What was your first acting experience?

I was eleven when I did the school play The Wizard of Oz. I was the scarecrow. I had this elastic carrot for a nose. It was so embarrassing.

What was your big break?

The Riot Club shifted everything in terms of my career because it was a big film that featured the Brat Pack of young actors at the time, and I was suddenly seen in a different light. But this film is a big break for me in terms of artistic integrity — I put everything I have into it.

Did you ever had a normal job?

Yeah. I worked in a bar for a little while and I pulled pints of beer for people. Before that I worked in the fruit and veg section of a posh supermarket: I was banana specialist. That job title doesn’t exist; someone made it up because they were taking the piss out of me. But I took it really seriously. There were only two types of bananas, so I used to advise people which one they should purchase. There were bananas from the Democratic Republic of Congo and somewhere else — I can’t remember where — but I always advised the Democratic Republic of Congo because I liked saying it.

What do you think of Robert Redford?

I hear he is a great man!


Instagram: @joshographee


Josh O’Connor
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