With multiple soon-to-be-released projects on the horizon including “Pitch Perfect 3,” “Electric Dreams” and “Jacobs Ladder,” actor Guy Burnet is poised for an exciting 2018. Untitled’s editor-in-chief, Indira Cesarine, chatted with the British actor about his unique career path, playing Anna Kendrick’s love interest in “Pitch Perfect 3,” as DJ Khaled’s manager, one of his most blockbuster roles to date.
Indira Cesarine: Let’s start with the basics, I understand you grew up in London? Where are you currently based?
Guy Burnet: I’m based in Los Angeles. In terms of where I go home to, the last couple of years [have been] kind of nomadic. I go where the work is. I’ve lived in Chicago, Berlin, London and New York. I think I’ve spent the least amount of time in Los Angeles, even though that’s my base.
IC: How do you find Los Angeles compared to London?
GB: Initially, I moved from London to New York. I was in the theater world. I stayed three years in New York doing plays there or touring with plays around the northeast of America. I fell in love with New York! London to New York is a very easy transition to make. I find them like brother and sister. It was easy for me to fit in there. To move over to Los Angeles was a little more tricky. It’s almost a faux pas to say, “I love Los Angeles.” I think there’s a lot of a movement [in L.A.] artistically at the moment. Every time I leave town and come back, I remember how much I love it and see it as a home now. But I’d also love to get out of it!
IC: How did you get into acting? Didn’t you originally want to be a professional football player?
GB: I didn’t have the most traditional route [to] acting. A lot of British actors…have [their] schooling system at 18, then go on to drama school for three years and then go into the acting profession. An agent picks you up from drama school and you go on. For me, it was completely different. I didn’t grow up in an acting environment. I grew up playing sports. Boxing and playing football, as in soccer. I feel like my natural skill was soccer—or football, I keep saying that just in case people think I wanted to be a line backer!
IC: Yeah of course, British football!
GB: Exactly, British football. That was my skill. I don’t think I had the development [during] that part in my life, or anybody around me to push me in that direction, to advance it further. So by the age of 17 or 18, when I should have pushed on, I just got scared. I didn’t think I was good enough; I overthought it. I come from a poor background, so once [football] was over for me, I didn’t know which direction to go in. When I was 17 or 18 I worked in a car garage changing car batteries for a while. Eventually, I worked as an apprentice to my mother’s boss who was a playwright. My mum worked in a hotel—she started off as a chamber maid and moved her way up to receptionist. The guy who owned the hotel was a playwright. To make a bit of money, I started working for him as an assistant. At read-throughs for plays, some actors wouldn’t turn up so I would read [for them]. At that point, an agent in London called Andrew Manson, who has since passed away, spotted me. He decided, “I could do something with you…I would like to represent you.” I kind of just laughed it off. Acting was always a fantasy for me. I was a huge cinema fan. Especially French cinema—my heroes were Vincent Cassel and Jean Paul Belmundo. But it was never real, it was never something I would consider. [Manson] said to me, “I’ll stick with you through drama school; I would love for you to go there,” and I dismissed it. Eventually, I said okay—I had nothing else going on with my life. So I thought I’d audition, make some money and go. Then by complete chance, at my first ever audition, I booked a part because I happened to look like the girl who was going to play my sister. I got that role and that was my drama school. I did a television show for four years from the age of 18 or 19. Eventually, my ambition grew and I wanted to move on. By that point, I was known for that show (Hollyoaks) and it was very difficult for me to advance in any way beyond that specific genre or medium of television. So I had to reset. I used the money I made on that TV show to go to acting courses, to drama school. I lasted about three or four months before I thought, listen, I’m not learning as much as I want, because I’ve already had more experience than a lot of the people in my class. So I left and went to New York where nobody would know who the hell I was and started again from scratch. I worked for bigger companies, bigger shows, and bigger plays and that’s how I found my feet all over again. Eventually, some of the plays I did did quite well. They were well-received, which led to a couple of film offers which got me to Los Angeles. I know that was a long-winded answer to give you, but it was kind of a journey!
IC: It sounds like quite a journey! So you joined the cast of “Hollyoaks” in 2002, right?
GB: Yeah, I think it was 2002. I had just left school, I think it was on my 19th birthday.
IC: So that was a pretty quick shift from you being 18 or 19 to doing a major TV show.
