naked? not justfor naked's sake
Josh Bowman is one of the stars of Emmy-nominated 'Revenge', playing a trustafarian with a wild streak: you'd never know he wasn't American, thanks to his gift with accents. He tells Julia Molony that he learned a lot from his Irish granny
What a charmer Josh Bowman is. The new dreamboat of American prime-time television saunters into the interview room all tall and well put together in cable-knit jumper and jeans. He's got the beaming grin, the ruffled hair, the tan. He looks like he stepped out of an ad for Abercrombie and Fitch. Except there's one incongruity. Bowman isn't a Yank at all, but a nice middle-class, private-schoolboy from Berkshire.
"Where are you from?" he asks me before launching into a pretty passable Irish accent. Accents are his special skill. It's thanks to his virtuosity with them that an American audience has unquestioningly accepted him as their own. "I've worked fairly hard on the American accent, because of the amount of work out there," he says.
He considers himself a bit Irish, too, thanks to his granny. "She was born in Dublin. I can't remember where. I've spent a lot of time there. I'm so proud of it. I spent a lot of time in Cork, Schull, Bantry ... " he reels off a list of his favourite West Cork coastal towns.
Before he was an actor, Bowman was a professional rugby player, which explains the buff physique. Though he claims now that he hated it. "I loved it when I was in school, because I loved the guys I was playing with, but when it turned serious and it's a business, it's different. And with acting, I don't feel like that. I feel that it's invigorating. I get to travel and meet people and learn. I can be a lawyer, I can be a thief, I can be a mass murderer and still be me, and not get arrested. Which is great."
For a long time after making the change, however, he was was known only to the tabloid-reading audience as the handsome but little known Holby City actor who hit the headlines after he was photographed in St Lucia with his arms around a post-rehab Amy Winehouse.
Since then, however, he has quietly gone off and broken America. He is currently to be seen on RTE Two as one of the stars of the Emmy-nominated hit drama series Revenge, an arch, high-octane glamour-fest with acid characters and audacious plot lines to rival Dynasty. Not just that, but he's also dating the show's female lead, and his on-screen lover, Canadian actress Emily VanCamp. Following the publication of various pictures of them snogging in exclusive locations around the world (West Hollywood, and most recently, Monte Carlo), they are fast becoming a television power couple.
There's no doubt that the partnership had sent his stock rocketing. That, and the persistent rumours of a past fling with Miley Cyrus, his co-star on the upcoming film So Under-cover, mean that he is now firmly on the paparrazzi's radar. It's a kind of attention that he claims to find a little bewildering. "It's strange, it's not normal," he says. "I think people who find that normal aren't normal. You've got to just get on with your life, and if people want to work around you, then fine. But it won't really change what I'm doing or how I'm living my life." He pauses for a moment to reconsider. "Maybe a little bit. It has changed my life in different ways, but you've gotta just carry on with it. I'm not Justin Bieber, thank God. That's a different scale completely. I try to keep a low profile. It means that people are taking an interest in the show, I guess, if they're taking an interest in myself. For me, it's smoke and mirrors; I don't buy into it. It is what it is. Great if they'd like to take a picture of me, but I can't see what they'd do with it."
Like any good celebrity power couple, neither he or VanCamp will talk about their relationship, much less acknowledge it in front of the press. Perhaps instead, we can read something about the dynamic between them from the anecdote he tells about his reputation as a prankster on the set of Revenge. For a laugh, he says, "I put spiders in Emily's shoes. I'd be walking in my trailer like Dennis the Menace and I'd shut the door and she's come in, I'd hear it shut and then I'd hear this" -- he lets out a high pitched screen -- "I'd be like, Yes!"
It's not, apparently, just his beloved whom he torments, though. Recent stunts include putting a whoopee cushion under Madeleine Stowe's chair before a scene. "She sat down ... it was funny. I actually have it on camera,' he says, adding just a touch guiltily, "I'm sure people are going to start getting me back this season."
The love of pranks and the interest in acting, he attributes again to his Irish granny. "Maybe my grandma should have been an actress," he says. "She's a great storyteller. She used to tell us stories before we went to bed."
