Ben Whishaw: "If I Had A Career Plan, It'd Stop Feeling Like An Adventure"

Ben Whishaw has stolen scenes in five of the biggest films of the year, including playing Q in a certain spy movie currently in cinemas. For Esquire, he takes centre stage in winter’s most desirable overcoats

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When it comes time for the customary year-end lists of the biggest and best films of 2015, a good starting point will be Ben Whishaw’s filmography. In recent months, the Bedfordshire-born actor has appeared in – deep breath – Suffragette, Abi Morgan’s all-star retelling of the women’s liberation movement; In the Heart of the Sea, a blockbuster from Ron Howard about the origins of Moby Dick; The Lobster, a bizarre and brilliant art house hit; The Danish Girl, a timely drama about a transgender pioneer; and finally, Spectre, the latest in a reasonably popular spy franchise and follow-up to the biggest British film of all time (he starred in that, too).

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In other words, a succession of critical and commercial hits that would make all but the world’s A-list consider sacking their agents in a fit of envy. So, we ask the 35-year-old over coffee in a London restaurant, quite a career-defining year for you, then?

“I guess so,” Whishaw says, brushing a few strands of unruly black hair from his eyes, reclining in his chair, glancing out at rain-splattered Piccadilly. “But then I don’t really have a grand ‘career plan’ for myself. I think if I did, it would stop feeling like an adventure. I would stop being fascinated by all these things I have found myself doing, things I never thought I’d find myself doing.”

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Thoughtful, polite and unaffected – he’s one of those actors who finds his modest level of fame a bemusing by-product of his job, rather than the point of it – Whishaw would probably be the last to elaborate on these experiences, so allow us.

He has kissed his Oscar-winning peer Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl (“We’d met before for a beer, which doesn’t make it any less peculiar, to be honest”), read all of Moby Dick and perfected an American accent to play Herman Melville in In the Heart of the Sea (“a posh New England one, which is the easiest”), and, of course, returned as Q to swap quips with Daniel Craig in Spectre, an inspired bit of casting with, we point out, the unfortunate side-effect of ruling him out of ever playing 007 himself: “I don’t think that was very likely anyway,” he replies dryly.

Keeping with the Bond theme, next up Whishaw plays Danny, a Londoner who falls for a secret agent in new BBC miniseries London Spy.

“Danny reminds me of a lot of people I know, of how easy it is when you’re young and living in the capital to lose your way and feel directionless,” he says.

It is in part a love story, though Whishaw promises the drama, written by Child 44 author Tom Rob Smith, “has a lot of twists and surprises, and nothing is quite what it appears.”

Despite professing to dislike clothes shopping, it is noted that during his Esquire shoot, Whishaw took a particular shine to a pair of double-pleated Giorgio Armani trousers. How does he approach style in general?

“I do like wearing a lot of black,” he deadpans, nodding at today’s ensemble of skinny black jeans and a casual, you might even say faintly natty, black shirt.

“I am quite fussy about colour, so I stick to a small palette. A little red, some blue, maybe a khaki green. And I try to always have at least one leather jacket and a big trench coat. Oh, and I’ve developed a love for a good pair of shoes – like these,” he says, lifting a leg to reveal a pair of well-polished Church’s oxford lace-ups (black, of course). “I went through a long phase of just wearing Vans and having wet feet all the time. But I had to get out of that habit now I am in my mid-thirties. Some things start to be a no-go, don’t they?”

In 2016, Whishaw is heading to Broadway for a 20-week run playing John Proctor, the doomed lead in Arthur Miller’s witch-hunt classic, The Crucible.

“It’s more nerve-wracking than being on set,” he says of theatre. “But it’s always more pleasure than pain. The best piece of advice I ever got was from [director] Jane Campion. She told me: ‘Stop trying so hard’. I am still trying to live that way.” 

London Spy airs on BBC2 on Mondays

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