Joe Dempsie

And his Unexpected Dream Job


While many dream with stars in their eyes about what it would be like to be glamorous, on-screen actor, Joe Dempsie admits he never could have foreseen himself going down that path. His interest in theater originally began as a way to make people laugh and keep himself occupied after school. However, the sincerity in his performances at Nottingham’s Television Workshop caught the eye of scouting agents and casting directors. His genuine passion oiled the hinges on the door of opportunity as jobs and auditions filed in throughout his teenage years. It soon became clear that Dempsie was destined for acting when his extracurricular hobby blossomed into a full-blown career. This natural progression landed him many recurring television roles, including the role of Robert Baratheon’s bastard son “Gendry” in HBO’s Game of Thrones. He’s also played the hilarious, tragic character “Chris Miles” in the cult British TV show, Skins. Now at age twenty-nine, he’s starred with Jamie Dornan in the film New Worlds and just finished filming a new BBC1 show, One of Us. Additionally, he co-stars as the layered character “Jason” in the feature-length drama, Ellen. In stark contrast to his engaging, easy-to-laugh disposition, Joe Dempsie expressed how he is drawn to dark, complex characters. It seems to mirror how his own love for acting originally stemmed from challenges at home.

When did you first discover your passion for acting?
I’ve got a younger sister named Lauren who has cerebral palsy and I think as a result of that, my parents, particularly my mom, were keen on making sure that I didn’t feel neglected. She overheard me saying that I was enjoying drama at school and heard about a drama workshop for young people in Nottingham. She suggested I’d go when I was thirteen. You had to audition for it, but the great thing about it was it was completely subsidized. So you had kids from all different backgrounds from all different parts of the city coming together. If you look at the other people working that have come through the group, the common trait is naturalism and an authenticity. Without knowing it at the time, it was the perfect place to start.

Does your inner moral meter sometimes cause conflict when you’re getting into roles that are morally grey?
No, I think for the most part that’s what draws me to roles like that. I really like exploring people with different morals to myself and with characters that feel layered and when you can find complexity in them. I think that was definitely the case with “Jason” in Ellen. He’s the most ambiguous character in the whole piece and I was really drawn to that. The director, Mahalia Belo, and I were trying to play it as sincerely as possible the whole way through. I have no vanity about making every character I play exactly like me. I think that’s boring, but you do have to understand them.

Do you have a favorite project?
This is the reason love my job. I don’t know if I’ve got a short memory or if it is genuinely this good, but every time I finish a job, I think, “That’ll never happen again. I can’t possibly have as much fun.” Then I’ll go to the next job and they’re all good for different reasons. On Skins, I have friends on that show that I’ll have until the day I die. Then there’s Sean Durkin who directed Southcliffe who I would work with everyday if I could. I love Game of Thrones for the sheer scale of it—A few years ago, I stood in a purpose-built cave with water running down and I watched two guys have a sword fight with their swords on fire. That was my job. So it’s kind of an impossible question to answer, but the upshot is it’s a fun job to have.

Text by Zee Chang