Introducing David Dawson – you might know him from Peaky Blinders, The Road to Coronation Street and many more. He is no stranger to edge-cutting and astonishing performances. Now the magnetic British actor enchants alongside Harry Styles and Emma Corrin in My Policeman – a heart-wrenching story about lost love, betrayal and pursuing what your heart truly desires, even after decades of wasted time. David is one of a kind and with his British charm, he is utterly captivating and delivers every performance in a way that makes one get deeply lost in the story. David manages to allure the audience with his tremendous talent – no matter if he plays a gay man in love in My Policeman, a psychopath in Luther or a king in The Last Kingdom. David knows how to do it all.
Over Zoom, Schön! speaks to David about singing with Emma Corrin and Harry Styles, if he ever felt all-consuming love, what made filming my Policeman so special, and much more.
Let’s begin our interview with an introduction to the story of My Policeman. It is set in the 1950s in Brighton and follows the story of the policeman Tom Burgess, who is married to school teacher Marion Taylor, while being in a relationship with museum curator Patrick Hazelwood, who is played by you. Tell us more about the dynamic and your character.
The dynamic was one of the things that when I first read the script got me excited about the story. I’m always drawn to scripts where the relationships are incredibly complex between the people you’re watching and the idea of this triangle of people excited me and the fact that an audience will go on a journey with them and, at certain points, may not agree with the decisions that they make. Hopefully, you understand at the end, why those decisions were made between them.
Tell me more about your character Patrick.
Patrick Hazelwood is a museum curator who works for the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery and he travels the world trying to bring new exhibitions to the gallery. What I love about him is he’s very passionate about trying to create collections that will draw the masses to the gallery and not just make this for the refined few, art should be for all. That’s when we first meet him. He’s a gay man who is living in a time when being his authentic self can be incredibly difficult, but what I admired about him is that he’s very skillfully found a way out of necessity to thrive in 50s Britain and achieve his life goals. I think that was something I was very excited about that dual persona was in public. He has to present himself in a certain way to remain “respectable.” Then you get to see in private the vulnerability of a man who, like anybody else in this world, wants to find love and the joys of life, whether that’s in music or art or sex or love.
Thank you for that. So, a quote that stuck with me was the following: “This love is all consuming. I pity people who don’t know what it feels like to be this in love.” Have you personally ever felt loved that can be described this way?
Would you describe love the same way as this quote and how would you further explain how a love like that makes you feel? Would you say that it’s all consuming and it’s all that you can think about at that moment and is it something that you think back on fondly?
Do you mean as a personal experience?
Well, I’ve not thought about that. I don’t know. I think we can all relate to love being incredibly special.
I just found it very interesting that the quote, if you first hear it, everyone wants to feel the love that feels this way. I was just interested in if your character feels the all-consuming love and if it’s something that you felt as well in your personal experiences, and then that makes you relate to the character more.
Oh, I see what you mean. Yeah, absolutely.
The movie is a powerful portrayal of forbidden love, betrayal, regrets and living your true self. What is something that you wish the audience takes away from the story?
That’s a good question. I think well, certainly in terms of being a gay man myself in living in Britain now. it makes me have an even greater appreciation for just what’s been fought for and achieved over the years to enable my generation to have the freedoms and rights that we have. It also makes me acknowledge how vulnerable those rights can be. I watched a wonderful documentary that the Olympic diver Tom Daley made for the BBC and I think that was incredibly poignant in terms of, it was called illegal to be me. You can think about this movie as a period piece, but the society in which Patrick, Tom and Marion are living in which is 50s Britain is a present for many people around the world now. I hope our movie holds poignancy in terms of that.
As you mentioned just now, the message of My Policeman is a very important one for today’s audience. I was struck the most by the idea of love surviving decades, pursuing it, no matter the odds and society’s standards. Do you think love survives all or do you think the act of betrayal overshadows love?
Oh, well, I think our movie has a hopeful ending. After all they’ve been through, the three of them. I think it’s an ending full of hope even though it’s been a tale of tragedy. Yeah, I think it ends with a message of hope.
Tell me more about the dynamic between you and your co-stars, Emma Corrin and Harry Styles. Is there a specific memory that you are very fond of that all of you share?
We met initially on Zoom because we made this movie during COVID. Whereas normally you’d be thrown together at a read-through and get to know each other that way. Michael Grandage has a background as a theatre director. I worked with him on the stage many times in London, and he gave us the luxury of a three-week rehearsal period in which the three of us could bond and create a friendship and chemistry together. He also very effectively split us so the three of us work together as a three. We would have sessions as me and Harry and sessions as Emma and Harry. And so there are a lot of secrets in our story.
As actors, we weren’t part of conversations that our characters wouldn’t either. That was very effective I found in terms of coming onto set. I suppose one of the lovely memories I remember was one of the first times we got together, the first time we met each other in person. They put us into a sound booth in London in a music studio because there’s a song that we sing together in the film when we’re all getting quite drunk together. We got a random clap piano when we were told to sing for each other. I thought that was a clever way of getting rid of any nerves or butterflies that you might have had.
How was it meeting for the first time?
Yeah, my first time meeting both of them. I think just really excited. I mean, we’d all been locked away and locked down for a long time. This was my first job out of COVID and back in a rehearsal room with people… it’s just an incredible feeling. You know, since I was a little boy, this is all I’ve ever wanted to do so to get back in a rehearsal room with people was very special.
What initially drew you to your role? Was there something that sparked your interest and made you think, I want to play this character?
Well, first of all, it was because of Michael. Michael contacted my agent. I worked with him first about 15 years ago, and I loved it so much, and I learned so much from him. When I knew he was at the helm of this, I knew it was something that I wanted to be a part of, to get to work with him on screen rather than the stage this time. I suppose I’m always fascinated by the past because, in my head, it’s the jigsaw of why we are the way we are now. I didn’t know a lot about this period in my own country’s history. I suppose on a certain level, it kind of felt personal too. As a gay man myself to have the opportunity to play someone who had to live during a time when being someone like me would be difficult. Yeah, I wanted to play Patrick. I felt like I kind of knew him in some strange way.
What would you say are other similarities that your character and you have in common?
I’m quite a quiet lad in real life. When I wanted to be an actor when I was little, that was kind of my outlet in the world. I suppose Patrick has that same kind of in public, he has the persona. He’s the storyteller, the raconteur who is charming, and then you have the quiet man at home where you get to see the more vulnerable side of someone and get to see the innermost thoughts. Yes, maybe that.
Your character Patrick and Tom who is played by Harry form a very intimate and sensual bond. Tell me more about how you prepared for that kind of connection and how it felt for you to play that.
When I read the script and knew that this was a love story before I knew that Harry was doing it. You hope you go into a project like this that your screen partner is someone that you will be able to trust and be able to communicate with throughout and I couldn’t have wished for better with Harry, from day one. We kind of promised each other we’d look after each other throughout the process, which I greatly appreciated and hoped he did too. It was a very special set to be on, we had an enormous amount of support because of Michael, really. He created a wonderful space and the crew was incredibly respectful throughout and supportive. It felt like a very special project to be on in terms of that.
You filmed the movie in Brighton and it got a lot of attention from fans that were initially there to see Harry, but I’m sure that they left with an immense impression of you and also Emma. How did that make you feel to be surrounded by so many admirers and so many bystanders while filming? Was it weird or were you a bit overwhelmed or was it a cool experience for you?
Well, being an actor who’s been on the stage before it certainly didn’t feel alien to have an audience. I suppose I found it very moving that people had taken time out of their day to come and support somebody they love and admire. I think I was surprised by how respectful they were. You could hear a pin drop when we were acting on camera. So the fact they wanted just to come and see Harry, someone they loved as he worked, I found incredibly touching.
The story switches from the past to the present throughout the movie. Later on, in the present Patrick, your character suffers from a stroke and moves in with Tom and Marion. Marion finds a box that Patrick carried with him that holds his journals from years earlier. The secrets that were buried in the past slowly start to unravel again. What was the most exciting scene to film that you’ll remember as you look back?
