"To see an actor who's got neurodiversity playing the lead role, that to me, still feels like an incredible, monumental moment."
To date, actor Lewis Gribben has starred in Deadwater Fell, Silent Witness and Shetland, but it's new Channel 4 drama Somewhere Boy, written by Pete Jackson and from the makers of The End of the F***ing World, in which Lewis takes on the lead role of Danny, whose mum was killed in a car crash when he was a baby.
Overwhelmed with grief, his dad Steve, played by Rory Keenan, bought a house in the middle of nowhere and locked Danny in, telling him the world outside was full of monsters waiting to take him away. Just like they took his mum.
Steve thought he’d done the right thing, bringing Danny up safe and warm, away from murderers and wars and drugs and arsehole governments and burgers and evil. For eighteen years they just stayed in, listening to Benny Goodman records and watching old movies with no sad endings. And that’s how Danny grew up. It was all he knew. And he was happy.
But when Danny turns eighteen his whole world, everything he’s ever known explodes in an instant and he has to come to terms with a new world he never knew existed. Danny is taken to live with his well-meaning but stressed-out aunt Sue, played by Lisa McGrillis, and cousin Aaron, played by Samuel Bottomley and finds the real monster, the one that killed his mum.
I caught up with Lewis - whose mesmerising performance in Somewhere Boy is one not to miss - to talk about the challenges he faced playing Danny, why he could relate to him more than any other character he's played so far as well as his thoughts on neurodiverse roles and so much more.
This is your first leading role on television. How did you get into acting?
My mum took me to a drama class for youth theatre/kids theatre, because I would talk to myself incessantly. I'd do voices, I'd do little characters, but just to myself. I wouldn't do it with anyone.
We'd go to the supermarket and I'd be talking to myself and my mum was like "This kid needs to do drama or something. He needs to open up emotionally."
I was a kid who liked being in imaginary worlds, so it was just from that really. From the age of seven, I did youth theatre, and amateur theatre kept wanting to do it, and kept loving it.
I then got given an opportunity with The Attic Collective in Edinburgh, for the King's Theatre and through that, another boy in that company had an agent, I asked him to bring said agent along. The agent really really liked me, signed me and I just started auditioning and going for it professionally and she's still my agent now.
What were your first impressions when you received the script for Somewhere Boy?
I just thought it was so different to a lot of things I was getting auditions for, or reading for. It was really unique. I've never felt like I fully related to any other character that I've auditioned for before this.
I've felt like an outsider my whole life, so just seeing someone trapped in their house for 18 years, trying to gain friendships - wanting to be friends with people who don't want to be your friend but then gradually do.
Also, the quest for vengeance, that heartbreak of love and trying to figure out how you fit into this crazy world, whilst also having a quest for acceptance or revenge - or whatever it is.
I just found all of that super relatable and super honest. Every character in this has flaws. Sometimes with dramas, you have to suspend disbelief that people are perfect, or if they have flaws they're overly dramatised. But this felt very real and honest, despite how dark it was.
How did you emotionally prepare for this role?
I emotionally allowed myself to think about my own life, because I was a very lonely child who would go into a little world of imagination myself and talk to myself a lot. So I could relate to that part of it.
Also, I thought of that idea that if everyone you love dies or fades away, and you're left by yourself - because, at one point, Danny does go back to the house and everything's just gone - so I thought about that and thought what if everything was just gone? Everyone had either abandoned you, or they're dead. That really was, emotionally, very strong.
Everyone in the world has been through heartbreak, so I thought about heartbreak. Danny doesn't fit in, so I thought about when I didn't fit in.
I've felt like an outsider, I never felt that I should have ever been an actor, but I loved it so much that I wanted to be one. Passionately. Even though it didn't feel like I was ever born to perform.
How would you best describe Somewhere Boy and the part you play, Danny?
It's very dark. It's very emotional. And a bit weird as well. There is this idea of psychological damage and monsters, but despite all of the darkness, it can be humorous.
For the most part, it is this really dark, emotional journey but there are some really touching moments of friendship and joy. Moments where despite how dark and sad it is, there's light at the end of the tunnel. There's a joy to be had in quieter moments.
So I'd describe it as a really dark drama with moments of humour and inspirational, emotional sadness.
How would you describe Danny's relationship with his cousin, Aaron? Those two being together are some of my favourite moments in the series.
Even at the start, even though it doesn't seem it, they need each other. Aaron himself is a very awkward, shy person. But he's been so overexposed to what's normal - whether that's pornography, Instagram, social media, football, or acting cool - but in a way he's lost in himself.
So when he meets Danny, at first, Aaron doesn't like him. He sees him as a burden, a bit of a drag. "Don't you be weird in front of my mates. Don't ruin it for me." - they bring out the better qualities in each other.
Despite everything, Aaron becomes a happier person with Danny because Danny doesn't judge him for not being cool because of this or not cool because of that. He sees him authentically as someone who could be his friend. Your friends could be my friends because I like you, you're my cousin. He doesn't judge people in that way, Danny.
Despite how much Aaron doesn't like Danny for the first four episodes, he does start to warm up to him and see him as a friend and he does start caring about him. There are tiffs along the way. It's not like a plain-sailing relationship. There are times when Aaron gets pissed off by Danny and Danny's obsession with what he wants to do which can ruin Aaron's desires.
It's a tricky relationship, but ultimately, they care about each other.