Bill Milner has achieved a heck of a lot in 21 years. At the age of 11, he starred in Son of Rambow and has been on the silver screen ever since, appearing in films with some major names including Michael Caine and Tom Hardy. With his latest film iBoy, co-starring the gorgeous Maisie Williams, set to be released on Netflix at the end of January, we sat down with him to chat iBoy, East London and the lessons he has learned.
Hey Bill! You’re starring in the adaptation of Kevin Brooks’s iBoy, which is released on Netflix this month, can you tell us what attracted you to the role of Tom?
I first heard about the film probably about a year ago now. I remember reading the script and the main thing that really excited me about the project was the reality of it. There’s obviously a lot of special effects and the whole concept is very sci-fi, but there is this real element of reality which is exciting. I remember sitting down and talking with Adam [Randall], the director, and our minds would run riot about all the possibilities. The powers that Tom gets and the worlds and the people that he is involved with, it does feel very real.
Yeah, it’s got that Black Mirror vibe where it’s hard not to draw parallels to the direction in which technology is heading in real life.
Exactly. I do really like the superhero and sci-fi style, but I think what suits my acting style best is when it’s real and more honest. Also, the fact that a lot of the story is looking at what these powers do to Tom mentally, how it affects him, how he’s so young and has so much power. It does become more psychological, which I find really fascinating. It’s like looking at a young kid power tripping.
Were there any points in filming where it all got a bit too “real”?
No, no. The filming process was honestly one of the funnest films I’ve ever worked on. Everyone was completely down to earth and really behind the project. We all worked really hard but at the same time we all made sure to have a lot of fun and really enjoy the process. When you are in the process of getting a film made, I think you do really need to have that enjoyment and enjoy the moment and not get too wrapped up.
For sure. So, what was your favourite part about filming?
The whole film was filmed in East London, and I ended up moving to Hackney because I loved the area so much. The estate that we filmed on was just near Liverpool Street, and it looks amazing on screen. But also working day to day in London was just so great. I really enjoyed it, and I feel like it actually did help the film as well because you can really involve your life in the film. I really loved being in London, and Maisie [Williams] was living not too far down the road from where I was staying and a couple of the other boys are all London based, so it was really nice to have everyone around.
And I guess it’s nice to know the best local pubs in the area to go to after?
Yeah! I’ve done films where you’re in other countries, and you just have to go back to your hotel room and you know that the sole reason you’re there is just to work and it’s quite hard to take your mind off it and relax. So being in London was really nice.
You mentioned Maisie Williams (Love. Her.), what was it like to work with her?
It was so much fun. We had such a good time. We’ve known each other for a while. We did a TV show [The Secret of Crickley Hall] together quite a while ago, but our characters and our worlds never crossed, so I think there was only a few times that we ever really saw each other. Since then we’ve got to know each other and we have a few mutual friends. I went to a party and Maisie was walking down the stairs and I didn’t notice her, I didn’t know she was at the party, and she goes “Bill! Bill! iBoy!” and I was like “What? How do you know?” and she was like “I’m gonna do iBoy!”. So that was really lovely news to hear and it all worked out amazingly. We had so, so much fun.
Did you always know that you wanted to act?
I started so young and I think I wasn’t completely aware of where it could go and what it could be. At the same time, I had people around me, rightfully, being very realistic with the situation. I was just taking it as it came and enjoying it. I filmed Son of Rambow when I was 11 and we honestly thought that was going to be the only time I’d ever film and that it would just be a really fun experience. I don’t think it was until I was about 16 that I realised that this is a great career and I was very lucky to be able to still be doing it. I think I maybe took it for granted when I was younger and it did come as a shock when I realised I had to really work hard for this.
Because you started so young, in a way, your growing up was documented on screen. Are there any tips you wish you could go back and tell your younger self?
No, I look back on each film and job as a learning process. I guess I think about the things which each individual job might have given me. It was just fun back then, I never really gave it too much weight. Maybe now I’m putting too much pressure on myself… Oh, God.
Well it’s important to work hard and play hard, right? You worked hard in 2016 filming iBoy and Anthrophoid, so maybe this is your year to play hard?
Yeah! That’s the scary thing about acting though, there’s no job security. I’m celebrating iBoy and now I’m kind of like “Oh, man, what’s next? Oh, I have to blag another job again!”
Do you have any jobs lined up for 2017 yet?
There is something lined up, but I can’t talk about it. But expect loads of great work coming out in the future!
You’ve appeared in films with some pretty big names (Tom Hardy and Olivia Colman in Locke (2014), and Fassbender and McAvoy in X Men: First Class (2011), to name a few). What was it like working with such established actors?
It’s great. I remember speaking to my mum recently about actors I look up to, and I realised that the actors I look up to are the ones that I’ve worked with. I feel really, really fortunate to be able to work with people like Andy Serkis [Sex & Drugs & Rock n Roll] and Cillian Murphy [Anthropoid]. I feel like I’ve learnt a lot from watching them. Both are actors who work really hard and are incredibly good at their job, but at the same time you can really see them enjoying their work. I think that’s something I’ve learnt from working with people like that. Sometimes I forget about it and I don’t really realise and then I might be watching a film and go “Oh God, I’ve worked with them!”.
Did you learn any skills from these actors that you now see in your own work?
I think it’s mostly about enjoying what you do. There’s been some days on some jobs that I’ve done where it’s tough, but you never see people like Andy or Cillian or Jamie Dornan [Anthropoid] complaining. I think that’s an important thing to think about: to really appreciate your position and to not take anything for granted, to enjoy yourself and work hard. It is a rare opportunity, and it is hard to get a film made these days, so you really can’t take it for granted.