Baring it all, the British actor opens up about working with Dakota Johnson, the struggles of maintaining a sense of self in a sometimes superficial industry and why he’s over snobbery in cinema.
It would be wonderful to find just a single interview where Edward Bluemel isn’t described as ‘charming’. Not because he isn’t, but merely because we have access to, you know—the internet. On the internet, you can also find a thesaurus. Yes, it’s incredible, just a click of a button away. You don’t have to risk dropping a 50lb book on your head from your parents’ bookshelf just to have access to synonyms. And what does the thesaurus say when you look up ‘charming’? Here’s a list of adjectives: delightful, absorbing, pleasant, engaging, amiable, magnetic, and the list goes on.
Flattery aside—the 29-year-old actor is all the above and then some. Yet, for reasons entirely alien to me, he chooses to play the ‘fun’ card instead. I suppose he keeps the following more guarded: substance, intelligence, astuteness, wit, precision, grip, self-awareness—and you’ll be adding more as you read on.
We were on the set of our cover shoot two weeks ago today, during what the UK had dubbed ‘the 7th pit of hell’. It was just a heatwave. I have a vague recollection of asking our groomer, Sven, of going for curly hair, yet instead, he chose to go for ‘cloning Orlando Bloom’. The resemblance between Bloom and Bluemel is uncanny. I’m going to blame it on the humidity and the curls. The other thing the two actors have in common is their demeanour. Bluemel not only carries himself with the attitude of a far more seasoned performer but is also potentially the human equivalent of Xanax.
This comes as a bit of a surprise. Considering his projects are pretty premium, you’d expect someone a little big-headed. Not Bluemel, though. After graduating from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, he starred as the title character in Access All Areas (2017). From then on, it’s safe to say he’s been a ‘streaming platform darling’. His portfolio includes the record-breaking Sex Education (2019) and Killing Eve (2019-2022), which should need no introduction.
Currently, he’s starring in Netflix’s Persuasion opposite Dakota Johnson and Cosmo Jarvis. Directed by Carrie Cracknell, Persuasion is ripe for summer—Jane Austen’s last completed novel lit up with Fleabag’s knowing irreverence and lust. Johnson, the only American in the cast, stars as Anne Elliot. At 19, Anne was convinced to end her engagement with her true love, navy man Frederick Wentworth, because he lacked a title and a fortune. She drifts through her mid-20s in grave danger of spinsterhood, when Wentworth returns, handsome, rich, and still deeply pissed off.
Bluemel plays Captain Harville, a character you might not be familiar with unless you’re a proper Austen-head. He only features in about 2 chapters of the book, but what Cracknell did with the character is fascinating. By Austen’s standards, Harville is old, crippled, carrying a cane, and has the magnetism of a wooden Ikea table. Flip that on its head and add Bluemel to the mix (keep the cane, though), and you’ve got an entirely new version of a character that could have quickly plummeted into obscurity.
But what’s the actor’s take on the new adaptation? Does it have the power to draw a new audience to one of the most important British cornerstones of literature? “Jane Austen is a huge cultural icon in the UK. And it does come with an attached audience. A lot of people find nostalgia in her. But there’s also a wider audience out there that doesn’t know her as well as we do. They might have an opinion on Jane Austen’s work—but an unfounded one. Because they’ve never been introduced to it. They might think it’s stuffy, or they might think it’s boring or dated. But we know it’s none of those things. It’s very light, it’s amusing and full of observations. A lot of humour, and the stories are beautiful. So, it’s still very relevant,” Bluemel points out.
“A way of introducing her work to people who might be averse to her writing is to look at it from a completely different angle—which is less about the language that Jane herself was using, and more about putting it in the language that young people speak,” he continues. And he’s entirely correct. The whole point of Persuasion is for people to find a new angle to enjoy Austen from, and then pick up one of her books. So, is Netflix being algorithm-driven or simply clever?
What Cracknell did masterfully was the theatre/cinema blend. As a first-time feature film director, she drew the audience in with the rugged grip you receive from a stage performance. But she kept it fun. In short—“it’s aiming to be comfort food, and there’s no point in being snobby about that,” says Bluemel.
