Young actor Xavier Atkins talks to Top 10 Films about new film The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box in which he stars alongside Sam Neill, Michael Sheen and Lena Headey.
The first thing that strikes you about Xavier Atkins, the British teenager who this year appeared alongside Sam Neill, Lena Headey and Michael Sheen in action-fantasy The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box, is a wry humour and intelligence that belies his youthful appearance. Handpicked by the casting director of Game of Thrones when aged ten, Atkins beat more than 5,000 other young hopefuls for the role of Bran Stark before going head-to-head with Isaac Hempstead-Wright. Despite experiencing disappointment at eventually losing out to his fellow pre-teen, Atkins was encouraged to pursue the profession thanks to an innate ability to perform and a steely but understated self-confidence.
This led him to audition for other roles. It wasn’t long before he was scoring not only several call-backs but appearances in major films. Indeed, his C.V. already has the $175m film Snow White and the Huntsman on it alongside Philomena, The Riot Club and TV series Penny Dreadful.
His most demanding role to date, however, is surely the kidnapped young boy Felix in Jonathan Newman’s action-packed fantasy. Based upon the novel Mariah Mundi by G. P. Taylor, the film is the first part of a possible franchise about the adventures of the titular character. In the film, Aktins plays Felix, the younger brother of Mariah, who is kidnapped. Mariah must try to unravel the secrets behind his family’s disappearance while trying to retrieve the powerful Midas Box.
“It was loads of fun” says Atkins, who smiles while recalling how he prepared for the role. “I’m supposed to be the annoying younger brother so I just spent a lot of time with my own younger brother. He’s stupendously annoying so I was getting some tips.” He laughs: “I think he really helped me.”
Of course, working with such seasoned pros as Sam Neill and Lean Headey must have been educational, if not a little nerve-wracking? “They are such big name and you can’t help but be in awe of the quality of their acting. When you meet them you have an expectation that they are going to have a show business personality and they end up brushing you aside but they were all really, really nice.
“They treat you like everyone else. Instead of giving me tips it was that they made me feel comfortable on set which allowed me to be myself, relax and do my performance.”
Like many actors, the young Aylesbury Grammar School student, hates seeing himself on-screen but says he was very impressed with the finished film. “On set we were acting against green screens a lot of the time so you don’t get to find out the real magic until you see the film. I was like ‘wow”, this is absolutely brilliant. They turn good work on set into extraordinary scenes.”
Atkins’ refined appreciation of cinema is highlighted when he tells me his idol is John Hurt. “He’s played such a wide array of parts and he’s so different in everything he does,” says the teenager. He also singles out Benedict Cumberbatch and director Baz Luhrmann for praise.
“I would love to work with Benedict Cumberbatch. I’m going to go watch him in the theatre soon and I’ve seen most of his movies. He’s everywhere right now – he’s a very talented actor – he can make a character seem so menacing then he can flip a switch and change it. I’ve also always admired the work of director Baz Lurhmann. He’s a sort of marmite director – some people don’t like him, some people do – but I think he knows how to make films work.”
Atkins’ appreciation of others extends to the work of Tim Burton and, importantly, actress Helena Bonham-Carter who appears in much of Burton’s work. However, I’m not sure if it is their creative talent or their unusual home life that really interests him.
“They have two houses and a corridor connecting them. Tim Burton’s house has skulls and darkness, very gothic, whereas Helena Bonham-Carter’s is sunshine and pink flowers. They’ve learned to live with each other which I thought was brilliant,” he says.
But as his life in the spotlight grows, is he worried the movies might take something away from simply experiencing life as a normal teenager? “My work so far in films hasn’t intruded too much into my school and personal life. You might think it’s going to take months and months of your life but as long as you work hard you’re school work doesn’t deteriorate, you can still hang out with your mates, you don’t find that your life gets put on hold just because you’re filming. The experience of film actually complements everything else.”
His advice for other young actors desperately trying to break into the industry is to be patient. “Talent is of course really important but you have to have a tiny bit of luck too. It isn’t an easy process to get into. You need to be in the right place at the right time with the right person who likes you. If you stick at it and you keep trying, eventually, if you have the talent, someone will give you a chance. And, if you get that chance you’ve got to take it.
“I never really set out to get on the big screen. I was never one of those kids who wanted to become a massive movie star, I just stumbled into it really. But I’m so glad that I did.”