interview | jay lycurgo

jumper. COS
tracksuit bottoms. GANT
loafers. Vagabond
gold necklace. Cernucci
pearl necklace. A Sinner In Pearls
t-shirt. Belurti
trousers. Ester Kubisz
socks. Uniqlo
shoes. Vagabond
necklace. Cernucci

Jay Lycurgo joins our Zoom call with a smile plastered across his boyish face. He’s making quips about my audio quality — “This will be like a library session,” he says playfully. He has figurines carefully placed on a shelf behind his shoulder, giving the impression of a whole world existing just out of frame. He has a way of making you feel at ease, like he’s an old friend you haven’t had the chance to catch up with in a while. He’s incredibly charming and disarmingly real.

Interview enough people and you begin to pick up on the way that individuals hedge answering a question. People often reply with what they think you’d like to hear rather than what the reality is. They play the role they believe they should be playing. Unfortunate too, because that’s what makes people interesting – the textures and layers of an individual – not the varnished, perfected version we so often present to the world. 

Jay doesn’t fall into this trap though. This might be one of the reasons why he was cast as the lead in Netflix’s The Bastard Son And The Devil Himself. The show is raw and authentic – it presents the world in all its gray ambiguity – never polishing anything, never truly labeling anything or anyone as good or evil. The show invites viewers to decide for themselves who they stand with.

Viewers will stand with Jay’s character, Nathan, no doubt. Jay plays the role with a deft hand – leaning into all the nuance and variability of the role. He breathes life into the character and shines a light on each and every facet of the multidimensional being of Nathan. The performance you’re given consequently, is dazzlingly real.

In conversation with Schön! Magazine Jay Lycurgo discusses how he goes about playing a teenager when he’s 24 years old, the links between physicality and emotion and why teleportation is the best power one can have.

I want to get started by asking you, what typically draws you to a script or a character or a project?

Well, The Bastard Son was a script that was very human. And the fantasy element is always really fun. What really drew me to it though was that it was very different compared to what I’ve seen in the market. I just haven’t really seen a show that has something that is so raw and relatable, but also so magical at the same time. I didn’t really know much of Joe Barton’s [show runner] work until I started reading the first few episodes. I was actually with him yesterday, because we had the screening for the show. And I just said to Joe, I was like, “Man, you’re so talented, and incredible.” To be a part of something like this, that is so different to anything else that I’ve seen, if ever, really. That’s something that is a huge draw for me. 

That was one thing that I really appreciated about the show, actually. It was very fantastical, but it was very relatable and, even though it’s magical, it still felt really rooted in reality. How do you go about fleshing that character out for yourself? How did you make your character, Nathan, feel so real?

As an actor, you just want to collaborate with people that are very creative and understand your voice. And I felt like Joe was just a perfect fit for that. When I started auditioning for the role, Nathan just came very naturally to me. And then, as it goes on, those first days on set really is where you begin to flesh the character out. You just have to dive right in. I mean, we started with episode four. So it was a bit more into the journey. So that can always be a bit challenging, but then as you start to go back into episode one, you see the dynamics between different characters. 

For example, my relationship with Celia was very much related to me when I was back in school and there would be a substitute teacher that I wanted to mess with. And then with like, Annalise it’s very much like a crush that you have, a person that you trust, and that’s where you kind of start off. It’s about building a foundation first and then finding ways to relate to the character. After that, it’s just being uncertain and finding the chemistry between the two actors. I was just very lucky to have some amazing people around me and everything just kind of felt very natural.

How similar do you feel like you are to your character in real life?

I feel like I can tune into him very quickly. I’m a very emotional person at times, and I’m very sensitive. And you know, there’s definitely times where I’ve seen red, so I can relate to what Nathan really struggles with and regrets. 

As an actor, I just loved it because, for me, I’m very light hearted. I know I’m kind of going off track a little bit, but the reason we love acting for me anyways, is because you get to do things that you don’t get to express in real life. That was what was really nice about Nathan – embodying those difference. Then there’s just times where Nathan’s very isolated, and he feels very lonely. For me, I think about those times where I’ve felt similarly, and then that’s where I kind of mesh it all together. And that’s what you see. And then there are those bits where I couldn’t help myself, where we get a bit different from the books, where Nathan can be a bit cheeky and quite sarcastic. And that’s always fun as well. So all of it was just, very, very nice to play with.

Are you quick with the one liners also?

I can be on a good day. I definitely can be, yeah.

You mentioned the books. The Bastard Son is based off of the YA series, Half Bad. Did you read the series before heading into production? 

I read it afterwards. I’ve been reading it now. I knew the foundations of who Nathan was. So I kind of took some of that from the book, and then kind of just made it my own.

Do you feel as though the series on the whole is a departure from the books? Or is it staying true to its original ethos? 

I feel like we really respect Sally Green’s writing. I got to hang out with her yesterday, and we just had such a great time. I love Sally so much. I feel like we have everything there that is respected to her adaptation with the characters and Nathan’s level of intensity and the other elements of that character. But also, I just feel like Joe brought a whole new layer too. As we said before, the characters feel really real. 

The one thing with the book is that we only get to really see Nathan’s perspective. I think it’s really refreshing to see everyone’s perspective and delve into everyone’s worlds and backstories and learn how they became who they are at the time of where we find them in the first episode and so forth. So I feel like there’s a real rawness and reliability that comes with what The Bastard Son has created. 

When I was watching the series I felt like all of the characters seemed like real teenagers. They seemed like people I knew when I was a teen. You’re not a teenager anymore.  

No [laughs].

How do you get back into the headspace of playing a teenager? Because that’s something that I notice when I watch other shows, sometimes. It’s like, this is a “teenager”, but the actors don’t look or act like actual teenagers. And that just wasn’t the case in this series at all.

