After appearing as Horrid Henry in the 2011 film adaptation of the book series by Francesca Simon, Theo Stevenson went on to appear in more films and TV shows including Millie Inbetween and the AMC drama Humans. Still only twenty, Theo has many acting roles behind him with more to come and has plans to release music in the foreseeable future. Meeting up with Theo recently, we find out about being cast as a lead character at a young age, playing Toby Hawkins in Humans and his role of Craig in Millie Inbetween.
You play Toby Hawkins across all series of Humans, what was it like on set of the show?
Humans was one of the most exciting opportunities for me. I got picked to play the part of Toby. I was thrilled to be a part of an AMC series. People were passionate and really feeling ultimately as if they were working on something really valuable and super worthwhile, which it is. It’s exploring a lot of pretty relevant important ideas, consciousness and where we’re heading as a society and with technology. I see the whole show as a bit of a warning because it’s saying, ‘hey, this is going on’, you wake up and realise what will potentially happen. I love Black Mirror, the latest series on Netflix was genius. Once again, it’s almost not so much a warning anymore, it is a reminder and it is an opportunity to view where we’re all at and where we’re heading from a different perspective of art. Humans has opened our minds to it. Wicked cast as well, honestly, working with those guys has been such a thrill. The wrap party after working over the last six months on this third series will be great.
Could a new viewer watch the upcoming series without watching previous ones or would you recommend watching from Series 1?
I think it is important to really understand the characters as best as you can, so that you relate and really appreciate them. At the same time, it’s visually stunning, so stylishly shot, and there’s so much to appreciate. It’s on Amazon Prime. I was in Australia last year, my mum’s from Melbourne, and up until last year I’d only ever been to Melbourne and Sydney. I decided to spend three months just travelling up and down the east coast and exploring the motherland, and because I was there I actually missed out on the last few episodes of the second series, so I don’t even know what happened. They do show it in Australia on ABC but I didn’t have a TV, and obviously it’s in the States as well, which is wicked. I’ve got a lot of family living in America and they all love it, so that’s cool knowing it’s having a real effect globally, and the fact that it’s run for three series is just amazing. The writing’s always so impressive, it’s very nice to be a part of.
Can you tell us about your character Toby?
So, Toby (this is why I think maybe it is best that the audience work their way from the very beginning), when we started the first series was, I don’t want to say a stereotypical teenage boy, but he was a little bit insecure, if anything quite shy and quite timid. The series we’ve just finished, I don’t want to say too much, but he’s had to really become a man, he’s really growing up and he’s got to be there for his family, his little sister, his older sister and his mum, because these characters are going through a lot and they’re dealing with his parallel presence. He’s definitely had to grow up and climatise, and he’s been on a journey in the second series. There’s a brilliant actress called Letitia Wright in it, she played Toby’s love interest, and working with her was such a thrill. I was a big fan of her just before we met, she did a few TV series that I thought she was just superb in, so I was really excited to work with her. I learnt so much from her, not just about acting but about a whole range of things. She just did the Black Panther movie which I caught the other night, and I’m so proud of her, I’m so happy to have worked with her, I feel pretty blessed. So, Toby had that little storyline in the second series which brought him to where he is today, where he will be in the summer on your screens this year. Check it out, haha!
What do you enjoy most about playing Craig in Millie Inbetween?
The opportunity to explore comedy which was so educational in itself. Also, working on a show for three years leaves you almost feeling as if you are playing an exaggerated version of yourself to an extent. It was funny because every character is ultimately just the exaggerated version of the actor playing it! We got to really evolve these characters and develop them year after year so that was a lot of fun. Working with such an amazing cast, we were all definitely on a similar wavelength to each other, it was totally rewarding, I loved it!
Are you still involved with the show?
I am! I did the three series, they very kindly offered me the role in the first series. I thought at the time I’d only do one series, which is shot in Glasgow, and then see what else is out there. I was still at school at the time when we first started, I was in my last year of secondary school, so Year 11, and after that first series I realised I had to stick around because I had the most fun in Glasgow with those guys, it was such a blast. The crew and cast that I got to work with are still like family to me, we don’t see each other all the time but the dynamic we created was why we do this. The second series was shot in Belfast, I love Northern Ireland and I love the people, so it was really cool to work there and that’s why I went back for the third series because I really wanted to spend another year in Belfast! At that point I was eighteen, I was a little bit older, I’d done three series, but I decided I didn’t want to do the fourth series of Millie Inbetween, just because I was ready to see what else was out there. I didn’t want them to recast like they thought they may have to, so I ended up flying over to shoot one episode in Belfast for the fourth series, just so the audience could kind of understand why my character Craig wasn’t in it anymore. Even though I’d had the most fun playing Craig because it was a real opportunity for me to explore the comedy and explore being impulsive, and the art of improvising.
What can you say about Butterfly Kisses and your character Jake?
It’s a real coming of age story and a dark tale, it’s a real exploration into one individual’s mind and the effect that has on the world. It’s actually a really sensitive story, it did need to be dealt with very carefully and I’m glad I did it. It’s interesting, I feel like, once again, working with those actors that I got to work with, Rosie Day, Thomas Turgoose, Elliot Cowan… some really amazing actors, reassured me throughout the whole experience, if we believe in it, we can make an art. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, projects that challenge you, or leave you questioning your own maybe morality. It is also important that art does transcend social construct and expectations, it’s limitless the possibilities truly are, so it was a wicked little project. I’m still really tight with the guys that I lived with, the whole journey itself was truly profound.
Where will Butterfly Kisses be released?
I think it’s on the internet. There’s a website called Flix Premiere that people can check it out on. I have only seen it a few times myself. I thought that, for me personally, a couple of times was enough. As an actor you don’t want to reflect too hard or watch it too many times, because what you do a lot of the time is end up just picking apart your performance that’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes I’ll watch back something I’ve done and think, oh wicked I can do it, but then I’m also sat there thinking, ah if I were to do that now I’d make so many different decisions, so you just have to accept that that was you then and that was the way you interpreted the script and executed the character, and you have to kind of trust yourself. I feel like being an actor and also writing the music, it is amazing because it’s a good opportunity to almost keep track of your development as a person and clock your progress. Writing the music, which I’ve done for a few years now, it’s a really cool way to understand better who I was, for example, what I wrote two or three years ago, or even six months ago, would be very different to what I’d write if I were to do so today.
Butterfly Kisses was like nothing I’d ever done before, and, to be honest, I was never the same after that. One of the themes in the film, among many others, was exploring the idea that while we’re coming of age we experience things that leave us a little more grown up, that wake us up, that leave us conscious and aware of the world around us and how it operates. For me personally, being seventeen on that shoot, with people a lot older than me, people that I grew to really love, because we were living together and ultimately becoming those characters, the line between reality and pretend got slightly blurred because it was such an intensive process. It was only a six-week shoot, so we were working in a way that was very experimental, just out there trying to make it happen, so it was a real eye-opener. It was a real learning experience, and definitely, from exactly that, the whole experience itself brought me to the person I was always going to be, but life almost imitated the art in that sense, or vice versa. It was wicked, it was cool, and I have no regrets, there is nothing that I’ve done that I wish I didn’t.
You played the lead role of Horrid Henry in Horrid Henry: The Movie in 2011, what was it like to film?
It was the most rewarding, thrilling experience that any twelve-year-old boy could possibly have. It was an odd one because, if I remember correctly, before they offered me the part, I wasn’t sure as to whether or not I wanted to play the lead role as there was a lot of pressure. At the time I thought I would have been happy with one of the other roles, like Rude Ralph or one of Horrid Henry’s mates. Looking back, it played a big part in me becoming the person that I am. It was such a big deal and it’s still a bit of a cult classic and that’s the most amazing thing. I’m only now really understanding how rewarding it was and still is. A lot of my friends who have kids are saying, ‘ah Theo, can you sign this DVD for my son, they love you’, and I think woah! I was twelve years old when I played Horrid Henry and now I’m twenty, but still they love it.
Can you tell us about your time on set?
We had a lot of fun! I think I was the oldest on set by about a couple of years. I looked young, I had the chubby cheeks and the baby face, whereas everybody else was about maybe nine or ten. I was living with my double and a couple of the other actors in a flat and a chaperone was looking after us. There were a lot of laughs and a lot of good times.
Having been cast as the lead at a young age, do you think you learnt anything on set that helped your acting career?
We’re always learning. I suppose at the time I wasn’t aware of the fact that I was learning so much, not just about acting but about people. Only now am I realising how much I did learn. I didn’t train as an actor, I just started really young and kept going. The only education I’ve ever really had was from film and theatre. I’ve learnt a lot from not just the acting but people you wouldn’t expect. For example, one of the actresses I’ve just finished working with on Humans had little to no experience before we started, yet just doing scenes with her is unreal because she plays it so perfectly. To an extent, I believe that your crafts can exercise your gift, I feel like it’s important to have those life experiences to draw from as an actor, at the same time it doesn’t define you, you can make it happen if you have the drive and ambition.
Would you say there is a difference between auditions as a child actor opposed to as an adult?
Yeah, there is actually, definitely. I think there’s probably a massive difference in the way that I view the audition process and the casting process. As a kid, as much as I cared about it, it wasn’t my main concern necessarily getting the role, whereas now I live in London, I’ve got to pay my rent, I want to learn these lines, and I want to do a good job because I owe it to myself, I deserve to, or they deserve me to step up and give it my best shot. Before, as a child, they wanted me, or maybe they cast me, because I was a little bit cute, chubby and cheeky, whereas now, I want to be taken seriously and I want to impress myself as much as other people. I do think when a casting director is working with a kid it’s a totally different dynamic, if anything, I remember the casting process a lot of the time when I was a kid was extremely tough in comparison to what it is now. I feel like as an adult actor people respect you, if you’re working on a level, but I remember being a kid, sat in a waiting room all afternoon, waiting to hear whether or not I was going to be called back for the second round. It was almost like The X Factor, they’d be ticking names off and then telling people that they had to go home because they weren’t wanted… it was quite brutal. Now, it’s one of those things that you learn how to… I don’t want to say cope with because it actually in itself can be a very rewarding experience, just having the opportunity to read those scripts that are out there, circulating, having the opportunity as an actor to better train, having the opportunity to interpret the script, to play a character, even if it is just for ten minutes in a room, if you love it, that experience in itself is wicked. So yeah, I enjoy the auditions, I really do.
