In the lead up to the BAFTAs on Sunday night, EE Rising Star nominee Josh O’Connor admits that he doesn’t expect to win against Black Panther’s Daniel Kaluuya.
Speaking exclusively to Metro.co.uk, the 27-year-old rather humbly admits to his expectations of the night and why he believes now is the perfect time for queer and diverse films in the industry.
The actor from Cheltenham currently stars in the Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country, the only UK-based production to feature in the world drama category at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival where it won the world cinema directing award.
Josh, who is also up against Thor’s Tessa Thompson, Lady Macbeth’s Florence Pugh and Call Me By Your Name’s Timothée Chalamet for the Rising Star award, revealed that he is just pleased to be in the same category with actors he admires.
‘It’s so hard to say,’ he said when we asked him to explain why he has no expectations. ‘I’m just so honoured to be nominated with a group of actors that I am a massive fan of. All of them individually are extraordinary, so just to be looped in with those guys is very special to me.’
Josh won the Best Actor award at the British Independent Film Awards for his role in God’s Own Country in December, and shared with us his utter shock at the prospect of winning that even when they called out his name he stayed in disbelief.
‘I was nominated alongside my idols,’ he said speaking of Jamie Bell and Paddy Considine. ‘I 100% was not expecting to win it and I had also never won anything before.’
‘So when they called up my name, it was so weird and it was very special for me,’ he relocated as he called the moment ‘the highlight of his career’.
And when we suggested the same may just happen at the Baftas, his response was nothing short of nervous laughter as he responded with ‘who knows?’
His humility is endearing and a breath of fresh air, but it is also surprising as God’s Own Country, a gritty love story set in rural Yorkshire, has been a standout amongst queer cinema this past year and has rightfully steered Josh into the spotlight.
While the on-screen chemistry between Josh and co-star Alec Secareanu is being praised as one of the reasons for its critical acclaim and 99% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Josh believes that British films are at the forefront of pushing boundaries and thinks that now is the perfect time for diversity.
‘I have an immense pride in British film,’ he announced. ‘Likewise, with European films, they have been at the forefront of pushing conversation that might otherwise be lost.’
Debuting to rave reviews at Sundance Film Festival, the film immediately drew comparisons to Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, primarily because of the rural setting and that it features two men in love. However, to say it’s simply a retread would be a disservice to a unique and nuanced story.
‘I would say, the comparisons are wonderful because we love Ang Lee,’ he admitted. ‘We love that film and the performance of that film. Everything about it is just stunning.’
However, The Durrells star adds that although both films are easily comparable, they do hold some difference as ‘this film deals with a character who can’t love not because he is socially oppressed’.
He elaborates further: ‘He can not love because he can not articulate his emotions to be being vulnerable and opening himself up to love and be loved.
‘So whilst we relish the fact that we are being compared to a beautiful film made by Ang Lee, I would say they are totally different films.’
On the note of comparing two queer films to each other, Josh also hopes that the film industry reaches a stage where Queer films aren’t limited to their topical themes but are seen as ‘just films’.
After seeing Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, a coming of age movie about a black gay man, win Best Picture at the Oscars last year, Josh hopes now will be the time for a further change.
‘Hopefully, we get to the stage where it is not about two queer films winning an Oscar and it is about two these two films just winning,’ he said.
‘Maybe, we will start to see [queer] films being acknowledged as films as and no longer as just a genre or niche films. Just cinema. Quality cinema.’
Josh, who will soon start filming BBC’s Les Miserables: Minis Series with David Oyelowo and Lily Collins, has some words of advice for up and coming actors.
His advice? To embrace fear!
‘The very fact that I feel the fear means that I’m doing it right,’ he told us. ‘And I think the very day I stop being scared of giving everything I got in performance is the day that I should probably call it quits.’
He paused thoughtfully before adding: ‘Fear is a beautiful thing in showing vulnerability and it is really important.’
His final advice piece of advice is even more poignant.
‘Enjoy it and try and find creativity and beauty in everything that you do,’ he finally added.
Josh is nominated for the EE Rising Star Award, which is the only award the public can vote for at the EE British Academy Film Awards. You can vote for Josh here before the deadline on 16 February at 12pm.
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