Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, who captured Anya Taylor-Joy’s attention on (and off) the chessboard in hit Netflix drama The Queen‘s Gambit, has played the best move of all by being picked to portray Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ legendary manager, in a new film that will shoot later this year.
Epstein was dubbed ‘the fifth Beatle’ by Paul McCartney; and when John Lennon heard of his death, from an accidental overdose in 1967, he declared: ‘He was one of us.’
The 33-year-old rising star was chosen for the part in Midas Man (An Unauthorised Autobiography of Brian Epstein) by director Jonas Akerlund.
A Grammy-award winning music video filmmaker, Akerlund is celebrated for his collaborations with Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Madonna; as well as two pictures: Polar, a highly visualised graphic novel adaptation starring Mads Mikkelsen; and Lords Of Chaos, about Norwegian underground satanic band Black Metal. ‘His style always pushes the envelope,’ Fortune-Lloyd said of the director’s work.
Jacob Fortune-Lloyd (pictured) has played the best move of all by being picked to portray Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ legendary manager, in a new film that will shoot later this year
Screenwriters Jon-athan Wakeham and Brigit Grant have skilfully broken away from the usual by-the-numbers biopic script.
Epstein, son of a millionaire Liverpool furniture store owner, was a frustrated actor who dropped out of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art after one term. He discovered the Beatles when they played Liverpool’s Cavern Club in 1961. They were his first signing.
‘It’s so interesting when you get these figures who shape culture but who are outside its mainstream,’ the actor told me during a call on Zoom on Wednesday.
Epstein was ahead of his time in the way he promoted the Beatles on both sides of the Atlantic. But he was also learning on the job, with all that entailed: a ‘big-sky thinker with very ambitious ideas’ and scant experience of the nitty-gritty of finance and copyrights.
Fab five: Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Brian Epstein in July 1964
Epstein was ahead of his time in the way he promoted the Beatles on both sides of the Atlantic (pictured with the band)
‘He was a gay man, a Jewish man who was into classical music — and here he is, setting up the best-known rock ‘n’ roll band of all time,’ the actor marvelled.
Epstein wound up being ‘a culture-shaper, despite never quite finding a comfortable place within that culture’.
‘Maybe you need that outside-looking-in perspective,’ he added.
Fortune-Lloyd studied at the Guildhall in London and has performed on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company and in the West End (alongside Sophie Thompson and Stella Gonet in The Importance Of Being Earnest), on TV in the BBC’s Wolf Hall, and on the big screen in Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise Of Skywalker.
But his breakthrough was playing D.L. Townes, one of the heroine’s mentors and competitors in The Queen’s Gambit, a mammoth global success for Netflix.
Fortune-Lloyd captured Anya Taylor-Joy’s attention on (and off) the chessboard in hit Netflix drama The Queen’s Gambit (pictured)
Fortune-Lloyd as Spiegel and Warren Brown as Sgt. Thomas ‘Mac’ McAllister in TV show Strike Back
Director Akerlund has great visual flair. Looking over his videos and films, it’s clear why the film’s producers, led by Trevor Beattie (the advertising wizard) chose him. The Swede is steeped in the music business but also has that ‘outside-looking-in’ sensibility.
Director and star have so far met only on Zoom but are planning a joint pilgrimage to Liverpool. And, of course, there will be further casting.
First, though, Fortune-Lloyd has to finish filming Amazon’s globetrotting thriller series The Power for director Reed Morano, after it was delayed by the pandemic.
How Sheila the kick-boxing boffin reached for the stars
Nobody could accuse Sheila Atim of allowing herself to be typecast. The 30-year-old Northern Uganda-born actress lists just a few of the roles she has played in the past two years.
She was a witch in Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse; an evil tooth fairy in The Irregulars on Netflix; an enslaved midwife in Oscar-winner Barry Jenkins’s outstanding television adaptation of The Underground Railroad, and a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter in Halle Berry’s directorial debut Bruised.
Atim, who actually studied biomedical science at King’s College, told me that when her agent, Lucy Middleweek, signed her up she said: ‘Let’s just throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. Any ethnicity, any height [Atim stands nearly 6ft tall in her stockinged feet] . . . let’s just go for it!’ Such an open-minded outlook has allowed her to embark on a brilliant career. ‘I think I’ve been really lucky,’ she said, speaking on Zoom from her East London apartment. ‘And I want to keep expanding, to see what else is possible.’
Nobody could accuse 30-year-old Northern Uganda-born actress Sheila Atim (pictured) of allowing herself to be typecast
Next up: an engagement at London’s Vaudeville Theatre, in Constellations. Michael Longhurst, the Donmar Warehouse’s artistic chief, has assembled a stellar quartet of couples, cutting across gender, race and age barriers, to perform in repertory in Nick Payne’s award-winning play, as star-crossed lovers Roland (a beekeeper) and Marianne (a professor specialising in early universe cosmology).
Atim and Ivanno Jeremiah will kick the season off on June 18, followed by Peter Capaldi and Zoe Wanamaker; Omari Douglas and Russell Tovey; and Chris O’Dowd and Anna Maxwell Martin.
She is thrilled to be playing Marianne (same Christian name as her Olivier award-winning character in Conor McPherson’s Girl From The North Country) alongside fellow Ugandan Jeremiah.
She played an enslaved midwife in Oscar-winner Barry Jenkins’s outstanding television adaptation of The Underground Railroad (pictured)
She assumed the role of a maenad in the The Lightning Child play performed at the Globe Theatre
And the science is close to her heart, too. ‘I’ve always loved physics and astronomy,’ she said (though she admits her maths was not strong enough for her to go down that route). Plus, it will also give her a chance to do on stage ‘what I do in my real life all the time — constantly tell people scientific facts, explain theories and biological processes’.
I nod, despite the fact that I’m lost even before we get to ‘endoplasmic reticulum’ (the network of membranes inside a cell, if you’re wondering).
Lest you think she’s just a boffin, Atim also knows a bit about kick-boxing, having trained in the sport on and off for six years. Which was useful when Halle Berry, Best Actress Oscar-winner, cast her in Bruised.
Atim also featured in Les Blancs play in London in 2016
Atim’s character is part of the MMA world, and she told me she was happy to help out the stunt team by doing some of her own moves. ‘It was similar for Halle, which is remarkable because she broke ribs — and carried on directing and acting!’
I haven’t seen Bruised yet. But I have watched all ten chapters (as they’re called in the Amazon series) of Barry Jenkins’s The Underground Railroad. Twice!
The show, which streams from May 14, is based on Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel about Cora, a 14-year-old girl who runs away from a Southern plantation. Atim plays Mabel, Cora’s mother. I’ll have more on The Underground Railroad in another column.