Photography by Ben Cope
Styling by Douglas VanLaningham
Dean-Charles Chapman is a name to watch (and drop) in 2020 and beyond. Despite his attention-grabbing turns as Tommen Baratheon in Game of Thrones and Thomas of Lancaster in The King, alongside Timothée Chalamet (to say nothing of his long run as the lead in the theatrical production of Billy Elliot: The Musical on the West End), the 22-year-old English actor is largely unknown to American audiences.
That’s all about to change with his standout performance as Lance Corporal Tom Blake in 1917, the new Sam Mendes-directed WW1 thriller produced by Steven Spielberg. Co-written, directed, and produced by Sam Mendes, the epic war film follows the tale of two young British soldiers—Blake and Lance Corporal William Schofield (George MacKay)—on an important mission through enemy territory, all in a single shot. Since its limited release on December 25, the movie has been generating buzz, which looks set to continue with awards season just beginning—1917 is up for three Golden Globes, alongside countless other nominations. If you didn't learn about Chapman from his previous projects, it seems certain you will now. Read on to learn the acclaimed actor's thoughts on the new film, his steamiest Game of Thrones scene, and why he's obsessed with Robert De Niro.
Do you want me to call you Dean-Charles or Dean?
Call me Dean, that’s all right. You can call me anything, really.
What’s your daily schedule like these days?
Well, we’re about to start on a press tour. We’re doing eight different cities in America, and we're literally going to be one day in Dallas, next day in Washington, then Los Angeles and New York. There’s not going to be much time for a break. Then we go to Europe. We do Germany and Spain; all the way up really until the film actually comes out Christmas Day. It’s a lot but it’s all good.
When you’re in London, can you walk the streets without being recognized?
I was in Game of Thrones and when I was in that, I used to get recognized quite a bit. But not so much now. So yeah, it’s pretty chill, if I’m being honest. I like it like that though. It’s nice to be undercover.
Are you getting a lot of crazy fan art sent to you?
I have social media, like Instagram and Twitter, and people do send me drawings they have done of me. A lot of drawings, actually. I always find it kind of weird that someone would actually sit down to draw me, you know? I’m rubbish at drawing myself. I can only draw a stick man.
Let’s talk about 1917 and your character, Blake.
It really came about just like any other audition. At the time I was filming an Irish independent film called Here Are the Young Men. It was my first lead in a film and my schedule was really jam-packed. I did one audition for the casting director. I came back and that was the first time I met director Sam Mendes. That’s when he told me that he was planning on filming it all in one continuous shot. The camera never cuts basically. It reads like one long take. You literally, for nearly two hours, follow two characters, Blake and Schofield. Schofield’s played by George MacKay and I play the role of Blake. The two lance corporal soldiers get sent on a mission to deliver a message that stops an attack on 1600 men and they have to go through enemy territory. It’s not really an educational film. It’s not really a historical lesson. I'd almost describe it as a thriller–an action-packed thriller. It’s not necessarily a war movie. The war is sort of the backdrop. You literally follow two characters, and it’s a really personal story. The whole one-take thing really allows you to become completely immersed in the story of these two men. It’s almost like one of the first-person shooter games. You feel like you’re on every step with these men on their journey. I’ve never watched anything like it. I mean, it made me cry a lot of times watching it.
Aren’t you a sensitive young man.
I know. [Laughs.] My character, Blake, he’s a good kid. He’s good with navigating, and he’s good with maps. But he hasn’t been in the army for very long; not as long as his friend Schofield, so he’s very new to seeing the horrors on his journey.
I imagine that you had to form a pretty close bond with your costar George MacKay.
I didn’t actually know George before we started shooting. We rehearsed for six months. Because of the one-take thing, the whole film is almost like a choreographed dance. George and I spent every single day with each other pretty much; training, we did military training, armory training. We had a research trip to France, another to Belgium. We looked at museums together. We never really had a moment apart from each other and really bonded.
You mentioned you did a lot of martial arts training for the part.
That’s one of the things that I love as an actor, that you learn loads of different skills and get to do stuff that you never would without the opportunity of pretending to be someone else. But yeah, for Into the Badlands, I did loads of martial arts training, learned how to fight with two swords and basically kill people.
You came to be known in America for Tommen, your character in Game of Thrones. But you did get a very different type of action in the sex scene that you had to do with Natalie Dormer. Tell me about what that was like. I mean, you were 16 and she was 33!
There were a lot of people who hated Tommen because he was so weak. I really enjoy being able to step into somebody’s shoes and be completely different from myself. So every time someone would come up and say, “I hated your character. He was so weak. Why did he do this?” I’m like, ”Yeah, thanks, mate. That’s nice.”
With the Natalie Dormer scene, no one had actually told me that Tommen had a sex scene that year. The first time I found out was by reading the blooming excerpt. I nearly had a heart attack. I was so nervous. I thought, “Oh my God. What am I going to do?” But it was fine. It was my first ever sex scene and still the only one I’ve ever done. Honestly, it’s just like a normal day filming. Natalie was really, really good as well. She’s an old pro so she was sort of guiding me through it and making me feel relaxed.
Did you have to take your whole kit off?
No, I had my trackie bottoms on. It was only a topless thing for me. Unfortunately for Natalie, she had to get fully naked. I was just chilling in a pair of trackies.
You don’t just get cast in the West End lead of Billy Elliot if you don’t have a strong voice.
Do you know what? I don’t think I have that good of a singing voice. I remember as a kid, I'd be singing in the car and my mom would tell me to shut up because I can’t sing. They did train me to sort of hold a note. But a lot of Billy Elliot wasn't actually like a full-blown musical where I was singing opera. It was pretty almost like spoken word in a northern accent. I can hold a note, that’s about it.
What about the dancing?
I didn’t dance before Billy. So again, Billy just sort of put me through some sort of boot camp for two years and they just taught me from scratch. I learned ballet, tap, gymnastics, and singing.
You wrapped Here Are the Young Men with Anya Taylor-Joy and Finn Cole, and The King is streaming on Netflix.
In The King, Timothée Chalamet plays Prince Hal. I play Timothée’s brother, Thomas of Lancaster. I loved working on that. To be able to work with Timothée was great and I think Timothée’s a really great actor, especially for his age.
And at least you didn’t get to wear that circumcised haircut he has.
Oh blooming hell, I know. I wouldn’t have been able to cope, so I probably would have just had to wear a hat everywhere.
What’s your fashion taste like? What do you normally get decked out in?
I’m just really plain and simple. Most of the time I’m just sort of bumming around in trackies, black jeans, Nike, Adidas. If I’m sort of trying to dress up, I only really just wear All Saints. That’s pretty much it. Just standard black or white bloke, and just nothing too fashionable.
What are you obsessed with at the moment?
I’m obsessed with Robert De Niro. I think he’s the greatest actor of all time. I’m trying to go through my directors at the minute and try to watch as much films as possible. I started on Martin Scorsese the other day, and obviously Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese as a duo are legendary. I’ve been watching loads of old interviews. I’ve been like a stalker for about a month solid.
Where’s the accent from?
I am an Essex boy. I grew up in a place called Romford. Born and raised.
Did you go through an Essex mega-tanning period?
I’ll leave that to The Only Way is Essex fellows.
Are you a big reality TV fan?
No, not me. I don’t really watch anything like that. My mom and sister are obsessed with it.
You’re too busy doing your education in classic film history.
Exactly. Hell yes. I’m too busy obsessing over Robert De Niro.