Somewhere Boy’s Lewis Gribben’s rise from Trainspotting extra to lead role and acting with autism

The Glasgow actor on how he found where he’s meant to be

Lewis Gribben stars in Channel Four's Somewhere Boy. Pic: Lisa Ferguson
Lewis Gribben stars in Channel Four's Somewhere Boy. Pic: Lisa Ferguson

If you’ve been watching Somewhere Boy, Channel 4’s big autumn drama from the same production company as End of the F***ing World, you could be forgiven for thinking Lewis Gribben, who stars as Danny, hails from somewhere in the North of England.

“It’s supposed to be just a random Northern town. It’s never rooted in Leeds or Bradford but it’s meant to be around that area,” says the 26-year-old who has won praise for his lead in the darkly comic psychological drama.

However, in real life the Glasgow native sounds nothing like Danny, and prepared for the role by watching Ladhood (starring his co-star and Bradford Boy Sam Bottomley) as well as Sean Bean, and getting help from an acting coach.

Lewis Gribben as Danny in Somewhere Boy. Pic: Channel 4 / Parisa Taghizadeh.

“I’ve never done an accent professionally before, so I was terrified of people watching it and saying that’s not Leeds, that’s Welsh or something,” he says.

The eight-part series, which won an audience award in Cannes has seen critics reaching for superlatives, especially with reference to Gribben as the show’s anchor, his first lead role as a young man who has been hidden away for his entire 18 years until his world is blown apart and he is forced to embrace the reality outside.

Born and raised in and around Glasgow, Gribben started acting when he was taken by his mother aged seven to children’s drama classes at the Citizens Theatre where he immediately felt at home. An only child, she wanted him to interact more with other children.

“Only child syndrome,” says Gribben. “Just want all the attention so I’m really annoying. And I fell in love with it. Because I loved imaginary worlds and I could finally connect with kids that liked to play pretend. I went there from seven to 21 and only left after I got to uni in Edinburgh so The Citz was a big part of my life. I’d love to perform there when they re-open.”

Glasgow actor Lewis Gribben, currently in Channel Four's Somewhere Boy, has previously appeared in Get Duked! and Limbo. Pic: Lisa Ferguson

Prior to Somewhere Boy, Gribben was in Get Duked!, a wild coming of age comic horror film set in the Highlands, also starring Sam Bottomley, Eddie Izzard, James Cosmo and Kate Dickie which premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2019 and and appeared in Ben Sharrock’s feature Limbo which premiered at Cannes in 2020 and was nominated for a BIFA in the Best Independent Film Category. He was upgraded from extra to actor in T2, while other credits include Our Ladies, Shetland, Silent Witness and Deadwater Fell.

While Gribben may not sound like Somewhere Boy’s Danny, he found many connections with his character that he channeled into the role.

“When I was younger I was a lot in my own world and playing fantasy games, and Danny is in his own world from what his dad tells him about monsters outside, and the movies they watch and the music they listen to.”

Gribben has autism and Asperger’s, which he feels gave him an extra layer of insight into what it feels to be on the periphery and helped him get into character.

Lewis Gribben as Danny in Channel 4's Somewhere Boy. Pic: Channel4/Parisa Taghizadeh

“Danny’s never labelled. If he does have any sort of mental disorders - I think he does - it’s never said so there’s a freedom that I could interpret what I think he’s going through from moment to moment, whether it be irrational fears, abandonment issues, psychological problems and the fact that it was never stated made it helpful and I could relate to it more.”

“I’m not saying an actor who isn’t autistic couldn’t have done as great a job, of course they could, but I think you relate to it more if you feel you’ve lived some of it. Some of the feelings of being a bit of an outsider, of being a bit different, that definitely helped and it felt authentic.”

“So a lot of it came from me having autism and feeling like you don’t entirely fit in. I also had dyslexia, and didn’t live anywhere near my secondary school and had a scribe so I couldn’t really interact with classmates because I have to focus on the work. The one class where I felt I’d found myself and engaged was drama class. Drama, that was me opening up a new world where I can’t be anything else other than myself and that’s what it is with Danny when he gets out of the world that he’s used to.”

