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Jamie Blackley On Going Back to School in ‘UWantMe2KillHim?’

We spoke to the British actor about the online culture, the ‘Catfish’ phenomena, and an on-set wheelie attempt that went horribly awry.

Based on a true story, UWantMe2KillHim? stars Jamie Blackley as Mark, a popular high school student who becomes obsessed with his online crush Rachel (Jaime Winstone). Totally in love, he agrees to watch out for her bullied brother John (Toby Regbo). After she goes off-line for a few days, John reveals to Mark that Rachel’s abusive boyfriend has killed her. From there, everything spirals out of control.

We had the opportunity to speak to Blackley about working with director Andrew Douglas, the role of fantasy in the life of a teen, and why he mostly tweets about his favorite football team.

Tribeca: Uwantme2kimhim? is truly a tale for the Internet age. What initially drew you to the script?

Jamie Blackley: It was one of those things that happen once in a blue moon for me. I just found the whole story so interesting, and I was shocked to learn that it was true. I read the Vanity Fair article, but it all just seemed so bizarre to me although it made sense in another way . The Internet is a tool we all use so it’s only natural that some people would exploit it. Plus, it was interesting to play a character like Mark who is so easily manipulated by his on-line activities.

Tribeca: You’re obviously older than your character. How hard was it to step back a few years to portray a schoolboy? Especially one who is so easily manipulated?

JB: It was difficult. Toby and I actually spent a day at the school that we were shooting at with all the kids while they were in term. We got to sit in on classes with them, which helped. We shot the film over the school’s break, so the kids in the film were actually on vacation, but were willing to spend their holiday with us, which was brilliant.

I made friends with a few of them and that was cool. Being around them automatically put me back in that school mindset. It was great.

On the Internet you’re fairly anonymous. You can really do and say what you like. 

Tribeca: Is it strange to watch yourself mature, both physically and professionally, on screen?

JB: It’s certainly a strange thing. Looking back, it seems like time has moved really quickly from when I was a student just a few years ago. While I was in the school, though, I thought I’d be there forever. When I watch myself now, all I see is me, and I get embarrassed like anyone else. As I continue to learn and grow as an actor, I do cringe at past performances when I think I should have done something different.  I also remember the bits where I felt like I was learning on the job, and those moments are interesting to watch.

Tribeca: One of the most important aspects of the film is the friendship between Mark and John. Can you talk about collaborating with Toby Regbo? How did the two of you work together to convey that tentative friendship on screen?

JB: Toby and I are so different—very much like the characters in the movie. If we weren’t actors, our paths would never have crossed. As Mark and John’s relationship grew, so did mine and Toby’s—though in entirely different directions [laughs]. It was so great to work with such a kind, kind, and talented guy. Plus, we won the Best Actor award at the Edinburgh Film Festival together. It felt quite fitting for our relationship. That recognition sealed what had been such a cool time for both of us.

Tribeca: Can you talk about working with director Andrew Douglas? In what ways did he help you hone your character? Can you also talk a little bit about the audition process?

JB: Andrew is such a lovely guy and another really good friend of mine. He’s always been so generous to me. It was interesting working with him because he was a photographer so he always came up with insightful notes about how to make something visually interesting. The audition process was stressful because I wanted the role so badly. I got a few callbacks—with about a month in between each—until I finally got to read with Toby and Andrew together. Toby was originally reading for my character, but Andrew decided to have him read for John.

So we spent three and a half or four hours together just going through the material. After I got the part, I spoke to Andrew about it afterwards, and he told me that he had thought about it for days and days until he just woke up in the middle of the night and said, “Toby and Jamie.”  So that’s great for me. It was a great feeling to get a role that I could really get my teeth into. As a director, Andrew capitalized on my nervousness, my wondering whether I could do it or not, which is always good.

Tribeca: Did he have any sort of rehearsal with you and Toby?

JB: He did. It was helpful to have us be together in the classroom because it was easy to slip back into that student mind frame. The three of us also spent a lot of time talking over stuff, especially about never playing the ending. We just had to focus on the friendship between John and Mark because that would make the end so much more heartbreaking.