GB: Yeah, its ironic really—I got lucky getting that show but the irony is that once I left, it was another five to six years of being out in the cold and resetting and finding my feet again until I started booking the jobs I wanted to do. And that’s an element that I think many people go through but don’t talk about. Everybody has their [own] journey, but there’s a good five to six years of pure poverty to an extent, an element that was so extremely depressing—thinking its not going work out for six years of your life is quite a substantial time to not be doing much. So I went from doing nothing to getting a job overnight… to working about four years straight for six or seven days a week. And then, on my own accord, deciding I’m going to leave [“Hollyoaks”], take a chance and go out into the cold for six years and try to rebuild again. And it was a good six! I can tell you it wasn’t like I did “Hollyoaks” and went on to the next thing. It was a lot of work after that. I did “Hollyoaks” at least 12 years ago.
IC: So it was a lot of work to transition from that?
GB: Oh, a lot of work going back to basics. I look back on it and I’m very proud of everything in the past. I think the journey is what it is and you have to get there, but I look back on it and to be quite frank with you, I don’t think I was at a level—I’m still not at a level—where I would [have loved] to be. You can come to America and maybe if you’re lucky, get on a network show and make that money. Or you can try and wait it out and choose specifically the parts you want to take. Neither is a better choice. I was just very specific about what I wanted. I wanted to do good cable shows, and I wanted to do theater work. That was my aim and once I was very clear about that, money was less important. It was more to do with—and I know this sounds pretentious—but it was more to do with the art.
IC: That makes sense. Of course you’re going to focus more on meaty roles. I know that you played Ewan McGregor’s wingman in “Mortdecai” alongside Johnny Depp. That was probably a pretty juicy job that got your career going in the right direction. Can you tell me about that role?
GB: When that came out, I was doing theater in New York and I didn’t know what was next for me. Just before “Mortdecai” came up I was on the verge of just stopping—I literally don’t know how much longer I could have carried on. I had met a casting director called John Papsidera. He’s quite a big casting director in Los Angeles. He probably doesn’t know this, but at the time I met him I was leaving for London the next day. I wasn’t certain I was coming back to L.A. I got a general casting call with [John] somehow and for whatever reason, he saw something in me. He believed in me, and it was his belief in me which was the catalyst for me carrying on. I flew to London, he called up my manager and he said, “listen, there’s another role that I’ve love to put him on tape for.” I did a tape in London, [John] saw it, and he was like, “Guy this is brilliant, the director is going to come and meet you.” I read for the director, David Kepp, and I I’ll never forget it—I was in a play watching these actors and I was thinking, “wow, look at them, they’re amazing!” I came out at the interval, and I’m outside and this guy comes up to me and says, “I remember you in Hollyoaks” or something along those lines. I was like, “hey, yeah, nice to see you,” and I was just thinking, I was looking at the guys in the play and I was like, “wow, I would love to do that play,” and at that moment, I got a phone call from my manager in New York and she was like, “Guy, you got the role in Mortdecai!” The film is what it is, it wasn’t big, but for me to be placed with Ewan McGregor, Johnny Depp and Gwyneth Paltrow was a massive confidence boost. I was in that position on merit. I worked hard and I got it, and that was a real change for me. Being on set with that caliber of actors and the humbleness that they had, and how lovely and supportive they were to me gave me so much confidence.
I spent my days with Ewan McGregor, who is one of the loveliest people and somebody you wish to emulate not just as an actor but as a human being. And Johnny Depp on set improvising and trying new things and being open to me saying, “hey, what if we try this?” I look back on it and I wish I was a little more confident. I wish I tried a few more things, but to be honest with you, at that time I just wanted to fit in and figure out my way and be accepted. It was a massive learning curve for me. I left that film feeling confident. I went on to do indie films; I went on to do “Ray Donavan” and at that point I would be on set with Liev Schreiber and Ian McShane, and I felt a lot more confident because I had been with other actors I looked up to. I realized we’re all just human beings. We all have the same organs in our body, same insecurities to an extent. It’s just about turning up and working hard and bringing a part of your soul into the equation. There’s millions of actors, but there’s space for everybody— no one has your exact face, no one has your exact mannerisms and you just have to bring a piece of yourself to the puzzle. That’s what I learned from “Mortdecai.” Everything from it was a learning experience.
IC: Let’s move on to some of the more recent stuff that you’ve done. You play Katie Holmes’s brother on “Ray Donavan”?
GB: I came into the third season as part of the storyline. The story of my family, me, Katie Holmes playing my sister and Ian McShane as my father was the story for that season specifically. I didn’t carry on doing [“Ray Donovan”] after that. I went from that show to “The Affair,” which was also on Showtime, and then to “Hand of God” which was on Amazon. [“Ray Donovan”] with Katie Holmes was literally just for that one season. They left my character kind of open and truly, I’m a big fan of the show so I’d be completely open to returning if it’s still going.
IC: Any highlights from working with Katie?
GB: I’ve found that people at the top are always very nice and very humble, and Katie was no different. She is a very strong woman. She had her vision and she brought a lot to the character that was her choice. I admire that. She was just very good at what she did and I swear to you, I took a lot from her. I watched her and I admired what she did. When you try to learn from actors that you admire, it’s not just about taking as an actor, but taking as a human being. I see Katie and I go, “wow, she’s humble, she’s professional, and she’s a strong character who stands up for what she sees in her art.”
IC: Amazing. So, let’s talk about “Pitch Perfect 3,” hitting screens on December 22nd.
GB: We have the premiere here in Los Angeles on December 12th. I think the international release is December 22nd in time for Christmas.
IC: December 22nd is always a hot day because everybody goes to see movies over Christmas. It’s a classic family thing, and I’m sure with “Pitch Perfect 3” everyone will end up going.
GB: I hope so!
IC: So tell me about playing Anna Kendrick’s love interest—how was it? Give me a little bit of insight into your role, you play her boyfriend, correct?
GB: I come in as a music manager to DJ Khaled. I spot Anna’s character, Becca’s, potential and I want to sign her for the label. In doing so, we have an interaction, a chemistry between us. Anna Kendrick is one of the smartest people I’ve ever come across. She’s very sharp, very smart, and she’s super sweet too. When I met her, we talked in depth about how we wanted to build our chemistry—we didn’t want to do a generic love story. Her character Becca is this very awkward girl, she’s kind of weird and doesn’t really know where she stands. We played into that, where I approached my character in a similar way to hers. So they’re both relatively awkward; there’s intelligent banter between them, and they challenge each other. We created more of a “will-they-won’t-they get together” chemistry.
IC: Tell me about working as DJ Khaled’s manager on the show. We talked a little about this previously and you had some funny insight into his social media addiction.
GB: From the moment I met him, we got on like a house on fire. Before I met him, I researched him and watched all of his Youtube videos and realized that he has his own language. Quite literally, his own language that he has created and communicates with! Half of that language is communicated through social media and half of that language is then communicated by semantics—like, he would say “billi,” or “you’re a billi” meaning a billionaire.
IC: I’ve never heard billionaire referred to as “billi.” Should I have known that?
GB: Well, I wouldn’t have known that.
IC: He must use a specific Urban Dictionary that we should all be checking out… They should publish that!
GB: Yes, there’s the DJ Khaled “Urban Dictionary”. If you want to communicate with the guy you don’t have a choice. He came to shoot with us for about a week. 99% of his stuff was improvised—he was super enthusiastic, a really lovely, humble guy. He was looking for a bit more security in the situation and I said to him, “listen, I will guide us where we need to go, and you have the freedom to do what you want.” After one take, I realized that if I fed him a word that he understood, like billi or lion, he would naturally riff off that one word. I would say to him, “hey, you’re a lion” and he would go off on the idea of a lion or I’d say “keys,” and he would talk about the keys to life or something. The crew and the director captured all these moments where he was improvising about these words. He would call me to come in on days I wasn’t working to sit with him and go, “okay, so what do I do here?” He found me as kind of a security blanket because I could explain to him, in his language, what needed to be done or what they were looking for [in a scene]. That was my role off camera as well working alongside the director and going, “hey, I wrote out this dictionary of words here and if you use these words, he’s going to respond to them.” It was all improvised by him, using these key words of his. Aside from that, he would be living in his social media—one time he wanted to tag me and asked, what’s your name? You know, what’s your…?
IC: What’s your “handle”? And you were like, I don’t have one!
GB: Yeah, that’s what he said! Nah, man!
IC: He must have freaked when he found out you weren’t on social media.
GB: I’ll tell you the exact words. He goes, “what’s your handle?” and I say, “I don’t have one.” He goes, “What? What?! You’re playing yourself, man” and I go, “what do you mean?” I could tell he was really disappointed in me and I feel I really let him down at that point. He was so sweet about it, but he was completely and utterly confused by the situation.
IC: I find that most British actors and musicians can’t be bothered with social media. They prefer to have a private life and it’s a totally different mindset than this American need to constantly self-promote. It’s a more private point of view.
GB: You’re right in some aspects, but we also have a very prominent social media users in the UK. Fame is fame. People talk to me about that, they’re like, “how is that possible, how are you on ‘Pitch Perfect,’ do you know how much money you could make if you advertised a fucking tea bag?” Of course I need to live, I need to be making money, but as long as I’m able to eat, I’m alright. I just can’t be bothered but I do admire people who are able to use [social media] as a tool because you can also use it to promote charity or goodness. I can tell you, the actor I admire most in America—by chance, he’s become a very close friend of mine—is Sam Rockwell. He’s kept his privacy; he’s kept his life. He just enjoys his art. People can counter that argument with, “you know, if you want to get a job now it’s how many followers you have on Instagram.”
