It’s been a busy time for rising British star Edward Holcroft. Fresh from dazzling as Thomas Wintour in the BBC series Gunpowder and reprising the part of Charles “Charlie” Hesketh in the Kingsman sequel, the 30-year-old is also the leading man in the Netflix adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, alongside Sarah Gadon and Anna Pacquin.
In the Toronto-set Alias Grace he plays Dr Simon Jordan, an educated physician and alienist who is interviewing convicted murderer Grace Marks, who tells him the story of her life and recalls the abuse she suffered as a child.
“I knew little about the medicine at the time,” says Holcroft, who immersed himself in books on the 1840s and was surprised to discover how un-advanced Canada and the world were on mental health issues at the time. Having been sent the script, he read the novel, written by an author who he had only heard of because an ex-girlfriend had mentioned reading a couple of Margaret Atwood books to him.
Following the Emmy award-winning success of The Handmaid’s Tale, novelist Atwood is hot property for television adaptations right now. Holcroft admits he watched the Elisabeth Moss-starring TV series with some trepidation after hearing all the rave plaudits, worried that Alias Grace may pale in comparison. But, having watched The Handmaid’s Tale, he thought the buzz would help Alias Grace “in the sense that people would be intrigued”.
The actor read as much about the economic, social, political and cultural climate at the time when preparing to play Dr Jordan, who is the latest in the long line of debonair television doctors. “For me, the best part of the job is the bit leading up to filming,” says Holcroft. “Because that is where your curiosity is being satisfied,” he says.
One of the things he always does when preparing for a role is to try and get into a character’s head, much in the same way Dr Jordan is chiselling away at Grace. Holcroft spouts: “When you study a character you always look at the childhood and what forms.”
With a dad in the army and a mother who was once the publisher of Vanity Fair, the words “posh upbringing” are probably the first that come to mind with Holcroft. It’s the first impression you get when you meet with the West London-based actor, but his youth was a nomadic existence that led to his chosen profession.
“I went to a boarding school from the age of 8, a prep school in Oxford called Summerfields, and then a catholic school in Yorkshire called Ampleforth, which is run by monks,” he says. The result is: “You are always a bit of a nomad when you go to boarding school, because you don’t spend time at home, you see your parents very rarely, so you don’t really have roots when you’re growing up, because you’re not growing up at home and I’ve always thought that acting is a bit like that, you’re a nomad, you spend a lot of time moving, you meet people and are forced through circumstances where you have to get on with people in a very short space of time and become very intimate and trusting of them very quickly and then you’re up and you’re off.”
His first passion was drumming. He used to tap on tables at school from the age of 4, so much so that he was often kicked out of classes because he was tapping so incessantly. Eventually, when he was a teenager, a friend told him to go and tap on drums, and he did. He got a drum kit at Christmas and spent seven hours a day practising, before enrolling in music school. When around fellow drummers, he realised that not only were they better than him, but they also wanted it more. So his next move was to head to Oxford Brooks where he studied philosophy and music.
Access unlimited streaming of movies and TV shows with Amazon Prime Video Sign up now for a 30-day free trialSign up
It was a friend at university who put Holcroft in a play, after saying he had the perfect role for him: Mark from the Gospels. It was a spoof on the Last Supper and Holcroft decided he wanted to put all his eggs into the acting basket.
His method of pursuing a career in acting was novel, to say the least. “I’d seen a film called Hunger, and I remember seeing Michael Fassbender in it and I thought he was pretty good. So I Googled him and it said that he went to the Drama Centre, and that was the first school that I applied to and I got in and haven’t looked back since.”
Since graduating in 2012, he’s been as busy as a Fassbender. He landed the role of the arrogant George Boleyn on BBC’s Wolf Hall. He played a gay code breaker in London Spy opposite Ben Wishaw, appeared on stage at the Donmar Warehouse in a production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses and had a role in the big screen adaptation of The Sense of an Ending before moving onto Gunpowder.
In Gunpowder, which recounted the story of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, through the eyes of Robert Catesby, played by Game of Thrones star Kit Harrington. Holcroft plays his co-conspirator and cousin and his Catholic schooling came in handy for the mini-series, which the actor describes as “trying to paint a picture of this world and how shit it was to be catholic”.
Playing a Catholic should come easily to him considering his schooling, but perhaps the religious side to his personality has fallen by the wayside. When I ask if he’s still practising, Holcroft says: “That’s between me and the big man.”
The actor has also been caught up in the gossip pages. He was linked with Prince Harry’s former sweetheart, the actress Cressida Bonas. He’s a good looking chap with chiselled cheek bones and he’s currently single but dating, and mentions a recent date with a girl to see Wonder Woman. As our conversation flits between movies, he was disappointed with the lack of diversity of the Amazonian women in Wonder Woman; on to sports, he’s a Chelsea fan who likes to play chess and in his short career he’s noticed how American actors are less friendly than British on set. “There is an attitude that some of them have on set, that is different from Colin Firth or Mark Strong.”
‘Alias Grace’ is on Netflix
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies