The clothes make the man. Johnny Flynn does the outfit
Philadelphia Weekly’s AD Amorosi spoke with Johnny Flynn the day before The clothe geared up, to discuss androgyny, gangsters, Bowie and more.
PW/AD Amorosi: Not just because you played Jane Austen’s David Bowie and Mr. Knightley. Not just because you’ll be playing Dickie Greenleaf. And not just because you wear Zac Posen couture clothes well. There’s something about all of your roles that seems to be aware of the humanity of sexual duality, of the gender flow of feminine and masculine. I’m curious to know is who you are as a person or is that part of acting.
Johnny Flynn: A big part of that is who I am. Exploring gender and sexuality as an actor, all of these signals, however, are always fascinating. When looking at a character, you not only have to consider who they are, but also what the fullness of their experiences are. And sensuality and sexuality are an integral part of this experience. In that regard, I definitely think of David Bowie and the masculine/feminine aspect of it all. Interestingly, the last time I worked with Mark Rylance was as a woman. He and I have appeared in Shakespeare’s Globe Theater productions of Richard III, where I played Lady Anne, opposite Mark who was courting me. I also played the role of Viola/Cesario in Shakespeare’s Globe production twelfth night with Rylance too.
PW/AD Amorosi: Considering the masculine/feminine, why do you choose the films you make to act in?
Johnny Flynn: I think I’m picky about the choice of my roles, especially if there are two things going on at the same time within the character. it doesn’t have to be obvious. Every idea of who a character is shouldn’t fall off the page. In the case, say, The clothe, I’ve read the script and its mysteries aren’t obvious even when you think they might be. It’s also often the people around the film, like Mark.
PW/AD Amorosi: Because there is this shortcut between you, something innately telegraphed.
Johnny Flynn: Yes. Also, many of my choices now – especially now – are driven by the fact that time is short for us humans. Not that I would play any role, but look what’s happening in our world. I feel like I’m in a pressure pot. Time is speeding up. I celebrate my birthday this week. And I have children. And it’s not like I feel particularly old, but I do feel the responsibilities of adulthood. I want to tell good stories. I want to tell meaningful stories. I want to tell funny stories.
PW/AD Amorosi: Entertainingly and meaningfully, another very transformative aspect of the roles you play is that they’re all very costume-driven. I don’t want to remove your agency here. But from David Bowie’s Mr. Fish gear to what you’re doing bathed in Zac Posen’s gear, you can feel your sentiment for a good costume. How do you choose the clothes? How do clothes choose you? These outfits look like totems.
Johnny Flynn: I appreciate you pointing out something about me. Yeah, I’m a person who’s very driven by the character’s clothing or outward physical elements. I rely a lot on clothes actually. It influences the internal. Who are they aligned with on what’s crucial? In the case of David Bowie, the lines were drawn as much by his clothing design and makeup as by his music. The clothes have changed with his songs, his styles. With Francis in The clothethe lines of his clothes – the broad shoulders, the weight of the material – as soon as I tried them on, I immediately thought of the suits worn by Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra.
PW/AD Amorosi: Are you referring to Sinatra and Brando being in guys and dolls?
Johnny Flynn: Oh. Yes. Exactly. I played Sky Masterson in my first school musical growing up. These two were part of my life through my father, they were my heroes. Sinatra in particular and how he negotiated his characters in films such as The Man with the Golden Arm, Manchurian Candidate and From here until eternity. Sinatra was masterful. Brando too. When I put the costumes in The clothe, the cut, the weight of the fabric, the double-breasted… there was power from the shoulders down. A lot of the combination has you playing against it, because it has you playing against it. Clothes make the man, but you make the clothes sing.
PW/AD Amorosi: And again, it looks like you’re playing against the stereotype and using the masculine and feminine to find Francis’ snake-i-ness all decked out in gangster high fashion.
Johnny Flynn: It’s funny. Thinking of Francis, and the other actors with whom I shared dressing rooms in The clothe. When you do that, you chat, you get ready for a scene, and you start to see how another actor works when they dress. How their costume line affects their character, how they project who they are through their clothes. I try to use all the tools and all the signs that I can as an actor to tell the story. Sometimes watching how someone else fits and operates in their clothes… that second skin is as valuable as any acting exercise you can name.