I had a feeling I was going to like Edward Bluemel before he even joined the call. And that wasn't necessarily on account of his on-screen portrayals – characters of which boast some questionable moral boundaries, from Maeve Wiley’s irresponsible big brother Sean in Sex Education to Killing Eve’s pretentious MI6 intern, Hugo. Yet any conversation that opens with a commentary on my pet dog’s tendency to roll around in a particular substance you know is off to a good start: “That’s not a great trait to have is it?”, he offers, “in a human or a dog.”
Having secured recurring roles on major league productions, the 27-year-old has developed a knack for embodying the bad boy we love to hate. He now holds the mantle as vampire Marcus Whitmore in Sky’s A Discovery of Witches - a shift in genre but welcome opportunity to play out the long game with a character that is sure to have a gratifying arc as season three promisingly waits in the wings. Whilst Edward the Actor is currently rooted in the world of fantasy, Edward the Human takes pride in his firm grip on reality and his perspective on the “insanely stupid life” he has chosen to lead. Photographer Mollie Rose places this pendulum centre stage, one that swings from “crippling doubt to blind arrogance” on a daily basis. Yet against a softly lit studio background, we meet the Edward that embraces the broadly weird and occasionally ridiculous spectrum of human experience.
Amongst the streets of the city’s capital dusted with snow, fashion editor Nathan Henry helps inject some sunshine and dresses Edward in colours and textures of the rainbow. For a guy that loves to dress up (someone say Quaranfit?), yet simultaneously finds his own job of ‘make-believe’ absurd, this series finds delight in the dichotomy, presenting a palette and patterns that melt away the blues and charm their way into your day - much like the actor who wears them.
Where in the world are you these days? Last time I checked, you were living in a house full of actors.
Yes, I still am. It might be a different house of actors now. Over lockdown this year, we trimmed the fat a bit and went to four of us instead of six. We got rid of the ones that we didn't like (that's not true.) But we moved to a smaller, slightly nicer house, which was nice because we thought it was time to finally grow up and live in a house that didn't resemble a student hole.
Ah - it's a big step.
It actually was a big step. I feel like it's upped our game a lot to have something to take more pride in. I mean, my bedroom is hamstrung by this strange driftwood decision from the landlord, as you can see, which I don't know if I love if I'm honest. It's all a little bit verging on the side of Pinterest. But yeah, it's a lot nicer than it was.
In the chaos of what is a pretty testing industry at times, are you able to easily keep each other grounded and motivated?
It's got to be a mixture of both. We have to be very supportive of each other because we're all around the same age as well; a few of us are in the same casting bracket. So from day one, there had to be an attitude of support, not anything else, otherwise, it had the potential to go really wrong. I think building each other up is important, we tape with each other for auditions all the time. It's good to feel encouraged by your friends, and also, I like taping with friends because it's nice to see how talented the people that you live with are. For me, it's definitely a plus living with actors, as opposed to not living with actors who just wouldn't necessarily understand the lifestyle that it leads to.
In terms of auditions, are you able to easily leave it at the door once it's done?
Generally, yeah. Occasionally, you let your guard down a bit and you start to fantasise about what you're going to buy with the money, what jokes you're going to crack in your awards acceptance speech, and how you're going to tell your friends that you've got the job - stupid stuff like that. I call it the 'delusion-o-meter'. Every time you've got an audition, generally, if you don't care too much about it you're fine, and the delusion-o-meter stays in the cupboard. Every now and then the delusion-o-meter comes out, and it just starts ticking away. As soon as you let your guard down to the delusion-o-meter, you're fucked. Because then you start being like, 'oh, my God, it's actually going to be embarrassing telling all my other acting friends that I got this job', and you start worrying about stupid stuff like that. Occasionally it does happen, and you've got to be ready for it when it does. All the actors I know have at some point got stupidly attached to something and then felt really dumb when they've got rejected and burst into tears when they never had the job anyway.
From having these conversations with actors, I gathered that the less you care about a job, generally, the better you do because you don't seem as desperate.
Oh my god, yeah. I find when you've actually got a job or are at work, you throw away these other auditions and they often do a lot better than the ones that you prepare for a week in advance. That is definitely a thing that you perform better when you don't care.
You’ve previously mentioned that growing up you wanted to be a farmer. Coming from rural Somerset - and without any industry contacts - how do you think this has shaped you as a person?
It's been good for me because it means that I've had to be very single-minded in the fact that it was never really an option for me to do anything else. When I decided that I was going to be an actor, when I was like 17, I sort of put all my eggs in one basket and risked it all. I remember the whole time being like, 'oh if this goes tits up, I have no idea what I'm going to do'. And then also looking at the statistics, I was like, 'oh, and it probably is going to go tits up, statistically!'. Something that I think is born out of that is the fact that when I want something I'm not afraid to go for it, despite what could go wrong. I didn't have any connections at all so I just sort of had to scrap for it a bit. I was lucky that I had a very supportive school and very supportive family that encouraged things like that instead of suppressing them.
It took you a couple of attempts to get into drama school. Did you ever consider throwing in the towel at any point?
No, not really. I mean, once a week, I consider throwing in the towel now just to test, how does that feel? Back then, I did audition one year and I got into a foundation course, which kept me hanging in there, and then I got in on my second year. But I think you're very well built up with drama schools, the way that they work. Loads of people audition for them like six years in a row - both years I went to audition, I was 18 or 19, and at least at one school, there would be one person who was 33 and had been auditioning for like 9 years. For some people, that's the way that they get there. There's some crazy thing that is always spoken about in the audition rooms at drama school, that De Niro got in on his ninth attempt or something. I think I would have had a few more tries in me, but if I hadn't gotten in on the third time, I would have had a long hard look at myself!
If and when you do ever experience that little voice of doubt, what does it say? Are you able to easily silence it?
The voice is normally quite dramatic! If I get doubts about acting, it's normally to do with the entire concept of entertainment. Like, where do actors fit into life? Some of my friends from school do things that very clearly actively help people, but all we do is hang out with each other and all we do is talk about acting. Sometimes I'll be hanging out with a group of actors and I'm like, Oh my god, we're fucking annoying! We really think our world is so serious, and at the end of the day, it's so stupid. But then obviously, straight away, I can argue that acting and art and creativity are definitely very important. It's always a bit of a swinging pendulum. I'm like, 'oh, god, this is useless. This is doing nothing for anyone!', but in between being that weird, egotistical thing of 'without us the entire society would collapse!'. There is no in-between, really. It's either crippling doubt or blind arrogance when it comes to being an actor. Though I never really take it seriously when I'm like, 'oh, stop being an actor,' because I sort of shoehorned myself into just one thing, so it's not like I could go anywhere else! But I do like to entertain the thought sometimes. Dramatically.
Haha, you say that - but I mean the pandemic has shown that the entertainment industry has literally kept people sane.
Yeah, that has been nice to watch: to see people really relying on it to keep them going. It's nice to be like, "Okay, look, we're doing some good in the world". I mean, I'm not sure my episode of Holby City has saved anyone, but you never know.
You never know! Continuing on the existential note, then, who is Edward?
Haha. God. How do people normally answer that question?
Depends. Some people go in deep, others are like, "I'm just a guy... trying my best here, give me a break!".
I think I veer more towards the latter. I quite often think when it comes to acting or my job, I like to not be too attached to it. I don't want acting to become my entire life. It's very much a job for me, and it's very much something that I do to make a living. I don't know if that really answers who I am. I think I can tell you who I'm not, which is an 'actor' actor, who studies the craft and spends my life thinking about it. I mean, sometimes I might get consumed by it for a little bit, normally if I'm not working and I become obsessed with getting another job. But I like to not be defined by that. So. Yeah. That was a nice evasive way of answering the question.
That's interesting, because a lot of people, especially in this industry, are defined by their creativity. If you're a creative, that's who you are, so many people might hold being an actor very close to them.
I enjoy it, and it's one thing that I've grown up good at. It irks me when people take acting incredibly seriously. People seem to think it's not a stupid thing to do. You might be doing an amazing performance but it's still stupid - like, look, think about what you're doing! How is that in any way not funny at all times? You are a grown man or a grown woman, and you're dressing up?! It's such a weird way to spend your life. I'm not too attached to the depth of it as an art. I keep it to myself because obviously, I don't want to ever cause upsets on set or on stage, but I find it a bit repulsive when people are very into their acting. This is probably a negative on my part, but people being like, you know, "I was doing so much work on the character", I'm like, just read the line, perform them sort of realistically, pretend to be the person and then we can be done. I don't care if you've written a 2000-page essay on the character's background! It's like the Ian McKellen sketch in Extras that everyone was like, "Haha, that's really funny", but I'm like, No, I really get that! That scene when he's like, "No, I just pretend. I just pretend it's a job. I say the line like how I think Gandalf would say that line, and that's that really."
Not a fan of Daniel Day-Lewis, then?!
His performances are great! And if that is the way that he gets there, then that's amazing. But for me, the end product is the only thing that matters. So if Daniel Day-Lewis also got to that, or if another actor got to that end product by just memorising their lines in the makeup trailer, and asking someone what their character's name was on set because they've forgotten, then I'd be equally as delighted. For me, there's no reward for the process, just for the end product because that's all that people see.
I mean, this is probably all just me and reflects the fact that I'm a lazy actor. I'm like, 'it's fine, totally fine, that I don't do anything because it doesn't matter, right?'.
Haha, "I have talent, I don't need to?".
Daniel Day-Lewis? Nah. Got nothing.
On that note, ‘arrogance’ or ‘antagonistic’ seem to be recurring traits within some of the characters you have played - is this something Edward has ever been prescribed as in day-to-day life?
Yeah. Haha. I feel like I've grown up, I've learned a lot, but definitely when I was younger and a teenager, there were words like that that may have been thrown around. But of course, at the time this was just a defense mechanism and, the normal cover-ups that a teenage boy might do. But I love playing parts like that because I feel like I can identify with them. I can see where they're coming from, or I can see what's lying underneath those characters, which is nice, from a personal experience. I hope I'm no longer similar to some of those characters that I've played, but I think it's important to me that those characters are fun to watch on TV and film. People often like them. But yeah, it's not miles away from me sometimes.
Having joined some really celebrated projects with rapidly growing followings, do you stay tuned to the noise/buzz?
I feel like the buzz and the noise of Killing Eve and Sex Education were very easy to follow. These were shows that I probably would have watched anyway, which is really nice as an actor. I really got and understood why people were loving it and it makes such a difference to what you're filming if you know that people are enjoying it. I mean, when we filmed Sex Education, we didn't actually know, but because Killing Eve was series two, we knew that there was something quite cool going on that people seemed to really enjoy. I feel like it definitely elevates the whole feeling of the job. On the flip side, some actors that I know have been in plays that on the first night get like one star across the board, and then they have to do it for another three months. That just saps the energy out of the whole thing. But when it goes well, it makes such a difference and creates a nice little snowball effect: everyone starts performing better and it's a much nicer, cohesive experience.
On the flip side of that, then, do you find it easy to switch off from it all?
So, I'm quite obsessive about looking at reviews, but I don't get upset when they're bad. I enjoy people's opinions on stuff that I've been involved in. So when I did theatre - it's been a while since I did theatre - but I would read all the reviews because I found it interesting. Obviously, it's very nice if they say nice stuff about you, and if they say mean stuff about you - I don't know - there's this slightly weird, sort of sadomasochistic kick and you're like, "ARGH!". I quite weirdly enjoy it. To be fair, I've had some pretty grim things said about me, but it's never been 100% bad. If there's been a bad review, there's also been a couple of good reviews to balance it out so at least then I can go, 'look, that's just a man's opinion'. Whereas if they were all bad, I'd go, 'look, I'm just a terrible actor'. I do read it all, but I feel like I'm also quite good at switching off. I feel like I can detach from things easily when it comes to work.
Have you always been that way? That in itself is a pretty important skill to have.
I had a drama teacher when I was at school who was amazing - definitely part of the reason I'm an actor. But she very much did not mince her words. I feel like she had the attitude of maybe an acting teacher at drama school or a director or beyond, but in a school setting. It probably rubbed a lot of people the wrong way but I think it really helped me because I definitely responded more to tough love than anything else. Again, looking back it's funny because it's only acting and it was only school acting, but you know, it was taken very seriously. If I was forgetting my lines and hadn't worked hard enough, I'd hear about it. That has actually definitely informed my entire attitude to acting and the ability to get rejected from tonnes of auditions - as is the way - and the ability to put things to the back of your mind and move on and keep trying.
Let’s talk about A Discovery of Witches and your character, Marcus Whitmore. This is one role with a hell of a backstory. How were you able to initially prepare for this?
It was as if a gift from the gods. Just as I got cast, Deborah Harkness, who wrote the books, had released an Encyclopaedia of her entire world. It was a big thick book that was like heaven because, obviously, we have the books and we could read the books. But in the first three books, there's not an insane amount of description about Marcus. There was a physical description that was nothing like me, and so I was like, Okay, discard that. Then there were little bits and pieces of other descriptions, but she released this book that had like five pages just on Marcus: his entire backstory, everything. Deborah herself was also available to talk to, so I used that. But there was still this weird gap in information, the books are so focused on Matthew and Diana. I had to fill in the gaps, whilst also trying not to just be the "book" Marcus, because the book Marcus is clearly different to me, and put my own flavour on it without treading on the toes of the book Marcus and creating contradictions. It was quite complicated. I've never played anyone real or anyone from a fictional book that's already been written, so I've always been starting from scratch with a character. But it was really fun, he's got such a rich history.
How would you like to see Marcus’ journey develop for Season 3?
I think the whole thing with Marcus that's so cool is him growing up and changing from having a very cavalier attitude towards being a vampire and the world that they live in, to gaining responsibility and realising that he has the power to change things that affect all of these creatures - vampires, witches, demons and humans - in the world. In Season 3, what I really want to see is him complete that cycle, or at least get close to completing it and finally gain his father Matthew's respect. Finally, gain the responsibility that he's been building up to in the first two series.
It must be exciting to finally have the chance to really grow with your character and see his arc develop over time.
Well, there was a while when my friends and I thought there was a curse because every time we were cast in a series it got cancelled after one season! I did a series of a show called The Halycon that I loved but it got cancelled, then a couple of my other friends did ones all around the same time and we were just like, Something's up guys. We're not putting in the performances. But A Discovery of Witches has thankfully been renewed. This is the first time I got to really watch my character grow over a long period of time.
What would you say is the biggest challenge facing the industry in 2021?
It's so weird, I can't really predict what's going to happen in the aftermath of COVID, and everything like that. But there's so much that's been written during COVID, I think it's going to be so interesting to see what shows people create out of all of the 100,000 billion scripts that are now hanging around from everyone who has been writing. What shows to create, what stories they want to tell are big questions. I think the biggest challenge will be resisting making everything about COVID. People use TV as an escapist thing - and I think there are some high profile TV shows that have said very much that COVID is going to be written into the story - I'm pretty sure Succession have done it for their season 3 and I think, the new Sex and the City reboot has COVID in it. I think just watching the industry getting back on its feet is going to be interesting. And I hope it all goes smoothly. But there are positives as well like I said - the flip side of all the writing is that there's going to be loads of really good jobs available for actors, directors, crew, everything like that, and loads of really exciting and interesting scripts that people have come up with.
Aside from the compliance and regulation side of it all, what do you think - if any - are the genuine lasting impacts of the pandemic on society? Do you think it's genuinely shifted people's perceptions?
I'd like to think that there will just be a bit more care taken with treating other people. What I'd like to see come out of it is people carrying on that attitude of being like, "We've got to work together to try and help this", taking that into the rest of life and the idea that it's up to us to protect each other.
Also, a bit like I was saying earlier about how I'm not married to the fact that I'm an actor. It's been really nice that people like me have almost been forced to look at their lives a little bit differently, and how they approach everything. What is there if you take your job away? What is there left in your life that keeps you going and keeps you positive? Is it your friends? Is it reading? I mean, obviously, that's coming from a very privileged point of view of being able to take away the fact that you're obviously without a job, but I think just from a very simplistic perspective, I hope that it has helped people to have a more rounded view of their life, going forward.
When the world did properly shut down last year, how were you able to stay motivated? What were the things that gave your life meaning without acting?
In a very lucky twist of fate, I'd gone home to visit my parents for three days when the lockdown happened, and I ended up staying with them for three months in Somerset. It was absolutely amazing as I would have never lived with my parents again. It was this weird treat-situation of being able to live in the countryside with all pressure taken off. That's something you can't do as an actor because you're always going to auditions, you have to be in London pretty much at a moment's notice. So it completely took the pressure of all that acting off. There were obviously times when I was losing my mind with boredom and the fact that I was living with my parents - I felt like I was 15 again - but the biggest concern in my day was 'how am I going to empty the dishwasher?'. What kept me sane was the fact that I was like, I'm in the countryside, doing something that, very luckily, I never would have been able to again. I was able to relive that situation of basically having a summer holiday in my family home, which was a really weird thing of the past. I also hadn't packed my computer with me for those three days. So I did loads of reading. I walked and I ran loads and just lived a very quiet life in a way that I don't think I will ever have the opportunity to do again. I was very, very lucky to be able to go back to "basics" like that, as it were.
