My Policeman: British Star David Dawson on Sex Scenes With Harry Styles

The British actor, in first major role, says current attempts to overturn gay rights drew him to historical gay drama: “You shouldn’t read it as a period film.”

 

The Brit actor plays Patrick, Harry Styles’ museum curator lover in 1960s England, a character who experiences romance as well as tragedy during a time when homosexuality was illegal. While Dawson isn’t exactly a screen newcomer like his musician co-star — the 40-year-old has been a regular onstage and on TV since 2005 with roles in Peaky Blinders and The Last Kingdom — My Policeman does mark his first major film role. But the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) graduate, born in the Northern English town of Widnes, doesn’t see it as any sort of major career moment, just a continuation of making sure each new project “scares me and it’s different all the time.”

That red carpet was something I’ll always remember. That and getting stuck in a lift with [My Policeman co-star] Gina McKee for about half an hour. We were picking up the Best Ensemble award and had about 10 minutes to spare and security were trying to get us out of the lift.

Was Toronto your first film festival?

Yeah, it was. But I was actually in Toronto with a play, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, about 14 years ago, and we performed in the same theater that My Policeman premiered, which was pretty special.

How did My Policeman come your way?

I worked with Michael Grandage years ago, when he was artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse. I was about 26 and loved him and how he runs a rehearsal room and learned an awful lot. And then I was produced by him in a play with Andrew Scott a few years later, and that was one of my favourite things I’ve ever done. So I knew, when he brought me this script, the opportunity to work with him on screen this time would be a beautiful thing.

Gay Directors, Gay Films? By Emanuel Levy (Columbia University Press, August 2015).

My Policeman–story more poignant today? 

Starring alongside Harry Styles?

It was after my second audition. But I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of high-profile people over the years. But you do think: how strange is life? Because you’ve seen this person as a musician since they were 16, basically. But they made it incredibly easy to put that to one side, within one Zoom call. He’s incredibly down to Earth, and a good Northern lad. You can’t go wrong. We communicated throughout the whole process – it was very collaborative.

Intimate scenes with Harry Styles?

That was one of the most special things I took away from this project. Because initially, when you read the script and you know that there are these intimate scenes, you hope that the person you’re going to be going through this process with is someone you can wholly put your trust in and will communicate with you and is void of ego. And I got all of that and more in Harry.

Shooting sex scene with big pop star?

I suppose less that, and more that when they called “cut,” the two of us did laugh. That’s how odd the situation is. There were only about four other people that needed to be with us in that room, and suddenly when “cut” is called you notice that, you know, the DP is there. But we all just had a laugh, because that’s the best way to deal with it.

From left: Dawson, Emma Corrin and Harry Styles in My Policeman.
From left: Dawson, Emma Corrin and Harry Styles in My Policeman. PARISA TAGHIZADEH/ AMAZON

Story of My Policeman exceptionally sad?

Part of the reason why I was always excited to join the project was that, as a gay man myself, you have an inner response to the person you’re playing and an admiration for how he’s thriving through very difficult times.

My Policeman–first major film role?

Interestingly, I think I’ve always just loved acting, and feel so lucky to be able to do it, so I’ve not really thought about it like that. I’m just always excited by every project being a real challenge. I remember me and my agent sat down and I said, ‘As long as it scares me and it’s different all the time, then I’ll constantly learn and hopefully surprise an audience.’ So I think I’m more excited about that aspect.

First brush with acting?

When I was about three I would be deadly serious, raid my mum’s drawer and be The Joker – Jack Nicholson’s version — all day. Then I played Joseph in the school nativity play, sorting out the shepherds. I’m from an industrial town called Widnes and I was lucky that there was a wonderful drama club, and for years we used to put on plays, and the lady who ran it went professional and I got to tour the country when I was about 16.

Gay Directors, Gay Films? By Emanuel Levy (Columbia University Press, August 2015).

It was [Brit TV series] Doc Martin. I had to leave RADA for a month and play this weird sinister boy from the hills whose mother had died [and] his dad dressed as his mum. My first stage role after school was as an understudy Richard II at the Old Vic [directed] by Trevor Nunn. But I never got to play Richard II, so I’ve got unfinished business there. Funnily enough, Michael encouraged us to have private conversations with our older counterparts on My Policeman, so I had this gorgeous hour-and-a-half conversation with [co-star] Rupert [Everett] and he promised he’ll direct me in Richard II.