Pistol star opens up about the movement that changed a generation.
“I was terrible at music in school”, Dylan Llewellyn tells me on a Zoom call from his home in Surrey. Considering that he’s now playing guitarist Wally Nightingale in Danny Boyle’s latest Disney+ instalment, Pistol, this comes as a bit of a shock.
The show premiered earlier this week in London. The Queen’s Jubilee is also coming up, so it’s all a bit on the nose. But that’s hardly a surprise coming from someone like Boyle.
Starring Maisie Williams, Louis Partridge, Anson Boom, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Emma Appleton and Toby Wallace, the show lifts the lid once more on the intricate relationships between Malcolm McLaren (the band’s manager), his wife Vivienne Westwood, the supposedly almost-marriage between Chrissie Hynde and both Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten, and evidently the band’s complicated relationship.The six-episode series is based on Steve Jones’ 2017 memoir Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol.
It’s certainly uncharted territory for the 29-year-old actor. Born in Surrey, Llewellyn studied Drama at Moor School House and started his career in 2009 with film short Travel Bag. In 2011, he began playing Martin “Jono” Johnson in the soap opera Hollyoaks and also in the spin-off Hollyoaks Later. Since 2018, the actor has garnered a bit of a cult following after playing James Maguire in the Channel 4 sitcom Derry Girls, which ended in an hour–long special last week.
In Pistol, Llewellyn plays Wally Nightingale, lead guitar player of The Swankers which later on became The Sex Pistols. Nightingale was kicked out of the band in its early days as ‘he wasn’t cool enough because he wore spectacles’. So, where does that leave Llewellyn’s character? Too punk for mainstream society, not punk enough for The Sex Pistols. Sounds like punk purgatory. “I just think it’s important that Danny Boyle added Wally Nightingale to the narrative in the first place. Because every cog is important when building a machine,” Llewellyn says of his character.
The 29-year-old actor has mostly played ‘the good guy’ if you look at his career. Which is surprising considering how versatile he is as a performer. And I only spotted that about a couple of weeks ago when Llewellyn was getting ready for our cover shoot in a hidden townhouse on Denmark Street, one number down from where The Sex Pistols lived during their golden years.
I wondered if the rock’n’roll hotel Chateau Denmark was the best place for our shoot, but it turned out to be the only place that could capture the energy of the moment. With innuendos and naughty corners, the venue is effectively inspired by The Sex Pistols. Imagine uncomfortable spikes on chairs, floors matted in skin-like leather and headboards with ‘God Save The Queen’ plastered all over.
As Llewellyn walks up and down the stairs in neon lights for our final motion shot, it feels like he took in all of Denmark Street’s intense energy and channeled it for the camera. The photographer follows his lead and goes, ‘Can you walk up the stairs a bit more suspiciously this time, please?’ – and he does. And he nails it. Somehow. Actors, eh?
His persona is miles away from the Dylan that showed up that very moment. How can someone so sweet suddenly seem so evil? I’m intrigued at the very least. “I did a short Irish film called Reavey Brothers,” he recalls, “and I was just having some drinks and hanging out with my Irish castmates, and they were joking around with me, in a little brother kind of way. It was all good fun. And I just thought – what if I messed with them and just switched in my head? And I completely changed my facial expression and gave them a dirty look, like ‘what the hell’ – and the room went quiet. They were like, ‘Oh my god, Dylan. I’ve never seen you like this before.’ They were so shocked.”
Maybe a villain part is in the works for him in the future. After all, new beginnings are now our focus since the premiere of Pistol saw the actor at the precipice of a new chapter. “I want to break America one day and work on a franchise that’s got a presence on both sides of the Atlantic,” the actor says. And there’s no better way to kick that off than working with Disney and Danny Boyle.
“I didn’t know Danny Boyle was attached to the show during the audition process. It was all very under wraps. The project was quite vague,” Llewellyn recalls. “The only thing I knew was that it was about The Sex Pistols. I first auditioned for one of the other band members, and I felt like I did an amazing tape. I thought, ‘I’m gonna get at least a well done.’ Like decent feedback, you know? And I didn’t hear anything for a while. Then, a couple of weeks later, I got a call saying that I didn’t get the part, but they loved my tape. And they went like, ‘Would you like to read for Wally Nightingale on a zoom call with Danny Boyle?’ Casual.”
With a project like Pistol, it’s vital to consider the ripple effect that the punk movement had on society in the 60s. “There are loads of details that people don’t realise, with Malcolm [McLaren], Vivienne Westwood, and Chrissie Hynde. They’re all cogs to the machine and to the movement. People don’t realise that there’s just so much to it. So many things had to happen to make The Sex Pistols what they were and shape the punk movement.”
Punk wasn’t just a movement; it was a social identity. The subculture splattered its influences everywhere, from music, clothing, and demeanour to a political stance. It was a social identifier, and its ramifications expanded further than people were aware of. “The punk movement even had influences over reggae music, apparently. They had that tie to them with freedom of expression and not being held down, you know? So, everyone’s influenced each other. And that’s the beautiful thing about music,” says Llewellyn.
But despite the high profile director, gigantic production house and one of the most poignant social documentaries/fiction mini-series of 2022, the most important thing for Llewellyn was his relationship with his crew. And for anyone looking for longevity in the film industry, that’s the road that needs to be taken. “Even just working with Boyle was a bucket-list accomplishment. And having a good relationship with him and Gail Stevens. It’s always wise to make a good impression on people in this industry. Because you want to remember each other, you want to have a good connection,” he rightfully points out.
While destined for great things, he’s also got his principles in place. What part did acting play in the way that he carries himself today? “When I was younger, I was really shy and I just wasn’t very confident, and I’m never, you know, the life of the party. I’m more of a listener. I get on better in smaller groups where it’s me and two friends. I’m more out there. Whereas if it’s a big group, I’m normally hiding behind people. But that’s just me as a person. With acting, I feel like it’s not me. I’m hiding behind a mask. I can just express myself through that character. And be like – it’s not me. I’m just hiding. And I love that about it. I think that it helped me as a person. And it has helped me personally in growing my confidence,” says the actor.
Not just confidence, but character development as well when you look at the bigger picture. We’re all mirrors of our environment, except that Llewellyn knows exactly when to take the mask off and call it a day. It’s not smooth sailing, but the results are something that he should be proud of. “I think acting definitely helps you with all those emotional capabilities and intelligence because emotional intelligence is a huge part of acting and reading people. I’m trying to keep things as natural as possible and make the characters as authentic as possible. So there’s definitely been a real learning curve,” Llewellyn confesses.
As far as the future goes – who knows. If our cover shoot is anything to go by, maybe a Joker role isn’t out of the question. But what’s the one thing Dylan Llewellyn doesn’t want to die wondering about? “I’d like to know if there are other universes where we’ve got identical selves living entirely different lives.”
Me too. So how do we find out?
Pistol is out on Disney+ on May 31.
Watch Dylan in Big Boys on Channel 4 on Thursdays at 10 pm or catch up on All 4.
Photography: Joseph Sinclair
Styling: Krishan Parmar
Grooming: Kieron Lavine
Special thank you to Chateau Denmark