Breakout star Billy Howle discusses how he prepared to embody his On Chesil Beach character, Edward, throughout the years — creating his voice, movement, and character. Read the rest of our On Chesil Beach Special Issue here.
When Billy Howle made On Chesil Beach, he was a virtual unknown, but he won’t be for much longer. At 26, Howle has been quietly working away in the theatre for several years, including on two collaborations with British theatre legend Richard Eyre; he took over as Oswald from Jack Lowden in the New York transfer of Ghosts. On Chesil Beach is not Howle’s big screen debut — he had roles in The Sense of an Ending and Dunkirk — but it is his first meaty on screen role. Howle rises to the challenge in this star-making turn.
Howle plays Edward, the film’s working class protagonist, who fell in love with a posh woman, Florence (Saorise Ronan), and is fumbling through his wedding night in 1960 when the film begins. Much divides them: class, wealth, and experience. Those differences are both what pushed them together and what could so easily drive them apart. Both are desperately trying to play the part of married grown ups, and that performance gets in the way of communicating with each other. In the hotel room on their wedding night, Howle reveals how uncomfortable Edward is in his new role as married man — and how desperately he’s trying to hide it. In small, private moments, Howle exposes Edward’s vulnerability without giving away the game to the people he’s trying to perform for.'Howle exposes Edward’s vulnerability without giving away the game to the people he’s trying to perform for.'Click To Tweet
Because the film flashes backward and forward in time, Howle plays multiple versions of Edward: the new bashful graduate, the boy falling in love, the engaged man, the newly married man, the middle aged man, and finally the elderly gentleman. Howle’s impressive physical transformation across all these years shows Edward’s evolution and adaptation to the society he lives in.
After the film’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, I sat down with Howle to discuss how he prepared to embody Edward throughout the years — creating his voice, movement, and character.
Seventh Row (7R): How did you approach creating your character, Edward, and his physicality?
Billy Howle (BH): On this one, I knew I had a fair challenge in the physical nature of the piece. The background of the piece and the time period itself is very, very specific regarding mannerism, physical behaviour. Particularly in public, how people interacted with one another was very different.
Also, how they held themselves, and then how that developed for a person who’s in their 20s in 1962, and how that changed, throughout the ‘60s and into the 70s. In 1975, being in your mid-30s is very different from being a young man at that point because you’re already fairly developed.
At Seventh Row, we pride ourselves on spotting exciting new acting talent. Last year, we wrote career retrospectives on up-and-comers Josh O’Connor (God’s Own Country, The Durrells) and Jack Lowden (Dunkirk, War & Peace, Tommy’s Honour). We recently spotlighted five breakout performances at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. And we’ve written about why unsung character actors like John Cho, Rebecca Hall, and Andre Holland should really be movie stars by now.