Joe Alwyn is very tall, very blond and about to have a very good autumn. “Am I?” ponders the north Londoner, his prospective movie-star mouth curling into a self-deprecatingly British half-smile. We can dispense with the faux modesty. There is scarcely an Oscar-bait movie this autumn that Alwyn does not have a juicy supporting role in. Add to this the fact that he’s on his second round of duties fronting Prada’s menswear campaigns and you get the picture. Oh, and he’s Taylor Swift’s boyfriend.
For now, though, the 27-year-old remains largely un-tickled by fame, his 6ft 2in frame stooped elegantly over a flat white in an anonymous coffee shop in central London. Up close, in a plaid shirt and jeans, he looks like a cross between a young Leonardo DiCaprio and a golden retriever, which has wooed Hollywood into providing him with a major moment.
Over the next few months you’ll see him play Robert Dudley, counsellor and lover to Margot Robbie’s Elizabeth I, in Mary Queen of Scots (“he’s led by loyalty and true romantic love”); Emma Stone’s seducer at the court of Queen Anne in Yorgos Lanthimos’s historical romp The Favourite (“there’s a lot of cat and mouse”); Ben Kingsley’s son in Nazi-hunter drama Operation Finale; and Lucas Hedges’s lover in the moving gay conversion-therapy drama Boy Erased, with Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman. Not bad for a man with a single previous film credit to his name (albeit the title role in Ang Lee’s 2016 post-Iraq War opus Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk).
For all the exciting company he’s been keeping, there is one person everyone wants to hear about. He smiles. “I’m aware people want to know about that side of things,” he says of his relationship with the world’s most famous dater, who he met in the wake of his initial success a couple of years ago. “I think we have been successfully very private, and that has now sunk in for people.” As he leans back in his chair, you can see how on brand he is for Ms Swift: British (obviously), doe-eyed, a little bit fashion but with the air of an eternal undergrad student. The tabloids often dispense with his name and call him “Taylor bae” (does this sting? He wouldn’t like to say), but they’ve been living together on-and-off for a while now. Naturally, she’s written a song for him – “Gorgeous”. “But I really prefer to talk about work,” he says.
In truth, there’s something almost anachronistic about the smoothness of Alwyn’s rise: son of a middle-class documentary filmmaker father and psychotherapist mother, his early years were spent as one of those children in a cute private school uniform you see on the Tube, off to take up his scholarship at the City of London School. After a casting director talent-spotted him at a local drama class, he auditioned to play the boy in Love Actually (“obviously I didn’t get the part”), performed with the National Youth Theatre, then read English and Drama at Bristol, before heading to the Central School for Speech and Drama. A brilliant natural actor, especially gifted at quiet emotion, he was plucked by Lee to star in his PTSD war drama before he’d finished his final year. As breaks go, it was “life changing”.
Yet, as he awaits his follow-up moment, there is also a modern edge to Alwyn. In many ways, he is post-#metoo Hollywood’s answer to the ingénue conundrum in 2018. Pretty, talented and uncorrupted by fame, with a big debut under his belt, and now playing the love interest to the industry’s biggest names while going out with a very famous one in real life… it turns out that the most straightforward starlet for our times is a man. So what are his tips for navigating it? “You just try and be cool, which I’m terrible at, and not get caught up in the other fluffy side of things,” he says. “All the rubbish.”