Jack Rowan: I hit the jackpot with Peaky Blinders

Jack Rowan: I hit the jackpot with Peaky Blinders

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Thursday, 12th April 2018
Jack Rowan in Born to Kill (Credit: Channel 4)

Polite, warm and modest, Jack Rowan is a far cry from the calculated psychopath he plays in the Channel 4 drama series Born to Kill.

Yet playing a villain in his first leading role was perfect for the 21-year-old newcomer. “I love it because it’s so far removed from who you really are,” he tells the RTS.

His chilling portrayal of teenage psychopath Sam Woodford secured Rowan a nomination for an acting award at this year's RTS Programme Awards alongside “two kings” Stephen Graham and Sean Bean.

“Even to be in the same sentence [as them] is beyond me, I’m just kind of pinching myself.”

Although, in his words, he’s “still a baby in this game”, Rowan has impressed audiences with diverse roles early on in his career.

Jumping from his first guest appearance on Silent Witness to a standout lead in a Channel 4 drama series, to a recurring role on cult series Peaky Blinders, the former boxer is already creating a buzz.

It was Rowan's powerful performance in Born to Kill that catapulted his talent into the limelight. The psychological thriller follows teenager Sam, who harbours secret psychopathic tendencies which are revealed as he commits a series of murders.

“I never at any point judged him” he says. “It was important to find humanity in the character, if there was any. To find moments where he can be relatable and real.”

Rowan's transformation into the “charming, fearless and calculating” killer was no easy feat. To prepare for the role, he delved into the world of psychopathy. “Every day I watched a new documentary or film and I was like, I want to be her or I want to be him.”

When it came to building the character of Sam, he explains, “I took things from all of these people, put it in a box and we shook it up.”

He describes how he approached each day in a different way to the play the complex character.

“I’d do it by what mask he would play that day,” he says. “One day it would be cocky school kid, next day it would be vulnerable, next day it would be strange, next day it would be diver, next day killer.”

When I ask how he managed to detach himself from the disturbing character at the end of the day, without hesitation, he exclaims: “Romantic comedies!”

“At the end of those shooting days, it was quite harrowing stuff. I didn’t really want to watch anything serious or anything I needed to think about. CluelessJust My Luck13 Going On 30…all of the Netflix classics.

“I got emotional at those films…” he laughs.

Despite being a rising star in the acting world, a few years ago he was on a very different route to success. Unlike most teenagers, Rowan spent many evenings boxing in working men's clubs, school halls and hotels across the country.

“I didn’t eat junk food at all…I remember going to house parties and I’d empty out [a can of alcohol] and fill it up with water.”

It’s clear his passion for the sport and his fellow boxers has never left him, “It was a beautiful thing.”

“The respect you automatically have for each other when that last bell rings, you’re forever bound by that moment.”

After an injury left him unable to box for sixteen months, Rowan threw himself into acting and discovered his passion for the art.

However, boxing is a craft he has managed to put to good use in his latest role in Peaky Blinders. “You could say it’s a dream role where I could merge the two passions together.

“I hit the jackpot with it being such a good show like Peaky Blinders.”

Rowan secured the role of gypsy boxing champion Bonnie Gold in the fourth series by sending in a video that he had recorded on his phone on a makeshift tripod of pillows and a bent spoon, which featured two minutes of him shadow boxing.

The period drama, known for its highly stylised 1920s aesthetic, centres around the notorious Peaky Blinders in a post-World War I Birmingham, based on the eponymous real-life gang who dominated the city’s criminal underworld in the early 20th century.

“You felt like you were in the 1920s, especially in the boxing arena,” he says of the atmosphere on set. “Everyone outside the ring was shouting and they’ve all got suits on and smoking. You’ve got this sweat on you and you feel like you’re in a dog fight, you really feel like you’re in that era.”

His first day on set threw him into scenes with industry heavyweights Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy and Aidan Gillen; an intimidating moment for any young actor.

“It was daunting but it was a fuelling feeling. I [was] like ‘we’ve got here, let’s embrace it, let’s have it!’”

That enthusiasm paid off as the season ended with the potential for Bonnie’s residency on the show to be extended.

“There’s a line where Tommy Shelby gives me the hat and says, ‘You’re a Peaky Blinder now, son’.”

“When I’m 80 years old, I’ll still be mentioning that like ‘listen, listen, don’t ever forget 2017, I‘m telling you I was [a Peaky Blinder]!’ And everyone’s going, this crazy old man, leave him in the corner.”

“When you whip on that flat cap you feel different, I feel like I’m one now.”

Jack Rowan was nominated for Actor - Male alongside Stephen Graham and Sean Bean at the RTS Programme Awards 2018 in partnership with Audio Network. For more information on the awards, click here.

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Polite, warm and modest, Jack Rowan is a far cry from the calculated psychopath he plays in the Channel 4 drama series Born to Kill.