Calam Lynch, the Cusack acting dynasty’s brightest new star

The Bridgerton actor on his famous family and his new role in Terence Davies’s Benediction

Calam Lynch may have been born in Warwickshire, but he has an Irish passport, Irish parents, and a gaggle of Irish cousins. Too many cousins, in fact.

“My best friend – really sweetly as a birthday present – booked a couple of days’ trip to Dublin at the beginning of the year,” says Lynch. “I was able to watch mum doing The Faith Healer at the Abbey. But two days in Dublin is like hell because I just can’t see everyone. That would take at least two weeks.”

Lynch, as the reference to the national theatre indicates, is part of the larger Cusack clan, an acting dynasty that has, to date, produced his grandfather Cyril Cusack, his mother, Niamh, and his aunts Sinéad, Sorcha and Catherine.

“We were always around the theatre when I was growing up,” recalls Lynch. “I couldn’t even tell you when I started going because we used to go so often. But I remember a couple of things that stand out. I remember we lived in Manchester for three years – between when I was four and seven, I think – and my mum was doing A&E, an ITV show. At that age you’re not really conscious of what your parents do for a living or that it might be in any way different to what other people’s parents do. But I remember walking through some kind of big main pedestrianised road in Manchester, and seeing a huge billboard with my mum’s face and thinking: oh, that’s a bit strange.”

He laughs. “And a few years later we moved down to London and I watched my mum stab her husband to death on screen. And I remember thinking: I hope that’s not going to happen to dad.”

There isn’t, as yet, a collective noun to apply to the Cusack family; there really ought to be. Lynch’s dad adds to Calam’s extensive thespian pedigree. Finbar Lynch has appeared in Glenroe, Treadstone and Game of Thrones; Calam’s cousin Max Irons has starred in The Host, The Riot Club, and The Wife; cousin Megan is a regular on Call the Midwife; cousin Beth Cooke was in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher; his uncle Jeremy Irons is, well, Jeremy Irons.

Which may or may not make Calam The Lion King’s Simba. We should explain.

Last April, the young actor couldn’t resist an ironic tweet when an off-the-cuff joke inspired the headline on celebrity news website Page Six: “Bridgerton star Calam Lynch begged producers for shirtless scenes.” He really didn’t.

A second story, in which he reasoned that he must be Simba if his uncle Jeremy Irons was Scar in The Lion King, is a discarded chat-up line that has also come back to haunt him.

“I said that once in an interview and my friends have really been enjoying it ever since,” he says. “I made that connection when I was 15. I tried to use it as a line. Needless to say, it never, ever worked. I’ve retired it.”

Lynch, a lifelong fan of Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland, initially wanted to be a footballer before he found himself studying Classics at Somerville College, Oxford.

After my first year, I did a really terrible play. I played the guitar and sang and it was shockingly bad. But something just clicked and felt right

“I don’t know if I was rebelling, but I wanted to do something that was my own,” says Lynch. “Once I got to 16 I thought: hmmm, maybe I’m not going to get to play for Arsenal after all, but I could try football journalism. I was always really wary of acting because my parents and my cousins and my uncles are actors. It felt like the expected thing to do. So I went to university and studied Latin and ancient Greek. And the family were delighted. Even though I was useless at Latin. They were like, finally, we’ll have a lawyer or something. But then after my first year, I did a really terrible play. I played the guitar and sang and it was shockingly bad. But something just clicked and felt right.”

Lynch had not formally studied drama when he landed his first role in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, but he did have a kitchen table at home that proved useful. His cousin Max, too, was an invaluable guide.

“It took a while to develop the right language because you have to kind of be able to let go of the parent-child dynamic in order to have honest conversations and feedback and not to take it personally,” says the 27-year-old. “But we’re in a really good place with that now and it’s really, really helpful. And then I talk to Max, my cousin, more than anyone about work. When we were younger I just thought Max was like a sort of God on earth. And I still do. He’s such a beautiful man, I’m delighted to be related to him. With career things and decision-making, I’ve run to him a couple of times. He’s quite close to my age and he was going up for similar parts when he was my age. I always want to get his take on things.”

The great thing about playing someone like Stephen Tennant is that there's a real person and a really great tranche of niche literature to draw on

In just five years, Lynch has appeared on stage in Much Ado About Nothing, on Netflix in Derry Girls, and on Disney Plus as the romantic lead of Black Beauty. He makes a charismatic Stephen Tennant in Benediction, a compelling new Siegfried Sassoon biopic from Liverpudlian auteur Terence Davies. Sassoon (who is played by Jack Lowden as a young man and Peter Capaldi as an older one) returns from the Great War, railing against the conflict and the complacency of his own privileged class. Davies delicately explores Sassoon’s love affairs with the callous, catty musical composer Ivor Novello (Jeremy Irvine), Novello’s lover Glen Byam Shaw (Tom Blyth, subtly charming), and with the dandyish Stephen Tennant (a brilliant turn from Lynch).

“I studied Sassoon in school,” says the actor. “But I didn’t know much about Stephen Tennant before. The great thing about playing someone like that is that there’s a real person and a really great tranche of niche literature to draw on. Two weeks before I met Terence, I went to the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities in East London. It has writings from all these dandies and bizarre things like heads of animals. I went down there because I knew they had Stephen Tennant’s original drawings. Those were very revealing, I think. And then there’s an amazing biography, which is no longer in print, but I managed to find a copy, called Serious Pleasures. That was great. I think as an actor it’s nice to have practical things that you can do in preparation rather than just thinking about the script.”

He furthered his film education with his director’s Liverpool trilogy. It was a joy to work with a director like Davies, says the actor.

“He’s just so enthusiastic,” says Lynch. “I think so often on a set, the mood of the director or producers trickles down. And if calm, or fun, or stressed, whatever it is, you know, it will seep into the rest of the crew in the cast and everything. And Terence is just so full of the joy of life and the joy of making a movie. No matter what job you’re doing, you find things to complain about. But with Terence, you realise that you get to dress up in these amazing costumes and pretend to be other people and you get paid for it. He’s all about that. So it was a dream. And it was a joy exploring his work. I knew House of Mirth because I love the book. And then I watched the Liverpool trilogy. My dad is really, really into that. And since I watched [Of] Time and the City, I think about it every few days. It really did something to me which I haven’t quite figured out yet.”

Last year, Lynch was cast as Theo Sharpe, a hardworking and radical printer’s assistant and below-stairs star-crossed love interest for Claudia Jessie’s high-born Eloise Bridgerton. The possible pairing quickly became an internet sensation and hashtag, as thousands of young fans asked: Do you ship “Theloise”?

“I really enjoyed playing the character but I didn’t think people were going to respond to our relationship in the way that they did,” says Lynch. “I didn’t expect what happened social media-wise, or that I’d be getting all messages and things like that. It was intense when it did happen and then, not to a horrible degree but suddenly in real life when you’re out and about, people recognise you. That’s not something I even thought would happen.

“Luckily for me, it’s still a novelty and the Bridgerton fans are lovely. No one has come up and said anything horrible. And ultimately, they are responding to the relationship and the work that we made. And that’s like the one thing you don’t get on a set, you know. You don’t get an audience clapping at the end. But if it works, you might get the hashtag.”

Benediction opens May 20th 

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