No stranger to treading the boards himself, the difference between theatre and cinema is evident to the young actor. Both on a personal level and from an audience perspective. “It’s so interesting how you notice the things you do that force [the audience] to leave the room, and then the things you do that people love and bring them back in. It means I’m not thinking about my performance for me when I’m on stage—I’m thinking about my performance for them. It’s instantly less vanity in theatre. One of the pitfalls of screen acting is thinking that it’s all about you. It’s just not about me at all,” the actor reflects.
Bluemel is far cleverer than he leads on, yet he’s treading a thin line between being self-aware and self-deprecating. “It took a while for the penny to drop that the way I’m treated on set has nothing to do with me being special,” he continues. “They think I’m so stupid that they won’t let me go to the toilet alone. If I say I’m hungry, they’re like, ‘this is a fucking actor saying he’s hungry; he probably hasn’t eaten today, so he’s going to faint and cost us loads’. When I come in, a car picks me up from my hotel and takes me right to set. It’s because if they were like, ‘get to work on time’—I’d be late, costing them money. They’re not treating you like a prince; they’re treating you like a child,” the actor observes.
Having seen Matthew Vaughn getting picked up and dropped off on set by a helicopter an average of five times a day, I’d argue with Bluemel that maybe, just maybe, it’s also a question of protecting people with a cultural footprint. Especially since he’s now confirmed to take on a lead role in Amazon Studio’s upcoming historical comedy series My Lady Jane.
His observations are, however, a sign of self-awareness in an industry that’s compelling performers into vanity. “Actors, by in large, often have absolute couscous for brains, so that’s the way I’d like to look at it,” he points out rather harshly. But Bluemel himself doesn’t seem to fit the mould he’s describing.
Not to say that the generalisation couldn’t potentially be accurate. However, it doesn’t apply to Bluemel in terms of the way that he conducts his work. “I always try to not turn down auditions and always see the best in a script. Actors tend to be picky about what they work on, and I’ve always tried to avoid that trap. I think it’s good to have a go at everything. So, I try to be open to everything and give it as much of a chance as possible. It’s part of the fun for me.”
Fun is the keyword there. Bluemel is fun. ‘Fun’ is potentially his favourite word too. But was it the incentive for taking a jump into the acting world in the first place? “Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of why I originally went into acting,” he begins. “Sometimes my love for acting just comes from the love of dressing up—it was escapism when I was young,” Bluemel confesses.
Escapism might have played a part in his early days, but where does he stand now on his relationship with ego? “Ego is at the core of many actors. It’s the genesis of why people become actors. They love the feeling, the attention, and the performing. They like being loved and receiving approval. So for me, ego is something that has to be tempered and kept on a leash. But I do think it’s important. You have to back yourself. You’ve got to trust your ego a little bit”.
Many people have tried to bury their egos. But it does have to resurface sometimes. Ego and identity are intertwined. For a man who has to put on a thousand masks for a living, what is his relationship with his own identity? Where does Bluemel start and the actor end? And can he detach from object-referral? All these questions pop up—and it’s only 11 in the morning. “I find detaching very difficult,” he says. “I can’t tell what I look like. And, even when I watch myself, I don’t know if it was good because I can feel it. I can feel when I’m doing something good or not quite there. But what other people think of it is often dramatically different to what I think of it. So I’ve had to learn how to relax and let what they say help me. I’m trying to let go of the ego.”
And in his pursuit, we support him. However young he may be on paper, it doesn’t come across in conversation. For someone who isn’t novel to the intensity of the industry, how much is he willing to sacrifice for it, though? “I know actors who would probably sacrifice personal relationships to get what they want, but that isn’t me. Acting is my job, and I don’t want it to ever affect the people I love. I’m happy to sacrifice time, but that’s where I draw the line,” says Bluemel.
It’s this last note that makes you realise why he’s the human equivalent of Xanax. Because he’s genuine, straightforward, with a no-bullshit policy at heart and a well-defined system of values. Certainty provides calm.
What’s the one thing he doesn’t want to die wondering about, though? “I don’t want to die wondering why BBC 1’s Brighton-based cop drama “Cuffs” (2015) didn’t get a second season.” Fair enough. BBC – care to take this one?
All Clothing Provided By BOSS
Photographer: Joseph Sinclair
Stylist: Krishan Parmar
Director of Photography: Faisal Alam
Film Editing: Ben Garnett
DDW Assistant: Brianna Dennis
Editor: Adina Ilie
Creative Director: André Howard Gayle