Mr Douglas Booth
Five years after he first appeared on MR PORTER, the British actor models some of our favourite spring pieces
The first thing you should know about Mr Douglas Booth is that he’s actually quite a nice chap. And if that doesn’t come as a surprise to you, well, then perhaps it should. After all, the qualities that are abundantly present in him – warmth, humility, a genuine sense of social responsibility – aren’t necessarily what you’d expect of a precocious 23-year-old actor who has spent the past five years being wooed by movie studios and lusted after by teenage girls. As our then Editor-In-Chief Mr Jeremy Langmead pointed out in 2011, when Mr Booth first modelled for MR PORTER, “You would worry that the potent combination of absurd good looks, talent and charm… might prove rather fatal for someone so young.”
His latest on-screen roles don’t exactly paint him in the rosiest light, either. You could point to the brief but scene-stealing appearance as the callous hit-and-run child killer, Anthony Marston, in the BBC’s recent adaptation of Ms Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None; or to his role as Titus, the bratty scion of an extraterrestrial super-race, in Jupiter Ascending; or to 2014’s The Riot Club, in which he played lord-in-waiting Harry Villiers, one of the senior members of a debauched, amoral dining society based not-so-loosely on Oxford University’s real-life Bullingdon Club.
What a pleasant surprise it is, then, to learn that the real Mr Booth is nothing at all like the scoundrels, villains and cads that he has proven so effective at playing on screen. As if to prove it, he’s taken on the role of one of the nicest chaps in literature: the soft-centred Mr Bingley, best friend of Mr Darcy, in the latest big-screen adaptation of Pride And Prejudice. Arriving in cinemas this February, Pride + Prejudice + Zombies promises to provide a double-shot of entrail-splattering thrills and Victorian-era social commentary, while hopefully offering its viewers an object lesson in the importance of not judging a book by its cover – or, indeed, a movie by its title.
That may yet prove difficult. Deep beneath the flagstones of Winchester Cathedral where she lies interred, you can almost hear poor Ms Jane Austen turning in her grave. Or perhaps raising from it? But Pride + Prejudice + Zombies packs a great deal more punch than the sensational title would have you believe. Based on the 2009 New York Times bestseller by Mr Seth Grahame-Smith, he of that other undead historical mash-up, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the movie adaptation features a screenplay originally drafted by the Oscar-nominated director Mr David O Russell and an executive producer credit for Ms Natalie Portman, while in front of the camera is a raft of British talent, many of whom – such as Ms Lily James and Mr Matt Smith – Mr Booth considers close friends. “It was a riotous production,” he says. “We had a fantastic time – and it was lovely to play someone who wasn’t quite such a rogue, for once.”
It’s with the greatest of apologies to Mr Booth, then – who, we should reiterate, really is a very nice guy – that we’ve contributed to this bad-boy image that he’s somehow managed to cultivate by casting him as yet another villain. In his latest photo story for MR PORTER, shot in Florence nearly five years after his last, he plays the part of a dapper gentleman thief: a sort of latter-day Thomas Crown. Stylistically, it’s a distillation of everything that we feel we’ve come to represent over the last five years: timeless, rooted in the traditional codes of masculine style, but with an eye fixed firmly on the future. (Plus a bowler hat or two thrown in for good measure.) Call it a return to our core values – or a reminder, perhaps, that they never really went away.
“The world goes round in circles, especially with fashion,” muses Mr Booth over tea at London’s recently opened Soho House 76 Dean Street. He’s gazing out of the top-floor window, across the city and back over the past five years, which have seen him rise from Burberry-endorsed bright young thing – he appeared in the brand’s advertising campaigns in both 2009 and 2010, alongside other burgeoning talents Mses Emma Watson and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley – to one of British cinema’s most bankable stars. Is he relieved at all to be leaving that “boy next door” identity behind?
