In the fourth season of Netflix’s U.K.-set period crime drama Peaky Blinders (premiering Dec. 21), Cillian Murphy’s Thomas Shelby and the rest of his clan face a fresh menace in the form of Adrien Brody, who plays a Sicilian gangster. A second new cast member, Aidan Gillen, plays a Romani-gypsy hitman called Aberama Gold, while a third, Jack Rowan, is his son, a young boxer named Bonnie.
“S—‘s getting real for Tommy Shelby,” says Rowan, 20. “He needs extra help, so he calls in this family, the Golds. My character, the best way I can explain him, he’s kind of the Michael Corleone of it all. He’s not a killer, he’s not like his father in that sense [and] perhaps he isn’t going to grow up to be an assassin. But Bonnie’s side story is that he is a boxer and actually Tommy also then uses it as a way to earn his own money.”
There was a time when Rowan thought his own future lay in the ring rather than on a soundstage.
“Yeah, boxing used to be what I thought was the dream,” says the actor. “And boxing will always be in my heart, because it gave me a place where I could escape and a place I could vent. It was the first platform which allowed me to fully dream. I had 27 amateur boxing fights. We used to fight all up and down the country. These were real honest times, where we never got paid, we never did it for any money. I would turn up to school the next day with a black eye, and everyone would just know, ‘Oh, Jack must have had a boxing fight.’ But I got an injury to my back, which kept me out for 16 months. I was only a teenager at that point. I just remember being so frustrated, but it was in those 16 months that I developed a pure love for something else. I couldn’t do boxing, I couldn’t train. I was like, ‘I need to do something,’ so I just took acting really seriously.”
Rowan’s previous British TV credits include the crime procedural Silent Witness and the recent mini-series Born to Kill, in which he starred as a psychopathic teenager.
“It was fun,” says Rowan. “[I was] basically going, Today I’m going to be a flirtatious schoolboy, and then tomorrow, I’m going to kill somebody.”
Rowan’s acting experience and background in pugilism made him ideal for the role of Bonnie Gold in Peaky Blinders.
“We were saying, ‘We probably want an actor who can box rather than a boxer who can act,” says the show’s creator and writer, Steven Knight. “And we found that he was both. He’s great. He’s got the look, he’s got attitude, and he’s a pleasure to work with. There is no question he’s going to become a very big star and we’ve got him early.”
Did Rowan get starstruck working with the likes of Murphy, Gillen, and Tom Hardy on the show?
“My first day on set was with those three, funny enough,” says the actor. “I was sandwiched in between all three of them. [Laughs.] It was exciting. But the minute I got on the set, they treated me like who I was — I was another actor, I was their colleague. So, the starstruck feeling took a side note because I realized, ‘Hang on a minute, I’m actually working with these guys.’ It was a fueling feeling. I was like, ‘You know what? Let’s have it! Let’s have it! I’m here for a reason!’ [Laughs.]”
Rowan recently filmed the comedy movie Benjamin and says he is “craving” to appear in a film about amateur boxing, although he has no plans to return to the ring for real any time soon.
“The moment I got my first professional job, and got a taste of what the acting industry is like, I was like, ‘I don’t want to box anymore,'” says Rowan. “I basically went soft. I didn’t want to get punched in the face!”
Watch the U.K. trailer for season 4 of Peaky Blinders, available Dec. 21 on Netflix, above.