PHOTOS: Annemarie Sterian
TALENT: Gwilym Lee
STYLING: Amisha Kapadia
GROOMING: Davide Barbieri at Caren using Aveda and Clarins
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANT: Robert Bogdan-Roth
STYLIST ASSISTANT: Rachel Cosenza
LOCATION: Shutter House
INTERVIEW: Ben Hardy
PRODUCTION: Jasmine Perrier at Studio J•T•P
SPECIAL THANKS: DDA PR & CLD Communications
This feature is taken from Grumpy Magazine’s IN CONVERSATION SERIES, available in digital and print worldwide
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Gwilym Lee has undoubtedly carved his path through the industry with wisdom and genuineness. His route to becoming an actor started when he was a child, although it all happened naturally for the actor. Many years later, his appreciation for storytelling hasn’t faded. With his extremely charismatic personality and commitment to his craft, he has garnered varied acclaimed roles across theater, film, and television. After having excelled at portraying Queen guitarist Brian May in Bohemian Rhapsody, Gwilym continues to surprise with his performance in Hulu’s critically acclaimed satirical drama The Great, which has already been renewed for a third season.
A day before leaving London in mid-February, Gwilym Lee took a moment to catch up with Ben Hardy, who was only a natural choice for the interview we have all been waiting for. Three years after the “eye-opening” Bohemian Rhapsody awards season, the actor from Sutton Coldfield was on his way back to Los Angeles to attend the SAG Awards in support of The Great and its best comedy series ensemble nomination. Yet, he remained humble and truthful. As he told his friend and former “Bo Rap” co-star Ben Hardy, his love for the craft is the reason why he does the job. Among other things, he opened up about being fond of theater and Shakespeare, the importance of his Welsh heritage, and craving for creativity when he is not acting.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Check out some extracts below.
On embracing his Welsh heritage…
GWILYM LEE: Hey, man. How are you?
BEN HARDY: Hello. I’m good. How are we doing this? Has the interview started?
GL: This is it, it’s happening. The moment we have been waiting for.
BH: [Laughs] Ok, are you ready?
GL: I’m very ready, but a bit nervous.
BH: Don’t be nervous. So, I was doing a bit of research on you, it was the first time I stalked you. You were born in Bristol.
GL: [Laughs] It’s starting at this level, is it?
BH: I’m not going down that road, just wait.
GL: For those who don’t know, I’m a very proud Welsh man. That’s the reason why I’m getting so angsty about this.
BH: That was what my follow-up question was going to be. You’re very close with your Welsh heritage. I was just wondering if you could explain to us what makes you associate more with Wales than England. Is it because of your parents, because it makes you feel close to them?GL: I got too defensive, didn’t I?
BH: Yeah [laughs].
GL: I’m sorry. That’s because I’ve spent my whole life having this debate with people.
BH: And I’ve been one of the people you’ve been debating with. To be putting up with that every year of your life must mean that is something that is really important to you.
GL: Do you think I should not bother, just concede, and say that I’m English?
BH: No, I love the fact that you stand it proudly.
GL: Well, we were brought out Welsh. [My parents] were the first people of their families [in South Wales] to afford to go to university because they were given free tuition fees and grants. But despite the fact they have now actually spent the majority of their life in England, and we were born and grew up there, they are still Welsh. I’m one of four siblings, and we were all given ridiculously Welsh names. With a name like Gwilym, you presuppose my nationality, isn’t it? I don’t have any problem with England or Englishness. I’m not a nationalist in any shape or form, I’m more passionate about the heritage and my family’s story of Wales than the flag, the nation, the idea of independence, or anything like that.
On acting as a child and first professional steps…
BH: Let’s move on. We have a mutual friend, Joe Mazzello, who often talks about his 30-year career. For anyone who doesn’t know, he started as a child actor, he was in Jurassic Park — I don’t want to give him a big promotion here, but I am [laughs]. And when I was researching you, I found out that you started acting very young as well. You were in your teens when you started working professionally.
GL: Yeah [but] I wasn’t working with Spielberg.
BH: But I saw that you were in the Royal Shakespeare Company [RSC] at 16.
GL: That’s right. Although I don’t really see myself as ever having been a child actor. I wasn’t a child actor in the sense that I was going from one job to the next. I wasn’t even looking for work, it just happened.
BH: Were you kind of the rockstar at school because you were going to be on TV?
GL: The polar opposite. I was absolutely ridiculed and mocked. Also, I played rugby when I was at school, so it was quite a contrast. I remember having to go to rugby training and having to say to the coach, “I can’t do contact today because I can’t damage myself.”
BH: I bet that went down really well [laughs].
GL: That went down terribly. So, I definitely wasn’t a little rockstar.
On The Great and approach to awards circuit…
BH: On The Great, you’re very fortunate [because] you have Tony McNamara as the showrunner and writer. He did The Favourite, amongst other things, and he is obviously incredibly talented. Has that made life great on set?
GL: Absolutely, and it is very much what we were talking about. With good writing, the work is done for you. From day one, the challenge with The Great has always been about not overplaying it and just playing it straight.
BH: Just say the words [laughs].
GL: Just say the words, because they are really good [laughs]. [Tony] is an incredible writer. But at one minute, he has characters spilling out these absolutely absurd lines — it’s quite rude and schoolboy humor, which massively appeals to my sense of humor. And then, you go off into these beautiful philosophical discussions about love, grief, or parenting. It’s amazing. It’s really rich and it’s a real pleasure to work with it.
BH: Congratulations, it’s doing incredibly well [with] all the nominations.
BH: It is not your first time going to LA for all of the gongs. How does it feel to be going back to that circus? You didn’t go last year because of Covid, am I right?
GL: Yeah. We got nominated for quite a few things last year but it was all virtual.
BH: But you are going back, aren’t you?
GL: Yes, next week for the SAG Awards.
BH: Are you excited about it?
GL: Actually, it feels honestly sad not being with you. That’s the truth of it. We had a good time, it was a fun little chapter of our lives.
GL: It won’t be the same. It won’t be better, it will just be different.
BH: It will be different. That was a whirlwind when we did the little Bohemian Rhapsody awards circus. Now, does it feel like you are going to something you’ve already done before? Is it the same level of excitement?
GL: I don’t know. The first time for anything is an eye-opening experience and it’s all like a crazy adventure. The reception of Bohemian Rhapsody was just epic and the buzz was pretty high. It was probably beyond any of our wildest dreams and I can’t imagine anything being like that again. So, this is lovely to have some kind of recognition for your work. There is a lot of recognition for Nick [Nicholas Hoult] and Elle [Fanning] because they carry the show and they are incredible in it. The SAG Award that we are going up for next week is an ensemble nomination, and that’s nice to all be recognized together. When we went out to LA for the Oscars [in 2019], it was a completely new experience for me, [but] then you fly back, go home, and you’re an unemployed actor again.
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