Here come the boys: The next generation of British acting talent

The emerging pack of young British actors share more than passion and talent – rather than spending years at drama school, they've been learning their craft on the job
  • @GerardVGilbert

Seems like more than a coincidence, but of our chosen five young male actors rising behind the likes of Nicholas Hoult, James McAvoy and Robert Pattinson, none attended full-time drama school – four of them had flourishing film and TV careers by the age when actors traditionally apply for Rada and the rest. "I thought that, rather than taking three years out, I could continue to work and learn," says Jamie Campbell Bower. "I'm a big believer in experience being the best teacher." And Douglas Booth recalls that when he first got an agent, at the tender age of 14, the agent told his mother that, "'When you come out of drama school there are all these kids coming out, competing at the same time.' So what I managed to do was to get ahead of the game."

Craig Roberts, whose fresh-faced breakout role came in the indie film Submarine, is equally bullish. "I don't think [drama school] is anything you need now," he says. "I find directors would rather cast some random guy off the street. Otherwise I guess everyone's trained the same and no one's real enough." And they don't come much more "street" than our fifth chosen actor, Kane Robinson, aka rapper Kano, who's making the transition from music to acting in his mid-twenties. Not that he's found the process straightforward. "People think that because I'm used to being in front of the camera it should be easy for me," he says. "But in music I'm always trying to be myself, so it was hard getting used to pretending to be someone else." Anyone who saw Robinson's searing portrayal of ambitious drug dealer Sully in last week's Channel 4 drama Top Boy will sincerely hope that's not being anything like himself.

Douglas Booth, 19

Booth got his first agent aged 14 while attending Saturday classes at London's Guildhall School. "Some of my friends had agents and it sounded cool – but I'd no idea what it meant."

He has already played Boy George in the BBC biopic Worried About the Boy, and kissed Doctor Who, Matt Smith, in the Christopher Isherwood drama Christopher and His Kind. Next up is his Pip in Great Expectations and playing Miley Cyrus's boyfriend in the remake of the hit French movie LOL: "It's by the people who made Juno and it's not as fluffy as it sounds."

Later this month, Booth is off to Verona to play Romeo to True Grit star Hailee Steinfeld's Juliet in Julian Fellowes' version of the tragic romance.

Advice to young actors... "Never give up – you'll go through so many auditions but that's just the way it is."

Role model... "Leonardo DiCaprio – he has such an aura about him."

See him next in... Great Expectations is on BBC1 this Christmas.

Kane Robinson, 26

Otherwise known as the Brit Award-nominated rapper Kano, Robinson has been making his transition into acting since appearing in Rollin' with the Nines, a 2006 film about a rap group-turned-drug dealers. His breakthrough role was screened all last week by Channel 4, playing Hackney gangster Sully in the drama series Top Boy. "I've been offered scripts over the years," he says, "but I didn't think anything was worth doing until Top Boy came along."

He has finished filming the thriller Tower Block, with a high-profile British cast including Sheridan Smith and Russell Tovey, but also rejected a couple of film offers as not being of sufficient quality: "I want to play stuff people don't expect me to do."

Advice... "Commit to projects; don't be afraid of really going for it."

Role model... "People who've moved from music into acting, like Ashley Walters and Mos Def."

See him next in... Top Boy can still be viewed on 4oD. Tower Block is due for release next year.

George MacKay, 19

MacKay was talent-scouted while at private school in south-west London, and cast as a Lost Boy in the 2003 movie version of Peter Pan, going on to notch up a dozen roles before passing his A levels last year. He gave drama school a miss, but not before an audition at Rada. "It's a very weird waiting-room," he says. "I was the only one sitting; everyone else was yelling and hitting themselves."

He's just back from Suffolk, where he's been filming the title role in the movie version of Private Peaceful, Michael Morpurgo's First World War-set novel of sibling rivalry, and as another Great War Tommy in the Abi Morgan adaptation of Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong. And then it's off to Port Talbot in 1976, as a 16-year-old in coming-of-age movie Hunky Dory.

Advice... "Observe people – not just on set but in social situations as well."

Role model..."I like intense actors such as Michael Fassbender, Sean Penn and Tom Hardy."

See him next in... BBC1's Birdsong, airing in January

Jamie Campbell Bower, 22

Campbell Bower, who went to the same private school, Bedales, as Daniel Day-Lewis and Minnie Driver, won his first role four years ago in Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd, his first leading part as King Arthur in the racy TV costume drama Camelot, and met his fiancée, Bonnie Wright, on the set of Harry Potter. But with two major film releases – as the young Earl of Oxford in the Shakespeare drama Anonymous and as an evil vampire in the new Twilight movies – he's about to take the next step up, not to mention gaining a sizeable teenage female fan club. Still in the realms of supernatural fantasy, next year he plays Jace in the film of the bestselling The Mortal Instruments.

Advice... "Remember where you've come from – it's very easy to lose that connection with reality."

Role model..."Ryan Gosling – I thought Blue Valentine was amazing."

See him next in... Anonymous is on general release now; Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 opens on 18 November.

Craig Roberts, 20

Not many actors graduate from children's channel CBBC to co-starring with Robert De Niro, but Craig Roberts, from near Caerphilly in south Wales, is not just any actor. From roles in The Story of Tracy Beaker and Young Dracula, Roberts is now sharing screen time with De Niro and Cillian Murphy in the upcoming paranormal movie Red Lights – and it's largely down to his performance as reluctant teenage virgin Oliver Tate in Richard Ayoade's directorial debut Submarine. "Richard taught me how to act," he says. "Because of the kid's TV I was so over-the-top; he brought that down."

Next is a best-friend role in Hollywood romcom The First Time, before he takes the lead again in Comes a Bright Day, a romantic heist thriller co-starring Imogen Poots and Timothy Spall. "This, for me," he says, "is my proper follow-up to Submarine."

Advice... "The industry changes you, so hang on to your real friends."

Role models... "I love Dustin Hoffman and James McAvoy, but my biggest inspiration is Eminem."

See him next in... Red Lights is scheduled for release in spring 2012.