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Aaron Taylor-Johnson Talks Acting, Inspiration and Scent

The English actor is the face of new fragrance Gentleman.

PARIS — Aaron Taylor-Johnson is Givenchy’s latest leading man, fronting the house’s advertising campaign for its new men’s scent, Gentleman.

The English actor’s breakout movie was a biography of John Lennon, “Nowhere Boy,” dating from 2009. Following that, he appeared in “Kick-Ass” and as the lead in “Savages,” “Anna Karenina,” “Godzilla” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

For his performance in Tom Ford’s thriller “Nocturnal Animals,” out last year, Taylor-Johnson was given the Golden Globe award for best supporting actor in a motion picture, plus a nomination for best actor in a supporting role. He most recently played in Doug Liman’s movie “The Wall.”

Taylor-Johnson sat down in a suite of the Ritz Paris with WWD this week to discuss acting, inspiration and what constitutes a gentleman of today.

WWD: Has fragrance long been important in your life?

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Aaron Taylor-Johnson: Yes, fragrance can be extremely powerful. I have always enjoyed the essence of smells. As an actor, I even like to embrace different smells [of] characters. They wouldn’t necessarily be good ones, though. [For] some of the roles that I’ve played recently, it wouldn’t be necessarily fancy, beautiful smells. But I think everyone has their natural essence, and it’s like your DNA.

WWD: Is it different being the face of a fragrance from being an actor in a film?

A.T.J.: We’ll soon find out! I definitely was able to approach [the ad] with a bit of character, but a lot of it was more the essence of me. And that was great because my wife got to shoot it. I feel most comfortable in my wife’s hands and presence, so when she shot the print and the campaign, I was able to be more myself with her than with anybody else. The campaign is light and free — it’s movement, it’s dance. That’s how I am.

WWD: How did you and your wife Sam Taylor-Johnson approach the advertising campaign?

A.T.J.: [We could] collaborate and create what we wanted to do. We wanted to give a real new [take] on a contemporary gentleman. He needed to be traditional and chivalrous, but not misogynistic. And that’s important. He should be a feminist. He should believe in equality and be open-minded, a freethinker that is charismatic and charming. It’s not serious, it’s joyful, it’s optimistic. It’s bringing people together, and it’s being a bit goofy. It’s being a bit outside of the box, unique, and seeing the positivity in that, that it is attractive.

What’s beautiful [is that] it’s through a woman’s eyes. We’ve got a visionary, an artist, who is current with today.

We were able to play. Sam is a naturally instinctive director who likes to try new things and explore. I’m an actor who is very giving and likes to explore also. So together [we] embrace the environment that we’re in and then kind of destroy it.

WWD: It’s said you like to take on just one acting project per year. Is there any upcoming film you can talk about?

A.T.J.: There’s something I might be doing at the end of the year, which is why I have such a bushy beard right now. But nothing I can discuss really.

WWD: What do you look for in a movie project?

A.T.J.: The filmmaker. I enjoy the process of learning. I want to step on to a set or a project where I am out of my league. I’m out of my depth, out of my comfort zone. I’m scared to death and have to struggle my way through it. I want to go to work feeling challenged, and I want to learn. I want to be puppeteered through a new experience. Who’s at the tip of that realm is the filmmaker.

One of my favorites is Sam. It’s why [Gentleman] was such a blessing, and we’re actually writing something together in order to shoot hopefully next year. I just want to experiment and explore.

WWD: What drives you in your craft?

A.T.J.: I feel like I need to be adventurous and try new things, and it to just be [that] I’ve not been down that path before — it’s the path of unknown. I am prepared to make mistakes, otherwise I don’t learn.