The King's Man Star Harris Dickinson On Running Through No Man's Land In A Kilt [Interview]

"The King's Man" premieres in theaters this week, bringing the harrowing dangers of World War I firmly into director Matthew Vaughn's spy-film territory. The "Kingsman" prequel centers on a dangerous conspiracy at the heart of the war, and the Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) must band together a trusted cohort of heroes to combat the terrible menace. 

One of the most pivotal of these protagonists is Conrad (Harris Dickinson), the Duke's own son, who struggles to balance his partnership with the fledgling band with his strong sense of duty to the British cause in WWI. Conrad's decisions prove pivotal in the foundations of the independent spy organization, forming a key element of the Duke's plans for the Kingsman organization, all anchored by Harris' excellent and emotionally complex performance. 

I sat down with Harris to discuss Conrad and his complex journey, the epic No Man's Land fight sequence, the film's myriad stunts, and more.

"I didn't have to act much."

Conrad is so pivotal in the origins of the Kingsman organization in the series, and I just wanted to know what drew you to that role?

I think starting out when I first got involved or first began to explore it with Matthew and started reading for it ... I guess first and foremost, Matthew, as a filmmaker, is someone I was intrigued to work with. Not only his body of work, but I also the way in which he tells stories is bold and interesting, and I always want to try and work with interesting people. And I think that he's really vented into something cool with this film, and I was lucky enough to be working with actors like Ralph Fiennes and Djimon Hounsou, and Gemma Arterton, and everyone else involved... quite frankly I'm big fans of [theirs] so for me to share the screen with them was an honor.

Your character makes an interesting choice in the film. He gets some experience working for the greater good with the people that become the Kingsman organization, and then he chooses to go rogue and join the war effort. And I wanted to ask you, why do you think Conrad made that pivot — made that choice?

I think at that age where you're starting to come into who you are as a young man, being told you can't do something or being told no sort of makes you want to do it even more. I noticed that with certain people that I grew up with that had really strict parents. Those were the ones that normally went a little bit rogue ... so, I think he wants to go and prove himself. He wants to go and fight for a cause.

Sure. And as part of that, in a very tense sequence he finds himself basically surrounded in the middle of No Man's Land in a very dangerous situation. What it was like shooting that scene?

It was crazy, man. I think I didn't realize how much of it they would actually build and how much of it would physically be there ... They took over an airfield in the countryside of England, and I remember turning up and just being sort of amazed by it all. I think they really wanted to do as much as possible for real, and all of that whole section really was ... I didn't have to act much. I was responding to real things happening, real pyrotechnic explosions and gunshots, and it just helps. It makes it so much more viable for me and everyone else involved. It's exciting and you have to stay focused and diligent with what you're doing, otherwise, all of these other elements start to ... you ruin it essentially, if you're not switched on to it. But yeah, I had a lot of fun with it. It was hard work, but I enjoyed it.

"Welcome to the Kingsman."

What sort of stunt work did you do for it?

It was a brilliant trainer called Tony Bayliss who was ex-military who sort of took me under his wing six months in advance. Then the stunt team led by Brad Allen, they were so detailed and so welcoming ... And essentially, that was what helped form my character as well. It's like entering into that space, and that physical world really informed that desire to want to go off and 'serve and fight for one's country,' as they say. But yeah, I learned a lot of skills. I got to ride a motorbike, I got to do knife work, I got to do hand-to-hand combat, and they're the sort of things that... we're lucky as actors that you get to pick up these skills along the way that you otherwise wouldn't go off and do.

Absolutely. What was the hardest thing that you had to do?

Well, the fight I had to do in No Man's Land was in the dark and everyone had to stay quiet, it was this standoff between the Germans and the British troops ... Matthew made a decision to put us all in kilts, as certain regimens actually did ... I later learned they actually fought in kilts and leg warmers ... Doing a fight scene in that, you kind of can't take yourself too seriously because of what you're wearing. It's impossible to sort of walk around with a stiff upper lip in that sense. So, that was tough because my knees got scraped to pieces and I remember sending Matthew a picture at the end of that couple of weeks with my blistered knees and ... almost like carpet burn, and ripped the skin off my knees. And I remember sending him a picture looking for a bit of sympathy, and he was just like, 'Ah, yeah. Well, you know, welcome to The Kingsman.'

War's tough.

Yeah, exactly, yeah.

At the end, Conrad has a change of heart where he realizes that things weren't what was expecting them to be like. Tell me about shooting that scene, it was a very emotional scene.

Yeah. I remember that we had a lot of time for it. Matthew was very kind with the time that he gave that scene. He understood the importance of it and how sometimes it's quite difficult to find that emotion, and there's a lot going on. I think it was tough. It was difficult because you've got ... sets can often be kind of an enemy of performance because there's so much distraction, so much going on. Obviously, everyone's doing their job and doing what's required of them, but you have to try and find a focus that is very specific. But yeah, it's one of those things where you're glad to get out of the way, because it's a little tough.

"The King's Man" is in theaters now.