ABOVE: CHARLIE ROWE IN LOS ANGELES, AUGUST 2014. PHOTOGRAPHY: BRIAN HIGBEE. STYLING: JESSIE COHAN/ATELIER. FASHION ASSISTANT: ANDREA SAGUN. GROOMING: K.C. FEE.
Leo, one of the protagonists of Fox’s new drama Red Band Society, likes to get high in the supply closet, get into arguments with the girl he likes in class, throw parties, go for joy rides, and partake in other such typical teenage indulgences. He’s also got one leg, no hair, and is waiting to hear whether he is finally cancer free. In the meantime, Leo lives in the pediatric wing of Ocean Park hospital along with the rest of the “red band” kids—Dash, the stoner with Cystic Fibrosis; Emma, Leo’s anorexic ex; Kara, the mean girl with a serious heart condition (Zoe Levin); and Jordi, his new roommate who also has osteosarcoma. The unflappable Nurse Jackson (Octavia Spencer) keeps him in check.
British actor Charlie Rowe plays Leo. Although Rowe has been acting for over a decade and has appeared in films like The Golden Compass, Pirate Radio, and Never Let You Go, Red Band Society is his first American television show. Before the summer, Rowe lived in North London with his family and attended high school. Now, he’s based in Atlanta and recently finished filming Red Band‘s sixth episode.
HOMETOWN: North London, England
CURRENT LOCATION: Atlanta, Georgia
IN THE FAMILY: My dad was an actor and a writer; my mum was a drama teacher. My grandma was an actress. My aunt is an actress. My granddad was a cameraman. They would’ve been surprised if I wanted to be a dentist or something like that. [laughs]
EARLY AMBITIONS: When I was eight years old I asked my mum, “Mum, can I do two jobs?” And she was like, “Absolutely!” “Cause I’d like to act for 15 years and then direct for 15 years.” I’ve had a plan for a long time, and by my calculations I haven’t got that much longer in the acting world. I started counting those 15 years when I was eight so I’ve only got five years left. Obviously I can’t do anything else after directing—I’m going to have to retire…
FAVORITE FILMS: The Princess Bride (1987) was a movie that I watched all the time. When I got a bit older it was Quadrophenia (1979), which is based on the album by The Who. West Side Story (1961) I used to watch all the time—I don’t know why. Well, I do it’s a great movie. I love the music in it. I love the actors. I used to bring my friends home from school and be like, “Hey guys you’ve got to watch this movie West Side Story.” Then they’d take the piss out of me and because it was a musical. But they’d love it as well because of that fight scene in the beginning.
ACTING IDOLS: I love Gary Oldman, [but] I think my all time favorite actor is James Gandolfini. He’s fantastic and I’m so sad that he’s gone because I would’ve loved to have met him. He tells a million stories with his eyes—he can tell a whole scene with his eyes.
FIRST PROFESSIONAL JOB: I was eight years old, but it was just a commercial. I don’t know if you have it over here, but it was for this toy game called Subbuteo, which is like finger football—finger soccer. You flick the players with your fingers. It’s like a football board game, almost. It was all very fun because I got to dress up as soccer managers. God, I remember it well. Did I get to keep the game afterwards? Yes, I did. My dad is a huge fan of it anyway, so we have about four of the board games and we have Subbuteo tournaments at my house.
FAVORITE PROJECT TO DATE: [Aside from Red Band Society], Never Let Me Go (2010) was one that really stands out. It was the first time that I was really thinking about what I was doing and I was around other actors that were thinking about it as well. We had a fantastic cast—we had Andrew Garfield, Carey Mulligan, and Keira Knightley. I was very lucky that us kids—the three kids who were playing the younger [versions of the] adults—we got to spend two weeks together in this beautiful house in the countryside, playing games and getting to know each other and how each other interacted. I spent a lot of time with Andrew Garfield. He was so smart. When I saw the movie he did things that I just did naturally as a kid and I thought it was amazing how he managed to pick up on those things. It really made me want to be a smart, good actor. I can’t wait to meet him again to tell him that. That was a great thing to work on.
READING FOR RED BAND SOCIETY: I was back home in London and I got the script and they asked me to tape for it. It was the first time I had heard anything back from a self-tape; usually they just get lost in the ether of the L.A. film industry. I got an email back from my agent about a week and a half later saying they’d like you to audition with the casting agent in London—the director’s going to be on Skype and the writer’s going to be there as well. I went in and the director was on Skype on the computer and he was holding the writer on FaceTime. It was this strange technology inception. It was very 21st century. They made me do it in an English accent and an American accent, and they decided they liked the American accent. I was very pleased with that. Then they cast me about two weeks later. It was all very, very quick. I think it was Steven Spielberg who said, “No, his accent’s good” or “We can get it better, we can work on it.” It would’ve been silly if they just had a British boy in the show. There are already cheesy moments because it’s a network show, but if there was a British boy in an American hospital it would’ve been very heartthrob-y and stupid. It would’ve been absolutely ridiculous so I’m very glad they didn’t go with that. And it allows me to work on my accent, which is good training.
HAIR OFF: That’s what I was most anxious about because I didn’t know if I had an ugly shaped head or not. I really could’ve had a surprisingly horrible head and nobody [would’ve] known—I didn’t shave my head before the part. I shaved my head the day before filming. Luckily it was okay and Atlanta was 10 degrees cooler because I had no hair, so that was fantastic!
HATS ON: I love a good Tyrolean or fedora or something, but not the way people wear it nowadays. I’m sick of all the pop stars who wear it on the back of their heads. I like a good old Mad Men Tyrolean front down over the eyes.
MR. SPIELBERG: I haven’t met him yet, no. It’s my dream! I keep telling, “Guys you’ve really got to bring Steven down here. I really want to meet him.” And they’re like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. We will.” He’s very busy making, like, four movies right now. He’s got so much on his plate. But he reads all the scripts. He chose us as actors. He managed to get me into the country. They didn’t want to approve my visa at first but Spielberg apparently spoke to certain people in certain offices and managed to get me in the country, which is ridiculous. [laughs] Spielberg’s already done enough! I didn’t even have my head shaved at that point.
A LITTLE BIT HOMESICK: There are several things [I miss about home]—first of all that no one walks up or down escalators here. Nobody. I’m sure if you’re in New York it’s very different, but here no one does. It makes no sense to me. They stand right in the middle of the escalator and they don’t move. In the airport this woman was obviously in a rush to catch her connecting flight or something. She sprinted out the plane and she sprinted to the next gate and got to the escalator and stood right in the middle of the escalator and stood still. [pauses] Then she got to the top of the escalator and started sprinting again. Logically, that makes no sense. You could’ve completely cut some time out if you’d just run up the escalator. So that’s something I’m finding hard to get used to. Also, I think coffee is not very good here. I mean there are a few good places like Empire State South is a really great café and Aurora and Octane. My dad just arrived in Atlanta for a week and he brought me some Marmite, which is fantastic. It’s such a relief to have some Marmite. But that’s about it.
RED BAND SOCIETY AIRS WEDNESDAYS ON FOX.