"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.
The other important person in Danny's life is his aunt Sue, played by Lisa McGrillis. How would you describe their relationship?
Sue, she's a very stressed-out aunt/mum. She's got so much to handle. With Danny, I think she loves him and wants him to be normal and integrate with Aaron, but it's also very overwhelming for her, having to deal with someone who has gone through a traumatic experience, settling into a normal world that he's not accustomed to.
She tries to make Danny a bit more normal, a bit more a part of the family, but he's so wrapped up in his own idea of what he wants to do that it's quite stressful for her. I do think she cares for him and ultimately sees Danny as a friend for Aaron.
She loves him and wants her son to be really happy with Danny but it's complex and can be very stressful to try and fit him into the existing relationship between her and her own kids.
The two young actors playing younger Dannys, Samuel McKenna and Austin Haynes are excellent. Did you ever get the chance to meet them and talk about the role?
I met both Samuel who played little boy Danny and Austin once, their mums were there and we all took a photo together but none of us got to speak about the role in depth or anything. They're completely going off Alex Winckler and (Alexandra) Brodski's direction.
It could have been a disaster. It could have been three different Dannys and not make chronological sense of how Danny goes from little child to 18, but they're both great in the series. I never got to talk to them about it.
With Samuel, that's his first ever acting thing and the scene where he gets injured with a can of paint, that scene, the way he did it, was heartbreaking. Not in a weird way, but I was crying for the younger version of my own character when I watched that.
Did the experience of the lockdowns we've all faced over the last few years play into how you approached this role?
A little bit. The idea of us being completely isolated. We filmed this last year, in 2021, when things were starting to get back to normal. But it was that weird paradox where everything felt weird, because we were half still in these regulations but we could go out and do stuff.
It made it more real in a way. We've all kind of lived through this. Especially in 2020 where we were only allowed out for one hour a day. Other than that, we were basically locked in. So it made it feel like I was Daniel Day-Lewis, methoding what we had all lived and taking it to this role. Which was really strange actually.
What would you say the biggest challenge was, in playing Danny?
A few things. Allowing myself to get that emotionally vulnerable. Without giving anything away, the scenes where there's intimacy, that was really tricky because I'd never done any intimacy stuff before. So that was hard. Being that vulnerable to fall in love with someone and them breaking your heart - again, we've all been through that. It's not a nice feeling when you have to go through it in real life, so having to act that out was pretty hard.
Being emotional. Getting teary. There are one or two moments, one scene in particular where I can't describe to you how sad I was. Really sad. There was one point when I was sitting on the grass, depressed, proper upset and one of the runners, Olivia, came over and asked me if I wanted a tea. It was one of those scenes that left me feeling really upset.
What are some of your favourite scenes?
I really like the moment in episode five when I stop Aaron and this other character having their moment and confront them because of what I know. That scene I love. The one I just mentioned where I got really upset, is another.
All the really depressing, sad moments really. I felt quite happy that I could somehow pull that off because I've never had to be as emotional as I had to be in this.
How important do you think it is for neurodiverse actors to play neurodiverse roles?
I'm not of the thinking that only neurodiverse actors should play neurodiverse roles. If someone's brilliant at playing a character, they should do it. Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot. He's not got a bad left foot, he's just brilliant in that role.
I do feel that it comes from a slightly more authentic place when a neurodiverse actor plays neurodiverse. If a really cool actor played Danny, they could do a good job because they could be a great actor, but they can't relate to it as someone who has felt what the character has felt. And I've felt like an outsider because of being neurodiverse. So I know what that's like. I know that feeling.
I know what it's like to feel like you're on a slightly different radio frequency than everyone else.
Do you feel like the industry is getting better at representation?
I still feel like there's not a lot of it. It's there, but there aren't going to be 100 shows with 100 neurodiverse actors in it. It's just not going to happen that fast. To see an actor who's got neurodiversity playing the lead role, that to me, still feels like an incredible, monumental moment.
There's a show that's just come out called Ralph & Katie, with two actors with Down syndrome playing the leads and even that's monumental. It still feels like a huge thing, and it shouldn't be. It should just become a bit more normalised.
I feel like we're starting to see some change, but nowhere near where it needs to be.
Somewhere Boy is your first major TV role. How do you feel that people can now finally watch it?
It's very weird. I'm still mentally preparing. The billboards and all the promotional material is just me. And that's weird. I've never put so much of myself into a role where I really went for it. I also stayed in the accent the whole time. Because he's from Leeds and I'm from Scotland.
I put a lot into it and critics will say whatever they want - good or bad, that's their job, so fair game and all that - but I'm also a bit protective of it. If everyone said they hated it I'd scream "No! You can't hate it."
The one thing that I did think about was the production company behind this, Clerkenwell Films, The End of the F***ing World is one of their biggest shows, which is about young people who are a bit weird, messed up and strange. People could compare.
But having watched The End of the F***ing World and been a big fan of it - it's hard to not be biased when you're watching a show with you in it - but I feel like both shows still stand on their own two feet. Hopefully, it's part of a trilogy for Clerkenwell Films, Misfits, End of the F***ing World and now Somewhere Boy.
What are your plans then for Sunday night, when this first airs? Will you be looking at social media?
It's going to be weird. A part of me does want to look at social media. I'm interested in what people have to say. Any actor would be interested to hear what someone has to say about them, but I feel like I will want to know. I will want to see what people think.
I do have social media so I'm intrigued to see what DMs or messages I'll get as each episode goes out. Or if they watch it all in one on All 4. Somewhere Boy just feels different. You can make a conventional drama and make it really good, with great writing, but you can say you've seen it before.
I feel like Somewhere Boy is something that you might have seen before, about ten years ago, but you've not seen it now in the modern day. So I think it'll stick out and I'll be interested to see how people react to that.
Finally, what's next for you?
As any actor will tell you, you just go back to square one when you finish each job. I've not got anything as a lead, but I've got a cameo in Masters of the Air. That Apple TV+ show with
Barry Keoghan, Austin Butler and Callum Turner. I cannot emphasise this enough, it's just a cameo. I've got two lines. So you'll see me in that unless they cut it.
I also did a Paramount+ TV show called The Chemistry of Death, which is going to come out sometime next year. That's basically Harry Treadaway going around solving arson cases. He does one in Norfolk and one in a fictional island in Scotland, which is where I'm at and I'm the son of this boat smuggling operation and I'm a suspect of this arson murder. So you'll see me in that if you've got Paramount+.
Somewhere Boy starts Sunday 16th October at 10pm on Channel 4 with two episodes a night until Wednesday 19th October