Interview with Josh O’Connor
Interview from SID magazine archive (FW14):
“Use do not abuse, for neither excess nor abstinence ever renders man happy.” - Voltaire
Considering the quote above and trying to bridge its cautionary meaning to the precocious young face of Josh O’Connor proves challenging - despite being a bit of a self-proclaimed rascal in his adolescence, a rambunctiousness inspired as much by an incongruence with school as an innate mischievousness. That restlessness did however lead to drama and by extension a way of life, “School didn’t really work for me. I was a little mischievous, a little naughty. But drama was kind of a play around subject. To be encouraged to go in and play around and then turn that into a career was just great. My mom’s whole side of the family was quite artistic, so I always pictured doing something artistic, then I got into drama school and that was it.”
Josh looks to be, and by all indications – is, someone who couldn’t be mistaken for living a life or starting a career that would require Voltaire’s caveat of overindulgence. The bridge however is Josh’s role in Posh. Focusing on the debaucherous exploits of a fictional – but based upon reality - college- association aptly named ‘The Riot Club,’ Posh depicts a group of privileged young male students as they challenge Voltaire’s aforementioned quote. Posh, originally a hit play in Britain, depicted the ‘Riot Club’s’ latest festivities in a dining hall as cruel intentions take hold and the evening descends into chaos. The real-life club in question looming over the one presented in both the play and the film is of course Oxford’s ‘Bullingdon Club.’ The Bullingdon’s notoriety lay in the blatant contradiction presented in public and private record: infamously unruly club-parties raising hell - by some accounts all the way back to the early part of the 20th century - which are in turn perpetually downplayed by the polished, successful politicians and businessmen who count themselves among their esteemed alumnus.
While the film is by-and-large informed by the foundations established by the play, Josh explains how it was necessary to take creative license tailoring the story’s structure to a different medium. Helming the adaptation and overseeing said changes is none other than Lone Scherfig, whose last film, An Education, many a cineaste will recall also considered the corruptive power of wealth and status over virtue and morality in high society. That kind of dichotomous vision for this world Josh explains, was exactly what the story called for. The divergence of public behavior and private conduct, the exhibition of cultivated behavior capsized by the revelation of inner nature: “I think it’s important that the audience genuinely like these characters at least for a significant part of the film – and that’s why we still focus largely on the dining hall scene, but introduce it with the characters in their natural environment... In the first part at Oxford you see how they socialize while introducing each character and then they go to the dining room and you see the downfall of each character. The politicians and former members who appear to be so lovely - we wanted to depict that public dynamic of the characters. They can be really charming, but as the film progresses its stripped away.”
While the aforementioned Voltaire quote spells out the danger that looms when human compulsion goes unchecked, what it doesn’t take into account is the intrigue that may be rendered from dissecting the superfluous lifestyles and classism, the kind of fodder that can lay the foundation for a great play, film, and characters.
Original interview by Paul Craig for SID #6. Photo credit: Tom Burke photographed by Daniel Nadel, styled by Victoria Gregory, grooming by Riona O'sullivan using MAC, hair by David Wadlow using Bumble and Bumble and Kiehl's.