Icons / October 2017

Rake-in-Progress: Douglas Booth

The British actor Douglas Booth tells The Rake about his humanitarian work for the U.N., his dyslexia, and why Ray Winstone deserves his status as a legend of the industry.

Navy and burgundy wool windowpane blazer, Gieves & Hawkes; ivory cotton shirt and yellow-gold collar pin, both Edward Sexton; chocolate-brown wool trousers, Thom Sweeney. Navy and gold silk print tie, property of The Rake. Silver-set tiger's eye ring, property of Douglas Booth.

Carving out a career in the film industry is no easy feat, and when taking into account the amount of work Douglas Booth does on the side, the ground he is covering is remarkable. Booth’s career began when he was 16, with a small part in Julian Fellowes’s From Time to Time. He describes his debut as “a baptism of fire” — as well he might, given that the cast included stellar performers such as Dame Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall and Hugh Bonneville.

Booth is also an ambassador to the U.N. refugee agency, visiting war-torn and humanitarian crisis zones — “it sounds stupid, but it was life changing” — to try to do his bit. A charming, polite, fiendishly handsome and down-to-earth young man, occupying the limelight is not his cup of tea, and it’s exciting that he will be on our screens for many years to come. His current projects include the mythical murder-mystery The Limehouse Golem and the highly anticipated and profound art-animation masterpiece Loving Vincent (out now).

What made you want to become an actor?

I’m severely dyslexic, so I always struggled at school, and although I enjoyed academics — history, classics, and all that sort of stuff — my writing really held me back. So I kind of knew it was going to be a creative path for me. It started with music. I took up the trumpet, and as a kid I used to love jazz music, as my grandparents used to listen to it a lot. I then got cast in the school play, and I got really comfortable on stage. I joined the National Youth Theatre and the Guildhall Junior School, and went there on Saturdays. I had no idea about adult responsibilities, or what a real job was growing up as a child. I dont know why but I wanted to sell fruit on a fruit stall. I’m quite stubborn, so when I make my mind up about something there isnt really a plan B. So I just went for it, and luckily it came off.

You’ve spoken about your love of London. How important has it been to you?

London is everything to me. I just think it’s the most spectacular city. The amount of green space we have, for instance: I try and walk on Hampstead Heath, if I’m here, twice a week. It’s just so diverse and interesting and there are so many different people you can meet from all walks of life. It’s so kinetic. You can go to L.A. and feel so lonely — it’s very separated and segregated — but here, it’s Friday evening and I know I’m going to have an amazing night.

You played Boy George when you were 17. What was that like?

It was amazing, because it forced me to be brave and to take it seriously, as it could have gone horribly wrong. I had a lot of responsibility not only to the production but also to George. After spending time with him I hugely admired him. I got to wear his original clothes and it was an amazing, transportive experience that we shot in 30 days. I didn’t exist as myself for that month, so I literally just became him.

Was it a bit of method acting?

Not consciously, but I think it was. It was my first taste of that. I was unconsciously method acting in the sense that I just went there and became him.

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Benedict Browne

Benedict is The Rake's Associate Style Editor.