“Well, my breakout role was playing Boy George, which is hardly your average boy next door,” he laughs. He’s referring to Worried About The Boy, a 2010 TV movie based on the early life of Mr George O’Dowd, the famously androgynous lead singer of the 1980s synth pop band Culture Club. “Maybe excited is a better word than relieved,” he continues, after a prolonged moment of reflection. “Look, the way I see it is this: I’ve had the great fortune to work with some fantastic directors, I’ve made some films that work and some that don’t and I’ve had an amazing time along the way. It feels over the past five years as if I’ve been laying down the foundations for the future. And the future… well, it looks exciting.”
Real-life characters dominate his immediate future as an actor, with a starring role as the vaudevillian comedian Mr Dan Leno in The Limehouse Golem up first. At the mere mention of his latest movie Mr Booth immediately reaches for his phone and starts flicking through photos. “Here,” he says, thrusting the phone across the table. “You can barely recognise me!” He’s right: the character stares blankly out of the screen, eyes glassy and vacant like those of a porcelain doll, hair lank with pomade and parted neatly in the middle, dressed in scruffy, ill-fitting tails and cravat, looking nothing at all like the handsome creature known to the world as Mr Douglas Booth. “It’s a silver wet-plate photograph,” he says, as if to offer some kind of explanation for why he doesn’t appear quite as ridiculously good-looking as usual. “The same method that they used in the late 19th century.”
A few swipes away are a couple of pictures that look like lost artworks but are in fact film stills from Loving Vincent, in which he plays Mr Armand Roulin, a favourite artistic subject of Mr Vincent Van Gogh. The film is composed of 60,000 oil paintings and claims to be the first ever feature-length hand-painted animation. Then there’s his upcoming role as Mr Percy Shelley in A Storm In The Stars, in which he plays opposite the talented and remarkably prolific Ms Elle Fanning. “She’s 18 years old and already has 48 film credits,” gushes Mr Booth. (We checked on IMDb later; it’s actually 49.)
All of which, you’d think, would be more than enough to keep him busy, were it not for the fact that Mr Booth seems intent on defining himself as more than just an actor. And so we arrive at the aforementioned sense of social responsibility, which manifests itself most clearly in his work for the UN Refugee Agency, but is generally apparent in his wider life, too. He became a pescatarian a few years ago with an ex-girlfriend and hopes to graduate to vegetarianism and eventually veganism, citing the environmental effects of a meat-based diet. “There’s just not enough land to grow the necessary feed for the animals that we eat, and the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere by cattle farming are just enormous,” he says, in an impassioned tirade that stops mercifully short of preaching. “Look, I admit that you’re never going to change the habits of people who’ve grown up this way – but maybe if we raise our children in a different way, we could start to effect a change.”
One of the nicest things you can say about a celebrity is that they are able to leverage their fame for the common good without displaying a jot of sanctimony or haughty self-righteousness. Mr Booth is somebody to whom this description applies. “I’m not special,” he says, when asked if fame makes him feel a greater sense of responsibility for the world around him. “I’m no more accountable for what’s going on than anyone else in the world. All I have is a platform. If I can use it to open a few people’s eyes and promote a little bit of compassion, then that’s a good thing, I suppose. Besides,” he adds, “it’s not like I find it difficult. This sort of thing really interests me. Did you know that my favourite channel is BBC News 24?” (No, but it doesn’t come as much of a surprise.)
So, then, Mr Booth: an eloquent, grounded, environmentally aware pescatarian and avid watcher of rolling news coverage. Character study complete, it’s time for him to drain the last of his tea and pull his gaze away from the window and the higgledy-piggledy toy rooftops of Soho, which run away into the distance to merge somewhere with the rest of the city. A costume fitting beckons, and from there it’s straight on to the airport and to Florence to star in this bad-boy, art thief, Thomas Crown-style photoshoot that we’ve got planned for him. We advise that you take the results with a pinch of salt, though. As we may have already mentioned, Mr Booth’s nothing like that at all; he’s actually quite a nice guy.