I’ll always remember Venice, I’ve never been there before. Everyone always says how beautiful it is and what a special place it is, but you don’t believe them until you get to see them yourself. We never got to have a wrap party where you meet and thank all the crew for the work they’ve done because of COVID. Venice was kind of our mini wrap party at the end of the shoot. It was very special to be there with Michael and Harry and our crew and just have two days in this incredible city.
What was your favourite thing to do in Venice?
We were really lucky because everything that you’d want to do as, as an initial tourist, Patrick and Tom do in the movie. We got to ride a gondola, walk the beautiful bridges and streets, check out art and music. Yeah, we were lucky because my bucket list was what Patrick wanted to show Tom whilst they were there as well.
That fit perfectly then. Did you read the book that the movie is based on before you started shooting?
I read the script first. I’ve been in many things over the years that have been based on books and one thing you learn is normally there are an awful lot of differences. Generally, the narrative is the same but just because filming is different and the way you tell the story on cameras is different. I read the script first but then I always love to go back to the book to find gorgeous little details that you can find in chapters that you could bring into your performance.
I wanted to read the book but I never did it. I know that when it got announced that Harry will be in the movie a lot of people just ran to Waterstones to buy the book.
Bethan Roberts, the author, is with us tonight. It’s a nice way to end our My Policeman adventure. She’s coming to the carpet tonight.
That’s exciting. You mentioned that a bit earlier, but how was it for you to work with Michael Grandage? What is one of the greatest things that you learned from him while you were shooting My Policeman?
I suppose the biggest treat that I took away is because I knew him before and admired him before we already had a kind of built-in trust and friendship there. I always think that you get the best out of your actors when a set is supported and incredibly relaxed and fun. He’s incredible at creating a space in which he’s incredibly actor-friendly and actor-focused, so those sets are wonderful to work on.
How would you say that your experience filming My Policeman was different from your other projects?
I mean you’re rarely involved with a project where it’s literally kind of three people working together incredibly closely. It’s their world. I don’t think I’ve been in something that’s ever felt so kind of claustrophobic because you know, the society in which the film set, the 50s, would do that. I suppose that we spent an awful lot in Patrick’s beautiful apartment that kind of was the symbol of the whole piece for me. It’s one of the only spaces where Patrick can be his authentic self without fear of any repercussions from that. I think that the memory of that apartment stays in my head also because that’s where he first kind of gets to know Tom as well and their love affair is built in that space.
What are you most excited about when it comes to your future projects?
I’m filming a series for Paramount, it’s like a dark thriller called The Burning Girls. We’ve been filming that for about two months and we finish at Christmas time. So there is that and then something else that I’m excited about is that I’ve started to properly write. I wrote a play and I put it forward for this playwriting competition and I’m on the shortlist for it.
Thanks very much. I’m excited about that.
Do you think it will be shown in London?
I’ve no idea but I never even contemplated that something from my head could be on the stage, so the fact that it could now is thrilling.
Well, I hope it will be in London because then I will go see it. Lastly, what is something that you want to be remembered for?
Gosh, you might have to ask me that when I’m about 70 I don’t know. [laughs]
I always wonder about that because my dad he’s quite old and he always says to me, “At the end of my life, I want to look back on it and I want to say I did everything right.”
I don’t know, I suppose at the moment if there was a young kid that wanted to be an actor and go into this industry, and I’d seen something I’d done and that had sparked into wanting to go into the industry. Then yeah, I’d find that quite rewarding.
So that there’s someone that looks up to you and admires you and then that you can give advice to?
Yeah, I suppose so. Yeah, maybe. Let’s have this zoom call when I’m about 70 and then we can… [laughs]
I will get back to you then.
Thank you. I think this is my last interview for My Policeman so it’s been a pleasure to spend time with you.
I enjoyed it. Thank you so much for our conversation, and enjoy LA and who knows, maybe we’ll run into each other when you’re in London one day.
If I’m ever on the stage make sure you come back and tell them who you are. and we’ll say hello.
My Policeman is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
photography. Jacob McFadden
fashion. Koulla Sergi
talent. David Dawson
hair. Sven Bayerbach @ Carol Hayes Management using GHD
make up. Amy Wright @ Caren
photography assistant. Lewis Robinson
fashion assistant. Federica Battistino
words. Maja Bebber