Harris Dickinson has bounced back from lockdown like few other actors. Last year, it was Joanna Hogg’s acclaimed The Souvenir Part II and a fun part in The King’s Man. 2022 has been for starring opposite Saoirse Ronan and Sam Rockwell in See How They Run, leading the mystery thriller Where the Crawdads Sing with Daisy Edgar-Jones, and appearing in Brando Lee’s upcoming Don’t Look at the Demon.
Oh, and a starring role in Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and opens wide this week.
The 26-year-old Englishman has made a name for himself with parts that complicate his leading-man good looks with a character actor’s commitment to disappearing into a role. Here, in Östlund’s follow-up to his other Palme d’Or winner The Square, Dickinson plays Carl, a model in a rocky relationship with influencer Yaya (the late, great Charlbi Dean). Even stormier than their coupling is the luxury cruise (in fact, Aristotle and Jackie O.’s old Christina O) to which they score an invite, where the travelers and staff clash in increasingly erratic ways. Where the film goes must be seen to be believed, but suffice it to say that Dickinson and his co-stars begin in a romantic drama that turns into an absurdist comedy of manners before descending into an all-out action thriller.
A few days before the film’s U.S. premiere, Vogue caught up with Dickinson, who was looking cozy in a Palace sweatshirt from his home in London.
Vogue: What draws you to Östlund’s work?
Harris Dickinson: I’d seen The Square, and I went ham on all of his other films before my audition. I was a fan immediately, I just wanted to do anything with him, you know? I’m really drawn to the intensity and the observational element of his direction—how clear cut and detailed it is. He’s very interested in people and society and morality, and he explores it. He’s not afraid to go there and push people to the limit of what it means to be a person, and what it means to fail as a person. My character, Carl, is a mess in this movie, and Ruben wants to see people at the extreme point of their behavior.
I’m curious as to how flexible he is with scripts once rehearsals and shooting begin.
He’s very flexible and open to change—he welcomes it. He asks us to make the scenes our own and find common ground with our characters so we can then enter them in a way that feels intuitive and true. He’s never precious about dialogue, he just wants to hit the right beats. The rest, you can just make up if you want.
The film switches genres a few times throughout. Was that evident to you when reading the script?
Like no one else I’ve ever worked with, Ruben has no rules to his narrative, structure, or characters. The only rules are with the process, and finding something that he enjoys and finds entertaining. As an actor, that means letting go of this pre-built idea of a character. There was a scene in the script where my character goes into an audition reading Ulysses, and Ruben had told me months before that they might ask me about it in the scene, so I read the book to start getting into that. The day of the scene, I’m there with Ulysses in my hand, knowing that it might pop up, and he’s like, “No, don’t take Ulysses in, just leave it.”
So it’s not about character development or creating any sort of background. Normally, I have so many things to go off of, where I’m doing loads of research or trying to build a base for someone to create a person. But with Carl, it was situational; it was finding him along the way and being open to the scenarios creating the character, rather than me. And people act out of sorts, you know? When actors say, “I would never do that, I would never do this,” it’s like, well, people do horrible and stupid things and act out of character on the regular. There is no way to define someone, really. There was freedom in that.
How out of character is someone like Carl to you? What was it like getting into him as a character?
I hope to God that I’m not like Carl. I mean, there were times when I enjoyed him as a person, how free he was with decisions, and how loose and erratic he could be; that was fun to play. But in terms of poor decision-making and sensitivity and ego… On the island [where his character winds up stranded, though, through some cunning self-interest, not having to work hard to survive], I was having to take a back seat from all of the physical stuff because Carl didn’t do anything. I like to think of myself as very hands-on, good at DIY; I can make a fire and I can fish or whatever. So it was hard for me to not be able to offer any help, because I would be there, straight away, trying to do something, even if I was rubbish.
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Do you miss Vine?
Oh, I miss Vine.
What kind of videos were you making?
Stupid, stupid Vines. My friends and I used to get together and make sort of shocking ones, doing silly stuff in a supermarket or making sketches about boys not being able to talk about their emotions.
Are you on TikTok?
TikTok’s a wild place, man, it’s like Vine on steroids. It’s too much, and it’s too addictive. Everyone likes laughing, everyone likes feeling that short feeling of not thinking about anything; “I’m just scrolling, I’m just having a look.” It’s not good for our attention spans.
What’s your relationship to fashion? Do you have a personal style?
My personal style is kind of just how I feel; relaxed. But I’m into fashion—I think it plays an integral role within film, so having the privilege to go to certain shows and see the process behind them, to meet designers and see that whole journey, is impressive.
Are you a fashion week regular?
I wouldn’t say I’m a regular, but if there’s a show I’m around for I’ll go. I went to the Gucci show in Milan earlier this year, the Adidas collab, and that was hard. The fits, the tracksuit dresses, they were mad. That’s really reductive: “It was mad!” But I’ll let the clothes speak for themselves.
Triangle of Sadness is in theaters now.