IC: If you’re a good actor I don’t think people care.
GB: I can tell you, there are some directors who cast from social media. Films or shows that I would get if the director were to cast me because of my social media following I wouldn’t want anyway. I have no interest in that; I don’t want to do that. There are American directors around at the moment [who I would love] to work with and I can guarantee you, not one of those guys would cast from social media.
IC: Of course, it should be based on your acting ability not on your social media.
GB: A good film is a good film.
IC: And a good actor is a good actor. Unfortunately these days, a lot of things are not based on talent. Considering the roles you’ve previously done, you’re in a position where if you don’t want to do social media you’re given a waiver because you’re English. If you were American, people would be like, “hell no.” But because you’re English, people are like, “oh, he’s a Brit.” I hate to say it but if you were American, people would be far more suspect that you don’t have social media.
GB: Yeah, maybe you’re right. I think it’s a wonderful tool for certain things. I just don’t have enough to say.
IC: It’s also time consuming!
GB: Oh, of course. Before I go to bed, I do have one habit: I will look up my soccer—football—team New Castle and obsessively look at the news of who they have signed. I guess that’s the time people would use for social media, and all I’m looking at is the sports news. Quite literally, that’s all I give a shit about.
IC: Fair enough. I like your response to that—I think it’s original, and I think a lot of people will respect that. Not everybody is going to think that you’re letting them down by not being on social media. It adds more mystery.
GB: It’s nice because back in the day, there was a time when mystery was an important thing. I don’t want you to look at me and go, “that’s Guy Burnet.” I want to go to the cinema and see these actors and just think of their characters. If you know too much about them, it’s too much access.
IC: You can’t believe in them as much.
GB: Yeah, escapism. We’re here to offer escapism to an extent—escape from everyday life for a couple of hours with a TV show, or escape into someone else’s world. To offer that, I think you need to have some mystery to who you are.
IC: Yeah, totally. I think that’s very clever of you. So I have one question which I’m sure all of our female readers will want to know, as well as some men and some non-binary individuals: are you currently single? I’m sure you love that question. You don’t have to answer, but I’m sure others would like to know!
GB: I’ve been in a relationship with a French actress, Nora Arnezeder, for three and a half years. We’re committed to each other and we share a lot of similar beliefs in our approach in our art. So to answer your question, no, I’m not single.
IC: I’m sure you are a romantic…
GB: Yeah, I think. It’s interesting—I think the key, or perhaps the right question is, how do you keep up romance after a long term period? At the beginning we’re all romantic—we go through the honeymoon period—and then it kind of advances to like, okay, I’ll be romantic on Valentine’s day and the birthday, but I think you have to try and be romantic at more random moments, unpredictable moments. If you can keep that going for an extended period of time, that’s sometimes key to love and a relationship and driving that forward. Does that make sense?
IC: Absolutely! So with regards to 2018, I understand you’re going to be in Amazon’s “Electric Dreams” which is an anthology with Anna Paquin?
GB: Yes! I have two things that come out in mid to late January, both of which I’m very proud of and excited about. So firstly is “Electric Dreams” with Anna Paquin and Terrence Howard. It’s an anthology in which, similar to “Black Mirror,” everything takes place in the future and each episode is a standalone story. I play the antagonist in two different time zones, and we don’t know which one might be fantasy or which one might be reality. It’s based on short stories by Phillip K Dick who did “Blade Runner.” The other thing I’m looking forward to is “Counterpart” with JK Simmons. I play a diplomat or an ambassador between two worlds. A lot of my scenes are with JK Simmons and Richard Schiff, both again actors that I really admire. I really believe in [“Counterpart”], and I’m going back to shoot more of it next year in Berlin. That comes out January 21st.
IC: So we’ve got a lot of new things from you next year!
GB: There’s also one other film! It’s actually a remake of a film from about 25 years ago called “Jacobs Ladder,” which was with Tim Robbins. We remade that film, which I think will be coming out next summer or next fall.
IC: Of course, who didn’t see the original? It was an awesome movie. With all this stuff going on, do you have any words of wisdom that you live by?
GB: That’s a great question. I find there’s two basic things that I like to live by to an extent. [Firstly,] be a good and nice human being—there’s nothing wrong with that. People seem to think [that] to get to a certain place, you need to be this way or that way, But I can promise you that the people I’ve met who are at the top of their game are nice and good people. That’s my real philosophy: be a nice human being. The other thing I’ve found is, nothing good ever gets away, so you don’t need to rush anything! That’s what I’ve learned by my six years in the dark!
Photography and interview by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine