In Oxton, the small village in the Scottish borders where Jack Lowden grew up, the highlight of every year was a production put on by Galashiels Amateur Operatic Society. "I grew up on stages," the 27-year-old says, in the sort of soft Scottish accent that makes any observation sound warm and funny. "Not standing outside the Royal Court Theatre wistfully, but with enthusiastic people from the community. My GP was in the brass section of the band."
He attributes this early exposure to theatre to where he is today: "I had the benefit of there being no stigma attached to the arts. My brother's a ballet dancer and he never came up against anything."
Lowden graduated from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in 2011 and was quickly cast in Black Watch, a play about a Scottish regiment serving in Iraq, followed by the lead role in the stage version of Chariots of Fire. In 2013, he played the chronically ill Oswald Alving in Sir Richard Eyre's adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts. It was this role — a part he modestly claims over lunch at a Covent Garden hotel that he was "so jammy" to get — that earned him an Olivier Award for best supporting actor.
This summer, Lowden plays The Smiths' frontman Morrissey in England is Mine, an unauthorised biopic by director Mark Gill about the teenage years of the maudlin Mancunian. It recounts the singer's years wallowing in existential angst, imitating Oscar Wilde and trying to find a band while inadvertently insulting all he meets. In addition to not growing up "a cult Morrissey fan", Lowden, with his dishwater blond hair, looks, as he puts it, "nothing like him" but points out the film is "more a portrait of him at that age than a carbon copy."
And it's a portrait that does capture the awkward mannerisms and internal strife of the singer, down to the striking way he holds himself. "I was very conscious of him being someone who was a bit scared of the world so might walk differently," Lowden says. The film has been described as a "love letter to Manchester" and shots of gloomily lit King Street, parties at The Haçienda nightclub and constant rain are given supporting roles. Though Morrissey has a cult-like status usually reserved for the dead, you can't ignore he's very much alive and unlikely to be clinking Champagne flutes at the premiere. "I would love him to love it but Morrissey being Morrissey, who knows?" Lowden says diplomatically.
Before that one is Christopher Nolan's WWII epic Dunkirk in which Lowden is an RAF pilot. After Nolan read first-hand accounts revealing the inexperience of the troops in the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation, he cast young, fresh actors for the beach scenes; boys still at drama school star alongside Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh — and yes, Harry Styles. The bigger names, Lowden adds, led by example. "There's nothing starry about them but it's like laser beams when they switch it on," he says. "For me that is true acting, the next second being a different person." He compliments Nolan's hands-on approach, too: "If something has to move in-shot he's there with his shirt sleeves rolled up."
But it's no use pressing him for more; Nolan's productions are famously secretive and any leaked information would probably see him scrubbed from the film, he jokes. And though Galashiels Amateur Operatic Society would probably love to have him back, for Lowden right now, a bigger stage awaits.
Dunkirk is out on 21 July
England is Mine is out on 4 August