Is it different filming alongside a child cast to an adult one?
For sure. It’s very easy, I think, as a kid working on a movie to get caught up in the bravado and the vibe. It’s important, especially if the film’s being made about kids, to harness that authentic energy and that real flow. It’s difficult at the same time, it’s the catch 22. It’s a work environment, and as it’s a job that needs to get done, you get people who put a lot of money in it, so you have to be aware of the way it operates and you have to step up. Working with people a lot older than me is also very educational, so I enjoy both. I enjoy working with people my own age, it’s always amazing to connect with people and understand that your journey is similar to other peoples. It’s also amazing to work with people slightly more ahead, it’s a wicked job, purely because of the people we get to work with.
Which of the characters you’ve played so far would you say is most like you?
You know what, when I played Horrid Henry, I was most like Horrid Henry, when I played Ethan in All Stars, I was most like Ethan, when I play Craig, I’m still a bit like Craig. To an extent, the characters we play as actors are almost a bit of an extension of ourselves. We have are our own experiences to draw from but it’s almost as if every character I’ve played is a different side of me.
Have you appeared in any stage shows?
Yeah, when I was a lot younger starting out as an actor, I did a few plays which I still remember extremely vividly. I’ll always cherish those memories, those stories are embedded into our souls. I learnt a lot from being on stage at the National and at the Hampstead Theatre. You learn so much about yourself when you step out onto that stage and you’re ultimately in control of your decisions and your confidence, so it’s a big deal. I remember every night as a twelve-year-old kid playing Cupid at the National feeling pure stage fright, like terror, but I’d do it anyway. I feel like if you can experience that kind of energy early in your life then it’s beneficial. We don’t really do that in society, if you step out of your comfort zone, you realise that the real rewards are on the other side of that. The ‘comfort is the enemy of progress’ is a quote from The Greatest Showman, which I went three times to watch in the cinema, I love that movie. I love theatre and I would love to do more of it. It’s important to me to work on projects that I see as valuable not just for the audience but for myself, projects that I see as worthwhile are the most rewarding and theatre really gives you that opportunity to cease to exist as an actor. When you are on stage, while performing, you’re not really there, you’ve left your phone in the dressing room, nobody can contact you, you’re just in that moment, and once the director’s long gone and has no longer got the notes, that’s yours to play with that night, that character, that scene and it’s truly great. On a film set you do your thing and it’s a totally different experience, a totally different craft.
Is there anyone you would most like to act alongside?
There are so many actors out there that I love, that I respect, that I admire, that I look up to, then there are probably other actors that I would like to work with. At the moment I’m a big fan of the actor Sam Rockwell – his recent film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, was wicked, I just think he’s really great actor. Will Poulter as well. I bumped into him at Lillywhites, not too long ago, at Piccadilly Circus. I’d never met him before but I’m a huge fan of him, I feel like he’s got pure energy, he tackles his roles and he has such a wide range of characters under his belt, he could do anything, he’s extremely enigmatic. I’d love to work with him and hang out. You know, the list is endless, honestly, I couldn’t really whittle it down or pick one of the favourites, but those are definitely two actors that I personally feel inspired by.
Are you currently working on any projects you can tell us about?
Humans is coming out in the summer. I have a new agent, I have had a few opportunities recently, so we are crossing our fingers. I’m working on my music and that’s extremely fun, I want to put that out there and see what the response is like. I feel like some people will get it, some people won’t, but as long as I’m doing what I love I’ll be happy. I worked at a pub last year for four or five months when I first moved to London just to make money and to get to know the area, and that was wicked. I caught up with those guys recently which was great. I will probably consider doing something similar if it doesn’t all take off. I really want to go to America as well, just for a little bit. I’m not twenty-one until next year, but I have a couple of friends living in LA that are actors, and they’re very passionate, they all definitely have this can-do attitude, they believe anything is possible and it’s very important we believe that. My mum’s from Australia, as I said, so I’ve got the passport and the dual citizenship, so I may go and live there for a little while and see what’s out there.
When can fans expect to hear your music?
Soon, that’s all I can really say at the moment. Not because I’m not allowing myself, but I just can’t tell you when it will be. I have pretty much a whole album ready to go, it’s in the notes section of my phone. I have it all kind of planned. I feel like now I can totally tackle it and feel brave enough to share the work. The music, for me, is very different to the acting, because of the fact that it’s mine, and when I’m acting, whether or not that’s on stage or in a TV series, it’s a creative collaboration and everybody in every department is an artist telling a story through their department. The music, unless I’m working with a guitarist or a pianist, which actually I prefer than beats that I’ve sourced online, it’s then no longer mine, it’s no longer organic, but it’s very rewarding feeling being totally in control of all that you’re sharing. So yeah, it’s wicked.
Follow Theo on: