BBG Presents: Greg Austin

6 March 2017

'Reconnect with the beauty of nature.’

Encased in a grey world of haphazard grey skyscrapers and thick smog fuelled cities, the sheer, simple delights of life are almost forgotten. Once removed from the London hustle, British actor Greg Austin nurtures his valuable relationship with the fascinating artistry the world has so delicately created before him, never neglecting his sordid geeky affair with technology and his beloved computer consoles. An enticing wholeness that calms your senses, a humble and welcome presence - the young actor recently took on a huge new role on BBC1’s brand new exciting Sci-fi thriller ‘Class’.
Photographer Georgia Devey Smith captures Greg’s mature sophistication without neglecting his playful youthfulness. Trapped within a mind that’s old before his years, speckled with charming boyish quirks, Greg enlightens us with his refreshing speculations on the youth of today. Celebrating the generation he is a part of, proudly allowing his geek flag to fly, embracing the individuality of the vast variety of his fellow millennials.
Amidst the scenic Hampstead Heath, he litters his thoughts on his future; ‘as long as I leave this world having put more happiness into it than I’ve subtracted from it, I’ll be happy’. Lewis Evans-Martin sombrely dresses the humble actor in muted earthy tones, planting him comfortably within nature's setting. A comfortable acceptance emanates from his being, firmly in touch with his feminine side, discussing how greatly influenced he has been by his mother and the other strong females that surrounded him growing up. A thoughtful, reflective and engaging man; our conversations with Greg leaves us with a little bit more happiness within.

I want to start by reading a quote your posted on your Instagram, because it was our inspiration for today's shoot; "Spend time in nature. Explore. Walk through the forest, over a mountain, along a beach, whatever. This, along with meditation, is by far the most important for mental well-being. Reconnect with the beauty of nature".
That's quite poetic for me, didn't realise I was capable of that. I think that is me when I'm trying to act lyrical, but I try and hide that from people, because I think they will get pretty bored of that really quickly. But I'm a big nature boy. I love it.

It's a very beautiful quote, where does that come from?
Probably from my parents, as with most things. They always wanted to make sure I had a very strong grounding in nature, being outside and being active. They always took me on walks along the Jurassic Coastline in Dorset where I'm from, and beautiful places on the coast of the South of England, like Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove. I have always loved nature and that's only strengthened as I've gotten older. I do love being inside as well though, 'cause I'm a big geek. I love being in front of a computer.
Did you grow up by the ocean?
Yeah, pretty much. Bournemouth is right on the coast, so I must have never beem more than ten minutes away from the beach. I tried living in London for five years and it wasn't really me, I'm just too much of a country boy I think. It is a big difference and I know a lot of people love the urban lifestyle and I've got to have a bit of that, because I love my technology and being stimulated on that front. I want to settle in the New Forest or somewhere like that eventually, I just love the country too much.
You also mention meditation and mental wellbeing, which is something I'm personally very passionate about. Is that something that's close to your heart?
Yeah, my mum is a bit of a hippie, she always has been and I love her for it. She's a yoga teacher now, so that tells you everything you need to know. I think I've always been quite old for my age mentally, I never really was one to go out and party, and I was always very kinda introspective and old before my time. In the last year especially, I've really found the importance of what I consider good mental health. I think that it's just such an important thing and so many people go through a lot inside their own heads, they are their own worst enemies.
Do you think more so in your generation than in previous generations?
I definitely think it's a trend. The millennial generation have been brought up believing that you can do whatever you want, your dreams will come true, and everything will be given to you, as long as you aim for it - and unfortunately, it just can't happen that way. I think I've been exceedingly lucky, so I think I'm talking from a position of privilege, but a lot of people's dreams don't come true and I've seen that, even for myself. I think people suddenly struggle a lot when realising that not everything is instantaneous. With technology, there's instantaneous gratification with everything, with phones, with dating - anything you do is just like that (snaps fingers), but you find some of the most important things in life don't come that easily. Previous generations have been told that you have to work for it. I can only speak from my experience, but from what I can theorise and from what I can see, is that I think my generation struggles in a very unique way with mental health. As with everything, progress comes at a cost.
That's quite poetically said isn't it?
Oh, thank you. I'm coming out with all sorts of bullshit today aren't I, haha?

Do you have a favourite place to escape to?
I'd say my computer, if we're talking like close to home. It's somewhere I can go and just lose myself and that's where I'll lose myself most of the time. If we are talking nature, then there's an old abandoned mill near where I live and I love going for walks down there. I think you've got to have that balance of both; it really makes for a good life, I suppose.
I think the balance is good. That little geek inside you is cool, I love geeks. Describe your little geek side.
Yeah, I think I lucked out on that on really. I was always gonna be a geek, I just happened to be lucky enough to live in a time where it's kinda cool now.
Let's talk a about your role in BBC TV series 'Class', a spin-off from Doctor Who where you play Charlie; a 'last of his kind prince from an alien planet'. Tell me a little bit more about Charlie. I love that he is a prince.
He is gay as well; 'gay-lien' is what I've heard people say before, got that coined. It's already been brought up by convention goers saying; 'you play the 'gay-lien' right?' I'm like; 'yeah, yeah that's me'. So, Charlie is literally a fish out of water. And when I say literally, his species look like fish. You see a real short clip in the first episode, two seconds of Charlie as an alien, 'cause he looks human most of the time. He's the new boy on earth and in a school trying to fit in. He is still developing as well; a teenager, a prince, he's got to try learn to be human and what it is to be in love. His progression throughout the series is one that mirrors a lot of kids, 'cause I think a lot of kids think they're very much on their own or don't feel like they fit in, and he personifies that feeling I think. He has been great to play and I feel by the end of the series he really finds some semblance of his own humanity, which is really nice.
How does Charlie handle being on earth? Does he fit in?
No. The thing is, he's so wonderfully oblivious, he picks up on these very certain things that you wouldn't think of to pick up on, but it's just because he sees the world slightly different, coming up with very different ideas and has unique ways of looking at things. He definitely doesn't fit in, but by the end of the series he does a bit more in a very weird way. There's a lot of learning of what is kind of socially acceptable. When I was a kid, I never really clicked with the whole "being cool", or knowing what to do in social situations, so I had to very much learn that myself and I drew from that experience. He'll say some inappropriate things or smile or stand too close to someone.
How did he handle the issue of love?
It's an interesting thing because he is gay, or at least that's what he's exploring at this point. I don't think it's ever really set in stone that he's gay. He's in love with Matteusz, this Polish boy in school and he just happens to really like this guy. He doesn't really put much weight on the fact that he is gay, or where that stands, it doesn't really bother him either way. It's just more about being in love, which is really sweet. In London, this decade, this year, it's a lot more accepted than it was, so Patrick Ness, the writer, said he wants to make it as normal as possible. So no one really bats an eye at two boys walking into prom together. It's like; 'be the change you want to see’. He's just devoted to him, it's lovely.
What is it like to play a gay role when you're not gay yourself?
I've been asked this a few times and it's always tricky to answer. It wasn't a big deal. The only issue I could see, and it's the same with a straight relationship on screen, was if I didn't like the person that I was meant to be in love with. Jordan Renzo who played Matteusz - we get on like, ridiculously well. We had to have sex in episode three and we both were a bit like... I'd never done a sex scene, straight or gay, in a show.
That is the one thing I'm thinking must be quite a challenge for actors. How did you deal with that?
I'm not gunna lie, it was a challenge. I think anyone that says that's not a hurdle or some form of challenge is lying, because it's just a big thing. Gay or straight, to get naked and simulate sex in front of cast and crew is always gunna be a bit weird. But we did it and it was fine, it really wasn't a big deal. Everyone was respectful of us and it was just half an hour of grunting that was cut down to about two seconds. Definitely a unique experience. They definitely wanted to portray this relationship in as truthful a way as possible, which I think is completely deserved and necessary. We were just really worried that we'd not portrayed it as truthfully as it should've been, but people seemed to like it.
I guess in acting school there's no 'how to do a great sex scene' class?
Funnily enough, I studied musical theatre, and we did something called 'sexy week'. It's basically a week in which we had to do this dance and then get graded on it, but the idea was to be as sexual as possible to try and get you over that hurdle, 'cause a lot of people obviously find it a bit awkward to be sexually open in front of other people. I've never really had that problem so I was quite happy to, but a lot of people were going nu-uh. Looking back on it, in no other profession would that ever happen, anything remotely close to that.
The other question I had about your role, you're playing someone from a different planet; how does one prepare to play like an alien? Because it's quite hard to research that, can't really go talk to an alien can you?
The way I came at it was, every scene that I was given, I'd try and learn it, and break down each concept. Everything that he saw, just strip away any experience that I would have had with that. Trying to look at things from a completely new perspective, you've got to just question everything. Looking at things through new eyes was the way I approached it and not taking anything that we consider normal for granted. It's a very good way of looking at things actually, 'cause then you get a really unique perspective.
There was something else I read in another interview with you where someone said, "Class finds itself a perfect mix of Doctor Who and Buffy the Vampire Slayer", which made me really excited, as Buffy is one of my favorite shows.
Best show ever made; Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That's what Patrick was going for, he really wanted to bring that Joss Whedon style into the 21st century. It's trying to portray teenage life as truthfully as possible, but with aliens - which is a weird combo. I'm the only teenage alien. Miss Quill, Katherine Kelly, she comes from my planet and she's like my mortal enemy technically.
Oh dear. There must always be a mortal enemy, surely.
Yeah, yeah, there always is. She was great to work with and we really helped each other I think by trying to find that alien-ness.
You know, you look a bit like a prince. You could definitely get away with that.
Thanks. Well, that's probably why I got hired; posh boy. It's all a facade.
One of my passions is watching TV shows that have 'what if' scenarios. What kind of adventures does your character run into?
The main storyline for him is to do with something called the 'Cabinet of Souls', a religious artefact that he takes from his planet when he's saved by the Doctor and brought to Earth, because all of his people have been wiped out by the Shadow King. The cabinet is basically a repository for all of his people's souls when they die, but it's essentially a weapon of mass destruction. By using the energy from each of these souls, it can destroy a species. The Shadow King is bent on destroying the last of Charlie's people, and that's why they keep invading Earth in the series. Charlie's decisions throughout the whole thing, is whether or not he uses this cabinet and wipes out the souls of his entire people to protect the people on earth. The Doctor says in the first episode, 'you shouldn't avenge genocide with genocide'. I won't say any more.
There seem to have been like lots of fan drawings and such things of your onscreen romance with Jordan.
Yes, there has been a lot of fan response over my relationship with Jordan, Matteusz. It's really cool, I love that! I love seeing myself in these fan arts and fan fictions, I think that's amazing.
What acting challenge would you love to encounter next?
Oooh, that's interesting. Acting challenge... I'd definitely like to be more of a douche bag.
A douche bag, I love it.
Yeah, bit of a dick. Or if I put it nicely, more of just a nasty character would be nice. I got to play a little bit of that in 'Class', there's that sense of doing something wrong for the right reasons. I'm often typecast as being quite a happy go lucky sort of nice guy.
Prince Charming. You'd be easily cast for that.
Yeah, that sort of thing. Thank you, should I take that as a compliment? But yeah, having that sort of nastiness is quite nice, I'd really enjoy playing with that.
I think TV has the power to really inspire a lot of people out there. What does that feel like, when you're able to act in something that is going to mean something to somebody?
It does, it really does and that's what I always wanted. As a teenager I probably formulated that thought that I wanted to inspire someone, in any form. I think inspiration is such an amazing feeling, such a wonderful driving force. As long as I can do that, I can die happy, and television is such a good medium for that. I feel very privileged to be able to do that and seem to impact peoples lives in a positive way. It's lovely.

