iBoy, the latest Netflix Original film, launches globally on the 27th of January. The film based on the young adult novel by Kevin Brooks stars Bill Milner and proves beyond doubt that this talented actor has seamlessly made the transition from child prodigy, to become one of the most promising up and coming movie stars out there.
We caught up with Bill to talk about iBoy and how he is proud that the film didn’t stray away from tackling the darker issues that affect teenagers nowadays. He also discusses the intensity of working on Steven Knight’s Locke as well as the importance of actors exposing themselves to different types of films and genres.
Read the review of iBoy
There are a lot of movies involving super powers out there at the moment, you yourself were involved in the X-Men franchise. What do you think separates iBoy from other superhero movies?
I think the most interesting element of this story isn’t the powers themselves. It’s more the characters and how Tom in particular deals with this power. That’s what drew me to this job, I really enjoyed the more psychological side of the story. Because when you strip it back it’s actually very real and it is just about a young boy with an insane amount of power, tripping off that and struggling to deal with it. I think that’s the interesting part of it and I think that’s what sets it apart from your normal superhero films.
If you had the super powers that Tom had in this film, what’s the first thing you would do?
That’s the thing, I remember sitting down with Adam (Randall), the director, really early on in the process I got involved in. I mean, he has been doing it for about 5 years (laughs). Early on when I got attached and we were kind of talking about what was possible, because the script itself has gone through so many different iterations, and that’s the thing, your mind really races. We would sit down and be silent for about 10 minutes, in our own heads thinking about all the possibilities. I think maybe the obvious one is putting a hell of a lot of money in your bank account, I guess. The possibilities are endless and I think that’s what’s really great about it, and I hope that it leaves the audience asking the same kind of questions that you have.
In the film, Tom mostly inflicts his revenge on the gang of bullies by hacking their technology. As a society, this type of technology seems to be inherently interconnected with our relationships with the people around us. Do you think people’s interactions are hindered or enhanced by things like social media and smartphones and so on?
I think that they definitely can be hindered but I think we have to accept that’s like a part of the world we live in now, and it can improve and enhance your life if we just embrace it. But yeah, I think it does have the ability to be abused, which I think we do go into in the story. It’s an interesting part of the world, isn’t it? We are all sort of in each others’ pockets.
iBoy is based on the book by Kevin Brooks. Did you know about the book before the movie and did you read it in preparation for the role, or did you purposely stay away from the source material?
I didn’t know about the book when I first heard about the project, but after getting involved I did read it. Like I said, the script had gone through a lot of drafts, so actually I feel like I’ve read sort of 20 different versions of this story. It’s gone all over the world, there’s been so many different characters, different versions of Ellman (Rory Kinnear), different versions of powers, so it’s all kind of blurring into one. Again though, that’s what’s so exciting, that actually the raw skeleton of the story can be shaped and manipulated a bit.
My favourite thing about the book, or what I found when looking up the book, was when I went to read some reviews of the book to see what people had already thought about the story and what the general vibe of what people thought about it was. A lot of reviews were from parents who bought the book for their children and a lot of the reviews were saying, “If I had known what this book was about and what themes it dealt with, I wouldn’t have bought it for my child.” It does deal with things like drugs and sexual assault and guns, of course, and bad language and crime. But a lot of them said, saying that, they are really glad that they had bought it for their child because it’s really healthy and important for the younger generation to be looking at these issues in a healthy way.
Yeah, it’s good that it exposes its young adult audience to themes that they would be exposed to in their daily lives; it doesn’t hide away from these issues.
Exactly, and I think that’s something we really held onto in the film, we don’t shy away from the idea of rape or of gangs. I remember Maisie (Williams) and Adam (Randall) spoke quite a lot about how they would deal with that. There was a draft of the script where, they only ever talked about Lucy’s attacker’s attack, they never once said sexual assault, they never said rape. And I think rightfully so Maisie said that we can’t shy away from that and we have to be really honest and it’s doing a disservice to not put it in the forefront and really speak about it. Which I think is great and that’s what you get from the book and I am really glad that we held onto that.
I think it was a brave decision to tackle issues like that quite honestly, especially in this day and age when there can be an outrage over perhaps even depicting something like that.
I mean you look at the story and you might think this will be quite a typical young adult style story but when you really do get deep into it, I think that’s what’s so amazing. For example, that’s why a film like The Hunger Games is so successful because it is just a young adults teen movie but they do really go deep into some topics that aren’t really spoken about, particularly with young people that should be.
In the book it states that Tom is 16, and you will be 22 this year I believe. Do you think playing somebody who is at a stage in their life that you yourself have progressed from, allowed you to bring a more reflective viewpoint to the role, that you perhaps wouldn’t have been able to do if you had played this character when you were a teenager yourself?
Yeah, I don’t know, I’ve been doing it for awhile and I’ve always questioned this and I’m not sure. I remember being 16 and going up for parts, like iBoy for example, and losing out to 22 year olds and being really pissed off because I felt like being 16 I could bring a real thing to it. But yeah, I don’t really know, I guess in a way it’s much easier to take someone mature and bring it down and still keep really nice beats and notes in it rather than trying to go the other way. I guess it’s down to the individual and the individual performance. This cast came together and we were the same sort of age and style and look, so yeah casting is a fascinating thing that I still haven’t got my head around (laughs).
I think the chemistry between the cast was very good actually, in particular between you and Maisie Williams.
I’m so glad; it’s all down to Adam getting a great bunch of people together. Myself and Maisie are very good friends still and we are all still friends with all the other boys, it made it all work really well, it was a very special group of people to work with actually.
Michael Caine said about working with you in the film Is Anybody There that he didn’t regard you as a child actor but rather as an actor who was a child. Do you think you had a firm grasp of what it took to be an actor from an early age, and how would you say your acting process has changed over time?
