After his breakout turn as a broody, closeted teenager in Beach Rats, Harris Dickinson is continuing to seek out roles which challenge audience sensibilities
In Beach Rats, Harris Dickinson’s character, a young, monosyllabic Brooklynite, leads a double life. By day he scores chemicals, dates a girl and looks after his dying father. When the sun sets, he cruises the serpentine coasts of nearby Gerritsen Beach for hook-ups arranged on gay dating apps.
“I wanted to play Frankie because he’s in a battle,” says the east London-based actor. “He’s living in such a masculine, traditional environment, struggling with his sexuality and identity. It’s something so taboo in his community.”
Just like Frankie in Beach Rats, which premiered at Sundance in January, Dickinson is a bundle of contradictions. For all intents and purposes, he’s an average millenial: scruffy hair, unsteady hands buzzed on coffee and adrenaline. He very nearly opted for a career in the Marines, but was persuaded back into theatre by his coach at London’s RAW Academy.
“He’d watched me grow from the age of 13, he trained me… I think he realised some potential in me and assured me that I should continue, he and I both knew that it was my passion. So many people don’t (stick to their passions) because they're scared, or don’t have the support network.”
In his approach, however, Dickinson is resolutely untypical – eager to provoke a reaction in his audience, for better or worse. At the Redbridge Theatre, Dickinson played the lead in coming-of-age drama Stuff I Buried in a Small Town. “The character is extremely racist, I didn’t think I could do it,” he remembers. “After the play people were like, ‘Ah, I don’t think I like you!’ That was fun for me – people were genuinely affected by my performance. The feeling I used to get coming out the cinema, that resentment towards someone... That’s what I want, man.