What inspires you?
Beauty really gets me for some reason. I'll only really cry if something is devastatingly sad, or if something's like magnanimous, or like a visual feast, or there's just a concept that's so beautiful - then I'll cry. It's inspiration that makes me cry. The first time I watched 'Avatar', nothing made me cry, it got to the end and then it does this thing where 'Avatar' just goes (makes explosion sound) on the screen and I went "uh" and I just started weeping, because it affected me so much. It was such a beautiful story line and so visually magnificent that I just wept for about 20 minutes afterwards. That's the sort of stuff that inspires me and really gets me going. Visual beauty, but it also has to be mixed in with like conceptual things as well.
Like music?
Yes, music - very specific music. I'm weird with my music taste, it's very eclectic. I don't really like one specific genre of music, but I will only listen to music that really makes me feel something and that doesn't happen very often. I've been listening to Chicane at the moment. I don't know much about them, but it's this specific choral music of all voices; it's very angelic and that just floors me. I love it.
I wanted to talk a little bit about Boys by Girls and our exploration of this young generation of males, which you are in. What is this generation like and what's it like growing up in it?
I don't know if I consider myself a man, I'm still a boy. I've never been a masculine man, I've never been like a 'laddy bloke, go down the pub with your mates, play football' type of guys, it's never been me. I've always been very in touch with my feminine side. That again is probably because my mother is a very strong woman. Dancing was the first thing I did seriously since about nine years old.
What kind of dance?
Um, ballet, tap, modern, jazz, that was the most of it - a bit of street when I got a bit older. I've always been surrounded by girls and connected well with girls ,and I think that's just my feminine side. I think the difficulty that men face is that we don't feel we are allowed to express ourselves emotionally and that can be very damaging for a lot of a men. It's not just societal, there is a biological push towards being obviously more 'laddy laddy, let's go exercise, let's go hunt some bears' or something. I think men are a lot more complex then a lot of people, which even men will admit to. I like to think I can be a driving force for a more well rounded man, 'cause I think there's a lot to say about men that can incorporate femininity in their life. I think femininity is wonderful, it's something that inspires me.
Do you think masculinity is changing today in the younger generation?
Yes, I think it's hard to disagree with that. When you say masculinity, you think of all these stereotypes, but I think of masculinity as forward momentum, a 'driven force'. It can be very negative or it can be very positive, but if you strip away all the stereotypes, that is what the core of being masculine is. I think we're getting more down to it now, striping away all this bullshit that has come from previous generations; like men having to provide for the families and that. It's why masculinity has developed the way that it has, but I think we're getting to see more of who they are as people instead of just having to provide nowadays.
What do you think that your generation has to offer?
I think my generation is the most important generation that has ever lived. As every generation that has proceeded it is the most important generation to have ever lived. The time we're living in is so fundamental, we're at the cusp of something incredible, our species has never been in this position before. The last 100 years have been so crazy for us, and the way we're adjusting to all this change, the breakthrough in technology, medicine and society, I think we're doing fantastic. A lot of people like to see our generation as a fuck up, not knowing its priorities, but I think humanity has done fantastically well to get to this point and we're just getting better. There's always gonna be slip ups, there's always gonna be prejudices or there's gonna be wars - but considering where we've come from, I think our generation has a lot to live up to and we're doing it outstandingly well. So, to answer the question, "what has our generation got to offer"; a new perspective into the future. I love thinking like this, this is my bread and butter.
You're safely into your twenties now, what is the twenties like compared to the teens.
Oh goodness, I feel like I'm about 50 years old. Getting back to the point that I've never really been a party-girl or anything, I can't really say that I've changed that much, but then again, I have. I'm still pretty much the same person I was when I was 15, ten years ago nearly, but I think I'm a lot more wise now. Back then as a teenage boy, obsessed with sex, everything was sex, everything was girls, everything was driven by my hormones. It was a really fun time, but with that comes confusion and finding yourself, and I guess I'm just more solidified in who I am. I'm more open to changing who I am however and maybe that's the answer. Maybe being okay with not knowing exactly who you are as much, you are more open to change. Maybe that's the difference.
What impact would you like to make in the world?
My base thing: as long as I leave this world having put more happiness into it than I've subtracted from it, I'll be happy. I always measure things like, 'what makes the most people the most happy?' I think that's generally the right thing to do. As long as that happens, I'm good. As a grander vision, if I can inspire a generation of people, or even just a small group of people, or even just one person, that's the goal I think.

"Class" premiere’s on BBC America on Saturday 15th April.


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