British actor Alexander King makes his feature film debut with ‘In From The Side‘, a film from director Matt Carter that explores an affair between two players in a gay rugby team.
The film has been a hit on the festival circuit and this week it opens in cinemas across the UK. Starting life as a Kickstarter campaign, the film has created plenty of buzz along the way and with the backing of Verve Pictures, it looks set to find a mainstream audience.
I spoke with Alexander to discuss his feature film debut, dig into the character he plays and to find out what impact he hopes the film has…
‘In From The Side’ is your debut feature film role. How did you get involved in the project?
The project was casting using Mandy, which was formerly Casting Call Pro, a casting website. It’s one that’s a lot more accessible to anybody, not like Spotlight where you have to have full professional credits or have trained at an accredited drama school to qualify. They used Mandy to post all the roles, post details about the film and to get their cast together. The Mandy network I describe it as being a bit like finding a good item of clothing in a TK Maxx; you can do it but you’ve got to be prepared to sift through bins of rubbish before you before you pick up something good. There’s lots of student projects on there and lots of unpaid work on there, which is great when you’re first starting out as an actor. I did a few short films from Many and it’s a great way to get experience.
‘In From The Side’ was posted on there and that was that TK Maxx gem. I was like, ‘oh my goodness, look at this incredible project’. Great synopsis, great character briefs, and I was instantly drawn to to Warren. I applied. They were looking for people that had rugby experience and people with a certain physicality and build for each of the roles, because rugby is that sort of game. There’s lots of different body shapes and types, which is one of the great things about the game. I didn’t have an agent at the time because I hadn’t long left drama school. I was fortunate enough to be invited in to audition and then get recalled for a second audition. They’d already cast Alex (Lincoln) a couple of months previous to most of the other roles. They were very, very set on Alex for obvious reasons, because he’s wonderful. At my second audition I actually did a chemistry read with Alex. Obviously, I ended up landing the role and it’s been incredible.
I spoke to Alex before I’d seen the film and now speaking to you, I’ve seen the film and I’ve lived with these characters for a bit. Warren is the character I struggled with the most because I couldn’t make my mind up how I felt about him. How do you feel about him?
It’s an interesting one because Warren definitely divides opinion, probably more so than any other character in the film. I guess his behavior and his actions probably lead people down to a bit of a conflict over him, and what to feel about him. Me personally, I see through Warren and I saw through Warren when I read the script. Warren’s antics and his behavior for me was very much a suit of armor and a facade to hide his deep insecurities and his vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, the way that Warren protects those vulnerabilities is in an unsavory way at times, and he can come across as an unsavory character. One that is arrogant, one that is careless and a bit thoughtless about what happens. I have great sympathy for a character like Warren because I see beyond the surface behavior and it’s something I can relate to with Warren, certainly a younger version of me having gone through a similar thing. I wouldn’t say I’ve acted like Warren, but there are certain times where you mask up, I think we all do, to hide our weaknesses. I actually think Warren out of the whole lot of them is the most troubled, although he probably comes across as the most sure of himself.
He certainly does come across that way when we first meet him but there’s so much more to unpack under the surface. It must have been a gift for you as an actor because you get to explore so many different sides to him…
Yeah, there’s a great range with Warren definitely. They’re all great characters but for me he was the most complex and the most interesting to analyse. I got to explore a real range of his character along the way of the story, but he does divide opinion. Someone asked me after BFI Flare (screening), and I’ve had this question from more than one person, ‘am I supposed to feel sorry for him?’ and I say, ‘well, there’s no right or wrong answer’. We’re certainly not saying how anybody should feel about anything in the movie, and what the characters do and what happens to. I think that’s actually a really good question to be asked (and I say) ‘what do you think?’ I love the fact that it does divide opinion. I think the movie in lots of different places divides opinion and that’s good, because it’s interesting. It’s interesting to talk about it. It’d be really boring if we all agreed.
I felt the film was like a snapshot of real life because nothing is clear cut. No one is just one thing…
Life isn’t clear cut…
Sometimes things just happen in life…
Yeah, they do and people are flawed. We don’t always make the right choices. Everyone’s different. I’m a very non-judgmental type naturally and I always try and see past certain behaviors and certain actions, and look for the reason why, rather than just brandishing someone as something. Because of the story and what happens to everyone, it does create these conversations. What I love about the film is I don’t think the film preaches in any way. It shows all sorts of different sides of what can happen with these events in relationships, and friendships and sports teams. There’s so many different dynamics within the group in the movie. I personally think it’s great because it presents lots of interesting things in life without saying what’s right or wrong. It’s for the viewer to decide.
The film really hinges on your chemistry with Alex. If that didn’t work, the film could have felt very flat but the moment the two of you are on screen together, there’s electricity. What was Alex like to work with and how did you foster that chemistry?
Alex is a phenomenal actor. He was incredibly well prepared for the role and it was interesting speaking to him, and even sneaking a little look at his script to see what notes that he’d made. For me a big part of the chemistry with Alex was getting to know each other off screen. We would meet up quite a bit and I really wanted to get to know him as a person. We had such a good rapport, just as Alex and Alex, that really, really helped because we did vibe so well. I know it’s the thing that almost everyone says when they’ve done a movie but it was true. We developed a really great friendship, which had lots of laugh and play. We cared for each other quite quickly. Sometimes you don’t have that with actors. It’s funny, I watched ‘The Notebook’ the other night and the story goes that (the actors) really didn’t get along at all but they’ve got wonderful screen chemistry. I guess it isn’t imperative but for me, it certainly helped a lot.
