Leech is only playing mind games ; Allen Leech steps away from the stately surroundings of the Abbey to play a spooky oddball in new thriller In Fear. KEELEY BOLGER catches up with the actor to find out why his co-stars have given him such a wide berth
FILM and TV sets can be boring places when you're hanging around between takes, but Allen Leech, better known as chauffeur-turned- gentleman Tom Branson in ITV's Downton Abbey, has the answer.
Instead of endless tea breaks and crosswords, he and his Downton co-stars often play a round of word game Bananagrams.
Bananagrams is really fun, says the 32-year-old, laughing. Maggie Smith [Violet Crawley] is brilliant at it. She's one of the wittiest and most intelligent women I've ever met. You can't beat her.
Her vocabulary would knock you for six. She does The Times crossword.
Leech, who's been in Downton since the first series and previously had roles in TV programmes The Tudors and Rome, was reminded of his Downton pals on set for The Imitation Game recently, an upcoming thriller about mathematician Alan Turing starring Benedict Cumberbatch, who Leech says is a great guy, and Keira Knightley.
Weirdly enough, we had Bananagrams on set at Imitation Game, says the actor, who plays a spy in the biopic. Benedict got it in his goodie bag at The Graham Norton Show, but we never had chance to play it.
Likewise, Leech's colleagues on new chilling British horror film In Fear, the silver screen debut from Sherlock director Jeremy Lovering, had little time to play board games. And, when you hear how it was filmed, it would be no surprise had his co-stars Iain De Caestecker and Alice Englert been too terrified of playing anything with Leech...
The duo play a young couple who, on their way to a music festival, become lost and, as darkness beckons, increasingly unnerved by oddball local Max, played by Leech.
To keep the tension as real as possible, only Leech was given the full storylines upfront.
At first, the other actors weren't quite sure whether to trust me or not, he explains, laughing. I played the game that I didn't know what was happening either. It was only in the last couple of days that they turned around and went, 'You're quite evil'. And that's when they didn't really hang around with me so much.
He welcomed the chance to shed his nice-guy image.
Playing someone who's so different from anything I've done before is really lovely, because you get to stretch yourself, he says. I got to go to a part of myself that, thankfully, I normally wouldn't.
His fellow thespians may have avoided him on set, but Leech jokes that very few people would want to hang around with him when he's watching movies, either.
I'm the worst person to sit next to when a film's on, because I give a narration of what I think is going to happen, which everyone hates, he admits.
I'm like, 'I knew it, here he comes!' I'm that voice you do not want. Thankfully, at cinemas I stay quiet, so I should probably just watch films at cinemas and not at home.
Home is a big Georgian house in London, which he shares with four friends. When he's not filming, he likes to play sports, but admits he's not as fit as his athletic housemates.
One of the lads I live with is a two-time Iron Man, he says. I'm not quite there but I do like to hang out with them and train. I'm more like Copper Man or Potassium Man, one of the lesser minerals, but also very useful.
His sporty pals keep this star's feet firmly on the ground.
Apart from a couple of people randomly coming up to me and saying how much they love Downton Abbey, my life's pretty normal, says Leech. None of my housemates are in the business, so if I ever got above my station I'd know about it pretty soon.
Leech's family keep life normal, too. I have only been to my parents' twice this year, which isn't enough really but that's due to work commitments, explains the actor, who grew up in Killiney, a suburb in Dublin, where his parents still live.
I have to say, that's a nice complaint to have. I want to keep that going.
He'll be heading home for Christmas, where the family will gather to watch Downton.
And it's likely that his mother will display a familiar trait.
I tend not to watch Downton, but my folks do and my mum's a big fan, he says.
She'll come in and tell me exactly what happens, even though I know and was in it.
Leech has nothing but good memories of his childhood and school days, something he's quick to point out after an article published at the start of his career suggested he'd been bullied.
I genuinely wasn't bullied, Leech says. I had such a wonderful experience growing up in that school, and that's why when that story came out, the school was shocked.
During his youth, Leech played a lot of rugby but fell in love with drama. At home, he and his younger brother would often play- act.
My brother was a big fan of the TV programme MacGyver so we'd act out scenarios from the show, he explains. I was always the bad guy, called something like Seamus or Demetri, and my brother always had a cool name like Luke.
As for the future, he's keen to take on more leading roles.
I've always said I've been lucky. It doesn't matter where I work, just as long as I can do good work that really appeals to me, he says.
I'd love to step up to more of a leading role in the next couple of features, so hopefully that will happen.
. ? In Fear is released in cinemas on Friday
Extra time? Director Jeremy Lovering was inspired to write the film after getting lost in rural Ireland and repeatedly ending up back at the same pub. The landlord told him that locals played a long-standing joke whereby they'd turn signs around so that visitors always came back to the same place!
? The film was shot on Bodmin Moor in north Cornwall.
. ? Alice Englert and Iain De Caestecker were only given a rough outline of the script and weren't told if or when something eerie might happen. ? In the film, the young couple have only known each other for a fortnight, so the actors were given the same length of time to bond before filming.
. ? During rehearsals, the actors were put in scenarios similar to the ones in the film to see how they'd react.
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