Your "Quaranfits" Instagram Story series was really something special...
That is something that I would say kept me going! It was interesting, discovering that you had to find a routine for your day. I don't know if you found this as well, but I had to have a skeleton of a day or I would lose my mind. So I had this routine, I'd get up, my phone stays on airplane mode until after I've had a shower. And because I'm like most people - addicted to my phone - that would mean that I would get out of bed because I'd want to look at my phone, and I was really strict on that. I sit with a cup of tea, look at my phone, and then I'd have the daily panic that I hadn't done a fucking Quaranfit. I'd be like, 'oh, I started this as a bit of fun!', but let me tell you, by day 24 it was like a genuine burden of being like, I've got to go find some clothes and make an outfit!
People relied on social media, in, actually, I think a very positive way during the lockdown - people loved the little gimmicks that people were doing - but it got to the point where if I didn't have a Quaranfit up by a certain time, I'd get messages being like, "Where the FUCK is the Quaranfit?". I'd have to go to my mum like, 'mum, have you got any ideas? Can you think of anything? Off the top of your head, anything?! Your wedding dress? Have you still got your wedding dress?!'. Mum would be like, "For fuck's sake", going off to get the wedding dress out of the attic. But that did give me purpose, in a weird way! It stopped me just sitting on WhatsApp all day with my friends, which was, to be fair, lovely to have. I often would be like, God, imagine if this had happened before we had social media and our phones.
It was sort of a battle of creating a routine to keep me away from negative coping mechanisms of staying in bed until midday and then just not showering and sitting on my phone, scrolling Instagram all day.
I wish we'd seen the 'behind the scenes' reel of that whole situation - you crying in mum's wedding dress whilst trying to take a selfie.
It was not smooth sailing. There were times when you really did feel the pressure and there are a few outfits towards the end where you can see I've completely winged it. It was for me more than anybody else at the beginning, and then people started to enjoy it, which was also really nice and satisfying. People still sometimes message me being like, "Can you do more Quaranfits?". I'm like, NO! I have run out of clothes.
Who or what inspires you?
My friends I live with inspire me. That's something that I love about living with actors: watching them perform, or watching them do well, I find very inspirational. We've all sort of been up and down in our career, we've had moments of not working, moments of working loads. I think seeing how they handle not working as well is inspirational in its own way. Watching people deal with the insanely stupid life that we've all chosen to lead is important to me. I think I would be very lost without them, if I was living with non-actors, and trying to bluff my way through it on my own. It's important to have people that know all of the weird situations that you go through and the amount of rejection you've got to take and the amount of weird faux stress that you get from being an actor.
Do you have any ambition to explore life on the other side of the camera? Writing or directing?
I've written before. I mean, that was another thing in lockdown. I've got like twenty-five absolutely crap projects I've written the first page of just hanging around - every now and then I'll read one whenever I really want to cringe. Directing is interesting to me, but I find that very overwhelming to think about. I'll watch a director when I'm on set, and I'm like, Fucking hell, you can't just wing yourself into this. And then occasionally you watch another director on set and you go, Maybe you can!
But I find directing quite daunting. I think it's very easy as an actor to look at a director and be like, "I could do this a lot better than they're doing it". But I think the reality of it is really tough. Directors who have been actors are really interesting and fun to work with as an actor, they create really good work a lot of the time. So I think that's something that would maybe be down the line. But at the moment, I just feel like I'd be too anxious as a director - I'd be sweating buckets. Also, who wants to work with actors?! Watching a director sometimes, I'm like, I can't believe you're doing all this, and then on top of that, you've got some semi-famous 50-year-old actor being like, "I actually don't think these lines are right. Can I rewrite them?". For now, I'm happy just writing the first pages of things and then drop-kicking them into the bin.
Pretty strong starting point for any project to be honest.
Absolutely. No resilience. No perseverance. Have a go, if it's crap in the first 10 minutes, bin it.