NEW YORK — It’s quite an accomplishment that 18-year-old Thomas Sturridge holds his own opposite Jeremy Irons and Annette Bening in the film “Being Julia,” which opens Friday, considering it’s his first major supporting role. Sturridge, whose film credits to date include a bit part in the recent release “Vanity Fair,” stars as Bening’s son, who experiences a sexual awakening at the same time that his mother embarks on a grand love affair with a substantially younger man.
Still, the son of the British filmmaker Charles Sturridge (“Brideshead Revisited”) and the British actress Phoebe Nicholls isn’t even sure if acting is what he wants to do with the rest of his life. After graduating from high school a few months ago, Sturridge is focusing on auditioning. (He spent the summer studying lions in Africa with his aunt, a biologist, and recently moved out of his parents’ London home and into a flat with friends.) “It’s fashionable to take a gap year,” he explains. “In the acting world, you sort of have a moment that you can kind of exploit.”
Though “Being Julia” was filmed in director István Szabó’s native Budapest last year, Thomas’ parents OK’d it because it was during his summer vacation. “My first acting day was doing a seven-page scene with Annette Bening, which was terrifying,” he says. Though he didn’t pick up any specific acting tips from Bening — “What can you really learn about acting?” he wonders — she did show him “how to treat people so they feel free to do whatever they want on set.”
He’s been careful not to brag too much about his experience. (“Being Julia” has not been released yet in London.) “You sound like a bit of a d–khead if you announce you’re in a film,” he cautions. And though he had a hard time watching himself perform on screen, the on-set experience has changed the way he watches movies.
“You know the crap that actors have to deal with, the boredom and the slowness of production,” he explains. “If they can produce that danger or that chemistry, I have much more respect.”
Though Sturridge says he’d like to work with Martin Scorsese and the Polish director Paul Pavlikovsky (whose “My Summer of Love” was recently released to much acclaim in the U.K.), he’s still not convinced that the movie world is for him.
“Being an actor is great if you’re Tom Cruise, but there are so many people who’ve got families and have no way of supporting them because there’s no work,” says the teenager, perhaps a bit too wise for his years. “I know it’s not a career. It’s always waiting for someone else to say you have the part.”
— Marshall Heyman