As a child, Douglas Booth had his sights set on becoming a professional jazz musician. “I took up the trumpet and did that every day,” he recalls. “That is what I was going to do.” But when he turned thirteen, his friends began strumming guitars, joining rock bands, and performing with theater programs. “There was no place for me with my trumpet,” he says, with a laugh. “I wasn’t cool anymore.” The British teen quickly pushed his dreams of becoming the next Louis Armstrong aside and stumbled into acting. "I got cast in a school play and I fell in love with that,” he reveals. “I felt comfortable on stage and found it was a brilliant way of expressing myself.” In pursuit of his new passion, the aspiring actor enrolled in a youth program at the Guildhall School of Music and quickly caught the attention of an agent.
Booth landed his first gig in 2009, a role in the children’s adventure film From Time to Time. A year later, he was shaving off his eyebrows to play Boy George in the BBC Two’s, Worried About The Boy, a move that he tells us bizarrely led to him being signed onto his first of two Burberry campaigns. From there, his career took off, earning him spots in big screen hits such as Noah, in which he portrayed the on screen husband of Emma Watson and Jupiter Ascending, where he worked alongside Academy Award-winning actor, Eddie Redmayne. He also starred opposite Hailee Steinfeld in the most recent rendition of Romeo & Juliet.
Off camera, Booth is just as charming as his on-screen portrayal of Romeo in Julian Fellowes’ 2013 remake, a film that shot him into prominence with mainstream audiences and garnered him an array of female devotees. “It doesn’t make it any easier to find a nice girlfriend,” he admits, of his newfound attention. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the currently single swooner tells us that he is on the lookout for his next leading lady. “I like to cook Vietnamese pho or vegetarian curries. But I need somebody to cook with,” he says. When it comes to a woman, he’s attracted to someone who is “smart, with a sense of humor, and obviously beautiful.” And though his past long-term relationships have been with actresses, he’d prefer to date someone who is not too familiar with his on-screen success. He’s open to settling down with a doctor, lawyer, scientist, or architect. “I’m attracted to talent. But it would maybe be healthier if it wasn’t in the industry,” he explains.
Next up for Booth is the portrayal of Mr. Bingley in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a role he thoroughly enjoyed bringing to life. During our candid sit-down, he flashed a mischievous smile and made note of how much he enjoyed the twist of the film, the boys needing to be rescued by the female characters for once. “Most of the stunts were left to the girls,” he says. “It was really kick-ass, girl power. It was particularly sexy!” Booth is totally on board with female empowerment and thinks it should be an everyday occurrence. “I just hope that one day it’s normality,” he says. He’s even done his share of helping out fellow British pal Emma Watson with her HeForShe endeavors.
Lily James, who has known Booth since their early drama school days, tells us that one of her favorite parts of filming her stunts in PPZ was having him on set for support. “He cheered us all up and was very supportive when us girls were busy kicking ass,” she says. “Douglas is such a wonderful, generous actor, and friend. He is so brilliantly charming and charismatic as Bingley.” She adds that he also brings his own bit of sex appeal to the script, noting that “he looks great on a horse!” Matt Smith, who Booth became quite close with on set calls him a “top bloody bloke.” He gave us some insight into what life was like paling around with Booth behind the scenes, referring to him as “kind, gentle, bonkers. – “He dances like Mr. Soft and dresses like Mr. Chic,” he playfully claims. “Loved working with him!”Just Jared: What was life like growing up in London?
Douglas Booth: Amazing! It’s one of the best cities in the world. There is just so much culture there and so much history and so much diversity. It’s just a perfect place to grow up. I studied at the Guildhall every Saturday so I’d always be in town every weekend doing that. I was kind of a city boy really.JJ: Are you still living there now?
DB: Yeah. I live there now. I live by myself, which I love. In this industry, you’re so often surrounded by people and busy and talking to people. It’s kind of lovely when you get home to just chill out.JJ: What’s your place like?
DB: It’s lovely. It has lots of little different rooms. It’s on seven different levels but really kind of tall and narrow, like a city house with a roof terrace on the top. And it’s covered in artwork of artists I like and pictures from jobs and cast and friends and different bits and bobs that I pick up along the way. It’s colorful!
DB: No. Not really ever a plan B. I actually wanted to be a jazz musician first. My grandparents introduced me to Louis Armstrong. I loved Louis Armstrong so I took up the trumpet and just did that every day and practiced that. That was what I was going to do. Then I got to be about 13 and everyone started playing guitars and being in rock bands. There was no place for me with my trumpet and I wasn’t cool anymore. Although now if I played the trumpet it would be the coolest thing in the world. So I got cast in a school play and I fell in love with that. I felt comfortable on stage and found out it was a brilliant way of expressing myself and I was happy and I could do it. So then I wanted to become an actor. I went to Guildhall School of Music and Drama, which is one of the main drama schools in London where you go when you are older. But I was doing the junior one when I was a kid. And some friends there had agents. I was fourteen and I was like, “I want an agent! It sounds awesome!” I had no idea what that was. I thought those guys looked like men in black. They were hanging around in suits all the time. So I luckily got a very good agent in London and started auditioning. And then when I was 16, I got my first film and I’ve been working ever since.
DB: About a year and a half ago. It’s sad because it’s not something that you can just pick up again and play it. You have to maintain your muscles in your lips. My teacher used to say, “If you don’t practice for a day, you’ll know. You’ll be able to tell. If you don’t practice for two days, I’ll notice. If you don’t practice for three days, everyone will notice.” It’s something you have to really maintain. So unfortunately, I don’t play it that often but I may take it up again. If you don’t play for a while, you just can’t hit the notes. It’s like going to the gym. If you go and do weights, you can lift x amount of weight and if you don’t go for ages, you’ve gotta start again and start from the beginning. So it’s a bit like that. It’s just a muscle.JJ: You’ve spoken out about being dyslexic. Has that made what you do for a living extra challenging?
DB: I’m quite severely dyslexic so I struggle with school work in certain ways. I always have to put in triple the amount of effort, which would always frustrate me a lot. I suppose that some people can just look at a script once and know it. That’s not me. I really have to spend a bit of time with the lines. But it’s my job and I’ve got better and better at it. If you’re learning a lot, things start going quicker. Doing the lines with repetition and you just get it in your head somehow.JB: You play Mr. Bingley in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. What did you love about that role?
DB: The movie is so fun. I’ve done period pieces before but nothing with this twist. And the movie is just full of such wonderful people, such young actors -- people like Matt Smith that I’ve been friends with for a while. I worked with him before. And Lily James, I have known her since she was at drama school. We share a mutual best friend and became fast friends with a lot of the others. So it was pure joy going to work every day.JJ: Talk about filming with your costars. You all became really close on set…
DB: Yeah. It was just pure joy. We had a lot of fun on and off set. Matt’s birthday fell over Halloween and we had a big Halloween party at his flat, which was pretty raucous and a great laugh. I can’t really remember many of the details. It was that much fun! I wore a tailored suit and was going for some sort of vigilante. Matt was some sort of version of a vampire. He lives in an old church so it was perfect for a Halloween party.JJ: Did you get to do any cool stunts?
DB: I love to ride horses. I’ve ridden since I was a kid so I got to do some riding, which was a lot of fun. But most of the stunts were left to the girls. It’s the girls rescuing the guys mostly. So it was kind of really kick-ass, girl power. It was wonderful to watch. It was particularly sexy. They would come in and just slay in these choreographed pentagram of death fight scenes. It was pretty impressive.JJ: So it was fun to turn the tables with you getting to be the damsel in distress?
DB: Yeah! It was massively refreshing to see them slay in these extremely sexy period costumes.
DB: 100%! Let’s turn everything on its head. I think movies are moving that way as well. There are lots of strong female leads. It’s great! It’s time. I’m hoping to eventually find that normal. I just hope that one day it’s normality.JJ: You had to shave your eyebrows off to play Boy George. How long they took to grow back. Did you pencil them in?
DB: No. I think they took two months. Looking back on it, it was kind of crazy being a 17-year-old kid at the time shaving your eyebrows off, having to go back to school and talk to your mates. I had really short hair and I’d lost loads of weight by the end of it. I looked pretty crazy but at the time, you don’t think anything of it. You think, “I’ve got an amazing job. I’m working and this is cool.” I remember I was being fit to go to a premiere for something at Burberry and Christopher Bailey, who designs the clothes there, saw a picture of me and I looked weird. I had short black hair, hardly any eyebrows, I looked very very thin and he went, “We need to put Douglas in a campaign.” So four days later, I was shooting a Burberry campaign because he had seen me looking crazy from the show so that was kind of funny.