“So that notion of being the outsider, of finding something that you really want, like Danny’s quest for what happened to his mum, about finding yourself and wanting to converse with people who wouldn’t give you the chance because they think you’re different. But in acting you can be whatever and I found my friends through that in school. So acting and Danny’s idea of pretend, of scary monsters outside the safety of his house, and then subsequently him yearning for friendship and connection, I could just connect to. It was a lot of opening up old wounds from the past. It was being vulnerable and allowing myself to be in a very delicate state.”

Lewis Gribben (far right) with his Get Duked! co-stars, Samuel Bottomley, Rian Gordon and Viraj Juneja, at Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2019. Pic: Brian Anderson/Shutterstock

Opening up old wounds and channeling the emotion is effective, but how did Gribben close them up again after the camera stops rolling?

“You live with it, you conk out and go to sleep then you wake up and drink coffee and try and forget about it. But you use it. Every actor uses emotions from their life because you have to connect to a character, even if they’re nothing like you. You have to find how they feel in certain moments and then connect it to you, at least that’s the way I do it. And there was a lot there. There were a lot of similarities between Danny and me. It was very easy to get to.”

The warm reception to the show is a relief for Gribben who feels fiercely protective of Somewhere Boy, to the extent he almost didn’t want people to see it. Almost.

“I’d be hurt if people didn’t like it, so I really want to protect it from that. It means a lot to me, more than oh I’m the lead - obviously being the lead of anything is amazing - but when it feels more personal to you, you don’t want people to trash it.”

As well as being something different in terms of plot, Somewhere Boy has touched a nerve in representing the experiences of the one in four who have mental health issues and the growing numbers identifying as non neurotypical.

“I think that there will be people that will connect with it in a very real way because TV shows and films can be fantasy and escapism, but do people who have been affected emotionally in their lives ever see it on screen? That feeling of ‘I’ve felt isolated’ or ‘I felt like an outsider’? Very rarely.”

Lewis Gribben as Danny in Somewhere Boy. Pic: Channel 4

After identifying so closely with Danny in Somewhere Boy, it was a ‘bizarre’ experience for Gribben to watch the final series.

“Normally I watch myself and think ‘what are you doing? You look an idiot on screen.’ But this time I didn’t feel like I was watching me act. It was like I was watching Danny and he just happened to look like me. It was really strange,” he says.

“Because when I was filming I was so wrapped up in it; the accent, the character, how vulnerable I had to be, just all the kind of emotional darkness that happens and was enveloped in that.”

Given that filming took four months, subsuming himself to the role was big undertaking, especially since he stayed in accent the whole time.

“I was like if I’m going to do this and I’m going to do this right, I had to be enveloped in it. Also I put myself in vulnerable places and connected with several of his sadder moments. I think a lot of people can relate to having your heart broken, wanting friendship, feeling out of place. I just had to envelop myself in it otherwise I would probably just have had a breakdown with the responsibility of it all.”

After Somewhere Boy, Gribben went straight into filming something completely different with Masters of the Air, a Second World War miniseries produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks and directed by Cary Fukunga [No Time to Die] for Apple TV, due to be released this autumn.

“I did it a month after Somewhere Boy finished and it took my mind off it, because I was in mourning. I felt like I’d put so much of myself into it that I was like ‘Who am I now? What am I? What do I do?’ And then I was asked to be a World War Two bomber pilot and just shoot at some imaginary blue screen. I’m like ‘yeah, all right’. I had to fire a gun at some imaginary Germans on a blue screen. It was mental because it was a giant soundstage. I only have two lines, but still. It was good to remember it’s all fake. It’s not real.”

It’s a far cry from the 2019 full on black comedy Get Duked! which saw Gribben as one of a group of teenagers on a Duke of Edinburgh hike that goes very off course and was variously described as anarchic, psychedelic, hilarious and bonkers.

“Yeah, it did well, but it could have done better,” says Gribben. “I thought some people were pompous about it but it’s got its following. The majority of people that ever reach out to me, it’s always about Get Duked! They say ‘are you doing a second one?’

“And it had great people in it, like Georgie Glen [Call The Midwife], one of the nicest people you can meet. She’s super talented, super nice, gives everyone the time of day, and Kate Dickie, I also did a short film with her and again, she’s great, game for everything, doesn’t care how big or small the thing is, if she gets passionate about it, she’s passionate about it, and she’s got a great mindset for an actor and is just a lovely human being.”

Gribben’s turn in T2 Trainspotting came after he was hired as an extra but was upgraded to actor in the final credits. “As ‘a drug dealer’. Aye, I just have the look. The emaciated face and the tired eyes. I’ve got it in me, but I’m too scared to do it, so I’m just good at pretending.”

“The scene I had was with Ewen Bremner and he shook my hand and he said good job, to me and the other two guys. That was a really pinnacle moment. The Trainspotting job centre interview is one of my favourite scenes of all time, when he’s just off his face in the interview.”

After his T2 experience Gribben had a bigger part in LIMBO, a film with a very strong message about the situation refugees find themselves in on arrival in the UK.

“It’s a very, very important story to tell about refugees and where they go when they’re waiting to see whether they’re granted entry or not. I found that interesting that they could go to this island on the edges and it was very heartfelt and story driven. Amir [El-Masry] was brilliant in it. For me it was great to live up to my typecast of buzzcut racist and play a bit of an arse. And it was fun as well because I’d never been to Uist.”

Exploring some of his own country is a bonus for Gribben, whether it’s the Highlands or Islands, as he’s keen to make a living while being Scotland based.

“I don’t have any desire to move. Scottish actors that have moved south and come up to film say do you not want to move down? But why? The rent’s extraordinary, I don’t really know many people so I’d have to start over and I’d definitely have to be a waiter between acting jobs and live that life and it does not look fun at all.”

In his career to date, which includes a lot of theatre from his time at The Citizens and while at drama school, Somewhere Boy is his favourite role by far.

“In terms of fun, Get Duked! was a riot, but I feel like I was playing myself, or a very idiotic version of myself. Somewhere Boy is me showing what I’ve always wanted to do, the darker stuff and proving I can do it, proving I can be more than ‘the prime suspect’s son’, because most of the TV I’ve done so far it’s been ‘oh your dad’s into crime and you’re the son’, and I’m a bit shady looking but emotional about my dad and all that, whereas with this I just get to do so much. There are a few moments in the later episodes I feel for people that know me, they’ll be like I can’t believe that Lewis did that.”

Being named as a Screen Daily Rising Star 2022 meant more of a focus on Gribben and brought him a mentor in the shape of fellow Scot Dougray Scott.

“It’s a weird thing because part of me feels like it’s nice to be named, but another part feels have I done enough? I’m always about what’s next. So it’s a nice achievement but people go ‘what? I’ve never seen this guy in anything?’ so it’s a weird feeling.

“It’s also weird to have Dougray Scott as my mentor, but it’s really cool. I met him a few weeks ago and we just talked and he gave some solid advice. I can phone him whenever I’ve got worries or enquiries or whatever.

What’s the best piece of advice that Scott has handed down to his young mentee?

“Just f***ing do it.”

Gribben adopts a Dougray Scott accent and continues: ‘You’re an actor, you’re a great f***ing actor, you can do it. Just connect man, just connect. Do it! You’ve got the emotion and all that.’ He said stuff like that,” says Gribben. “He’s a good man.”

As for what’s next, Gribben is currently moving out of his parents’ home and into his own flat on the outskirts of Glasgow, and applying for part time work in a supermarket to fit around auditions, running and playing video games. Workwise, he’d like to continue Danny’s story with more Somewhere Boy if it happened and he’d like to mix things up a bit.

“I’d like to play someone ultraviolent just to confuse people,” he says. “Get them thinking wait, this guy’s abusive but he was Danny. I’d like to go far away and then come back. But obviously I’ve no control and I’m lucky to be doing anything I’m cast in,” he says.

Whatever the role, it’s likely we’ll be seeing more of Gribben on screen whichever direction his career takes him in and he’s happy just to be doing the job he thinks is his perfect fit.

“That’s the one thing that’s not changed,” he says. “I’m still really annoying. So I have to do acting to quell that.”

All episodes of Somewhere Boy available on All 4 now,