As Mark, I did have to ride a BMX bike in the movie. Andrew had this scene where he wanted me to do a wheelie. I practiced like mad, but I still couldn’t do it. So the day comes where I have to do the wheelie but he doesn’t mention it. So I remember thinking “Oh, thank God he’s forgotten about the wheelie, I’m not going to have to do it. “ In the middle of a shot, Andrew just shouted out the house window, “Do the wheelie!” I was like, “Nooooo!” [laughs] I tried to do it and I just fell so hard. He told me it looked like a spider trying to ride a bike. I got schooled.

We got it on tape, but I don’t know where it is. I actually ended up breaking a little bone in my wrist. I always, always get hurt. The rest of the shoot I had this little wrist guard that I would have to keep taking off and on in between scenes, all because of that stupid wheelie.

As a director, Andrew [Douglas] capitalized on my nervousness, my wondering whether I could do it or not, which is always good.

Tribeca: Many of your scenes take place in front of a computer screen. As an actor, what’s it like to play within that space? How did you keep things interesting for yourself?

JB: That was really difficult. I remember when Andrew first came over to me to talk about blocking. I had to type and speak my lines at the same time, which threw me at first. I was a bit freaked out. Though, we did most of the computer scenes in a few days so it became easier for me to find a rhythm.  Many important things happen at that computer screen. It represents everything Mark is missing in day-to-day life.  All the complications in his life come from his online world.

Also, I listened to a lot of music in the studio when we filmed those scenes. I decided that Mark liked Eminem so I’d listen to Eminem over and over again. I didn’t want to sit in that seat for too long, so I would just get up and have a walk around just to break things up.

Tribeca: Numerous teenage characters in the film comment on wanting “a mad crazy life.” Is this the root of all Mark’s actions? How important is fantasy in the life of a teen?

JB: I think it’s really important. When you’re younger, you have this idea of the kind of person who you should be. When you’re in the middle of growing into your adult self, you see many different options, and today the Internet figures into that process. Through all of the images and information it provides, you can get an idea of who you want to be.

I think as a teen—you usually think your life is boring, but it’s only boring because you’re comparing it to all these other things. I think someone like Mark is the perfect product of this type of thinking. People dismiss him as naïve, but really, he’s searching for something. When you’re searching for a mad life or a girlfriend, you go online. When someone like Mark is being told he’s loved and that he could be a hero, he wants to believe. He’s got no reason to believe that all of this stuff that’s being given to him. It doesn’t occur to him for a second that it might not be real.

Tribeca: While the case of Mark and John is pretty extreme, it’s not beyond the realm of believability. How have the Internet and the online social scene affected the experience of being young in our culture?

JB: On the Internet you’re fairly anonymous. You can really do and say what you like. The downside is that we get used to talking from behind a keyboard in lieu of direct, personal communications. I remember when I was a kid, Instant Messenger was the thing, and I would get home from school and talk to people who I didn’t even know.

While we were shooting this movie, I thought about it a lot. I have no idea why I was doing that as a kid. It’s such a strange thing when you think about it isn’t? I just saw a picture of these people I was chatting with, and I would just assume that that picture was them. As an adult, it’s clear to me that some people exploit that anonymity.

The Internet is a tool we all use so it’s only natural that some people would exploit it.

Tribeca: I don’t know if Catfish has made it over to the U.K…

JB: Oh yeah, it’s crazy! It’s absolutely crazy.

Tribeca: It’s just something that I couldn’t help but think about when I was watching Uwantme2killhim?.

JB: I can definitely see some of the similarities. Once Mark started to get everything he wanted, he didn’t want to believe that there was even a remote possibility of falsehood.

Tribeca: As an actor working in independent cinema as well as the mainstream world, do you feel any pressure to use social media to help spread the word?

JB: I do have Twitter. I use it if I have a project coming out. I think there’s only so much that I can do to spread the word about upcoming movies. I sometimes feel embarrassed to use my Twitter account. I don’t want to put every stupid little detail of my day on the Internet. I would never want to constantly bombard people with “Look at me, look at me!” It’s just not in my main focus. Although, I will spend a lot of time tweeting about my football team [laughs]. Crystal Palace. It’s a small little team in south London.

Uwantme2killhim? is now available on demand and digital platforms.


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