GOD’S OWN COUNTRY
Having originally trained as an actor at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Josh O’Connor has since proved his diversity, from playing writer James in Peaky Blinders to roles in Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella (2015) and Florence Foster Jenkins (2016).
The Cheltenham-born actor’s latest project sees him land the lead role in Francis Lee’s British drama, God’s Own Country, playing young farmer Johnny Saxby. Stuck in a isolated farmland repeating his daily routine of work, drink, casual sex, repeat, O’Connor’s character suddenly has his world flipped when Romanian migrant worker Gheorghe Ionescu (Alec Secareanu) turns up to help on the farm. The appearance of Gheorghe becomes a catalyst, opening Johnny’s world into the possibilities of hope, romance and excitement.
This 27 year-old actor is spreading his talents across multiple genres and it seems even more exciting projects are underway.
Alex Baker: It’s under two weeks until the film is in cinemas how are you feeling on the final days before the release?
Josh O’Connor: Yeah good, ever since we went to Sundance Festival in January we’ve been excited to show new audiences. Now to actually show it to the general public is brilliant and to bring it home is exciting. I can’t wait.
Alex: What are your plans for opening night?
Josh: I’m going to a screening at the Curzon in Soho and then doing a Q&A after that. Unfortunately I’m filming the next day so I won’t be able to enjoy it as much as I might like, but I’m looking forward to the Q&A and I’ll head straight home and wait for people to tell me if they hated it or liked it.
Alex: Have you had much time to relax between the festivals?
Josh: I’ve been doing other projects and trying to go to as many festivals as I can. It’s the best thing, going to answer questions and being there when audiences see it for the first time. It’s an incredible experience. We have been doing the press and the lead up but I think we’re ready for everyone to see it and the reception’s been so good, I think the public is going to like it.
Alex: How long ago did you wrap the film?
Josh: It was back in 2016 in March or April, so already it was a long time ago.
Alex: And it’s still so cold in Yorkshire at that time
Josh: Freezing yeah, but in terms of turnaround it’s been really quick. Francis started editing it straight away then a few months later we were accepted into Sundance.
Alex: With it being Francis’s first feature, did the process go well?
Josh: It’s his first feature, but he’s such a pro and he was an actor before so he has an understanding of how actors like to work. From day one our process was very clear. We sat down and had a chat about how I wanted to work and how he likes to work and they aligned. From the beginning it was a case of deep character research and then staying in character once we started filming to then working on the farm, so it felt like second nature. It’s all about authenticity for me and Francis. He’s going to do amazing things and I’m certainly very proud to be there from the beginning.
Alex: Being from Cheltenham, was being back in the countryside quite nostalgic for you?
Josh: I grew up in the countryside but I didn’t have that isolation that Johnny has. His lifestyle is very remote, he has a local pub and he works crazy hours so he doesn’t get to see a lot. At the beginning of the film it’s getting up, working, finishing work, getting pissed, having casual sex, going to bed and repeating, then Gheorghe comes along and opens a new world. My upbringing was totally different, that’s why this project was so exciting. It required a transformation. I empathise with Johnny but we are such different people.
Alex: With the film’s remote location not often being a setting for LGBTQIA films, do you think this film is helpful for people in the same position?
Josh: In many ways that part of the world isn’t necessarily represented on film, regardless of it being an LGBTQIA film. We don’t see that side of things, and that’s certainly a big aspect of it. All the people that I met over there, they’re excited to see the film. How many films do you see looking at sheep farmers? I think all the locals will be pleased to see it.
Alex: It’s good to have someone giving a spotlight to different lifestyles.
Josh: The lifestyle that they lead there is so intense and there’s so much to it. The whole point for me is that the character has such a dense life of continual repetition, the farm totally relies on him. For a young man to have so much responsibility on his shoulders, to take that world and make something hopeful and romantic is credit to Francis and I hope people feel the same way.
Alex: Do you have anything special you bring with you when you’re away filming?
Josh: I tend to leave everything behind when I go away. I find it exciting going away from London, especially with that job. If you’re entering a character like that it’s good to start fresh and I worked very closely with the costume department, deciding exactly how Johnny would dress and be. I like the idea of stripping your own identity.
Alex: Did the costume department have to alter a load of the outfits since you lost so much weight whilst filming?
Josh: I always planned to lose a fair amount of weight, Francis and I had a clear image of how we wanted Johnny to look. Part of that was we wanted him initially lean but we wanted to show how unhealthy his lifestyle was as his diet was more for necessity. I think altogether I lost three stone in weight, but we liked how the costume ended up being too big for him and a bit rough and ready, that concept of showing of the lack of care worked out quite well.
Alex: How was the experience working with Alec Secareanu?
Josh: Once I was cast, Alec was brought in with three of four other Romanian actors. They all screen tested with me and it was obvious from the beginning that Alec was perfect for the role. He’s been brilliant and gave a phenomenal performance in a second language. We are still friends and all these festivals are good to link up with him.