Beach RatsHarris Dickinson
Credit: Tayarisha Poe/Neon

Beach Rats

  • Movie

If Harris Dickinson’s name doesn’t sound familiar, that’s because he’s never been in a movie before. But the 21-year-old appears in every scene of the Sundance prizewinner Beach Rats (read EW’s review here), playing a moody teenager living a double life in the Coney Island neighborhood of Brooklyn. By day he lazes about with his girlfriend and crew of shirtless bros; at night he’s cruising for hookups in gay chatrooms. “The subject matter fascinated me,” Dickinson says. “I really enjoyed trying to figure the character out, even whilst reading the script.”

That use of “whilst” offers a clue to Dickinson’s own parallel existence. Though his acting as a Brooklynite is documentary-caliber authentic, he was actually born and raised in London. When he submitted an audition tape for the role, he’d never set foot in the NYC outer borough. “I scammed myself into the casting pool,” Dickinson says in a rich, basso profundo English accent. “I was conscious of being a British actor doing a ridiculous Brooklyn voice, so I toned it down. And they bought it. A lot of imitation is having the ability to listen, and luckily I think I’m good with my ear.”

Good with his iPhone, too. While preparing for the movie, Dickinson spent hours recording the voices of New York natives while on the subway. “I was listening for all the nuances and slang, so that I wouldn’t be floundering if I tried improvising,” he says. Though, ever formal, he adds, “Perhaps I should have asked their permission.”

Dickinson shot the film in Brooklyn last summer and feels fortunate that it’s being released less than a year after Moonlight, the first LGBT film to ever win Best Picture at the Oscars. “I think the sensitivity and emotion of that movie is so necessary for the LGBT community to see,” he says. “Obviously the subject matter of Beach Rats crosses paths — both films are about about working class people struggling with their masculinity and their sexuality. And I hope they both shine lights on that struggle and shine lights on the prejudice, especially with hate crimes going on a continuing to be happening.”

Yet he dismisses the common notion, which is easily disproven by Moonlight‘s success, that British actors are more comfortable touching upon homosexuality in performance. “People have asked me about that but I don’t know where it comes from,” he says. “Maybe it’s down to family morals and ethics and upbringing and it’s like a societal thing? Maybe the way things are going in the comparative political climates? But someone also commented on my Instagram recently and said that an American actor would have never done this part and I don’t think that’s fair. There’s plenty of American actors who would have been as good or even better than me in this role.”

It should be said, however, that Dickinson had no hesitation about the nudity and graphic sex scenes in the film. “I remember when I first saw the script, one of my representatives saying, ‘This is a rough-and-tumble world, so you might not be interested,’” he remembers. “If my reps are saying that, then I definitely want to do it.”

He’ll be doing much more of it. Next year he appears opposite Amandla Stenberg and Mandy Moore in the film version of the dystopian book series The Darkest Minds. “I get tackled to the floor by Gwendoline Christie,” he says, “which is a big thing for a Game of Thrones fan.” Right now he’s in Italy shooting FX’s 10-part limited series Trust, directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle
(Slumdog Millionaire). Dickinson stars as real-life oil heir J. Paul Getty III, whose ear was cut off by ransom-seeking kidnappers in 1973. Hilary Swank plays his mother and Donald Sutherland his grandfather. “It’s the longest shoot I’ve ever been on and my character goes through quite a lot,” he says. “But I’m getting up and taking every day by storm.” Movies and TV, brace yourselves.

Beach Rats

  • Movie
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  • Eliza Hittman