Billy Howle on The Beast Must Die
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Billy Howle on The Beast Must Die

'I think an untethered, rebellious nature is at the heart of making art'

Following a stellar performance in one of this year’s most talked about series, The Serpent, Stoke-born actor Billy Howle is back on our screens in new Britbox thriller The Beast Must Die. The show tells the story of a grieving mother’s hunt for the man she believes killed her son, with Howle playing lead detective Nigel Strangeways. He’s here to tell us about the series, plus share his experiences from the world of acting – good and bad.

Q&A with Billy Howle

What can you tell us about The Beast Must Die?

The Beast Must Die is a revenge thriller set on the Isle of Wight. We shot it there during the pandemic. It is the first original drama for BritBox and I play the detective Nigel Strangeways. It’s also a great piece of writing adapted by Gaby Chiappe from the original novel by Cecil Day Lewis.

Any funny stories from filming?

It was Halloween and most of the crew had decided to dress up in costumes. The director, for instance, was wearing a clown outfit. There is a great picture of him giving me a note wearing the mask and I look like I could kill him.

Billy Howle

Favourite role to date and why?

Parts of characters swim around my head for years. So, in a sense, they all started as a part of myself and have remained a part of myself – albeit in an augmented way. I like to learn things from the characters I play and I probably learned the most playing Edward to Saoirse Ronan’s Florence in On Chesil Beach.

Role you’d cut your right arm off to get?

I’m yet to encounter a role that would warrant self-mutilation. I only have two arms after all and sometimes even that’s not enough. Having said that, a spy during the cold war would be pretty cool.

What demands do you have on set?

I’m pretty self-sufficient usually, but my one major request is a decent black coffee. I won’t drink instant. Yes, I’m a snob when it comes to coffee.

Director you’d most like to work with and why?

There are so many of them, each offering a unique experience and way of seeing the world. I love Paweł Pawlikowski’s films, so let’s say that for now.

What qualities do you think have made you successful?

I think an untethered, rebellious nature is at the heart of making art. An awareness of the confines of the waking world and a refusal to submit to conformity. Holding onto the core values, burning passion and that desire to live and create must never be touched or affected by the need to fit into society.

Billy Howle

Photo by Iona Wolff

Film you think everyone in the world should see?

The Three Colours trilogy by Kieślowski.

What’s your relationship with social media like?

Dispassionate, verging on indifferent and apathetic. It’s a useful tool, people keep saying, but the whole thing is more toxic than beneficial. Our expectations lessen which gives room to more toxicity day by day.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

There was a time when I would have liked to become a professional dancer. I loved ballet and tap dancing. You don’t get much freer than dancing.

Billy Howle

If you could give advice to your 15-year-old self, what would it be?

The people around you are trying to live their lives too. They struggle. Even teachers are trying to give you the best start at life. Try to understand what dignity and respect are now and you won’t have to suffer your own judgement and punishment.

Three books you’d take to a desert island and why?

The Complete Works of Shakespeare. If I was ever rescued from the desert, I’d be prepared to play some cracking roles. The Outsider by Albert Camus – talking of society, not conforming, alienation and isolation. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. I haven’t finished it yet and if I’m on the island tomorrow, I’ll be pretty annoyed if I can’t.

The most challenging moment in your career so far?

There’s usually little to no time to take really good care of yourself in this industry. It’s relentless, taxing and expensive. I recently had a pretty serious health scare which put it into perspective. A few days later the propulsion of the production machine compelled me to carry on, when in reality I ought to have been convalescing somewhere peaceful.

How can we all live a little bit better?

We need to interrogate violence – in our actions and words. Violence is woven into everything that we do. The very idea of authority is violent. Imperative language is violent. Human beings need to widen their perspective as to what other people’s needs are and how the pursuit of fulfilling our own can interfere with them. The first step is observation and awareness: learning how to really listen to the world around us. Also, something I keep thinking about is that we are just one species among millions. Granted, we have dominated the planet, but in the grand scheme we haven’t been here long, so we ought not to be so arrogant.

What are your indulgences?

I indulge in my emotions rather than anything else. I used to have little to no control over them, rather, they controlled me. But I love to feel sad or crazily joyful. That’s life to me – so I indulge in life.

How do you relax?

Exercise: strength training, yoga, walking and boxing. And watching comedy.

If we’re coming to your area for a visit, what should we do?

I technically don’t live anywhere at the moment. But I’m currently in Bristol and it has a fantastic cinema, The Watershed. The theatre, Bristol Old Vic, is my stomping ground. There’s a cider pub on a barge called The Apple and next to it a jazz pub called The Old Duke. Then to eat, my friend owns a café in St Paul’s called The Hidden Corner Café.

Are you a rule breaker or a rule taker?

Breaker predominately. Can I add maker to that though?

The Beast Must Die is now available to stream on BritBox. Images from Britbox.


Time’s Jack McMullen / Anne Boleyn’s Lola Petticrew