Luke Newberry has never been to the BAFTAs before, but he’ll attend this Sunday. The 24-year-old actor is nominated for Best Actor in a Television Series for his work on the BBC drama In the Flesh. It’s not going to be an easy win; the other three actors competing in Newberry’s category are Jamie Dornan, Sean Harris, and Dominic “The Wire” West, the latter of which has already won the award once before. “Apparently I’m an outside bet, whatever that means,” Newberry laughs. He hasn’t written his speech yet: “I’m going to try and write one this week. It might be more of a scrawled list of names.”
On In the Flesh, Newberry places Kieran Walker, a sensitive, small-town 19-year-old tacitly in love with his best friend, Rick. Kieran faces all of the prejudices you’d expect living in a conservative community: Rick’s dad, whose adherence to traditional masculinity has become an obsession, hates him; Rick himself oscillates between being affectionate and distant; and Kieran’s parents are too afraid to do anything but tiptoe around him. But Kieran also faces some other, less common prejudices: like thousands of others around England, Kieran suffers from Partially Deceased Syndrome. In 2009, shortly after committing suicide, he came back from the dead in a mass zombie uprising. For an undetermined period of time, Kieran and his fellow PDS sufferers were “rabid”: devoid of their human feelings, they terrorized the country and fed off of human brains. Now, thanks to a new medicine, most PDS sufferers are trying to reintegrate into their former human communities. Unsurprisingly, not everyone is rushing to accept them back.
Last weekend, In the Flesh returned to BBC America for a second season. While the show is certainly Newberry’s most prominent role to date, the Devon native has been acting for over a decade. He auditioned—and was screen-tested—for the role of Harry Potter in Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001). At the age of 11, he was cast in his first film, 2002’s The Heart of Me, opposite Helena Bonham Carter, Olivia Williams, and Paul Bettany. “I spent a lot of time with adults as a child,” Newberry recalls. “It was a weird juxtaposition: one minute I was at Sheperton Studios with Helena Bonham Carter, frolicking around having fun with adults,” he continues. “Then, to come back to my tiny village school was kind of a weird change.”
HOMETOWN: Exeter, Devon, England
ENTRY INTO ACTING: Do I come from an acting family? No, not at all. My older sisters were involved in singing and dancing and acting, so I sort of followed in their footsteps. Then realized I didn’t enjoy singing and dancing very much and that acting was more my bag. I got an agent when I was seven, and they started setting me up for jobs. This film came along [The Heart of Me, 2002], and Kate Rhodes James was the loveliest casting director, and gave me that opportunity to work with these incredible actors. Really it was that film that sparked my desire to make it a career.
THE HEALTHY CHILD ACTOR: Acting gave me an outlet for my creativity, because I never wanted to be at school, and I was so creative as a child, be it drawing or just wandering around the house pretending to be other people. It also it set me up very well for the position I’m in now, where I’m quite used to how the industry works and rejection and all those things that come with it, which I’m really grateful for. I was never a child star. I did a few really nice jobs as I was growing up, but it was never overwhelming and I was always quite protected. So I just had a lot of fun.
THE BIG SMOKE: [As a child] I used to pretend to be on the London Underground—I’d pretend to be a really stressed-out commuter, and sit and read the paper in the hallway and wait for my stop. I was a strange child. [laughs] My parents would take me from Devon to London for castings, and I was completely in awe of London and completely fixated with not just the place, but the way of life and people and what people did. I would always try and recreate it at home.
IN THE FLESH: It’s a very different take on the zombie genre—it’s a whole new genre, really. Dominic Mitchell has created this world where living with PDS syndrome is a reality. I hadn’t really seen any zombie [fiction] before. The closest it gets is something like Death Becomes Her, which is an awesome film about death and eternity and preservation. But In the Flesh is about so many other aspects of life that I forget we’re in a genre piece.
KIERAN AND RICK: Their relationship is complex and very meaningful. I think they had a strong friendship that maybe led into something more. They understood each other on a very deep level, because it affected Kieran in such a way that he didn’t want to live anymore when Rick died. Rick has very different circumstances than Kieran in the way he was brought up and being in the army. Rick is more restricted with his emotions.
STAGE FRIGHT: I played Haemon in Antigone at the National [Theatre, in London] in 2012, which was a really brilliant experience. It was in the Olivier, which is a huge theater to perform in. The first night that we went up, I had this out-of-body thing, which I think a lot of actors get, where you’re on the stage, but you feel like you’re watching yourself on the stage. It’s a really bizarre feeling. [laughs] I couldn’t feel my body.
SERIES TWO OF IN THE FLESH AIRS SATURDAYS ON BBC AMERICA. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT THE BBC AMERICA WEBSITE.