Ben Radcliffe

22 January 2024

Photography Virginie Khateeb
Fashion Benedict Browne
Interview Ella Joyce
Grooming Keiron Lavine at The Visionaries
Production Haley Paolini & Rachel Allison
Fashion Assistant Clementine Brown

Ben Radcliffe is a morning person, a golf lover (except when he’s snapping the golf clubs in half over his knee), photography enjoyer, and an avid wakeboarder, but one thing he doesn’t know about himself is how others would define him. When I asked the question he said, “I genuinely couldn't tell you,” but as our call came to a close, his publicist confirmed that the consensus from those who know him is, “He's never jealous of other people.” Ben Radcliffe - morning person, golf frenemy, photography enjoyer, wakeboarder, unenvious. A solid list.

Cheerily raising his coffee cup in greeting on an early Zoom call from his home in London, it becomes immediately apparent that Ben is a man who loves purpose. Even his perfect day involves tasks which fuel productivity before realising he’d also like to chill out on a yacht if he could quite literally do anything. Equal parts unassuming and jovial by nature, the British actor animatedly walks me through his budding collection of coffee table books and the photographs hanging in his apartment before we settle in. As someone who left home to begin drama school at age twelve, he’s realised that there is no final destination when grappling with the torment of creativity, choosing to relish in the ever-surprising road of non-existent perfection and subjectivity instead of battling with the impossible. Touching upon the art of transformation which comes with the territory of performance, Radcliffe is beginning to think the weirder the role the better, as a craving for nuanced vulnerability and off-kilter insecurity is slowly bubbling to the surface.

Having previously starred in Netflix’s The Witcher and Anatomy of a Scandal, Radcliffe knows the power a captivating series can hold over an audience, but his latest role is sure to propel him into uncharted territory. Set to deliver a career-defining performance in the hotly anticipated Masters of the Air alongside Austin Butler, Callum Turner and Barry Keoghan, the British actor is more than aware this will be one of the biggest things he’s ever done. Telling the story of a period deeply entrenched in global history and the makings of our modern world, the series tells the story of World War II’s 100th Bomb Group as they conduct perilous bombing raids over Nazi Germany. A tale of bravery, devastation and camaraderie of soldiers working tirelessly to dismantle the horrors of Hitler’s Third Reich, Masters of the Air serves as a companion to the critically acclaimed Band of Brothers and The Pacific. Ben is more than ready to do this story justice.

‘Masters of the Air’ premieres on Apple TV+ on 26th January 2024.

Good morning! How are you doing?
I’m good!

I see you’ve got your morning coffee. [Ben cheers to the camera] Are you a morning person?
I am. I have this alarm clock that Disney gave me as a present which mimics a sunrise - I keep setting it for 9am but I wake up at 6am every day so I haven’t even experienced it yet. [laughs] Are you a morning person?

I am, I’m always up early. I’m quite productive in the morning but also late at night. The middle of the day is when things get a bit iffy for me. [both laugh] Boys By Girls love to discover facts about people others won’t necessarily know. Can you tell us something most people don't know about you?
I’m trying to think of something I’ve never said before, I could take this in so many ways. I’ll tell you what, I'm good at diabolo.

Oh wow, how did you pick that up?
I did a production of Oliver when I was younger and whenever we got bored we would just pick them up and play with them. Now I’ve been doing it ever since. It's a bit lame though, isn't it? It's a bit weird. [both laugh]

It’s a good one! We've established you're a morning person but if you were to paint a picture of your perfect day, what would it look like? Who would you be with, where would you be, what would you be doing?
My perfect day...wake up, coffee, breakfast. I'd probably go to the gym, do a boxing workout and see my friends. I like to always feel like I've done something productive or achieved something or I've got some kind of purpose. A lot of my friends and I write films together and things, so I'd probably do something like that. Or my perfect day would involve me with loads and loads of money, to be honest, on a yacht just having the best time ever. [laughs] I don't know why I didn't go there in the first place, I'd wake up in a warm country by a lake, there'd be a speed boat parked outside and I'd go wakeboarding for the entire day. There we go.

You've done a real about-turn there, we started with very humble beginnings. [both laugh]
I suddenly went, “Forget about my friends, I don't care about any of them anymore.” [laughs]

In a similar vein, when you're not working, how do you unwind? What does escapism look like to you?
I play golf.

You're a golfer!
Unfortunately, I am.

I play golf too, it's very therapeutic. I've played since I was young.
Do you?! That's sick. You must be really good.

I'm not too bad. [laughs] I wish I had the chance to play more regularly.
It's so good. I love sports. I play a lot of tennis as well. It's something where you just don't think about anything else except the game you're playing. Forget all of your troubles.

I always say it feels like you've been to therapy after playing. [both laugh]
Exactly, you just switch off for two or three hours. It's the most frustrating thing I've ever done, I've played for nearly four years now but the first two years I didn't understand why I was so shit and I just assumed I should be better. That was the thing that really annoyed me, I'd hit a bad shot and I'd be like, "Why?! The last one was so good. I'm good at golf!" I've definitely snapped a few golf clubs in half over my knee. [both laugh]

I can see how that happens, it definitely brings out the worst in people. It's a real mind game.
It's crazy. It's the competition side of it as well, my friends and I really shit-talk each other on the golf course - we've fallen out so many times. We don't play against each other anymore, we just play as a scramble on the same team because we just can't do the competition anymore.

When you're not on the golf course…[both laugh] have you watched, read or listened to anything recently that has had an impact on you?
I just bought this book. [holds the book up to camera] This has not had an impact on me, but it's Vanity Fair's Hollywood [by Christopher Hitchens]. It's just a nice coffee table book and it's full of really cool pictures of actors from back in the day by Annie Leibovitz. I also have this one about 90s advertising which is sick, sorry I'm showing you all my books. [both laugh] Some of the adverts from the 90s are just so creative. It just feels like a shame the shit that comes out now, the photography was incredible. Another thing that has had an impact on me is this picture on my wall. There's a print shop on Kings Road that I've walked past for five years and I’ve dreamed of buying one of the prints - they sell prints by Slim Aarons who photographed the super-rich and Hollywood stars from the 60s to the 90s. He's got the most incredible pictures and I've wanted this one for five years. I've just got a new house so I thought I'd treat myself - I worship it every day.

Five years of longing, you deserve it!
I hope you weren't looking for more life wisdom with that question. [laughs]

Not at all. Let's chat about Masters of the Air, are you excited to have it out in the world? How do you normally feel before a project is released?
This one feels a bit different because this one is just cool. This is genuinely a thing that I would be so excited about even if I wasn't in it, I would just be so excited to see it. So, the fact that I am in it as well is cool. I can't wait, it's going to be epic.

It's definitely one of the things I've been most excited to watch this year. What was it that drew you to the project and your character in particular?
I mean, it was a no-brainer when you've got Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg's names attached to the top of it. It is such a highly anticipated series with Band of Brothers and The Pacific, with this one being the next. Reading the script is just an unbelievable story. What the brave men who fought in World War II experienced is unfathomable, especially in the 100th Bomb Squadron. It's just a crazy story and it's terrifying what they had to do. On the filming side of it are some of the coolest scenes you'll ever film but being part of Masters of the Air is going to be huge.

The series is based on the 2007 book Masters of the Air: America's Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany by Donald Miller. What was the preparation process like for taking on a story so entrenched in a period of history?
Well, for starters, they did a boot camp for all of the boys that were there at the beginning. It was a week-long process with Dale Dye who is a Hollywood legend of war films, he's been the military coordinator on the biggest war projects ever, like Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan - he's literally done every big war film. He led us through a boot camp where we had to march, we did lectures, and he taught us everything that the guys should have known. Everything about the planes, evacuating the plane, emergencies, what it would have been like at the base camps, what we would have eaten - we got a full experience and he made it really immersive. I got the role just after finishing Anatomy of a Scandal where I was playing a posh boy who was really wealthy. Everyone was just super lovely and kind on set which is how most sets often are, they're treating you like a king, basically. I arrived there and I had to put on these flight overalls and stand in line. On day one, Dale Dye shouted at me in front of everyone, because I said, "Okay", instead of "Yes, sir."

So, you felt like you were back at school. [both laugh]
Right?! I was like, "I'm an actor and I've been told off, this is not right!" [laughs] But once I got into it I realised it was entirely different to anything I'd experienced on a film set before and it was amazing. In addition to that, we're all playing real characters. My character, John Brady, is a real guy and so all of the information about him is online, there are interviews with John Brady and Howard 'Hambone' Hamilton who is his real life best friend and it's funny because Jordan Coulson who plays him is one of my best friends as well in real life which is cute.

The ensemble cast is incredible, what was the atmosphere and camaraderie like on set?
There was a lot of testosterone. [both laugh] It was a strange place to be, some days there would be 400 boys on set. We can never know what it was like to be at war but it felt as close as they could get because the sets were so immersive, we did scenes where we had real planes flying over our heads. We sat in real planes and the base camps were built for real and they were massive. We were trudging through mud and out in the cold, so there was not that much acting involved because the environment was just there for us already. It was a cool experience to be a part of it with everyone and it was a real team effort. It just felt so different to any job I've been on before in a special kind of way.

Obviously this project is rooted in fact, but how would you say working with fact and fiction compare?
There feels a lot more pressure and responsibility on this because it's a real story of real heroes where real brave men died and you really want to honour them. I felt a lot more pressure and responsibility.

As an actor working today, what kinds of stories do you look out for and what kinds of stories are you excited to tell?
Good ones. [both laugh] It's weird because I'm still not in the mindset where I view it as, "What do I want to do next?" I'm still in the mindset as an actor that's like, "When's the next job going to be?" I've had such a great career and I've been so lucky up until this point. I don't want to lose that because I might get a bit cocky. [laughs]

The element of surprise is nice when you keep an open mind.
Exactly! Stuff comes through in the inbox and I have this thing which I think most people have, where you just find it so easy to learn because it's so well written and it just feels right to you. That's how you know you like it because the lines just flow and you don't even have to think too much - it's instinct.

You step into different characters a lot, has doing so taught you anything about yourself you didn't think you'd discover?
I feel like I've discovered a lot of things from being an actor. It can be really tough at times, it's quite a hard job mentally and you definitely learn a lot of things about life and yourself from acting. I could list a million things, but I don't know where to start. I think that there is not a destination is something that I've learned. I'm always trying to get to the final destination and then I think I'll be happy, but I think I've learned that just makes you sad. [laughs] It's all about the journey. You've got to stop and smell the roses, be proud and enjoy the journey of it and not keep chasing a destination.

I think that's true for any creative field because everything is so subjective. You'll never truly ‘perfect’ a craft as there is no definition of right or wrong.
Exactly. Someone could be like, "That was amazing," and another person could be like, "That was shit."

In acting but also in life, what kind of emotions come most naturally to you?
That's such a good question. Well, I was going to say frustration, but that's going to make it sound like I'm always frustrated. [laughs] But, I feel like I can really dig my teeth into a scene where someone is frustrated. A lot of the time I always go for the super confident, outgoing cool guy but what I'd really like and think I'd be quite good at is to be the guy that's got some demons and a bit of insecurity. He's not the most outgoing guy ever, he's a little bit shy. I think I'd really like to do something like that. I'd basically like to do anything that Barry Keoghan does, he plays these characters who are just weird. They've got this element of insecurity and shyness but are also outgoing and confident in the same kind of way, it's just unique and weird - I love it. I'd really like to do something like that because I feel like that's what I was like when I was younger. One of my favourite films is The Way Way Back, it's a coming-of-age film with Steve Carell as a really mean stepdad. It was the first role he played where he was not a really nice funny guy. This kid goes away to summer camp and he's just super shy and awkward and finds himself by going to this water park every day and getting a job there, it's just beautiful. It's my favourite film and I think I secretly relate to that kid. It's the most heart-warming film.

In a similar realm of thinking, which characteristics do you think other people would consider to be your most defining?
I genuinely couldn't tell you. I have been thinking about it lately and I really don't know how I come across to other people and I feel like that's something people should know, but I don't know. I could go and ask my flatmate but he'll probably walk in and be like, "He sucks." [laughs]

You were born in Leeds but where does it feel like home in the world now? Has it changed since moving to London?
It's definitely not there, I don't like going back to Leeds very often. I left when I was twelve so I don't really have any friends there now. When I go back I'm like, "Who can I go to the pub with? I'm so lonely!" [laughs] It's definitely London for me, I feel very at home here even though it's very stressful. It's not a very homely place, but I feel at home here.

Finally, looking forward to 2024, what do you hope your year looks like?
I hope that there are no more shutdowns of the acting industry but I'm very happy that was done. I'm just glad everyone can get back to work. I'm starting a job soon that I'm not going to talk about yet but I'm just hoping that job is great, fulfilling, makes me feel good and will help me buy more of these pictures. [both laugh] More pictures and more books. Hopefully I get a chance to go wakeboarding too.

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above left: Ben wears jumper by Canali and trousers by Louis Vuitton
above right: Ben wears shirt by AMI

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above left: Ben wears blazer and polo shirt by Brunello Cucinelli
above right: Ben wears coat, shirt, trousers and boots by Lanvin, jacket by Mr P and scarf by Anderson and Sheppard

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above: Ben wears suit and polo shirt by Brunello Cucinelli, socks by London Sock Company and shoes by Arthur Sleep

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above left: Ben wears full look by Hermes
above right: Ben wears jumper by Canali, trousers by Louis Vuitton and shoes by AMI

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above: Ben wears full look by AMI

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above left: Ben wears coat and shirt by Connolly and jumper by Anderson and Sheppard
above right: outfit as before

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above: Ben wears coat and shirt by Connolly, jumper by Anderson and Sheppard, jeans by Dior Homme and boots by Hermes

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above left: Ben wears full look by Hermes
above right: outfit as before

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