The young Brit ditched Hollyoaks and shed a size or two for his big-screen debut, only to face an agonising two-year limbo period. The star of Northern Soul tells us why good things come to those who weight
For plenty of young actors, landing a role on a British soap is a dream ticket. It’s a well-paid, regular job, with the risk of being typecast a small price to pay for guaranteed long-term work in an unpredictable business. But for some actors, the lure of the unknown proves too much to resist. Elliot James Langridge surprised friends and colleagues alike by quitting his safe seat in Hollyoaks for a riskier lead in an edgier project, Northern Soul. He transformed himself for the part, losing weight and staying thin for two nerve-jangling years as the project struggled to get off the ground.
Happily, his resolve paid off: initially set to air in just six cinemas, the film was granted a wider release after receiving a groundswell of social media support, and is now being tipped for awards-season glory. The plot sees Langridge’s character, John Clark, leave the safety of suburbia when he stumbles upon a passion for soul music, discovering dance, drugs and the delights of dropping out of routine. But did leaving Hollyoaks for Northern Soul unlock similar pleasures for the actor? Because John Clark spends a lot of the film’s runtime flipping through records, we meet Langridge at Rough Trade East, the music shop located in Shoreditch, east London, to volunteer vinyl recommendations and discuss his potentially career-defining turn in the coming-of-age drama, which also stars Steve Coogan.
We meet outside the store. Langridge sports a wool-lined leather jacket, plain white t-shirt and moustache which he jokes makes him look like Errol Flynn: “It’s for Movember, I’m not going for the full pilot look.”
Entering Rough Trade, Langridge is immediately drawn to the FKA twigs album. We discuss twigs’ contribution to recent Brit-flick Catch Me Daddy; how she visited the set to give lead actress Sameena Jabeen Ahmed confidence to dance on camera for the first time. “I hadn’t danced before I made Northern Soul,” says Langridge. “I was taught by (Scottish DJ) Keb Darge, he’s a northern soul legend. When I went in to meet him for the first time it was quite an intense experience. I’d literally just been introduced to the music at this point, and he said, ‘Right, I’m going to put some northern soul on. He put the music on, then he said, ‘Go on, give me what you’ve got.’ I said ‘What?’ He said, ‘Go on, do what you’d do in a club, do your best dancing.’ So I literally just danced like my dad. He was like, ‘OK, you’re crap. We’re going to start from the beginning.’”
“He said, ‘Go on, do what you’d do in a club, do your best dancing.’ So I literally just danced like my dad. He was like, ‘OK, you’re crap. We’re going to start from the beginning” – Elliot James Langridge
“At first, I didn’t understand what was so special about northern soul. It’s just such a weird thing, it’s this old music that’s been ripped up from the past and taken to the north of England. It’s bizarre. But once you keep listening to it, dance to it, and then go to the all-nighters – that’s when it changed for me. The dancing really helps, because you learn the songs backwards. It makes it mean more.”
Langridge might not have caught the rhythm when first learning to move for the movie, but when music summoned him to embark on his current career, he heard the tune loud and clear. “I first got into acting because of a musical,” he says. “I was so into Oliver Twist when I was a little kid. I had the album and when I listened to it I always wanted to be Fagin. Then my dad said, ‘My mate was in it, he was one of the kids in it.’ It just clicked for me. I realised that this could be a reality; that people actually do this as a job. Whether or not it would be a realistic job, that’s another thing.”
He heard the tune, but wasn’t ready to dance to it yet. Instead, he entered the movie business via a different direction. “I thought acting was a very unrealistic ambition, so I did a bit of camera work and worked on a Harry Potter film. I was a dogsbody, working with the camera crew. And that’s where I met my first agent.”
What kind of music did Langridge listen to when he was Harry Potter’s age? “I’m going to get crucified for saying this, but at school I listened to the Spice Girls, and they still have a place in my heart somewhere,” he laughs. “My housemate, who I went to school with, is into his music, and he always says to me, ‘Come on, you’re cooler than that.’ I hear stuff coming off his record player in his room and ask him what it is. He took me to see Wolf Alice at Heaven the other day, it was a wicked atmosphere: people were bumping into each other, dancing around… It was so different to the northern soul scene, where people are dancing on their own; in their own world.”
But that wasn’t the only difference between the northern soul scene and modern-day gig culture.
“What really surprised me was that alcohol wasn’t a part of it,” he says. “There’s been a lot of controversy about the drug use in the film – some people agreed that’s what it was like, some people didn’t. I only know what I’ve heard, but there was no alcohol, which I always thought was weird. These days that would be very strange… I guess if you get too drunk you can’t do it properly, and the speed makes you quicker.”
All of which is just guesswork, Langridge hastens to add: “I’ve never actually done any drugs. When we did the film, the director, Elaine Constantine, said: ‘Your character is on speed, when he overdoses it’s got to look real.’ So I had to do my homework. I watched any videos I could, tried to find people who had taken the drug and asked them what the effect was. Because it’s a more manic state than, say, weed.