The film focuses on a rugby team. Had you played a lot of rugby prior to shooting?
I was fortunate to have a rugby background. I started playing rugby when I was seven. I played for my local team, I played for the under 8s. I’ve still got my plaque that says ‘most improved player for the under 8s’, which was one of my greatest accolades (laughs). I played at school and I actually play county rugby in my teens, I grew up in West Dorset, and I played until I was about about 17. I stopped because I got much more into stage and theatre, and I got into doing musicals. The two didn’t go together and we were getting bigger at that age, it was starting to get a much rougher game. Getting smashed knees and shoulders and nose… I wanted to be fit to be on stage. I stopped playing contact sport and I started playing football and basketball more instead. Certainly a good rugby pedigree when I was younger.
When it came to set, the first time we ever met each other as a group, was on a rugby pitch. Matt Carter our Director arranged for us to have a qualified coach to come in and we did some drills and some tackling practice and got used to handling the ball. That was really useful just to get your hand back in but it was also really nice for us to get to know each other as well. The movie hinges on that rugby family and the closeness of the group. It’s nice to build a bit of that before we got on set. On set it was handled through, almost choreography, you could say. Matt would set sequences up that we’d want to do and sometimes he just let it run. We had a lot of extras that were rugby players, which was fantastic, and sometimes we would just play and see what happened. We were told not to go too hard on each other (laughs).
Yeah, you don’t want to injure yourself on a shoot…
There was only one moment where I hit my head on someone’s knee when tackling. I was slightly dazed.
That’s a relief!
It was minimal. They kept us very safe. But it’s great. The sequences in the film, I think, look fantastic and the great feedback we get from from the rugby world is just how well it does capture the game.
The rugby is almost a sub-plot in itself away from the drama between Mark and Warren. What the film does so well is it really fleshes out the supporting characters, giving each of them depth and their own stories, and you really care about them…
The supporting cast are amazing, they really make the movie. You’re right, you do really care for them. Not giving away a spoiler but Henry’s involvement in that last game, that’s a sports movie moment. It’s magical. At that point in the film, you’re just behind the team like you would be in any sports film. You do root for the supporting cast. They do play such a big role in the movie and they add so much to it.
I really enjoyed that aspect and I feel there’s a lot more story to tell with those characters…
100%. There’s so many more things we could have explored, so many more relationships and so many more characters. Maybe there’s a Netflix series in there somewhere?
It could take the ‘Bridgerton’ approach with each film or episode focusing on a different character?
Yeah (laughs). There’s all sorts of spin-offs and stories you could explore. I think that’s brilliant. I love watching a film (where) I want to be wanting more or creating my own story (about what happens).
What would you say was the biggest challenge for you on this project?
Personally, there was a sense of responsibility because I’ve never done anything of this nature in terms of the the grandness of the project. I certainly felt there was great responsibility as a lead role in a feature film to deliver, and to not let the faith down that had been put in me by Matt and by Adam (Silver) and Andrew (?),the producers. And also the cast. I really, really wanted to do my job well. There was an element of that, but actually that went quite quickly once we got on set and once we got working with everyone. Matt’s fantastic to work with. He’s the opposite of a scary director, that helped certainly helped me, but I think it benefited the movie. Matt’s an unbelievable filmmaker and he created this wonderful atmosphere on set. There was great freedom for everybody to express themselves, either in character or not. He gave us freedom to make choices within the script. He involved us in discussion over scenes, even over lines and dialogue, what we were comfortable with and what we weren’t. He’d always let us try it and there was no judgment from anybody. It was very supportive and if it didn’t work, it didn’t work. That probably was the biggest challenge. Certain scenes you look at and you know they’re going to be be trickier to do than others, and to get to a certain place, you’re gonna have to be incredibly committed to the moment and to not overthink it.
You must be feeling proud now with the reaction the film had on the festival circuit?
I think everything that has happened this year with the incredible festival run we’ve been on, and we’ve just announced our sixth US festival, and there’s more coming as well, and then the cinema release is just incredible. The UK was enough but the fact that the film has expanded (outside this country) has been a huge surprise. We knew we were making an incredible project but I don’t think anyone could have quite dreamed of it taking off the way it has and receiving the support (it’s had). That’s wonderful .For a movie about a gay and all inclusive rugby team to be going this mainstream, and to be going global in this way, and to have such incredible feedback, it’s so much more than any of us could have ever asked for. We’re hoping this film is going to have an impact on people in lots of ways, not just from an entertainment point of view. We’re hoping it’s going to break down some stereotypes and some barriers, and we hope it’s going to give people confidence, and show people perhaps things they didn’t even know existed. I spoke to somebody recently, who said if this film had been made when they were a teenager, and he’s close to my age, this would have just been mind blowing. He didn’t enter the sports field until he was in his mid-20s. He said, ‘you have no idea what this film would have done for me as a young teenager’. We hope it has a positive impact in many ways.
‘In From The Side’ is released in cinemas by Verve Pictures from Friday 16th September 2022. Watch the trailer below: