With an impressive IMDb list that includes The Last Kingdom, The Imitation Game, A United Kingdom and Anna Karenina (2012) – I am honoured to welcome James Northcote to The Mighty Dragon.
As Aldhelm in The Last Kingdom, James gives an insight into this loyal Mercian and devoted supporter of Æthelflæd. We peep behind the scenes too as James reveals his favourite memories from his time on set.
Not only did we discuss The Last Kingdom, but how James started his acting career.
After a recent visit to Bletchley Park, I just had to ask about his role alongside Benedict Cumberbatch on The Imitation Game. A film that chronicles the life of British hero Alan Turing and the masterminds behind the Enigma Code.
Finally, we get to see what projects James has coming up. This does include news on The Last Kingdom movie!
The Mighty Dragon meets James Northcote
1. We’ve just seen you in The Last Kingdom as Aldhelm, but when did your journey into acting start?
I’m originally from Somerset in the South West of the UK and there is a big speech and drama festival there where people compete in poetry recitals and perform Shakespeare or other texts. It sounds a bit like some kind of medieval bard contest and it sort of was. That’s where I fell in love with performing and that’s where acting started for me.
2. For historical characters such as Aldhelm, how much research do you do beforehand into the lives of characters who lived in that age.
I love research. It’s one of my favourite parts of working as an actor. The Last Kingdom was an amazing series to do research for. Because I knew pretty quickly that my character wasn’t going to follow his story in the books it meant I had to do other kinds of reading and thinking to fill in the gaps in his story. I read a lot of the history of Mercia, literature, and poetry from that time as well as classical texts. All of it helps me get behind the mindset of the character. I actually did some really fun research for the recent Netflix film. I worked with the script team for a particular scene that I’m really proud of.
3. What do you most like about Aldhelm’s character and are these types of characters that you are most drawn to?
The thing I love most about Aldhelm is that he isn’t just one thing. He’s a politician, a servant, a soldier an adviser – he’s not a simple guy. One of the things that always draws me to a character is not knowing exactly what they think. Those characters have their own internal world that isn’t necessarily worn on their sleeve. I like the tension between who a character is and how we see them. I didn’t know everything about Aldhelm when I started playing him which is one of those beautiful things about playing a character for a long time. You get to be surprised by them again and again. A character like that doesn’t come along every year but when they do it’s a real experience.
4. Are there any behind-the-scenes/fun moments you can share with us from The Last Kingdom?
I mean there are so many but I’m trying to think of something I haven’t shared before! Me and Alex used to have this running joke in Season 4 that Aldhelm and Uhtred were quite openly arguing about who loved Aethelflaed most behind the scenes. There were a few scenes where once the lines were over we’d just keep improvising these arguments about who was more loyal or who she preferred spending time with. Obviously, none of that made it into the edit. It probably wasn’t as funny as we thought but sometimes when you are talking about your kingdom being invaded or your child being kidnapped it’s helpful to keep the mood light. There are quite a lot of running jokes in every season, mainly started by Arnas and Mark. You should ask them about it. They’ve got some good stories!
5. As an actor, do you feel its vital to gain experience across all film genres, is that easy to do?
That’s a really great question. If you have the opportunity I think that would be amazing. Not many actors get the chance to for example go from a horror film to a historical series. I think it’s vital to keep switching things up as much as possible. I do a lot of period dramas and it’s always great to do something contemporary in between just to keep things fresh. Although to be honest every job in film and tv is so different that the more you do the more you keep learning and growing as an actor. It’s why I like to make my own work where possible so I can keep trying new things and pushing myself.
6. You were Jack Good in The Imitation Game, what are your favourite memories from this experience?
The Imitation Game was such a good experience. Being part of that cast was incredible and it was so fun to see the film become such a huge success. One of my favourite moments was a night shoot where we filmed the very end of the film burning the confidential documents all together. The producers brought in s’mores and beers and everyone just had a drink together and built and burnt this huge bonfire which we shot from all angles. It just created a lovely atmosphere which helps when you are shooting until 3 in the morning in the middle of nowhere. The story of that film felt so important at the time. Alan Turing was such an icon and what was done to him because of his sexuality was just awful. It was a real privilege to be part of telling his story.
7. From all your work, what are you most proud of, and why?
There isn’t one thing or one project that makes me most proud. I think what I’m proudest of is the relationships that I’ve made working in this industry. The Last Kingdom has been really wonderful for that but there are also directors, writers, and other actors that I know I’ll be working with again later on in our careers. It’s rare to find people that you really share your beliefs with, in terms of what is exciting about making the kind of work that we do. I’m really proud to have found people whose work I really believe in and who I think feel the same about me.
8. I saw on Instagram you shared some video footage from The Globe theatre, is stage work a must for all actors?
I don’t think stage work is essential for all actors. I know some amazing actors who have never worked in theatre at all. But for me, theatre is something special. I didn’t go to drama school so I found it difficult to break into theatre to begin with but I got lucky and was cast in a small role by Trevor Nunn that started me working with Chichester Festival Theatre back in 2011. The stage at Chichester is designed like an indoor amphitheatre and there is nothing quite like going out to perform in front of 1000 people. What I love about theatre most though is the feeling of being part of its history. It sort of blows my mind that when you play a part in Shakespeare you are playing a role that has been played, hundreds if not thousands of times by different people around the world and through theatre history. It feels like a really beautiful responsibility to take a character that has existed longer than you have and make it your own. It’s a really magical experience.
9. Your Instagram has some terrific shots you have taken of The Last Kingdom cast, will we be seeing some more behind-the-scenes shots?
Of course – I shoot photos on every job I do now and there are still more photographs from The Last Kingdom that haven’t been released. I genuinely feel so lucky to do what I do when I’m acting that photography has been a really great way to remind myself of how strange and fascinating it all is. For me to capture and appreciate both the madness and the beauty of being on set, behind the scenes in the midst of creating a show or a film or a play – there are such a lot of beautiful memories – and faces of course. I’m focusing more on documentary portraits now and trying to capture more and more of our industry from as many angles as I can. I think there is a lot of it that people don’t see and I really want to document that.
10. What does the rest of 2022 look like for you?
There is a lot going on for me in life at the moment so 2022 is quite a big year. We’ve just finished the Netflix Film of The Last Kingdom – 7 Kings Must Die which marks the end of the story for our show. I’m attached to an independent feature film that should start shooting later this year and I’m hoping that some theatre will come up before I find myself on another TV show! Otherwise week by week I’m in the studio doing voice work and in the darkroom working on photography. It’s busy but I think it’s healthy-busy and there are some exciting things coming that I’m looking forward to sharing.