DB: I’ve said I won’t eat meat until the whole world can eat it responsibly, which is going to be hard. It’s becoming more and more fashionable to eat more and more meat and they’ve just made it fashionable to eat meat in the east in China, which is a massive population. I think we can’t feed the amount of people that are on this planet the way we are doing it. And the only way you can sort of do it just about is by treating these animals in a disgusting way. Also, there’s not enough farmland on the planet. You have to grow feed to feed the cow. Have you seen Cowspiracy? It takes a lot more land to feed a meat eater than to feed a vegan or a vegetarian. It’s something I’d love to get into but it’s very hard to persuade people to stop things they’ve been doing for a long time. So maybe it needs to start with the next generation. Everyone needs to raise their children with a bit more responsibility.JJ: Do you cook? Do you have any vegetarian recipe specialties?
DB: I try and cook. I like to cook Vietnamese pho or vegetarian curries. I need to cook more but I need somebody to cook with. At the moment I live alone so I always just eat out. When I’m in another relationship, then maybe we’ll start cooking together.JJ: You met Emma Watson during your stint as the face of Burberry. Was it friendship at first sight?
DB: She played my wife in Noah so we spent a lot of time together on that and promoting the film. We’ve been friends for a long time and I’ve done stuff for her, and her stuff with the UN and gender equality. She inspires me because she’s just got such a good heart and massive social consciousness. For the insane life that she’s lived, she’s pretty darn normal. And just keeps herself to herself and is doing everything for the right reasons. She genuinely, genuinely believes in what she’s fighting for, gender equality and things like that. That’s very important to her.
DB: A couple of friends call me Dougie Fresh or Dougie B. or Doug. Everyone always says when they meet me, “What do you want me to call you?” and I say, “It’s up to you.” It’s some variation on Douglas and with that, everyone settles on something. Everything has its own little character I suppose. I like people coming up with their own nicknames for me. Dougie Fresh is pretty out there (laughs). In Miami, I was on Despierta America and under my name they had accidentally called me “Douglas Smooth” so maybe I should run with that one!JJ: Which actors do you look up to?
DB: I love Leonardo DiCaprio. He just makes really great films with great directors. He has great relationships with directors but also has a great social awareness. I think he balances his work with his responsibilities to his world, the environment, things like that very well. I’m very impressed by him and I admire him a lot. And other actors like Joaquin Phoenix, I just look at him and marvel at his unexpectedness, just his work really.JJ: What’s the last text message that you sent to a friend?
DB: The last text message that I sent to a friend was one of my best friends, who is a musician in LA. I got his favorite beer here. So I said, “I made them do a beer run” and I sent him a picture of this Ballast Point Sculpin, which is really delicious. He said, “That’s glorious.”
DB: It’s a picture of Matt Smith, who is in this film, and Harry Treadaway, who is another British actor, sitting on the top of our hotel with the view of LA in the background. And they are dressed in black and I was thinking how hot they must be because it was pretty hot today.JJ: Since you’re our February spotlight we have a few fun Valentine’s Day themed questions for you. What’s your ideal date?
DB: Dinner, but then a way in which you can do something together. I’d imagine a great date would be to go skiing. Imagine going skiing. Go ski with someone, if they can ski. Or even if they can’t, I can teach them. Then ski down and have a really lovely lunch and then grab some drinks. Do something fun like that. Or go on a hike. I don’t mind getting sweaty!JJ: What’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever done for a girl?
DB: The best thing I’ve ever done for a girl hopefully is make them happy. Isn’t that the most romantic thing you can do?JJ: What about the most romantic thing anyone’s ever done for you?
DB: Flown around the world to see me for 24 hours and then flown back. Again, I’d say make me happy. That’s all I ask for.
DB: With our job, you often meet people through work. I’ve had two long-term relationships, from 14 to 18 and 19 to 21. One I met at school and the other I met on a job so who knows where I’ll meet the next person.JJ: Do you prefer a girl that doesn’t know about your background?
DB: That would be amazing! When I meet girls, I pray that they don’t know who I am. But I know that’s limiting myself quite a lot.JJ: Do you have a type? Blonde? Brunette? British?
DB: No. Smart, with a sense of humor, and obviously beautiful.JJ: What’s your weakness with a female?
DB: If you play with my hair with your fingers. A head massage. Any kind of massage, I’ll just become a puppy in your lap.JJ: You said that you prefer to date someone not in the industry. Will you date another actress or at this point, do you prefer someone from a remote little town that doesn’t know who you are?
DB: That would be great! Like a doctor or a lawyer or a scientist or an architect or an archaeologist. Something along those lines would be cool. But ultimately I’ll probably end up going out with an actress again. But an architect would be cool. They need to do something creative. I’m attracted to talent. But it would maybe be healthier if it wasn’t in the industry.