Following a British Independent Film Award nomination for his performance in How To Have Sex, Samuel Bottomley shows us that we haven’t seen anything yet.
Sitting crisscross applesauce on the floor of his home, phone propped up, is Samuel Bottomley. As our conversation starts over Zoom, it isn’t hard to be ensnared by his natural, good-natured charm. His smile dazzles, and his personality even more so. The 22-year-old actor is as humble as they come, though. Having started his acting career at the age of eight, Sam is still trying to navigate through the ins, outs, and the nitty-gritty of the entertainment industry. In a perpetual state of surrealness, he doesn’t know how or when he got here but he’s certainly not complaining. Here seems to be the tipping point, the precipice, the edge of something big. His role as Paddy in How to Have Sex is the catalyst to push him over into stardom.
Known for Ackley Bridge, Ladhood, and Somewhere Boy to name a few, How to Have Sex brings a new dimension to his acting prowess. A departure from the roles he’s played in the past, Samuel had to push himself into uncomfortable territory to prepare – he relished the challenge. The conversation around consent, misogyny, and the journey from girlhood to womanhood all take center stage in Molly Manning Walker’s latest film. How to Have Sex doesn’t shy away from any of it, giving you a front-row seat to Tara, played by Mia Mckenna-Bruce, and her story. Samuel’s character is the linchpin, the cause of the series of events that sends our protagonist into a spiral. And he executes it beautifully. Infuriatingly unaware of the effect he has on Tara, Paddy leaves the audience feeling uncomfortable, unsettled, and downright disgusted. Thankfully, Samuel is nothing like his character and was able to shed the persona the moment filming was over. A chameleon and powerhouse in the making, Samuel Bottomley is one to watch.
After receiving critical acclaim for his role — and a BIFA nomination for Best Supporting Performance — Samuel Bottomley chats with 1883 Magazine’s Dana Reboe to discuss How to Have Sex, what it was like to get into the mindset for the role, how he spends his days off and so much more.
Take me back to when you first read through the script. What were your thoughts and feelings about it and the character of Paddy?
I was in disbelief, really, that someone my age had written this. I kept thinking someone my age couldn’t have written this full script. Obviously, Molly, she’s a couple of years older than me. She’s 29, but it’s still the same generation, right? It still hits close to home. It’s still relatable. Honestly, it was an honour to be a part of it. I still can’t believe it.
When the movie premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, what was it like to see the audience’s reaction? Did you feed off it a little bit?
Definitely, I’m still coming off that high. You hear about Venice, you hear about Cannes, and you see these huge, huge superstars arriving by boat and by helicopter. It’s a dream for any actor to be there. For us to get a standing ovation, win Un Certain Regard, and be judged by John C. Riley? You don’t realize just how special it is until it’s over. I’m going to have to learn to savour the moment [laughs].
Was that your first time at the festival?
Yeah, it only really hit me last week.
Absolutely, I’m sure your brain is still playing catch-up [laughter]. I was able to screen the film at the Toronto International Film Festival, and it was a packed house. I wish all of you could have been there for the reaction. It was incredible. So, when this movie premieres to a wider audience, you better prepare yourself.
Thank you very much for saying that. I really don’t know what to expect from the public. I’ve always seen it as an industry film. Like obviously people from the industry are going to see it and think it’s a great film. But seeing what everyone else thinks in addition to the industry people is going to be interesting. Their opinion matters just as much as the press.
As a point of interest, the screening for How to Have Sex that I saw was a public screening. It was very well received.
Cool. All the way in Toronto. I’d love to go to Toronto. We made it all the way to The Six!
[laughs] Yes, The Six.
Why do you call it that?
Because the area code for the city is four-one-six. So, The Six.
That’s hilarious! I’m from Beanie Six which is Bradford Six. I know it’s not the same! [laughs]
Do you want to switch? Do you want to come to Toronto, and I’ll go over there?
No thanks, it’s too cold!
Circling back to How to Have Sex, Paddy is the trigger for the drama in the film. How did you go about preparing yourself for that?
