Will Poulter: BAFTA EE Rising Star Award interview

The BAFTA EE Rising Star Award celebrates the hottest young actors in the film industry, selecting five front-runners before putting the final choice down to the voting public .

The field is particularly strong this year, having been narrowed down to Dane DeHaan, George MacKay, Lupita Nyong'o, Léa Seydoux and Will Poulter.

Poulter came to attention with his astonishingly mature child performance in Son Of Rambow , before appearing in The Chronicles Of Narnia , Wild Bill and We're The Millers . Last week we caught up with him to get his reaction to the nomination, as well as talking dream roles, The Maze Runner and more...

Congratulations on the Rising Star nomination ..

Thanks so much man, I appreciate that.

When did you find out you were one of the nominees?

It was a mental thing. I was actually in Bristol where I lived with some of the students that I went to Bristol with in my first year, and I'd actually got off the phone to my mum and I was a bit down, saying , 'Auditions aren't going my way,' and I was a bit miserable, and my mum kinda gave me a really inspirational sort of mother's pep talk, and literally that afternoon I found out, and that was completely mental for me, and I couldn't believe that it happened, and I was very, very grateful that it did. It still hasn't sunk in at all.

Do awards in general mean a lot to you?

Do you know what? I don't think I'm the best person to answer because I've never won one, so I've always been very honoured when I have been nominated for anything, and it means a lot to be nominated for an award that recognises young, emerging talent, and to be in a category with people like George [ MacKay ], Lupita [ Nyong'o ], Dane [ DeHaan ], Léa [ Seydoux ], that really does make it special because they are genuinely all actors and actresses that I admire, which is kind of strange. I thought maybe I'd be nominated with people I hadn't seen before, but George is a very good friend of mine, Dane I'm a huge fan of his work in Chronicle and The Place Beyond The Pines , and Lupita was just insane in 12 Years A Slave , and I think Léa Seydoux is one of the most exciting young talents that we've seen in ages, so for me to be nominated amongst them is just kind of nuts.

Does it make a difference for you that the Rising Star is voted for by the public in the end?

Absolutely, a huge difference. What's really nice is it's one of those rare awards in that it fuses together the industry's vote with the public's, and that's really, really nice, it's great. I think that anything that helps to bring the industry and the public closer together is a good thing, y'know. And I'm very honoured that both have a say in who gets the award, that's a lovely thing.

Do you think it's important for actors and filmmakers to interact with the public on Twitter?

It's useful for me because I'm heavily dyslexic, and fan mail takes me a long time to deal with, and I feel really bad about that, so I love having dialogue with people who - I don't really like using the term fans - but dialogue with people who at least for some reason want to talk to you, and that's really nice. Anyone who supports your work, I like having the opportunity to thank them for that, and I think also Twitter provides an opportunity for people in the public eye to give a faithful account of who they are.

Are there any of the previous Rising Star nominees or winners that you've particularly admired?

Absolutely. Do you know what's crazy for me, is to see former nominees and take into account where they are now and the progress they've made. It more daunting than anything else [ laughs ], but it's definitely inspiring. It's crazy to look back at nominees of less that five years ago and Chiwetel Ejiofer's one who's now Oscar-nominated, and that's a crazy thing to think about. And that's not to say that I think I'm going to get an Oscar but that is just a very inspirational thing. Tom Hiddleston has done incredibly well, and he's someone who I obviously admire massively.

You started really young in Son Of Rambow - did you have any idea back then where you wanted your career to go?

When I was at school, I didn't really have anything else to offer to be honest, that was the truth of it , and the only thing that I really, really lived was drama, so I definitely new I wanted to be an actor, but turning around and saying to my parents, 'I want to be an actor,' I felt like I was turning around and telling them I wanted to be an astronaut, it kind of felt much more far-fetched until Son Of Rambow came out, and that first opportunity gave me a huge amount if confidence. I'm very grateful for that film and to Nick and Garth [ directors ], because had they not taken a chance on me, I really don't know what I'd be doing. I think I'd be still trying to be an actor.

Do you have any particular memories from that shoot?

Oh my God, so many. I mean it's so strange, they're so vivid still, which is really odd because they're now, coming up to eight years ago, and the memory of it all was so vivid, the time that me and Bill had together was just mental - it was like over a summer holiday for eight weeks, and we were sliding down gills on tea trays, and doing underwater rescue sequences and jet-hosing a scarecrow off a ladder, all sorts of random and totally weird stuff, but yeah, it was an amazing experience.

Do you still find that that's what a lot of people recognise you from?

I think now, more than anything it's We're The Millers , but I think before then, a lot of the time it was Son Of Rambow , it was crazy. I remember, the second time I went to America, and it was off the back of doing Narnia, and I figured that because of that being such a prestigious film and I was so lucky to be a part of it, that that would be the thing I got recognised for. It was mental to think that it was this little film that we'd made for five million dollars was thing that I got recognised most for.

You done a mixture of big Hollywood films and the smaller independent British films, how do you find those experiences compare?

It's interesting, because actually I wouldn't say that all the American films possess a certain something that the British films I've done don't, or vice versa, it's kind of changeable. I think the one thing that I've experienced with American films is just that the size tends to be so much bigger, the budgets have been bigger, the size of the sets have been bigger, the number of people working on them is bigger, but that's not to say that I haven't been able to get close to people or develop good relationships. I've had an amazing time out there shooting. What I really love about some of the stuff that I've done in this country is that when the films are slightly smaller or more modest, there's more of an opportunity to collaborate, there's more creative freedom a lot of the time and there's an opportunity to improvise more maybe, and that's something that I've really enjoyed.

And is that something you intend to always do in future, to keep that balance between the bigger budget films and the independents?

Yeah, I think so. I mean my intention is to try, if I may, and if I'm lucky enough to, my intention is to try to do a combination of bigger budget things and lower budget stuff, and I actually wouldn't discriminate according to its budget or its genre. I really do not mind whatsoever as long as the narrative's solid and the characters have integrity and the story is worth telling, and also if seeing the movie is going to make a difference to the person watching it, and a positive difference, then I'd want to be involved. Whether it's a Hollywood blockbuster or tiny little British independent filmed over a weekend.

And you've got The Maze Runner coming up later this year...

Well that was really exciting for me, it was a really cool young cast of actors, Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Aml Ameen, Dexter Darden, Chris Sheffield, Alex Florez, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kim Hong Lee, in fact the list goes on with amazing, amazing actors, so for me to be part of that was very, very cool, and I think what people can expect from The Maze Runner , if they haven't read the books already or even if they have is a very exciting story about a group of young people in a dystopian setting who have to work together in order to escape, and it addresses a lot of things, and it's ultimately a kind of adventure film ... So it's quite a cool little story.

What can you say about your character in that film?

I play Gally, who is kind of at odds with the lead character Thomas, played by Dylan O'Brien, and I'm one if the older, more experienced boys within this dystopian setting which is called The Glade, and I initially am quite hostile towards him, but that slowly develops into a full on hatred, and we're at odds with each other pretty much throughout the whole thing. Playing a conflicted character was quite fun, because he has good and bad aspects to him.

So was working on a big adventure like this something you dreamed of doing when you were younger?

I think so, probably. But I think I've come to realise that although I love doing those sort of things and I would never want to give them up, the films that I unexpectedly really, really love doing are the grittier low-budget things that maybe take a few weeks filming here in Britain, those things are a little bit harder to do: harder hours, and it's far less glamorous, but often the challenge of it all is what makes it so enjoyable. So certainly I would never want to give up shooting something such as Maze Runner , and I'm looking forward to going back for the second film.

Is there a dream role you'd love to play?

I always wanted to play a Batman villain, that was a big one for me. I may have missed the boat, but I always wanted to do that. I'd love to say Winston Churchill. That would be, when I'm older and hopefully still working later down the line I would absolutely love to play Winston Churchill, that would be a dream role for me.

Those are two quite diverse choices...

Yeah, I think so. I'm fortunate enough to have had an opportunity to do a range of stuff, and the thing I admire most in actors is versatility, those that morph and change, those kind of chameleon actors who are unrecognisable from one job to another. That's something that I aspire to establish myself. It's very difficult to do and easier said than done but that's definitely a goal of mine, to be considered someone that stretches themselves and can be unrecognisable.

Do you have a prediction for a film that'll win big at the Baftas and during awards season this year?

I really hope that Captain Phillips does well, I thought that was a really good film. I hope that Mud does well, as well, I thought that was a fantastic movie, those are probably two of my favourite movies of the year. And Dallas Buyers Club as well. I would say those three films I absolutely love.

To vote for the BAFTA EE Rising Star Award Winner, visit www.ee.co.uk/bafta

The winners are announced on 16 February 2014.

Matt Maytum
Editor, Total Film

I'm the Editor at Total Film magazine, overseeing the running of the mag, and generally obsessing over all things Nolan, Kubrick and Pixar. Over the past decade I've worked in various roles for TF online and in print, including at GamesRadar+, and you can often hear me nattering on the Inside Total Film podcast. Bucket-list-ticking career highlights have included reporting from the set of Tenet and Avengers: Infinity War, as well as covering Comic-Con, TIFF and the Sundance Film Festival.