Yeah, I feel like I’m just very childlike still, you know. I have a huge imagination, and I feel like everyone does. I think it’s a real shame that as we get older we feel like we have to stop being that kid in a playground. You know? I don’t think that needs to be the case. I feel like we should be able to still imagine things and be playful and creative. 

When you’re acting it’s just that sometimes you have to get the permission from the right people to be like, “No really go for it! Go there.” And then to yourself you just have to really believe that you’re in these places. When it comes to being a teenager again, I think I’m just quite fortunate to still be very immature [laughs]. It wasn’t that long ago, but I guess I still have all the memories of school and what I was like and what that kind of toxic environment can be like. It’s very easy to think about going back to that place.

denim jacket + trousers. Wax London
boots. Vagabond
necklace. Cernucci
rings. His own
trench coat. GANT
vest. Uniqlo
trousers. Berluti
shoes. Grensons
necklace. Cernucci

One other thing that I noticed was that the show was very physical. Your character goes through really intense training. What was that like to prepare for as an actor?

Oh, I didn’t know how physical it would be really. I knew that I was going to Scotland for a week to do episode two and that I was going to do press ups and running and stuff, but nothing prepared me for when I actually went.

We were in the middle of nowhere in Scotland. And you know, we have no communication with anyone else, no phones, the signal was totally off. And it was actually really nice, because it was the third week of filming. So everyone was actually able to bond and not be trapped on their phones. And, you know, if a director was getting a call from a producer, it just wasn’t gonna happen, so they didn’t have to deal with all the politics that go along with making a show. Everyone was just really focused. It was incredible. 

What I love about acting is that you get to do things that you don’t get to do in real life, and also push yourself to a limit, and get pushed by other people too – whether that be emotionally or physically. And that’s exactly what this experience was. When I watched episode two, for example, and watched the running and the press ups, you could see that I was there, it was all real. I was exhausted by the end of that week. And it was everything that Nathan was feeling. There’s this scene with the character who’s training me, Celia, where she says, “What is your biggest weakness? You’re not concentrating, you’re not focused.” And I truly felt like that. In this scene I’m meant to knock her to the ground for the first time. And I remember afterwards, I just broke down crying because I was just such a physical, mental mess. Because we hadn’t been getting it. It was exactly what Nathan was feeling. So it was perfect.

Was that challenging to be so physical, but also so emotional at the same time?

Yeah, yeah, it was, but it was like, so rewarding when you got it. I feel like sometimes physical preparation is really important. But then, you know, you didn’t really need to prepare because it was in the scene. But it really just comes out of me. I think it’s really nice that as humans, sometimes, physically, you might feel an emotion, but you might not feel it mentally, you know, or vice versa. And I found myself getting into these places where my body was shaking. And there’s times when Nathan’s really angry, because he’s not able to go home and you can feel that. Because of that focused environment that we had I could really tap into those emotions. It just felt really zoned in so everything came very much from the body because of the physicality. And the emotion would just come with that afterwards.

So what would you say was the most challenging part about bringing this script to life?

The most challenging? It’s funny, I just felt like, by the end of the shoot, I was, like any actor, very exhausted. But I feel like because Nathan is just so segregated from everyone that that isolation got very tiresome. There were times where I just really wanted to push myself to understand him better. But I can’t live in a cage for six months. I’m not gonna go full method and go, “Mom, don’t open the door, I’m staying in my room.” You know? [laughs]. And even then, it wouldn’t be a truly authentic experience. So, you know, you just, you want to be as real as possible. A lot of the circumstances that Nathan was in I haven’t gone through, so it’s harder finding yourself in those emotional places. Because as much as I love doing the emotion, when you have someone that has, like, no dad has no mum, no friends. You have to try your best, because I don’t have those circumstances. So it’s about trying to relate to that character. 

What do you think will surprise audiences the most about this show?

I think just how real it is. When people look at a fantasy show, they think, okay, cool, it’s just gonna be magic. And it’s gonna be a villain and a hero But the show is incredibly relatable and emotional and real. I think that’s what surprises me when I watch it. It’s just like, I feel like, as much as Nathan’s going through these very specific circumstances, you can feel it, man. I had times when I was bullied in school, and times when I’ve felt really lonely, and I just needed a friend and, and then I’ve also had those moments where I found new friends and I went, “Oh, my God, this is what I needed.” 

I think people will finish the show, and hopefully, just feel like they’ve got someone in Nathan, Anneliese, or Gabrielle.

If you could have a power as a witch, what would it be?

I would love to teleport. I don’t care, teleportation beats every single superpower. Flying’s cool, yeah, I get it. But it’s a little time consuming. I just feel like let’s just get on with it. Like, let me go on holiday real quick. Also, it wouldn’t be that expensive. I don’t have to pay airfare. I would never have to pay for anything ever again, really. I probably would have to pay for some stuff. But for the most part, if I wanted to, you know, and this is just if I wanted to be a real rebel, I could just take some money somewhere. I’m gonna say it! Come on. Let’s not lie! We would never be caught because we could teleport away. We could just go to the bank. Gotta pay my rent, grab the ski masks. Boom. You know? But for the record, I can’t teleport. So I will not rob anything.

trench coat. Berluti
orange jumper. ARKET
trousers. GANT
shoes. Vagabond
rings. His own
shirt. GANT
vest. Uniqlo
trousers. Tods
shoes. Vagabond
necklace. Cernucci

The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself will launch on Netflix on 28th October 2022.

photography. Ian Hippolyte
fashion. Emily Tighe
talent. Jay Lycurgo
grooming. Nadia Altinbas
fashion assistant. Alfred Humphries + Samantha Stocks
words. Kendall Saretsky

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