There was a lot of mental preparation. He was a very challenging character to wrap my head around. He’s so different than any of the characters that I’ve played. Misogyny is a word that is getting used now more than ever. We’re surrounded by it daily, so I was pulling inspiration for that. Especially while making the film. You do want to like the characters that you play a little bit; a lot of the ones I’ve played have been multi-layered and that’s the case with Paddy as well. Some will have a sad back story, or there will be a different side to the story, but Paddy I found very hard to like if I’m honest.
How difficult was it to get out of that headspace once you put filming behind you?
I had to detox mentally. But just to come off him was a big sigh of relief. Leaving a job is always difficult. But what’s done is done. I think leaving him behind was good for me. Now, when I watch the film, I can go into it and see certain things, and pick at certain things that I had forgotten about when I left the character behind. It’s been interesting to rewatch it to see it from a different point of view.
You did an excellent job, you made him very unlikable [laughter]. You said in Big Issue North that you were overcome by the surrealness of your life. Do you feel the same way now or have you left that behind?
I don’t think that’s ever going to leave. I’m in such a privileged position, to feel any differently would be almost obnoxious. It keeps me grounded.
Absolutely. What is one thing you’ve learned about yourself on your acting journey from when you first started? [long pause as Sam thinks] I love stumping actors, this is great. We can come back to it if you’d like.
Yeah, I think I need a minute.
Other than acting, do you have another creative outlet?
I love taking photos. Not professionally. I have a massive photo album. It’s all film photos.
How did you get into that?
My dad got a camera just before we went to LA. He had sort of gone through that phase. So, I asked him if it would be alright if I just took the camera. It was just an old film one. When I first started, I went down to the Fuji shop, where it gets developed, and they had to put the film in the camera for me [laughs] because I didn’t have a clue. But I’m much better now. I love taking photos of friends and loved ones.
When you look back on your filmography, is there a particular scene that stuck with you?
I’m sure there are a few. There’s a scene in Ackley Bridge which is a Channel Four drama that I did, and as much as it did for me, I felt like I got labeled as the Ackley Bridge actor. But anyway, it was one of the last scenes I did. My character had gone to meet his mum and they’d been apart for a while, and she didn’t want a relationship with him. He, understandably, gets upset. I’ve seen that aggression, that anger, that nuance in real life and I think I nailed that.
So, you’re pulling inspiration from real life?
Switching it up a little bit, what does your ideal day off look like? When you don’t have work or interviews, what does that look like for you?
Today is the perfect example. Woke up, took my cousins to get some breakfast, and had a nice little time. Then I went rock climbing, which is a hobby I’m getting back into because it’s been a while. Also, I think it’s better than going to the gym? Gyms can be really grim, can’t they?
They can be boring for sure.
We did that, then we went into town. We went to this little arcade, smaller than this bedroom [laughs] played on the pinball machine and played some other games as well. I went for the record on one of them, but I wasn’t able to beat it.
What’s your favourite arcade game? Would it be pinball or air hockey?
I don’t know the names of them because I’m Gen Z! But there was a game with a little ship at the bottom and the aliens are coming down from the top of the screen.
Space Invaders! I don’t know what number the high score was, but there were so many numbers, and I was playing for at least ten to fifteen minutes trying to beat it.
That’s one of my favourites! If you get the chance, try Tron or Dragon’s Lair: those are both really hard. I think you’d like the challenge.
I also had a good go on Mario Kart.
So, then you have to come to Toronto, there are so many arcades down here with loads of games you probably haven’t heard of [laughter] Lastly, what is something you’d like to manifest for yourself in the coming year?
Just one thing?
Or a couple of things. I’m open!
I think I’d like to manifest a couple of jobs with good directors and a nice script. Like a nice film. I love film. Additionally, I’m in a relationship now, and going strong so, I just want to keep moving in the right direction where that’s concerned.
Absolutely. Well, Sam, I just want to thank you for your time—
Wait, we didn’t go back to that other question!
You’re right! How did I forget that?
I don’t like being stumped [laughter].
Alrighty, you got me: what is something you’ve learned about yourself on your acting journey?
That it makes me more honest. Growing up knowing that you can lie to people so easily. There’s something about lying and how it comes even more naturally to an actor… so, I think it makes me a more honest person.
How To Have Sex is in UK cinemas now.