“I just really don’t like reading back what I’ve said” Abraham Lewis – or AJ, as he prefers – tells me when I ask him how he feels about doing interviews. He’s lounging back on a plush couch sporting messy hair, a baggy T-shirt and distressed denim jeans. His laid-back, un-phased exterior makes it hard to believe that he’s just wrapped filming alongside Hollywood heavyweights Nicole Kidman and Elle Fanning in John Cameron Mitchell’s upcoming flick How To Talk To Girls At Parties, as well as being set to appear in Sky Atlantic’s Guerilla, which has been written by John Ridley – responsible for penning the critically acclaimed 12 Years A Slave – also stars Idris Elba. It’s clear to see that his CV is already enviable despite being only at the start of his acting career.
Before he hits the stratosphere, we grabbed a moment with AJ to discuss his journey on the highway to Hollywood.
Jumper BURBERRY, trousers LOUIS VUITTON
So, do you want to start by telling us a bit about how you got into acting?
I kind of fell into it, a little bit by accident. Both of my parents are actors and so you never really want to do what your parents do. Then I did a play with a couple of mates outside of school, when we were about 17 and I realised I kinda wanted to do it.
But, me and my Dad had been writing a play for about three years, about the school that I went to. And I took a gap year and we managed to put the play on at a really small theatre in London, called the Jermyn Street theatre. It was about A level students and we wanted people as close to the age as possible. And then, my agent came to that with a casting director for the film that I did and asked me to audition and six months later we were shooting the film.
Cool. Obviously having both of your parents as actors, what would you say your earliest acting memory is?
I remember a lot of the time I would spend in dressing rooms of theatres and my Dad did a play called A Few Good Men in the West End and I was like nine or 10 at the time and it was the most amazing thing ever for me. Like I’d fake being ill to get off school to go in and watch the show. The cast really got along and really made me feel a part of it. I was too young to see the show but I just remember hanging out with everyone and it being the coolest thing ever.
Tell us a bit about the big projects that you’ve got coming out this year.
So, I’ve got Guerilla [which] comes out first actually. It’s written and directed by John Ridley who wrote 12 Years A Slave. It’s about the Black Power movement in 1971. It’s a really gritty, uncompromising look at this really amazing story. I play the son of Rory Kinnear’s character who is the head of this Black Power desk, which is a real desk that they had at the time to deal with Black Power activism. They brought in police who were kind of brutalised in what was then Rhodesia and is now Zimbabwe, to deal with these sort of ‘trouble makers’.
And How to Talk to Girls at Parties is John Cameron Mitchell’s new film. It’s about three teenage boys in 1977 who are really into punk and we meet aliens!
Wow – they sound like very different storylines!
Yeah! Different totally but both in the 70s. I haven’t acted on screen outside of the 70s yet!
“I’d gone from doing a school play and then a year later, I think almost to the day, I was doing a scene with Nicole [Kidman]. And, that was the first kind of ‘woah’ moment.”
Did you do much research in preparation for the roles?
I did a lot of stuff on the 70s because of How to Talk to Girls at Parties. I felt that I needed to understand where punk came from and the historical context of punk. So, it was really interesting looking at the period at the start of that decade as opposed to the end. So, I knew there was this feeling of unrest but the stuff around Black Power is absolutely fascinating and they’re stories that really need to be told. And John [Ridley] is the best person to tell them.
The two projects have some pretty big names attached to them, including Nicole Kidman and Elle Fanning, how were they to work with?
Nicole and Elle, banging! It’s amazing because there’s a difference between them in age but in experience? Elle has done about 50 movies! I’d gone from doing a school play and then a year later, I think almost to the day, I was doing a scene with Nicole [Kidman]. That was the first kind of ‘woah’ moment. I had to walk round the corner and her character was there. I kind of realised how nuts it all was. Nicole did a scene with Ruth Wilson, which I was just kind of watching. I’m kind of in the back of shot. Just seeing people like that who know exactly where the camera is and how to play a scene – it’s amazing and really inspiring and seeing how hard they work, it’s really motivating.
Tell us three actors that you’ve love to work with.
Um, I think – Meryl Streep would obviously be crazy. I think, John Boyega is nailing it at the moment and I would probably say, I think it would be amazing to work with Jared Leto. I’m always really interested in the way he works and the stuff that he picks.
What was it like the first time that you walked on set?
Ridiculous (laughs). Literally the stuff of dreams. I think a film set is one of the coolest places to be in the world. Like you are there to act, that for me was the most amazing thing. I used to stay whenever I could just to watch. It’s magic.
How does being on stage compare to being on camera?
I think the best way it was described to me was: it’s like Rugby League and Rugby Union, it’s like the same ball but a different sport, with some transferable skills.
I think theatre is a lot about the space that you’re playing in and playing to that space. So, if you’re somewhere small, it can be very similar to working on film but if you’re somewhere big you have to make sure it’s an event. Whereas with film, you play the conversation. Obviously, it’s more naturalistic and “real”. But at the end of the day, your job is the same. To feel the emotions, I guess.
Lastly, what would you say your hopes and goals are for the future?
It’s sounds a bit clichéd, but I just want to do really good work and work with some really good people. It’s really crazy how you can go from watching someone, throughout your whole life to now being able to work with them. That was a big thing for me. Like with John [Ridley], when I first saw 12 Years A Slave, I had no idea that I would be working with him! I saw Denise Gough’s play People, Place’s and Things and I came out thinking ‘how amazing would it be to one day work with her’. We haven’t done a scene together but we’re doing the same job six months later and that for me is crazy. So I think, just work with some great people and work on some great scripts.
Guerrilla starts Thursday 13th April exclusively on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV.
Jacket DSQUARED2, jacket underneath NATURAL SELECTION, T-shirt NEIL BARRETT, trousers STYLIST’S OWN
Jason Crozier at STELLA CREATIVE ARTISTS using MAC and fudge for KINGS OF CLERKENWELL