Despite the blarney gene, he thinks the fact that both he and his older sister, Scarlett, have ended up as actors is down to chance. Scarlett is a regular character on the British soap Hollyoaks. But they weren't raised by thespians. "I wasn't brought up in an acting world. I started it a long time before she did," he says. "I think she wanted to make a bit of money on the side; she's actually an artist at heart. She's very into the street art world. That's her thing. That's her hobby. But she's having a bit of fun. It's a good way to learn. Acting's a great venting source."
In Revenge, Josh plays Daniel Grayson. The son of a business mogul, Daniel is a classic trust fund baby with a wild streak. At the start of the series, he is returning to his Hamptons home after a stint at Harvard Business School, where he has been trying to rehabilitate his reputation following a drink-driving accident.
One of the challenges of a television project, as opposed to film, he explains, is not being able to see the complete journey of the character. In long-running dramas, any given character is subject to change and reinvention. The goalposts are constantly moving. "It's been difficult because we've been looking at where the character is going and what route he is going to take," he says. "And that's been difficult for me because it's not as rooted ... it's been difficult to get a real [sense] of who he is," Josh says. "But I do know that he comes from this elite society that he's grown up in. Towards the end, we realise no matter how many times you try to break away from it, you really are where you came from. The apple doesn't fall too far from the tree."
By the big smile on his face, it's clear that he's enjoying life as a tv soap star. But the role comes with challenges. "It's really tough. I'm very new to this, it's a first for me, so I've been in the trenches ... I do have to do an accent, so I've got to sit there for twice as long as anyone else to make it believable. It's been great learning." Shooting a series of 22 episodes is more challenging than working on a film, he reckons. "You can gather everything for this one thing. I think now season two, we've had some time off, we can gather our thoughts again."
For his part, he'd like to see more of Daniel's playboy, self-destructive side coming through. "I wish they'd write that more," he says with a cheeky grin, "but because it's ABC you can't be doing lines of blow off someone's, er, face"
Outside the fiction of his day-job, however, he insists his values are much more solid, normal and decent than those that define the world of his character. Revenge might be full of sexual betrayal, but Bowman is firmly against it. ("I would dump my fricking girlfriend if she kissed another guy. Would you? I wouldn't take that shit, personally"). He's not really a vengeful sort of a person either. "I can fantasise about it," he admits. "It's like having a wet dream," he jokes. There's a silence while the room takes that in and then a burst of laughter. "That's gross!" he says. "I just fantasise about it. I think we have to, to keep ourselves sane. I wouldn't do anything cutting or snide. I'm not like that." Nor does he keep secrets, which are the stock-in-trade of Revenge. Or at least, not any that he's about to admit to. "I think we learn over time that honesty is always best. We've all told lies, but I think that the easiest is definitely honesty. Because then you are not blocked yourself."
That's not to say he hasn't been a first-hand witness to high drama in his own life. In 2009, he was dragged into the protracted turmoil of Amy Winehouse's personal life, when he was snapped cuddling up to her on a beach after they met on holiday in the Caribbean. These days, he won't talk about his involvement with the late star -- at all. But back then, he was quoted as saying: "She's just a cool girl, very nice, and we're just very friendly. She's a good laugh, such a lovely girl and on great form. I can't say much more than that. I have been having a lovely time relaxing. It's not been all party-party. I don't drink much at all, as it happens.
"It's true to say I'm a budding young actor," he reportedly admitted at the time. "But I'd rather get my name out there because of my acting than who I'm being photographed with." With hindsight, that's one thing he can clearly cross off the list. He hasn't been seen keeping company with London's music industry world since then, but his interest in music remains strong. He plays the drums himself, and says he'd like to get a little band going among the Revenge cast members. "If I wasn't an actor, I'd probably be a DJ," he says. "Musicians are amazing people. They are completely themselves. We're hiding behind all these canvases, whereas musicians are themselves. It's nice to hear people's souls through their music."
The dance floors of the world may be waiting for some time, though, because his acting career is going from strength to strength. And there are few limits, it seems, to his ambition. Is there anything he wouldn't do for a role? "Nude?" he asks, mischievously. "Are you thinking about me naked? Would I get naked for a role? I wouldn't just get naked for naked's sake," he says. "If it was good, I would, yeah." Watch this space.
Revenge is on RTE Two, Tuesday, 10.10pm
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