Despite having no formal training, Jonah Hauer-King is fast becoming Britain's most recognisable young actor. Recently wowing audiences and critics alike for his performance in the primetime BBC war series World on Fire last autumn, he also delighted viewers in the latest Agatha Christie Christmas special, Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar. And with a life- changing announcement at the end of 2019, it was revealed that he has been cast as Prince Eric, the male lead, in Disney's forthcoming live-action remake of The Little Mermaid.
However, it all could have turned out very differently for the 24-year- old Londoner. A few years back, as an aspiring young actor, Hauer-King was slavishly running from casting to casting searching for that first gig. However, things didn't entirely turn out as he had hoped. "I left school and wanted to be an actor. And then pretty quickly I got cold feet because I went to about six months of auditions and didn't get a single callback. So that was pretty scary," he recalls. Although from a creative family (his mother is a theatre producer and his father a restauranteur), this experience made him re-evaluate his goals and ambitions, fearing his aspirations of acting could, in reality, remain unfulfilled. Bright, and with other interests, he shelved his dream of studying drama to pursue another of his passions, enrolling at the University of Cambridge to read theology. All the same, once settled at Cambridge, Hauer-King threw himself enthusiastically into the dramatics society there. But it wasn't only taking roles in productions that helped him to develop his craft whilst there. "Cambridge is an unbelievable place," he remembers. "And what's most incredible is you are surrounded by really smart, young people - both passionate and determined. Being amongst them really informs you as a person. But I think it really informs your acting, as well." Ironically, once fully ensconced in his studies and away from the hubbub of London, the job offers suddenly started rolling in.
He says he still pinches himself today, thinking back to 2016 when he was cast alongside Kenneth Branagh in John Osborne's groundbreaking 1950s play The Entertainer, at London's Garrick Theatre. As an aspiring young actor still in higher education, this was an important moment for Hauer-King. "I grew up going to a lot of theatre with my mum. When I found out I'd been offered the job, we almost felt it was too much, too soon," he opines. "But working alongside him [Branagh] was really special; he is really unique in his professionalism and his commitment to his work." He also acknowledges that the university's support for his newly-discovered double life was a vital part of his development as an actor. But perhaps even more importantly, he claims it taught him how to be more efficient with his time; something he particularly values now as a full-time actor. Despite only recently becoming a household name, Hauer- King has already starred in the best part of a dozen films and continues to work on stage. Equally, he has also been gracing the small screen for the past few years - having already bagged roles in a few classic period dramas.
Before World on Fire, he starred in Howards End alongside Hayley Atwell, and also Little Women with Angela Lansbury, Michael Gambon and Emily Watson - both in 2017. To date, he has worked with some of the biggest names in showbiz which he says has vastly enriched him as an actor. Aside from Sean Bean and Helen Hunt, co-stars in World on Fire, he also worked with Tim Roth and Clive Owen in last year's film Song of Names. And in the movie The Last Photograph, he was directed by Danny Huston, famed actor and member of the Huston dynasty. Working with so many established professionals has had an incredible impact on his own craft. As he is quick to point out, "It's easy to assume they all work in the same way, but they all approach their craft in their own unique ways, and they are different kinds of people. As a young actor, it's amazing learning from them, seeing their individual ways of working.
One might have tirelessly rehearsed and prepped, whereas another may seek out the essence of a scene through the visceral experience of the moment." And one imagines that this openness to learning and a desire to take on exciting roles with real emotional depth has helped him develop into the gifted young actor he is today. As he is quick to point out, "I spent my first three or four years doing a lot of independent films, which is something I feel really passionate about. A lot of the time, the stories are so interesting. And you are working with fascinating people too. These projects might not get the largest audiences, but I've always tried to act in a diverse range of productions." While this perhaps explains why it has taken a while for him to catch the attention of the public, there is no doubt that Hauer-King is the rising star of British acting, and now Disney has come a-knocking, his is the name on everyone's lips.
Fully immersing himself in the exclusive Oliver Spencer photoshoot for this issue, he talks engagingly about the long history that links cinema and fashion, and how he, himself, uses clothes and props to develop his characters. "Cinema is a visual art, and so much of the storytelling is about how something looks - the aesthetic and how that makes you feel. The two go hand-in-hand," he explains. "The clothes do a lot of the work for you. A pair of shoes can influence how you walk, for example. When I was filming World on Fire, something as simple as wearing the army uniform helped me get into character. It was stiff and itchy, so that tells you little details and gives you vital prompts." Yet it seems ambition and determination, rather than prompts, have been the driving forces behind Hauer-King's career so far. Without a doubt, this star still has much further to rise.