Cover British actor Joe Dempsie reflects on his acting journey (Photo: Eric Frideen)

After starring in Skins and Game of Thrones—two of the most critically acclaimed dramas of the last two decades—British actor Joe Dempsie is taking on a role in Netflix’s new thriller Pieces of Her. Here, he reflects on his journey

UK actor Joe Dempsie is best known for his roles in 2000s cult teen drama Skins and fantasy drama Game of Thrones.

His latest role is in Netflix’s upcoming crime thriller Pieces of Her, a TV adaptation of the 2018 novel by Karin Slaughter which will premiere on March 4. The show chronicles the story of Andy (Bella Heathcote), who must learn—and come to terms with—her mother Laura’s (Toni Collette) past. Dempsie plays Nick Harp, a complex character entangled in the lives of the two—and part of the puzzle Andy must solve.

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How would you describe your character, Nick Harp, in Pieces of Her?

Nick Harp is a very complex character and is probably one of the most interesting ones I’ve played. In order to portray him, I tried to create a backstory, especially about his childhood and upbringing.

He grew up in Detroit in the late 60s, which was a turbulent time. There were race riots there, so a lot of families fled to the suburbs. I took that as a starting point and decided that Nick was probably a bit of an outsider growing up. He’s incredibly bright, but because of where he lived and the neglect he faced, he wasn’t able to fulfil his academic potential which led to a lot of resentment.

Has it been challenging to portray a character that’s not straight-up good or bad?

I don’t think so. Characters in the grey area are what well-written characters should be. In recent years, viewers have become far too savvy that full simplistic depictions of good or bad or black and white doesn’t really cut it anymore, especially when you talk about people’s well-rounded interests. People are like that too in life. We all live in the grey area.

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What about the show attracted you to want to be part of it?

Before I even read the script, having so many people in this project already made me feel like I want to do this job if they offered it to me. I’ve admired Toni Collette for years. Then there’s Jessica Barden [who plays Nick’s girlfriend Jane], whom I’ve worked with before, and is one of my good friends. I’ve also worked with director Minkie Spiro on [teen TV series] Skins way back in the day.

Out of the roles you’ve had over the years, what has remained the most memorable to you?

I’ve realised that every role or job is memorable in different ways and for different reasons. Chris, my character in Skins, is the role that turned acting from a hobby and a pastime into a career. He’s also a character that I think has been the most enduring out of any I’ve played. He’s one that people still want to talk to me about.

Then there’s Game of Thrones, which has been enjoyable for different reasons. There’s the spectacle and the scale of it, but it never really felt like a real character study. I never found out enough about Gendry.

“Going forward, I just want to keep taking myself out of my comfort zone.”
Joe Dempsie

What do you like most about being an actor?

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have been part of two shows that ended up being so much more successful than any of us imagined they’d be. It’s been one hell of a ride. I love the unpredictability that comes with being an actor. I like not knowing what I’m going to be doing or where I’m going to be this time next month, let alone this time next year.

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What are the lessons you’ve learned over the years?

I learned to become more comfortable in my own skin. Ironically, though, I don’t think I’m as confident in my ability as an actor compared to when I was younger—but maybe that’s just the fearlessness of being young. When I was 16, I remember that I genuinely thought that I was the best actor on the planet, which is ludicrous and arrogant.

When I started Skins, it was an opportunity and a hobby, then it became a job and anything that becomes a job comes with pressure. Maybe that made me retreat and went into myself a little bit with some of my performances, but I think I’m coming out the other side of that now.

What else can we expect from Joe Dempsie?

Going forward, I just want to keep taking myself out of my comfort zone. The thing about acting is that you never feel complete. For some, they get to a point where they think they know everything and can do everything. In my mid-20s, I think I had thought for quite a while. But now, I regained the enthusiasm. I’m going to keep trying to switch it up and keep trying to take roles that you haven’t seen me play before.

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Pieces of Her premieres on March 4, exclusively on Netflix

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