Burn­ing am­bi­tion

Even at 21, Will Poul­ter works hard at be­ing the best thing in ev­ery pic­ture hemakes, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM -

I had my mid-life cri­sis when I was 16. But act­ing has helped me de­velop a lot in my pri­vate life. Con­fi­dence is the great­est gift for an ac­tor

When we say an ac­tor steals a scene we leave the sug­ges­tion that some sort of bul­ly­ing or up­stag­ing has gone on. This is not al­ways the case. In Ger­ard Bar­rett’s up­com­ing Glass­land, a sad re­al­ist fable set in de­prived west Dublin, young Will Poul­ter, the 21-year-old son of English health pro­fes­sion­als, re­ally does draw all eyes to­wards him.

He does not el­bow his way in front of Jack Reynor or Toni Col­lette. Quite the re­verse. He gets by on a class of quiet vul­ner­a­bil­ity and wide-eyed in­gen­u­ous­ness. You seek out his cor­ner of the screen and of­fer him sym­pa­thy. It’s quite a per­for­mance. Even the ac­cent is spot on.

“It’s not just about coach­ing. It’s about try­ing to find the ac­cent,” Poul­ter says. “Ger­ard wanted all of us to in­te­grate our­selves into the world of the film and into Tal­laght, where it is set. We were able to ex­pe­ri­ence the en­vi­ron­ment be­fore we were thrust on set. That’s so un­usual. I have to thank Ger­ard for tak­ing a chance on an English kid.”

Poul­ter is sin­cere, but the truth is that Bar­rett, the young di­rec­tor of the ex­cel­lent Pilgrim Hill, was lucky to get him on board. Ever since he emerged as the trou­bled ju­ve­nile in Son of Ram­bow, Poul­ter has worked hard at be­ing the best thing in ev­ery pic­ture he makes. Who was that great kid in The Chron­i­cles of Nar­nia: The Voy­age of the Dawn Treader and We’re the Millers? It’s Will Poul­ter, pride of Chiswick.

This week, in what might count as his last ju­ve­nile role, he turns up as a tough bruiser in the adap­ta­tion of James Dash­ner’s young-adult epic The Maze Run­ner. “The tran­si­tional pe­riod is tough,” he says. “You can find your­self too old to play high school roles, but too young to play the lead­ing man. You have to be­quites­mart about how you present your­self. Your pub­lic im­age re­flects your range.”

Will is less con­fi­dent in him­self than that last quote might sug­gest. Im­pec­ca­bly well man­nered (I am eas­ily old enough to be his dad, after all), he still seems slightly baf­fled by the po­si­tion in which he finds him­self. He has al­ready shown a daunt­ing range. Poul­ter is brashly con­fi­dent and dom­i­nant in The Maze Run­ner – the leader of a gang of dis­placed youths – but the real Poul­ter seems closer to the bruised kids he played in Son of Ram­bow and Glass­land. He ad­mits that act­ing of­fered es­cape.

‘Down and de­spon­dent’

“It’s in­ter­est­ing. School didn’t of­fer me very much,” he says. “And act­ing was a re­lease from what I found to be a very tough pe­riod. At school I felt quite down and de­spon­dent. I felt it had noth­ing to of­fer. I wasn’t go­ing to be­come any­thing. It felt like a pipe dream. When I got Son of Ram­bow, which was my first pro­fes­sional role, I started to be­lieve and that spurred my am­bi­tion.”

Will was only 14 when he got the role in Son of Ram­bow – a gor­geous com­ing-of-age film – but, by his own reck­on­ing, he al­ready seems to have un­der­gone the odd ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis. He laughs at the sug­ges­tion. But he doesn’t deny he was a se­ri­ous sort of child. “I think I did have a lot of those feel­ings at 12,” he says. “I didn’t want to be be­hind a desk. I didn’t want to do a nor­mal job. I had made my mind up. I be­came de­spon­dent pre­ma­turely. I had my mid-life cri­sis when I was 16. I sup­pose I’d agree with that. But act­ing has helped me de­velop a lot in my pri­vate life. Con­fi­dence is the great­est gift for an ac­tor.”

Two years later, he ap­peared as Eus­tace Scrubb – ag­gres­sive young jerk – in the third film of the fal­ter­ing Nar­nia se­ries. Will could have kept plough­ing that suc­cess­ful fur­row, but he de­cided to take a de­gree in drama at Bris­tol Univer­sity. “I never doubted that this is what I wanted to do,” he says. “I just felt that I might to go to univer­sity and get some real life. It wasn’t stim­u­lat­ing in the same way. I loved be­ing at Bris­tol, but I missed the thrill of be­ing on set.”

His fa­ther, a pro­fes­sor of car­di­ol­ogy, and mother, a for­mer nurse, were un­easy about his drift to­wards act­ing, but a few lucky per­form­ers have a tal­ent that can­not be ig­nored. Sure enough, over the last few years, Hol­ly­wood has come call­ing. Gossip sug­gests next film b González Iñ two of The M grind­ing into Last year, he go again) th thing in fu com­edy We’r Millers.

If he’s shoot­ing in Lo ana, he’s atte ing premiere New York. doubt he’s ready got h self a pad in V ice Beach or of the Sohos. This rocket is not com­ing down any­time soon.


“I live in Chiswick with my mum and dad,” he says, “I love it there.” Hang on. He’s still liv­ing in the mid­dle-class end of Houn­slow with his folks. Why?

“I’m just not in a fi­nan­cial po­si­tion to move out. I guess I will even­tu­ally.”

What a nice, re­spon­si­ble young man. The Maze Run­ner is out now on gen­eral re­lease

Iron Will

‘I never doubted that this is what I wanted to do’

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