As part of this year's Esquire Townhouse @ Your House with Breitling, The Crown actor – and cover star past – Josh O'Connor talked creativity and cultivating it with Loewe creative director and fashion designer Jonathan Anderson, of JW fame. And a lot was said. During the conversation, which was moderated by art historian and writer Ferren Gipson, we were granted access to each talent's creative process, and how the current pandemic has affected it for better or worse. Here's everything that went down.
God's Own Country landed O'Connor the gig at Loewe
Anderson and O'Connor aren't just acquaintances. They're friends. And it began when the latter was appointed Loewe's brand ambassador and frontman for the technical-geared S/S '20 collection – and it was God's Own Country that sealed the deal.
"I hadn’t seen a film that was that good in a long time, one that actually feels modern right now. I kind of likened that is was more raw," says Anderson. "I came out of it and picked up the phone to our casting director and I was just like, we need to get him in a campaign tomorrow."
O'Connor's deepest creative well is a scrapbook
Pinterest serves a purpose. But off-set, O'Connor prefers to keep his creative archive off a screen, and begins all of his projects with a scrapbook.
" If I start with a script, I find it really hard because I feel no attachment to the story. The story exists from page one to the end, and beyond that I have no idea about it, so if I start there I am very limited whereas the idea of the scrapbook has always [allowed me to] create everything outside the story, everything beyond it and before it, then I have some context," says O'Connor. "What’s really funny about the first page of all my scrapbooks is that if I go back and look now they’re usually scratched out or ripped out and another image’s been put in at the end, because when you start a scrapbook it often, by the time you’ve done the journey and created everything else, it’s actually totally irrelevant or not helpful."
O'Connor would, actually, get rid of the Royal Family altogether
Said of his time on The Crown: "I really avoided the person Prince Charles. So firstly I didn't know a lot about him, I don't really follow the Royal Family. I'm an all-out Republican, so that's not really changed."
What's more, it gave the 30-year-old some wriggle room in his portrayal. "I always reference a great film that Todd Haynes made about Bob Dylan called 'I Am Not There', and everyone remembers Cate Blanchett because she played the most recognisable version of Dylan. There's 8 actors playing 8 aspect of Dylan's personality, and that is so much more interesting to me than seeing a version of Dylan which is literally the only version of Dylan that we see through the eyes of the press and the media."
For O'Connor, Loewe's socially distanced cubic 'show' was a hit
"Jonathan's show in a box was completely brilliant... But this to me felt like talking about the lack of tactileness and anything to do with something you can literally touch, the show in a box was perfect for that and something we really needed," said O'Connor.
More importantly, it's an idea that doesn't convert to the big screen. "Cinema is slightly trickier. Yes, you can put it on Prime, but it will never be the same experience."
JW Anderson wasn't an overnight success
When broaching the topic of failure, Anderson was quick to pour some truth on the matter of his success. "When I first started JW Anderson the amount of times we nearly went bust was crazy. Each time, you’d get closer to it, then you’d shift, and something would work.
"You learn something from it, like well ‘I won’t do that again’. It’s a very good elimination tool and it keeps you real."
Equally, O'Connor isn't always so proud of his past work
For the actor, understanding where things went wrong is an essential component of creative success. "Failure’s all part of the process. It comes back to this sense of speed and content, that if we’re being forced to create stuff quickly and routinely, then it’s pressured.
"I’ve made terrible decisions about characters or stuff that I now can’t watch the film or the series because all I see is failure. But I’ve learned... that [an] audacious, outrageous decision I made for that character could work for something else."
Holding back is the best advice in the business
"There was a cult hero of mine who came to my drama school and he came in and I was expecting this great piece of advice: ‘this is how you act’," says O'Connor. "And he went: ‘if there’s one thing I’ve learned, [it's] save half’. I’ve sort of mangled his advice into something skewed, and to what I think is helpful, and that’s always about saving half in performance."
And creativity will remain unshackled by the pandemic.
"We have all been lucky to experience this moment of slowdown, but I would say that at the minute, you're allowed to get back to things," says Anderson. "The great thing about society – and the bad thing – is that you forget very quickly what we have learned, but sometimes it becomes part of the zeitgeist that there are things everyone wants to change. I think the seed of creativity will, in a weird way, pick up. Sometimes I feel it'll pick up where it left off but the landscape will've changed, I think there will be people who will just vanish in relevancy."
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