I think when I was younger I didn’t have the slightest understanding of what it was to be an actor and I think that was probably what helped me. I didn’t even consider it, I never really thought about it. When you are that old it’s probably bad to be thinking about a process or, you know, things like that. You just have to really sit in the world and believe it and again that’s down to brilliant directors, to be able to direct a young kid is something really special. Films like Room and Beasts of No Nation; I think the performances that you get out of a film actor like Jacob Tremblay are often down to amazing directors and amazing screen partners. I mean, it’s probably all down to Michael Caine to be honest, that he made me feel like an actor and not like a child. But yeah, I don’t think maybe my acting has changed since.
I think a lot of child actors that give a good performance is down to the director, like you say. But I think iBoy has proved that you really have made that transition. You really showcased the inner angst of a teenager very well.
It’s a weird one because sort of around the age of 16, you know when you go up for 16 year old parts and a 22 year old gets them, it was quite tricky, I think it’s nice to see it come to fruition finally, particularly because I am so proud of iBoy. I think it marks a new beginning again.
I mentioned Michael Caine before, you have already amassed a pretty impressive list of top actors you have worked with, Cillian Murphy, Andy Serkis, Tom Hardy, Tim Roth, to name but a few. What actor has had the biggest influence over you, and what have you taken away the most from working with these acting talents?
I always mention two in particular which are Andy Serkis and Cillian Murphy. It’s very rare that you get an actor that shares advice, I think mainly because everyone has their own way and it’s good to just let people work it out. The reason why I feel like I learned a lot from them is, watching them work and having an absolute blast and really enjoying themselves, but also pulling out some of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen. It’s really important because at the end of the day it is still a job and I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t fun or I didn’t enjoy it. To watch people like that doing some really incredible tough roles but then see them really revelling in it is something very special and something I think I try to do.
Speaking of some of the actors you have worked with, in your scenes with Tom Hardy in Locke, were you actually talking to him over the phone or reading lines with somebody else?
It was such an amazing bizarre experience; it was one of the best weeks of my work I’ve ever done. So we were in a hotel just off the North Circular road and every night Tom would get in a car on a low loader and they would drive around the North Circular while he was on the phone to us. It was like a constant link, so there wasn’t any phone calls; it was just one constant long thing. We were all in the hotel jumping into the recording booth and just doing the lines straight and he was responding, it was all in real time. We literally ran the film, I think it was something like twice a night, five cameras on the car at any one time, and we did it for like five nights and that was it.
It must have been very intense to get that right, if you’re running the film in real time every night?
Yeah, it was quite nerve-racking, particularly to then have Andrew Scott jumping into the recording booth after you and Olivia Colman, and then suddenly Tom Hardy is at the other end, you don’t want to fuck that up, it was really good fun.
iBoy will be released the end of January. What can we expect from you next?
I will be busy later in the year but I don’t think I can talk about it yet but yeah, keep your eyes peeled, I think it’s going to be an exciting year.
You’ve left it on a cliffhanger for us.
(laughs) I’m sorry.
At the age of 21, you have already accomplished a lot of things in your profession over the past couple of years. As an actor, what goals do you hope to accomplish in the future?
I don’t know really, I try not to set goals because this is such a hard industry to predict, so I don’t think there is much point putting particular goals. I would like to work in different countries; it’s a nice thing you get to do with your job. I like travelling and seeing new places.
Are there any particular genres or directors you would like to work with? I think it says on your IMDb – whether it is true or not – that your favourite film is Her.
(laughs) Yeah, I noticed that as well, which is funny because it’s not true. I mean, don’t get me wrong I love that film to bits but my favourite film is definitely Juno and it forever will be. In fact, that was the first film that made me understand what indie films were because before then all the films that I watched were probably all the superhero movies, like Batman, which don’t get me wrong, are some of the best films ever made, but then watching Juno was like, oh right this is what film can be. Christopher Nolan is a director who I admire very much; in fact, he was another person who made me really appreciate great films. I grew up watching the Batman films and they are incredible cinematography, incredible directing and great acting in what is essentially quite a mainstream film. But then through that, I then looked into his other films. That got me watching films like Memento from the age of 13 or 14 and I think that’s really important, it made me realise a lot about what great filmmaking can be.
Do you think it is important, as an actor, to expose yourself to as many different genres as possible and to the many different ways films are made, such as indie films as we mentioned as an example?
Yeah, definitely, because you can always surprise yourself. For example, I’m not the biggest fan of horror, it’s never been a genre that I have really watched. But I have just finished a film called The Lodgers in Ireland which is a gothic horror film and that was a really interesting form of filmmaking, the lighting and the all the art department were incredible and that really drove the film a different way. It also had another slightly different style of acting, particularly with the character I was playing. So yeah, I think it’s wrong to pigeonhole yourself or the things you watch. For example, I watched Under the Shadow the other day, which is Wigwam’s new film, and that was an absolutely beautiful, stunning film and one of my favourite films that I’ve seen in the last few months and again, I didn’t think I would be watching a horror film and thinking that. So yeah, I don’t think you should pigeonhole yourself like that, I try not to anyway.
I believe you are a West Ham supporter. If they were to make a film based on one Hammers player past or present, who would you want it be and why?
Ah, that’s the best question I have ever been asked, I absolutely love that. It would have to be Carlton Cole, love that man, an absolute hero.
Not a film based on Paolo Di Canio no?
(laughs) No, that would be far too risky considering the fact that he is, I don’t know, politically not the soundest guy. I watched the Bobby documentary and I thought that so good, I watched it twice and cried both times, such a good film.
Originally published on Jan 24, 2017 for HeyUGuys.