Johnny Flynn in "Emma." Picture: Focus Features
Johnny Flynn in "Emma." Picture: Focus Features

SA-born actor is cast as a lead in 'Emma'

By Debashine Thangevelo Time of article published Mar 15, 2020

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South African-born musician and actor Johnny Flynn is making waves across the big and small screen and streaming platform, Netflix. 

He is currently in "Emma" and will soon be seen in David Bowie’s "Stardust".

And if the name doesn’t ring a bell, his face most certainly will. 

Johnny Flynn played the younger Albert Einstein in National Geographic's, "Genius"; viewers of BBC First will recall him as Felix Tholomyès in the miniseries adaptation of "Les Misérables" and let’s not forget the Netflix sitcom, "Lovesick". 

The South African-born actor spent all of two years here before moving with his family to England.  

He was very much entrenched in the music scene before his acting career took off.

Fans can catch him in "Emma", where he plays George Knightley the love interest of Emma Woodhouse (played by Anya Taylor-Joy).

On his familiarity with this work of Jane Austen, he said: “Well, we studied Emma at school. The other ones I’d seen were in films and TV adaptations. And I grew up in the countryside that she lived in and I had violin lessons from the age of six in the house that she died in. 

"There’s a plaque outside on the house in Winchester that says ‘Jane Austen died here’, which was always quite eerie. The violin teacher’s daughter, who is the same age as me, would have these birthday parties, and I would go. 

"We’d play hide and seek and I was so spooked…at the age of six, it’s quite evocative to think that somebody died in this house. I didn’t know who Jane Austen was but I’d think, ‘I’m going to find a dead body!’ So I was familiar with her world.”

On giving the nod to the movie, Flynn admitted: “I do love the writing and find a fantastic sense of wit, humour and wisdom in the novels. I suppose I was a bit wary. It felt like there have been some adaptations of this novel fairly recently, and then I met Autumn (de Wilde), and I realised, ‘You’re the person to do this.’ 

"Her vision for it was so complete and so perfect and I knew that it would be a very fresh take on it. And then meeting Anya as well, who has such brilliance and such a distinct energy…I just knew it would be a different thing.”

Flynn also expressed confidence in how audiences will respond to De Wilde’s cinematic interpretation. 

He added: “The reason why it works with Autumn directing it…as an American…I sometimes think that maybe if it was an English director who had grown up with it in their kind of cultural history, they would have it on a pedestal, and we’d be saying these lines with a sense of reverence, rather than the immediacy that Autumn brought to directing it, where she was able to translate the situations. 

"She was able to go, ‘I know that.’ She’d tell us a story from her own life, or her friend’s, and that would relate to the scene. So I think modern audiences will connect to it on that level. We’re just a group of people acting out very real situations, which are ageless or timeless. 

"But she brought a fresh sense of references. It took an outsider to think, ‘We’ll do this scene like it’s a Marx Brothers scene’ or a scene from Thirties Hollywood comedy. Stuff that she knew, which actually really worked and hasn’t been done before in an Austen adaptation.”

Interestingly, he gets to sing in the film, too.

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