“I’ve never actually done any drugs. I didn’t want people to watch the overdose scene and say, ‘What’s he doing?’ But at the same time I didn’t want to have to take the drug” – Elliot James Langridge
“I didn’t want people to watch the overdose scene and say, ‘What’s he doing?’ But at the same time I didn’t want to have to take the drug. Method actors would think it was important to do the drug. But for me, acting is acting. I enjoy doing scenes where I’m supposed to be off my face. It comes naturally to me, for some reason.”
Back to Rough Trade, and I pull Caribou’s Our Love from the rack, an album about heartbreak and the madness of romantic obsession. Has an LP ever got Langridge through a break-up? “La Roux’s first album. I remember breaking up with a girlfriend and playing it over and over. I was up in Liverpool, filming Hollyoaks. That album came out when I was up there, and I was starting to have such an amazing time. I was single, I was going out and partying, I had money for the first time in my life. It was difficult to let go of it.”
Langridge left Hollyoaks for Northern Soul, turning down a 12-month contract extension. It’s a decision he started to regret after the film’s production was significantly delayed.
“My mates said, ‘What are you doing, why are you leaving?’, because it’s great money, it’s great exposure,” he says. “But Northern Soul was something I really wanted to do. Then it got delayed. When Hollyoaks offered me the extension, I was 21, 22. It was a lot of money, and seemed like the best deal ever. But I knew that if you stay in soaps for a long time, it can be hard to do something different. It was a very difficult decision at the time, and even now I think I should’ve stayed, because the film got delayed for over a year. But I wouldn’t have sacrificed Northern Soul for anything, and you can only regret so much.”
What was the toughest part of the delay for Langridge? “I started losing weight for the film immediately, and even though the film was delayed for almost two years, we were only told three months at a time, which I didn’t think was enough to put the weight back on. It was horrendous. I didn’t eat any carbs at all, I was knackered all the time, I did two runs a day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. But by the time we shot the film, I’d been doing it for so long it almost felt normal.”
“It’s very difficult for an actor to get away from playing themselves for the first part of their career. I want to keep morphing into different characters, trying something new” – Elliot James Langridge
If the physical transformation was tough, Langridge did enjoy getting his teeth into a character that was truly different from his own for the film.
“It’s very difficult for an actor to get away from playing themselves for the first part of their career,” he says. “I did tend to play a similar version of myself when I did various things for TV. Northern Soul allowed me to start to get away from that. Being a northerner, playing seven years younger than I was at that time, growing my hair… I want to keep morphing into different characters, trying something new.”
Langridge spies a Roxy Music record, For Your Pleasure. “Felicity Jones dances to a Roxy Music song in Flashbacks of a Fool,” he says. “The song’s called ‘If There is Something’, and I remember watching it and thinking ‘Wow, she is something else,’” he says. “I ended up using the song on an early showreel.”
Presumably he'd like to work with her at some point? “Oh yeah, that’d be nice,” he laughs. “I think she’s a fantastic actress. I’m really looking forward to seeing The Theory of Everything, her and Eddie Redmayne. He looks insanely good in that film. I also want to work with Gary Oldman. When I was working on Harry Potter, I didn’t get starstruck. I got on well with the cast – Daniel (Radcliffe) especially – but then Gary Oldman turned up and I completely forgot what I was doing, what my job was. Halfway through a take, he burst in – I don’t think he cared they were doing a take – and shouted ‘Harry!’ in character, for a laugh. Dan ran over to him and gave him a hug, they got on really well. And I was like, ‘That’s Gary Oldman!’”
Oldman isn’t the only actor who inspires Langridge. He also enthuses about the likes of Tom Hardy (“he’s captivating”) and Paul Bettany, though the latter draws criticism for his recent choice of film roles: “I feel he’s done a lot of big films recently that haven’t quite worked. He’s done films that blend into one, like Priest and Legion. But he used to be amazing. He’s fantastic in Gangster Number One – that bit when he does the weird yawn in the car – and he’s a really unpredictable actor.”
We pass the hip hop section, and Dazed grabs the Ratking album So it Goes. “How did you hear about them?” Langridge asks. I start to reply, but he interrupts. “You’re just shit-hot on music.”
But if anyone’s shit-hot at the moment, it’s Langridge. “I’ve literally just confirmed something amazing. I can’t say much about it, but it’s completely different to Northern Soul. I’m really pleased they took a chance on me. The character’s completely different. I can’t say much more than that or I’ll give it away, but it’s wicked. Really cool.”
Langridge’s career as a soap-dodger may only just be getting underway, but already it looks like his bravery has begun to pay off.
Hair Yumi Nakada-Dingle using Aveda Men; make-up Nami Yoshida at The Book Agency using M.A.C Cosmetics; photography assistant Fredrik Lee; styling assistants Samia Giobellina, Anya Hubbard