The Scrapper star on getting into character, upsetting the make-up department and improvising opposite a tenacious 11-year-old.
Since bursting onto the scene in 2017 with his piercing turn in Eliza Hittman’s Beach Rats, Harris Dickinson has been carving out a career as one of the most promising young actors working today. From starring in blockbusters like The King’s Man and Where the Crawdads Sing to Palme d’Or winner Triangle of Sadness, he’s just as at ease working on big budget studio films as he is on the indie scene. Case in point: his turn as bleach blonde club promoter/absentee father Jason in Charlotte Regan’s Sundance prizewinner Scrapper, about an 11- year-old girl raising herself following the death of her mother.
LWLies: You worked with Charlotte Regan before, on the short film Oats & Barley back in 2019. How would you describe her as a collaborator?
Dickinson: When I first met Charlie, and I hope she won’t mind me saying this, but she was deeply shy. But clearly had a lot to say as a filmmaker and had a lot to say from an experience point of view. As a result, she was coming at it from a direction that not everyone comes from. She has this tenderness and sensitivity, but she’s also really frank and honest and upfront, and avoids any unnecessary over-discussion of things, which I like. She put so much importance and care in Lola Campbell, who plays Georgie, that it just set up this really nurturing and caring environment on set.
How did you feel about playing a dad at your age?
So, it’s one thing playing a dad, but it’s another thing playing a dad to an 11 year old! But I think there wasn’t really much pressure, because I didn’t have to take responsibility for being a real sort of integral father figure. I was just this kind of negligent, incompetent guy who wasn’t quite able to face up to responsibilities, but then slowly, slowly he does.
Scrapper is close to home for you geographically, as you’re an East London local. Was that something that appealed to you when you read the script?
I think it was the language and the text, and I guess it was that chance to tap into something that you know, but also find there are big gaps and challenges with. I mean, I’m not a dad and I’m in such different circumstances from Georgie and Jason. But you know, it’s funny, I was in America just after shooting Where the Crawdads Sing, and I was fed up, I’d been playing this guy who wasn’t a very nice character, I’d been living in the south for three months, and everything felt a bit odd. I remember I went on holiday, and I shaved my head, and I dyed my hair blonde for Scrapper. I sent a picture to the makeup designer, and she was like, ‘Why have you done that?’ So I said, ‘I think it’s something Jason would do.’ So I did have to apologise for that. But I wanted to jump straight into the character.
I know you’re a bit of a film buff – did you and Charlotte discuss any reference points for Scrapper?
I know that we spoke about Paris, Texas at one point, because we were talking about the magical realism in that. I did ask Charlotte for references, but she didn’t really have any, and I think that was nice, because it ended up with how me and Lola did the scenes. Not to discredit Lola, but sometimes she would get bored, and rightly so, because she’s never done it before and she’s 11. After a while we realised that she was just really good – she didn’t need tons of rehearsal, she would just do it. I think that the tone just became how Lola was going to react, which was fun because we didn’t have to over-intellectualise. I was just rocking up each day, prepared but not mapping out exactly what I was gonna do and how it was gonna happen.
How did you find the improvisation process, particularly working with a young scene partner?
If I’m honest, it was actually quite scary improvising with Lola, because you don’t know where it’s gonna go. She’s so unafraid, and so mature, but she could be quite brutal and totally cut you down.
Kids are brutal!
They’re totally unashamed, which was amazing. With the improvisations, there was structure to them, and we would we would improvise around the script, and sometimes we would just be left to go anywhere. Because also, at that age, sometimes Lola didn’t want to be nice to me. She was embarrassed to be nice to me! But I really loved working with her. Every day I was proper excited to come in.
Published 24 Aug 2023
The chemistry between Harris Dickinson and Lola Campbell shines in Charlotte Regan's debut, about the difficulties of father-daughter bonding.
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