Berlin Fresh Faces: ‘Last Swim’ Star Solly McLeod

Rexa Vella

Berlin Fresh Faces: ‘Last Swim’ Star Solly McLeod

British actor Solly McLeod‘s career is on an upward trajectory with Berlin-premiering “Last Swim” and Viggo Mortensen-directed “The Dead Don’t Hurt,” which premiered at Toronto 2023 and is bound for Glasgow next.

Set over a hot summer day in London as the high-school year is ending, “Last Swim,” from feature debutant Sasha Nathwani, follows British-Iranian teen Ziba (Deba Hekmat) as she leads her friends on an eventful journey across the city, culminating in a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event. McLeod plays Shea, one of the key members of the group.

McLeod’s journey began in the Orkney Islands, off the coast of Scotland, where he lived till the age of 10. His grandfather was a huge influence and showed him films like “The Princess Bride” and the ”Star Wars,” “The Lord of the Rings” and “Indiana Jones” films. For a while, the boy thought that the films were real until his grandfather told him about actors. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God, you could do that as a job? Let’s do it. And I haven’t looked back since,” McLeod says.

The family moved to London where McLeod pursued acting and performance. Later, he attended weekend drama school the Unseen, which provided a platform where agents, casting directors and industry professionals looked at students’ acting exercises and provided ratings and scores. Those who excelled got signed with agents and McLeod was snapped up by his current agents.

After a few shorts and features, McLeod secured a part in Starz series “Outlander.” Sky’s “The Rising” saw the actor at the Berlinale Series in 2022 and he also had a role in HBO’s “House of the Dragon” the same year. ITV/PBS Masterpiece period series “Tom Jones” (2023) was his first lead role.

“It made me realize how much work and how tricky it is to lead a company and lead a show like that. I was 21 years old when I did that. It took a toll and I learned so much from it. And I had a brilliant time filming and the people I worked with were fantastic,” McLeod says about “Tom Jones.” “It is a milestone for me.”

Solly McLeod in “The Dead Don’t Hurt” Marcel Zyskind

Acting for and with the vastly experienced Mortensen and Vicky Krieps, in “The Dead Don’t Hurt,” was another learning experience for McLeod. “Their style of acting is quite different but it works together in this film, especially in a way that you really believe in, they had a great chemistry, they worked fantastically together,” McLeod says. “Something that I took away is — when you can act from the self and from yourself, you get a more rich, more fruitful, more believable, truthful performance. A lot of times people try and say you want to remove all parts of you from a character. I don’t agree with that, necessarily.”

In keeping with that sentiment, McLeod had to dig deep within himself for “The Dead Don’t Hurt,” a Western where he plays the antagonist. “You have to be righteous in what you do, even if it’s something horrific. He’s awful, he’s a murderer, he’s terrible. And I had to find something within myself that justifies his actions in order to be able to play it properly,” McLeod says. “Finding those parts of me somewhere deep down in my ego was a challenge. It made a difference in who I was in the real world as well. It wasn’t like method acting but it definitely changed who I was in my normal life, for the duration of the shoot anyway.”

Solly McLeod in “Last Swim” Pablo & Zeus/Caviar

In sharp contrast was his role in “Last Swim,” which opened the Generation 14plus competition at the Berlin Film Festival, where McLeod played one of the lads who’s just finished high school. For the role, the actor observed his younger brothers and harkened back to how he was at that time in his own life. “It was finding that within me again, and also as a cast, we spent a lot of time together, we had an instant chemistry that we discovered during our first read-through,” McLeod says. “We fine-tuned our characters and their relationships and their backgrounds and where they come from, because we were all meant to be playing super-close friends. We built on all of each other’s characters together, which was something I’ve not done before, usually it’s an individual thing. But we had such a fantastic time, and really trusted each other during it.”

McLeod is represented by CAA and the Artists Partnership.

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