Vikings actor Elijah Rowen on his role in Sky drama Curfew and why he embraces negative feedback
The Dublin-born star tells Tempus about working on big budget dramas, stunt driving lessons and MMA
Dublin-born actor Elijah Rowen has been tipped as one to watch since his breakout role in hit series Vikings, and now the 25-year-old rising star is proving his mettle with a supporting turn in Sky One’s big-budget, post-apocalyptic street racing drama Curfew. Working opposite stars such as Sean Bean, Miranda Richardson, Billy Zane and Andi Osho in the series – penned by Peaky Blinders creater Colm McCarthy – Rowen says with complete sincerity that the series has “changed his life”, and not just by literally putting him in the driver's seat.
The middle son of artist Guggi – incidentally the best friend of U2 frontman Bono – Rowen has always set his sights on an international lifestyle. “Growing up in Dublin, I've always had eyes on London, New York, Los Angeles. I never really felt at home there, to be honest. So now being in London and about to film in Hungary and Hong Kong it’s like this is where it starts; here I am,” he tells Tempus.
It’s this same determination that inspired the actor to email Vikings’ casting director Frank Moiselle with a tape, asking him to take a chance on an unknown. Now with Curfew wowing audiences and a feature film in the works, Rowen is already working on his next step to stardom. Here, he tells Tempus about the benefits of big-budget productions, making proactive choices, and how his brothers keep his feet on the ground.
Elijah, tell us about working on Curfew. What appealed to you?
I think they've sort of tailor-made this show to appeal to such a large audience. First of all, the cast is brilliantly picked out. You've got a great mix of veteran actors who are massive names, and then the young up-and-comers. And then the mix of actors known for their drama or comedy – Miranda Richardson, Billy Zane, Sean Bean. There’s an actor for every taste. Then the script was such a mix of action, comedy, real horror-movie stuff in there too. Each episode seems to have a real feature-film atmosphere that’s very different. I’m really curious to see if, at the end of the series, after watching all the episodes and seeing how different they are, how people react – because there are so many different things going on.
It’s been billed as a big-budget TV drama. Does having a large production make a difference as an actor?
I guess it shouldn’t, but in some ways having a large production does make a practical difference. I mean, when you are confronted with a set that involves 20 crazy-looking vehicles, it's pretty easy to get into the moment when they're swerving around you. I think that it helps to promote good acting when you have such a mind blowing set because all the imagination has sort of been done for you. You can go, ‘okay, this is where I am. It’s not a film set with green screen, it’s me in a car trying to survive’. It’s incredibly different to other sets I’ve been on. >>
Obviously Curfew is all about the cars – were you a car man when you started?
Do you know what? I probably know less about cars than anybody else in this room. Maybe even the building. for Curfew, we got all sorts of funky stunt training from Ben Collins, who was the former Stig on Top Gear. He was so impressive, and I sort of wanted to impress him, so pretended I knew more than I did. ‘Oh these wheels are really interesting aren't they? What are they made of?’ But really I have absolutely no clue. I passed my driving test on the fifth attempt – I did not find it easy.
What are your favourite memories from shooting?
It’s funny because 90% of the time we were on night shoots, so filming from 9pm to 6am, which can be quite bleak. But that meant we really teamed up and bonded to keep the energy up and the vibes good. I did a lot of work with Andi Osho, who is so sound. She’s a fantastic actress and great comedian, and we had a great laugh together. And people like Billy Zane, when I was hanging out with him I was constantly trying to extract his pearls of wisdom. The cast was so generous that I do think a lot of young actor would have paid to be on set, so it was a great opportunity. It was life changing, really. I think I left that set a very different actor.
You mentioned absorbing life lessons from other cast members. Do you have any personal philosophies?
Oh, completely. I think often people come to a crossroads in their life, and you get the chance to make the passive decision or the proactive decision. I want to always take the proactive decision. It's 10 times better to say, ‘I wish I didn't do that’ than have regrets. It’s self belief, I guess, which is a tough thing to develop. But I’m in an industry where you deal with so much rejection and criticism, and a lot of people will say ‘it’s not going to happen for you’.
I’ve had so many people say that to me – including tutors who told me I wouldn’t make it at all unless I went to RADA or LAMDA – and eventually you have to decide to flick the switch in your brain to absorb these comments and let them start a fire in you. You can almost start to enjoy them – there’s another person who I can look back and prove wrong. I think there’s a way to enjoy that negativity, rather than letting it get you down. >>
What are your hobbies off set?
I used to do a lot of boxing, kickboxing and MMA, and it was a really fun way to stay in shape. Unfortunately I got my ribs quite badly broken just after I’d finished filming Vikings, and got a bit worried after that. I realised that you can’t risk your health or ability to shoot like that in this job. But it’s quite bleak because my brothers – I have two older [Moses and Noah] and two younger [Caleb and Gideon] – are all still training. My 16-year-old brother can now beat me up when I go home, which is a humbling experience, let’s say. I also do a lot of snowboarding when I can – but again, I have to go slow now in case I injure myself for shooting.
One of my brothers is a doctor and nutritionist, so he like to impose his knowledge on us and gets me to make a morning shot-style concoction that I should be drinking a lot more of. It’s apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, ginger, cayenne pepper and turmeric, with a drop of hot water – it’s much easier to ingest hot. I think I’ve got a balance – we’re all aware of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle but it’s easier said than done. I’m a big man for cakes.
What’s next for you?
I’m starting work on a new feature film. I can tell you that it's filmed in Hungary and Hong Kong, and I'm the lead boy. I've read the script and it’s seriously cool. But that’s all I can say for now.
Curfew continues at 9pm Friday on Sky One