It all began with a production of Jonathon Lewis’s ’A Level playing Field,’ on a small London stage. Four months of relentless video audition tapes later, Abraham Lewis landed his first ever movie, that just so happened to be in Hollywood.
Securing a role in John Mitchell’s ‘How to Talk to Girls at Parties’, alongside Nicole Kidman and Elle Fanning, marked just the start for Lewis’s famed future. The young star is set to appear in Sky Atlantic’s ‘Guerrilla’, written by John Ridley who bought us ‘12 Years a Slave’. Despite growing up with parents who were actors and naturally, attempting to do everything in his power not to follow in their footsteps, (as every child does) Lewis could not escape his love for acting. We managed to find a slot into Lewis’s busy day to talk about his new projects and working with the stars.
When did you first decide you wanted to do acting? I read your parents are actors too, how did they inspire you?
You kind of never really want to do what your parents want to do, so I definitely didn’t want to be an actor when I was growing up, I wanted to be a lawyer and have a respectable job! They exposed me to a lot of culture at a young age that I was really grateful for. I’ve always loved cinema in particular and so developed an interest in acting through my interest in cinema.
What aspects of cinema interested you?
It was cinema in general, I watched a lot of old films when I was younger, ‘Cinema Paradiso’ I remember really well and ‘Great Expectations’ with John Mills, all that sort of stuff. We used to go on holiday to France and there used to be no TV, I remember you had to read books or watch TV and I did both all the time.
When did you get into stage acting?
I did a school play when I was eleven and I got in loads of trouble for not going to the rehearsals. I got a Saturday detention, which put me off drama until I was about seventeen. Through watching loads of movies and going to see plays with my parents I wanted to have a go and I think theatre at school is the best way to do that.
Do you remember the first show you were in?
The first show I was in properly was ‘Lysistrata’ by Germaine Greer, I played literally the third guy from the right. I think an agent came to that and wanted to sit down and talk with me but I felt the time wasn’t right to do any of that. Then I did a play outside of school, ‘Punk Rock’ by Simon Stevens that I produced and directed with a mate at a really small theatre. That for me was mind blowing, because at school there’s normally a cast of 30 and that’s fun but its more social. But we really took this play seriously. It exposed me to “proper acting” and that’s where I really fell in love with it all.
You are starring in ‘Guerrilla’, what’s the show about?
So, the show is about a couple in 1971; Freida’s (Pinto) character is an Asian woman who is with Max Boot, a black man. The couple live together in London and are trying to get involved with black activism and the fight for equal social rights. Something happens, I won’t give it away and they decide to become quite radical in what they do and break someone out of jail. The story follows their adventure and the people trying to catch them, who are on the black power desk, a real police desk, dedicated to crushing black activism. They used to get policeman who had been brutalised in places like Zimbabwe and they were not very sympathetic to black rights. I play the son of the police chief
What interested you about ’Guerrilla’ to want to get involved?
I was interested in John Ridley and all of his work, so when I heard he was going to be in the meeting room I said “Hell yeah!” I had been doing a short film where my character was an absolute emotional wreck and the audition scene for my character in Guerrilla was breaking down, similar to what I had been doing in the film. The short film had many night shoots, so I had been up for five nights when I did the audition, it made it all pretty real!
Another one of your projects is ‘How to Talk to Girls at Parties’ with Nicole Kidman and Elle Fanning, how was that?
That was crazy! It was my first job before Guerrilla, I did it a year and a half ago now so the wait has been crazy. That was the most amazing experience of my professional life, it was a dream to work with everyone, it’s such a great story with a great bunch of people and I hope we’ve made something quite good.
Was this your first big film job?
Yeah, I’d done a play called ‘A-Level Playing Field’ at a tiny theatre in London and the casting director for ‘How to Talk to Girls at Parties’ came to see it, she emailed the theatre afterwards saying could I put myself on tape. That started a four-month long audition process. It was pretty intense because they wanted the right chemistry between the three boys in the film. It was all about how different actors interact with each other, so they really took their time in casting the characters. It was crazy because I put my life on hold to try get this job, changed everything for me.
I had taken a gap year to do a play and I was supposed to be going on to university (UCL) after that, I always wanted to be an actor and pursue it but this audition took me by surprise, coming sooner than I ever thought was possible.
What was it like working with two of Hollywood’s biggest names, was it as crazy as everyone says it is?
Yeah, it was nuts! The whole thing was so implausible and impossible to me that it was happening, every day was a sequence of extremely surreal events and you don’t quite believe it’s real until afterwards, it became such a whirlwind. Going from watching people like Nicole and Elle to John Cameron Mitchell’s movies to then working with them was literally a dream come true. They were so generous and great with me and Alex, who was also in the movie, his first too. He’d been on Broadway but we were both coming into making films completely new.
What’s the biggest difference between being on stage and being behind the camera?
I always think the job is the same, acting is acting it’s just that on your screen playing a conversation and its slightly more naturalistic. Theatre depends on the space you’re in and the audience, everyone has to suspend their disbelief because you’re in a theatre, where on film you don’t have that. The way it was best described to me by another actor is like Rugby Union and Rugby League, the same ball but slightly different rules. I really like them both, theatre for me works best when the theatre isn’t too big, if you get a perfect size, a 400-seated theatre, you can’t beat that immediate feeling you get performing to an audience when everything comes together. I think that’s a very special thing, when everyone’s together in one room experiencing something.
You’ve already worked with some pretty big names, who would be your ultimate on-screen partner?
Definitely Meryl Streep, definitely Daniel Day Lewis and definitely Denzel Washington, I would be extremely lucky to work with any of them!
What do you have planned next?
I want to see what happens with Guerrilla and the film, I’m not too fussed what I do next as long as the scripts really good and the people involved are great.
All episodes of Guerrilla are available from 13 April exclusively on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV.