British actor Marcus Rutherford discovered his love for acting in his early teens and kept working hard to realise his dream. Resilience and confidence come up when he discusses his journey, and a sense of professionalism and respect for the craft, when he talks of his projects.
In 2018 Marcus took his first steps in front of the camera for the big screen with the central role in Obey, a gripping drama about the 2011 London riots, from first-feature director Jamie Jones. His powerful performance was received with critical acclaim and earned Marcus a British Independent Film Awards nomination for Most Promising Newcomer. As he’s becoming one to watch in the near future of cinema, we sit down with Marcus to hear more.
Elena Stanciu: Your interest for acting started quite early – was it a certain film or performance that attracted you in particular? Did you ever have moments of doubting this career choice?
Marcus Rutherford: I've always loved film. When I was younger my mum would put on old Danny Kaye films; I'd watch them repeatedly. I remember the first time I saw Stand by Me when I was about eight; I was transfixed by how good all the performances were. From there on, my passion and curiosity to seek out exciting films continued to grow. It definitely took a while to fully allow myself to pursue this career path. Around 17 – 18, when everyone was choosing universities and courses, to suddenly delve in to the world of acting seemed so unconventional and incredibly daunting. So, it took me a few years to mature and develop the confidence and resilience to give it a shot.
ES: You’ve recently had your big screen debut, with your role in Obey, which also earned you a BIFA nomination. What did you find to be a challenge when playing Leon?
MR: I guess not being from London or Hackney, like some of the other actors, meant that I had to think about how to authentically portray a young lad growing up in that area. It was pretty much my first time on a set, so I tried my best to not get intimidated or distracted by all the commotion occurring around me.
ES: I imagine this experience came with a lot of “firsts” – what was the most inspiring lesson/ takeaway from working on this film?
MR: Just learning how a crew and cast operate was a significant lesson for me. Also understanding how each individual job on set is instrumental in enabling you to give the best performance you can.
ES: You’ve described acting as “escaping” – I really like this idea, especially because it sounds like a paradox – hiding in the spotlight. Could you elaborate on this? What are you escaping from?
MR: I just love that there's an infinite number of worlds, stories, characters, and lines to be created. I guess it’s quite cathartic, as actors can find themselves being selfish, sly, outlandish, or farcical, alongside several other traits the average person tries to suppress in order to conform to societies desired behaviour.
ES: As a young actor just entering the industry – what do you think are the most common barriers for young actors trying to “make it?” How can they be overcome?
MR: You have to resist becoming fatalistic about things. I think my generation right now have the innate hunger and ambition of young adults coalesced with the impatience and greed that comes with social media. It’s important to make sure you’re doing it fundamentally for the work, whilst also acknowledging that things take time. Having other interests, hobbies, and goals are vital. Acting can sometimes feel like what you're putting in isn't the same as what you're getting out of it. So being able to achieve things in other areas of life I feel is really helpful.
ES: What does “making it” mean to you? Did your ambitions change, as you grew more accustomed with the industry?
MR: To be honest, I don't really know what "making it" means. With this job there will always be a bigger next job or a more exciting role over there, so basing your happiness on some definition of “making it” appears a bit scary. I think being able to work professionally and doing interesting and fulfilling work is the aim. Although I'm not bothered about being visible or known, I'm always very hungry to work on projects that reach a lot of different audiences. If fame is an upshot of the work you've done, then I guess that's fine. Wanting to be famous for the sake of it must just be so exhausting.
ES: In recent years, there’s been increasing pressure on arts and creativity to prove their own worth in a social context – to generate social change and make the world a better place. What’s your own take on this? Have you worked on projects that incorporate this goal?
MR: I think the arts have an integral role within our culture and subsequently are part of the education system. It's a shame it always seems the arts are the last sector to be given funding and the first to have funds taken away, despite the UK being a leading figure across the board in so many realms such as film, music, and theatre. I think it's often overlooked how powerful the arts can be in bringing different groups together whilst exposing and highlighting the corruption and beauty within society.
ES: In the same vein, there’s a lot of talk on representation and stories that deserve to be told, but remain obscure – what/whose story would you like to see being told in cinema, that is currently unexplored?
MR: Representation is so important in cinema, mainly because it often gets conflated with diversity, a concept that in my eyes only skims the surface in implementing change. It's encouraging to see a lot more representation for ethnic minorities on screen with more stories focusing on the LGBTQ community as well. With what's going on politically in the UK right now, I feel there are some many different groups with their grievances being ignored. Hopefully films will touch more on these issues and will be able to uncover them, like, for example, the incredible I Daniel Blake (dir. Ken Loach) did.
ES: Is there something you’d never do, as an actor? Under what circumstances would you say no to a role?
MR: If I felt the creatives behind making the project had ulterior motives or an ignorance towards portraying a group of people. It's hard at the embryonic stages of your career to say what you'd be willing to say no to something, but I guess anything that ethically compromises what I believe in would be a no.
ES: What are you looking forward to in 2019?
MR: Just to gain more experience of the industry and to hopefully continue to work on exciting projects with creative people.