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Andrew Douglas’ Uwantme2killhim? stars Jamie Blackley as Mark, a high school star athlete who becomes obsessed with his online crush Rachel (Jaime Winstone). Out of his devotion to her, he agrees to watch out for her bullied little brother John (Toby Regbo). As the two form a shaky friendship, John tells Mark that Rachel has been murdered by her violent boyfriend. When they take a vow to avenge her, the boys fall into a web of deception where nothing is as it seems.
We talked with Toby Regbo about returning to the schoolyard, crafting his character and the anonymity the Internet offers.
Tribeca: Without giving anything away, the story behind Uwantme2killhim? is outrageous, but not entirely beyond the realm of believability. How do you think the Internet and the online social scene have affected the experience of being young in our culture?
Toby Regbo: It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the Internet has connected people globally, especially young people, in a way that has enhanced our collective consciousness. We have almost unlimited information at our fingertips at any given moment. That’s amazing. The Internet has made us smarter, and the ability to share information instantaneously across the globe has had a profound effect on culture.
At the same time, the Internet communications are often reduced to sending inane shit videos to each other. [laughs] Despite that temptation, there are many young people who are using the Internet as a valuable resource. We as a global community were able to witness political events like the revolution in Egypt through social media. If we mobilize together with the use of social media, the effect of that can be profound. However, the anonymity of the Internet is scary because it allows people to be horrible and let out their inner sort of demons without consequences. They would never say or do a lot of things if their words were attached to their name and their face. It’s dangerous to create personal realities that don’t really exist in the real world.
Tribeca: Uwantme2killhim? is based on a true story. Besides reading the Vanity Fair article on which it is based, did you do any additional research?
TR: We did have access to some of the police records. A lot of those were blacked out because the case involves minors. The chat room records between the two boys were very interesting. These conversations just went on all night.
Tribeca: All night?
TR: Yeah, I don’t know when these kids slept. They went to school and as soon as they got home, they’d pop online and be talking until 4 or 5 in the morning. And then they’d get up and go to school. It was all part of a very strange routine.
The Internet is the perfect place for people to enact fantasies, and that’s why games like World of Warcraft do so well. You have the ability to be whatever you want to be, warriors or whatever.
Tribeca: I understand that you originally read for the role of Mark, though you were ultimately cast as John. Given that you went from one role to another, how easy was it for you to switch mindsets?
TR: I auditioned for Mark the first few times and I had my heart set on playing him. However, I am absolutely terrible at football. Jamie was far better suited for the role of Mark. He’s much more naturally charismatic, which is essential to the character. When I found out I was playing John--I was disappointed at first--but it turned out to be a much more interesting character for me to play, at least from my perspective. I’m glad it worked out the way it did.
Tribeca: Both you and Jamie are both older than the characters you play. How hard was it to step back a few years to portray a schoolboy?
TR: Not that hard. I’ve got the face of a twelve-year-old boy [laughs]. No, it wasn’t too difficult. We filmed at this school in Essex, and a bunch of the kids in the school took their vacation to come be in the movie. They were the background artists. We came in and did an acting lesson with them before the filming started. When we weren’t in costume, there was night and day between our age groups. They hadn’t done their GCSEs yet and Jaime and I were 20. Jamie actually had to have his face shaved three times a day because he grew stubble incredibly quickly. However, when we were in costume, Jaime and I just blended right in.
Tribeca: In real life, you look nothing like John. Did you work with hair and makeup to create the “look” of your character?
TR: Yeah, we did. We tried to give me the worst haircut ever. At one point, we were thinking about doing a perm, but I’m glad that we didn’t. And there was a lot of making the skin look as young as possible. They did a good job, I think; I looked absolutely weird.
Tribeca: Can you talk a little bit about working with Andrew Douglas? How did he help you hone your character?
TR: Jamie and I went into the offices with Andrew and his wife to work on our characters. They gave us both a book by Ivana Chubbuck called The Power of the Actor which is about working with the objective of your character, your scene objective and how that all fits into the overall objectives within the film. We took a long time working out exactly what the characters wanted and what motivated them. I think all that time and effort beforehand really, really paid off. When we got to set, we knew exactly what we were doing.
Tribeca: One of the most important aspects of the film is the relationship between Mark and John. Can you talk a little about working with Jamie and what it was like to convey that tentative relationship on screen?
TR: It came really easily. Jamie is an incredibly nice, easy person to work with. I think it came pretty naturally. Camaraderie just tends to happen when you’re working closely with someone that you like. Our friendship didn’t have to be nurtured, it came naturally.
Tribeca: Two different characters in the film comment on wanting a “mad, crazy life.” Is that concept the root of all of John’s actions? And how important is fantasy in the life of a teen?
TR: When you hear about what happened to these kids, some people’s reaction was, “just how gullible was he?” The real incident happened in the suburbs of Manchester. In places like that sometimes the same routine, the same color palette of grey and brown brick create an inane world that kids want to escape. It’s very, very easy for them to be drawn into amazing fantasies where they can be heroes or thought of as interesting. It’s totally understandable why kids would want to do that. The Internet is the perfect place for people to enact fantasies, and that’s why games like World of Warcraft do so well. You have the ability to be whatever you want to be, warriors or whatever.
Tribeca: As an actor working in indie cinema as well as the mainstream world, do you feel any pressure, yourself, to use social media?
TR: Yes, Reign has a large internet following, and I’m incredibly lucky to have so many people interested in me and my role on the show. However, I find it a very strange territory to maneuver. I’m on Twitter and a lot of people want to be followed. I find it a really amazing way to communicate, and also from my ego’s perspective, an easy way to quantify how funny you are, when you get a numerical response to your jokes. I‘m of two minds about it. I like it, but I also don’t like to reply to that much stuff, because you set a precedent for people wanting a reply from you. I think it’s a great way to interact with people, but at the same time, there are much more soul-enriching and less detrimental ways to interact with other human beings.
The anonymity of the Internet is scary because it allows people to be horrible and let out their inner sort of demons without consequences.
Tribeca: You’re in the midst of Reign and you’ve done Uwantme2killhim? and various other film projects. Does your approach to crafting a character change when you move between film and television work?
TR: I guess so. I’ve never done a TV show like this before. I’m shooting for really, really long periods of time. I get a script a day or two before production on the episode starts, we shoot for nine days and then you have 42 minutes of television. That’s a much faster progression than I would do for films. You just have to pick up on the vibes or the mood of the show. I think that’s integral to constructing a character, so that you don’t seem out of place within the world. It’s been an interesting experience shooting so quickly. I’ve still got so much to learn.
Tribeca: It is strange to watch yourself evolve, both physically and professionally, on screen?
TR: It’s interesting because I’m learning all the time on set. However, most people hone their craft, so to speak, in schoolrooms or at university. Everything that I’ve done is on camera and recorded, which is strange because I always have the benefit of hindsight. I’m lucky in that way.
Uwantme2killhim? is now available on demand and digital platforms.