1883 Magazine
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Most widely known for his role in Skins as a tough guy drug dealer, we meet Joe Cole in a cutesy café on the Kings road. A perfect paradox perhaps against the characters Joe has played to date, we ask if he is worried about being typecast as a tough guy from a council estate, to which he says no, because he’s not that guy. And Joe is everything but: He is charming, composed and completely down to earth.

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Completely humble about his talent, assuring us this is not success yet, and unassuming— he simply came into acting because everything else “flopped.” But fall hard into his calling indeed, Joe’s talent has now been recognised across the industry. As Joe makes his debut film role in Offender this month and is also set to star alongside Pierce Brosnan in a brand new film, for a 23 year-old South West London guy who just fell into acting, Joe isn’t doing too badly. Laughing about the posh lemonade Joe is forced to drink because the Kings Road café doesn’t serve Sprite, Joe tells 1883 about driving around in convertible BMW’s in Skins, how playing on Fat Booth with Matt Lucas led to developing a comedy with him and not getting too ahead of himself, “I could be out on my ear next week and busking in London.” Somehow we don’t think so...

You grew up in London, how did that influence you?

I grew up in Kingston which is quite interesting because it’s in Zone 6, so it’s classed as London, but we always felt like we were a million miles away from London. My school was interesting because a lot of kids from Vauxhall, Brixton and Clapham would go there, so you get a real mix of people—the suburban kids and London kids. I was able to see all different walks of life in the same place and that was helpful for acting.

When did you start acting?

I did drama at school and we had a teacher who made acting feel cool and exciting to be a part of but I never really took it particularly seriously, I never thought I could have a career in it and it’s only when I did the National Youth Theatre that I realised I could do it. I was due to go off to university to do drama, which was the way I was told you have to do it— get a degree first, get the backup plan sorted out, but I messed it all up. I messed up college; I retook and was in my brother’s year in sixth form, it was just shit. But I met a director at the National Youth Theatre, and he said to me ‘you can do it, don’t go to university.’ I needed to start getting moving in London, and use my contacts, so I emailed him every couple of weeks, telling him to put me in one of his plays, and eventually he did. So I fell into it a bit, because everything else flopped.

You are most widely known for your role in Skins. I grew up watching the show, as did many; did you feel pressure to join the cast?

No not at all, the people in that show are very experienced, the crew have seen every sex position and drug; they’ve done it all, it’s very relaxed and it’s very fun. They want it to be as natural as possible. I was very excited because Skins was a show that started when I was in Sixth form, so I knew it would be great fun. We shot out in Morocco, doing big party scenes and I was driving around in a drop top BMW— as a young actor it was a really fun job.

Have your parents seen it?

Yes, my mum is waiting for me to do something where I don’t have a sex scene.

It has been said that your character was the most stylish character ever on Skins. Are you into fashion?

I like fashion. I’m just not very fashionable. Keeping up with it is a bit of a nightmare. I used to dress quite indie and was going to places like Koko, but now I just try and keep it simple, I’m all about the skinny jeans and the plain white t’s, and if I meet you again I will probably be wearing a similar number.  I just try and keep it as simple as possible.

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Your first film Offender is out this month. How was it working on a film? Was it completely different to TV?

It was different with the subject matter; it was a very masculine film. It is set in a prison, in a young offender’s institutes, with mostly men on set— tough men. On Skins there’s a lot more women. It was different in that respect. And it was a very full on role, I had a lot more to do, a lot more range in terms of emotion, fighting and getting into shape. I had to physically be in the right way because that’s what the world demands. So all that stuff took it out of me, it was a really full on tough shoot, but I think that’s what comes across in the film, they’ll see how gritty and real it is.

Have you always liked those British gritty gangster films?

Yeah I’m a big fan of gritty stuff like Shane Meadows. Like This is England and Dead Man’s Shoes.

You were at the Ill Manors premiere. What did you think of the film, it has had quite bad reviews...

It’s an interesting one because I think Plan B is exceptionally talented and you can tell that the guy is going to do big things in the directing world. In Ill Manors there was perhaps a bit too much going on and there were six stories all woven in—it was hard to keep track of everything that was going on. But the guy has potential; you watch that and know the next thing he does will be something special and something to look out for.

You’ve had a lot of praise, someone saying your acting was ‘nothing short of stunning’ in Offender

What looks wise?! I’m joking. That’s very kind, I put a lot of work into it so I hope there is some positive reaction, but I try not to listen to reviews, if I feel like I’ve done my job, then I move onto the next thing. Then it’s up to the public to watch it and make their judgement, some people will like it and some people won’t, as long as I felt prepared and I did my job, that’s all I can do.

You’re also going to be in The Hour, how was it filming?

It’s cool and very different. It’s a 1950’s Newsroom drama, with Ben Whishaw who’s playing Q in the new Bond film and Dominic West from The Wire which is one of my favourite shows, so it’s got the real big boy actors and it was just a pleasure to be in the same room as them. I’m looking forward to seeing it.

You’re going to be in the film Now Is Good, which stars Dakota Fanning. How was it working with her?

Hats off to her, she’s 17 years old and has been in the limelight since she was 6. I couldn’t do that. With me it takes a strong willed and minded person to do that. I did a couple of days with her and she was lovely. I was also working with Kaya Scodelario. I play her boyfriend. She’s from that whole Skins camp so she was great and really cool to work with.

You’ve dabbled in Theatre too; do you have a first love; film, TV, Theatre?

I started off doing Theatre and I’m glad I did because I feel confident when I’m on stage and how to deliver in terms of voice and the rest of it. But since I’ve done television and film that’s where I’ve found my true calling. I love film, you do the job and that’s enjoyable, but that’s only the beginning. Then the film comes out, your friends see it and people talk about it and then it comes out on DVD. You return to it in 5 years, and you say do you remember that film, if it’s any good of course. I just want to tell stories and I want to do it on the biggest scale possible.

Who would you love to work with?

In the UK, it would be Paddy Considine, he’s just got into directing and I think he’s fantastic, and Shane Meadows is obviously the man about town. Also Nicolas Winding Refn who did Drive and Bronson, he’s really talented. In terms of actors, everyone probably says this but Tom Hardy, I take a lot of influence from him, and Johnny Harris from This Is England 86, his performance in that blew me away.

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What does the rest of this year have in store for you?

I’ve just landed a part in a new film with Pierce Brosnan and Imogen Poots, playing Imogen Poots’ trustafarian boyfriend. He’s a pill head, for want of a better phrase. I’ve also been developing my own show with Matt Lucas...

Is this your first time writing?

Yes, I wrote that a while ago and now I’m trying to get it to the level it’s got to be at.

How did it all come about?

It’s funny because I had a bit of downtime from acting and I had an idea for comedy which was based in my home town of Kingston, and it was loosely based on friends and relationships that I’ve had or seen, although it’s not about that now, and I did Come Fly With Matt and David Walliams. And you know Fat Booth on the iPhone— where you take a photo and make your face really fat, well Matt did that to me so I had his private email address, so I wrote the show and cheekily sent it to him. I sent it to everyone in the industry that I knew and at the time which was about 5 people and he got back to me and said yeah I’ll read it. We Skyped and he was incredibly positive about it and now we’re in a position where we’re developing it and pushing it forward and it’s all very exciting.

Have you worked in LA yet? Would you like to work in the U.S?

No I haven’t, but I just want to go where the best work it, there is more money out there which might attract better directors and actors. But I’m not just about to jump on any old job because they are offering such and such a price. For me it’s just working with the best people, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself, I’ve only done one film, I could be out on my ear next week and busking in London.

How do you know if a part is right for you?

If a part has depth and there is something that I can play emotionally, if there is a challenge there and something that is different to myself, then I relish that. In Skins I played a drug dealing horrible young man and it was a really interesting character. Likewise with Offender, it’s about a young man who has to commit crimes to get into prison to seek revenge and that is a very extreme situation, so I had to find the truth and the realism in that. It was incredibly hard work, if something is as hard as that was, ultimately you get the rewards.

Do you worry about getting typecast as a tough guy?

No because I’m not that guy, unless you think I am. I am different to those parts; I’m a pretty regular bloke. It’s interesting because from an early age I used to get ‘how do you feel about getting type caste as a chav.’ And that was worse, it seems like whatever you do people say you are being type caste. It’s important that you find something that works for you at the beginning of your career then branch out and expand. I’ve played a rapist in The Bill, a gunman in Holby City, I still play slightly horrible parts but now they are from different places in society, not just a council estate kid.

How do your friends and family feel about you success?

I wouldn’t say it is success because I haven’t been going that long, if you look at my CV it is as short as my little finger really. But my family are proud of me and my friends always bring me back down to earth and take the piss at every opportunity, which I love. But where I was 3 or 4 years ago was a very different place, I’d failed at my exams, my relationships , my love life wasn’t going well and I was living in a box room in my house with my little brothers and it was all a bit up in the air. From there to now, my parents are glad to see I am doing slightly better, and not getting on their wick back at home.

Have you moved out now?

Yes, a while ago, I had to move out, it was all kicking off at home.

Where about do you live now?

Kensington

Oh very posh..

Yes very posh, I’m glad they had me..

And what’s the dream?

Initially at this stage it is to get another job, I just want to work with the best people and the best teams with the most interesting roles. And ultimately try to inspire young people in the way that I was inspired. I was lucky enough to meet people in my life to show me that it could be done and I’d love to go back and show young people that they can also do the same and achieve their dreams.

Offender is out now.

Words by Elspeth Merry

Photography by Asher Herr

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