I have never felt as popular as I did walking out of the Burberry show this season. Seated across the runway from me was Douglas Booth, the former face of Burberry and a devastatingly handsome chap I had met a few times through mutual friends, who I had interviewed for the cover of the current issue of VMAN. After the show he came over to say hi and gave me a little bro-hug, which piqued the interest of every single one of my female friends. Not that I blame them: The guy is handsome, suave and a total gentleman.
In the post-fashion show milieu, we got seperated — he being the future movie star that he is was asked for photographers, me being a lowly fashion editor was asked to get out of the way — but we bumped back into each other outside. And as soon as he said goodbye, everyone started asking when they could see more of him. The good news is very soon. He will next be in the cinemas as Shakespeare’s lovestruck lead in Romeo & Juliet, opposite Hailee Steinfeld, and he just wrapped production on Darren Aronofsky’s anticipated biblical epic Noah with a cast that includes Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson. In addition to myself and the various other women (and men) at the fashion show, Booth cast a spell on photographer Bruce Weber recently, who shot him for the cover of VMAN. Check out some of Bruce’s pictures and my full article with Booth from VMAN below.
The lack of new leading men in Hollywood is no secret to anyone. Whether or not this is the result of a studio system that’s stingy with second chances or a cultural phenomenon of guys just not striving to steal the silver screen anymore, one thing is inarguably clear: Hollywood is densely populated with handsome men who don’t say much. A spin around any upscale hotel lobby, Equinox, or trendy organic juice enema bar can tell you so. But what separates actual actors from the pretty boys isn’t a desire to rebel against their attractiveness or to lean upon it too heavily, but rather to make it a nonissue. Think about the greatest performers of recent generations: Johnny Depp’s early breakout role was portraying a deathly pale, scissor-fingered living doll who horrified suburbia. Leonardo DiCaprio has Oscar nominations for playing a mentally ill kid in a messed up family (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) and a quirky millionaire who bottles his own urine (The Aviator), not for being the golden-haired heartthrob on a big boat that sank in 1912. Good looks are obviously gold, but in this business if they’re your sole skill you might as well see if that juice bar is hiring.
So it’s a relief that Douglas Booth, whose career began as a ridiculously good-looking male model, looks haggard when we meet for a drink at a hotel in downtown New York. He looks biblically haggard, in fact. Booth is wrapping up Noah, Darren Aronofsky’s epic retelling of the good book’s animal-coupling ark tale. Booth is sporting a scruffy, weathered face and gross, ratted hair extensions that are pulled back with a dime-store elastic headband. He’s just taken off a baseball cap that earlier today fell off his head and was run over by a truck. But what’s really impressive is that his seat is facing a mirror and he only falls into a narcissistic stare twice.
“It very quickly isn’t flattering to be known only for the way you look,” Booth says. “It’s just uninteresting if that’s all people want to talk about. I don’t necessarily want to hear about my talent or my greatness as an actor. You can say I’m shit, if you think so. But make it about something I do.” Ironically, he finds comfort in the unglamorous confines of a character. “The grittier, the dirtier, the worse I can look, the happier I am. It takes the pressure off.”
It’s Booth’s nonchalant handsomeness that first brought him to the attention of the fashion world. “He understands fashion and always looks effortless and impeccable, whether he’s in sharp tailoring, evening tux, or jeans and a T-shirt,” says Burberry’s Christopher Bailey, who cast Booth when the to-be was 16 for a series of international campaigns, “he’s a dude!”
The actress Emma Watson, who starred in Booth’s initial Burberry campaign and was reunited with him on the set of Noah, where he plays her husband, goes further to explain that he’s a dude with gravitas. “There’s something old-mannish about Doug, which he had even then. He knows who he is. He doesn’t get intimidated, doesn’t hold back, and is generally fearless,” she says. Yet she will readily admit that even when they met five years ago, her first reaction was that he was pure eye candy. “We met when he was 15 and I remember looking at him and thinking he was offensively attractive. And it’s just gotten worse since then.”
Booth grew up in London, but a childhood diagnosis of dyslexia made it clear from an early age he’d be better suited to the arts. He started playing the trumpet–“I figured if I couldn’t be an academic I’d be a famous musician”–but gave that up when his friends started picking up guitars and forming rock bands. “Coincidentally, I was cast in a play at the same time, and it all went from there.” He scored his first major role at 16 in From Time to Time, a BBC biography of Christopher Isherwood written by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes.
What brought him to the attention of the casting director was his next role, as Boy George in the 2010 British TV seriesWorried About The Boy. “That was my first lead experience, and it was sink or swim. Fuck it up and my career would be over before it even started. I knew I had to take it seriously and commit 100 percent.” Committing to the part of Boy George was colorful and bonding stuff: the role called for five hours of makeup a day, and costumes varied from vinyl bodysuits to silk kimonos to dominatrix nuns. “Even to this day, when someone says something derogatory about Boy George, it still upsets and offends me. Part of me will always be quite attached to him.”
In 2011, he scored a part opposite Ray Winston and Gillian Anderson in the BBC’s Great Expectations miniseries, which was followed by 2012’s campy American tween film LOL, opposite Miley Cyrus and Demi Moore. Booth originally had to be forced into even meeting with that film’s director by his agents but he was ultimately glad he did because it felt like he’d crammed the last two years of high school, which he’d missed, into those three months of filming.
His next role was as literature’s most famous lovelorn teenager: Romeo, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which hits theaters later this year, opposite Hailee Steinfeld. Booth describes the film as having “the beauty and romanticism of Zeffirelli’s 1968 version with the energy of Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 version,” the latter of which starred the aforementioned DiCaprio. It was initially an intimidating casting process, but Booth got his head around it when he realized his inexperience in the world of Shakespeare was a benefit. “I figured, Fuck it, they’re choosing me because I can bring something fresh to it. Something in-the-moment and real, which is the spirit of Romeo, isn’t it?” The film that he is wrapping up when we meet is Noah. “It’s the epic telling of the story of Noah’s ark,” Booth explains, adding, “but because it’s an Aronofsky film, it’s dark and twisted too.” It’s a boldfaced production: Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly play Noah and his wife, Watson is Booth’s wife, and Logan Lerman his brother. He jokes that this film has been the most grueling yet, and his first exposure to Method acting. The past few weeks of production have been slammed because Hurricane Sandy wrecked the set, a true-to-life-size ark, and many of the crew’s homes were affected by the devastation. (Yes, the irony that a hurricane destroying the set of a movie depicting a biblical flood was not lost on the cast and crew.) “On the last shot of the day I fell asleep in bed,” Booth says of his work the day before, when he was in bed with Watson, who just had to act her way through her first childbirth scene. “I was meant to wake up, so suddenly I hear Darren screaming, ‘Douglas! Douglas! Are you really asleep?’ I told him I was just doing some Method acting.” Booth flashes a smile, which even through extensions and untamed stubble could convince anyone of anything. “I hope he bought it.”
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