Lean and keen

From a local drama group in Bradford to playing James Bond – actually, young actor Samuel Bottomley hasn’t quite got his licence to kill yet but he’s killing it in new series Somewhere Boy

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Before he headed out to work one day on his upcoming film The Last Rifleman, in which he’ll appear alongside Pierce Bronson, Samuel Bottomley was suddenly overcome by the surrealness of his life.

“I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, what’s going on?” he remembers. “It feels like this was never meant to happen. It didn’t feel real.”

The Bradford-raised actor admits to suffering from imposter syndrome, which he thinks comes from being working class and Northern, but he is unquestionably the only one having momentary doubts over his abilities.

You can understand why he might be discombobulated by his success however. In the last two years alone, he’s appeared in standout roles in the Daisy May Cooper comedy-thriller Am I Being Unreasonable?, the boisterous sitcom Ladhood, the feelgood musical film Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, and Channel 5’s drama The Teacher, where he shone as a 15-year-old pupil who Sheridan Smith’s titular educator is accused of having sex with.

Such is his torrential workload that he’s speaking to us today, via Zoom, from Crete, where he’s filming a yet-to-be-announced upcoming drama. Although only 21, Bottomley is something of a veteran of the business, having made his professional debut aged nine in Paddy Considine’s 2011 lauded sucker-punch of a film, Tyrannosaur. His latest series, Channel 4’s dark coming-of-age story Somewhere Boy, packs an equally bracing emotional heft and is already being touted as the drama of the year.

Due to his age, he attended the Tyrannosaur premiere on the condition he didn’t watch it

Its plot concerns 18-year-old Danny (played by Lewis Gribben) who has spent his childhood cocooned in a remote house in the countryside, warned by his grieving father Steve (Rory Keenan) that he can’t venture outside because the world is full of literal monsters. Instead he stays inside, listening to cheerful Benny Goodman records and watching old movies with no sad endings, waiting for his dad to return through the door each day, holding his shotgun and smeared in blood. However, a traumatic event forces Danny to unpick the stitching of his life and realise he’s been living a lie. Bottomley plays Danny’s cousin, Aaron, who helps his previously blinkered eyes adjust to the harsh lights of reality. It was a script that Bottomley felt resonated with the times.

“When I first read it, we were just coming out of lockdown and the loneliness and the solitude of Somewhere Boy made it feel like an important story to tell,” he explains. “It’s a beautifully told story of isolation and the effect that has.”

Growing up in Bradford with a humble background – his dad was a plumber, his mum was an HR manager for a supermarket – Bottomley fell in to acting. As a child, he was silly, playful and happy, but when he struggled with education and was diagnosed with dyslexia aged nine, his family rallied around him and suggested he channel his energy into something positive, so he joined a group at a local church near his school. One day he was handed a flyer to audition for Tyrannosaur.

“They wanted someone who hadn’t worked before and was rough around the edges in an acting sense,” he says. “I thought I’d go for it because it would be a day off school and something to tell my mates when I got back. And I ended up loving it and I’ve not looked back since.”

Samuel Bottomley in Somewhere Boy
Samuel Bottomley in Somewhere Boy

Tyrannosaur was a tough watch. It began with a man who can’t articulate his rage taking his anger out by kicking his faithful dog to death, and encompasses domestic abuse, alcoholism and broken people. Despite its brutality, Bottomley, who played local lad Samuel in the movie, had a blast filming it.

“It felt like stepping through the wardrobe and finding yourself in Narnia,” he beams. “Everything the film’s about – the strong scenes and stuff – were never in front of me and I was kept very protected from that side of shooting.

“I remember sitting in one of the travel buses for people to finish their scene before I could step on set.”

In contrast to the wrenching source material, the environment was fun – producers bought him a new iPod, he chatted with star Olivia Colman and struggled to understand Peter Mullan’s syrup-thick Scottish accent.

“What great role models to have on your first job to look up to,” he adds. “Imagine if I’d done Tyrannosaur now. I’d have been so starstruck.”

Due to his age, he attended the Tyrannosaur premiere on the condition that he didn’t watch it. “Me and the producer sat and had dinner outside the screening while everybody else watched the film,” he laughs.

Other roles swiftly followed, including in the CBBC series Rocket’s Island and portraying the young Oliver Cromwell in the television adaption of the late Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which Bottomley – a history buff – loved.  “My dad read the book to me when we were filming it.”

In 2017, he secured a breakout role as Jordan Wilson in the Channel 4 school drama Ackley Bridge, gaining rave reviews for his raw portrait of a troubled teen who’s being abused by his father.

“Ackley Bridge was the first time people in my local area started to notice me,” he says. “I got a lot of people in Jordan’s position sending me messages saying they could really relate to my character and that’s a wonderful thing to hear because that’s what you do it for really.”

Bottomley, who still lives at home in Bradford with his mum, is equally adept at comedy as he is at pulling heartstrings. In 2019, two projects were released that showed his lighter side. Ladhood, the cult sitcom in which he played Ralph Roberts, was based on the now 34-year-old comic Liam Williams’ hormonal adolescence in Garforth, near Leeds, and felt so authentic, you could practically smell the Lynx deodorant wafting through the screen.

“That’s the thing I get collared in the street for the most really. You always get 35-40 year olds saying ‘That was it for me’ and that’s exactly why I did it.”

Three of the four main Ladhood cast hail from Bradford, and he also liked the notion of celebrating regions usually neglected by television.

“When I was growing up, I remember seeing the Bradford-set Clio Barnard film The Selfish Giant and saying: ‘This is where I live,’” he recalls. “It felt special. It’s important for people where I’m from to see themselves on telly. When it’s local, it always seems to be a negative portrayal – the grim side of the North – which I’m looking to change. I’m hoping we start to show the beauty as well as the grittiness.”

It was on the set of Get Duked!, a riotous comedy feature, also released in 2019 but shot two years earlier, where Bottomley first met his future Somewhere Boy co-star Gribben, now a mate. Set in the Scottish Highlands, Bottomley played a docile nerd and Duke of Edinburgh Award enthusiast who finds himself hunted by gun-toting poshos intent on thinning the Gen Z herd. The young cast became firm friends.

“I’d just turned 16 and it was my first job without a chaperone, which filled me with dread,” he admits. “I just remember being stressed out because I didn’t know whether I was going to be able to do it. It was a big step and all of those boys, particularly Lewis, were there to older-brother me through it.”

The film led to myriad surreal experiences, including appearing as his Get Duked! character in the video for single Out of Sight by rap duo Run the Jewels featuring 2 Chainz, and hanging out with producer Tobey Maguire.

“I’d look across the table and think, I’m having dinner with Spider-Man – my favourite ever superhero,” he boggles, with a chuckle.

Somewhere Boy has a very different, haunting tone from the manic freewheeling chaos of Get Duked!, and he confesses that the cast were nervous about nailing such a complex story. Each of its eight instalments clocks in at less than half an hour. It’s so piercingly intense and honest, each episode feels like holding your breath for 27 minutes, exhaling only when the credits roll.

It also has interesting things to say about modern masculinity and outsiders. The character of Danny – who starts out drifting ghost-like through the world – is the most obvious outcast, but Bottomley’s character, Aaron, is dealing with his own monsters. Adrift and alienated, his bravado is undermined by his so-called friends, and he is as trapped in his own home as Danny once was.

Insecure but braggadocious Aaron also learns about sex via porn, which additionally feels salient.

“That’s how a lot of lads learn about sex and it’s not the healthiest way to do it,” says Bottomley. “It leads to a misconstrued view of how sex should be. There are loads of lads who see sex as they see porn, which leads women to be in uncomfortable situations, so it’s another reason why this feels like an important role to play.”

With a number of projects in the pipeline, including the aforementioned The Last Rifleman, the future is bright for an actor who loves his craft and constantly wants to challenge himself.

“Although there’s still imposter syndrome every now and again,” he points out. “I remember speaking to a sound guy and saying: ‘I can’t do it.’ I’d got it into my head that I couldn’t act. I think overthinking can be dangerous for performers.

“But I want to step further out of my comfort zone of what other people might assume I’m capable of. Keep taking those steps and see where I land.”

Could we see him following in the footsteps of Pierce Brosnan and becoming James Bond in the future?

“I want to do it all! I want to do those mad action-hero roles and be James Bond or Spider-Man. And I don’t doubt I could be either of them.”

Judging by his stellar career so far, neither do we.

Somewhere Boy starts on 16 October at 10pm on Channel 4. All episodes will also be available on All 4

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