For the November 2023 cover story of DSCENE Magazine, we bring an exclusive interview with Shaun Thomas, the actor who’s been carving out a unique space for himself in the film industry. Known for his roles in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” and “The Selfish Giant,” Thomas is now grabbing headlines for his BIFA-nominated role in the provocative and poignant film, “How to Have Sex.” Captured by the lens of photographer Joseph Sinclair and elevated by the styling from Holly Macnaghten and grooming by Nadia Altinbas, Shaun Thomas brings authenticity and raw charm to DSCENE’s latest cover story.
Celebrating his evolution as an artist, Thomas reflects on his path from a raw talent to a seasoned actor with a deep understanding of the intricacies of his roles. As he talks about the complexities of playing Badger in “How to Have Sex,” he reveals the challenges and breakthroughs that came with stepping into a character set against the backdrop of contemporary youth culture and the pressing issue of consent. From discussing on-set dynamics to exploring the societal pressures that resonate with young adults today, Shaun Thomas offers a candid look at his approach to storytelling, acting, and navigating the expectations that come with success.
DSCENE Magazine Features Director Katarina Doric caught up with the Bradford-born talent to talk about his journey, his craft, and the conversations he hopes to inspire with his latest project.
Shaun, your role in “How to Have Sex” is in stark contrast to your breakout role in “The Selfish Giant” a decade ago. How have you evolved as an actor, and what drew you to this project? – I think I have evolved as an actor in many ways, I now have a deeper understanding of scripts, characters and stories. Starting out with zero acting experience under my belt, I’ve worked extremely hard and soaked up as much information as possible about the industry and my craft to further enhance my abilities. The importance of the story of HOW TO HAVE SEX plus Molly’s brilliant writing really caught my attention and drew me to this project.
Getting the opportunity to take part in such a sensitive and important story, I knew I had to work hard and step out of my comfort zone.
The movie paints a vivid picture of modern youth, the pressure of social norms, and the exploration of consent. How did you prepare for the complexities of your character, Badger? – Getting the opportunity to take part in such a sensitive and important story, I knew I had to work hard and step out of my comfort zone. I was determined to get it right. I didn’t want Badger to be the typical ‘party boy’ that you often see on screen. I wanted him to be fun, but I also wanted the core of him to have some heart and understanding of other people’s feelings.
The movie’s title, “How to Have Sex,” might seem cheeky on the surface. However, the narrative dives deep into themes of sexual education and consent in the post-#MeToo era. How do you hope this film will contribute to ongoing conversations about consent? – When I mention the title of the film to people, it makes them raise their eyebrow. It’s a very eye – catching title but I always explain that this isn’t an instruction manual, it’s more of a life lesson. I really hope the title catches people’s attention and drives them to want to watch the film. I hope the questions brought up in the film keeps the conversation surrounding consent moving forward and gives people a new perspective and awareness of what consent is.
The character dynamics, especially between Badger and Tara, are intense. How was your on-set experience working alongside Mia McKenna-Bruce to bring this unique relationship to life? – Mia is one of the most outgoing people I know. She’s a bundle of happiness that’s infectious. In the intense moments we see on screen between Badger & Tara, in my mind I’m thinking of Mia herself being a hurt, vulnerable young woman and its heart wrenching. I just tried to put myself in those moments to try to connect with the characters as much as possible. Mia’s performance is exceptional, she gave me so much to work with.
I hope the questions brought up in the film keeps the conversation surrounding consent moving forward and gives people a new perspective and awareness of what consent is.
Molly Manning Walker’s directorial style is vivid, immersing viewers in a frenetic party-island atmosphere. How was it working with Molly, and how did her vision influence your portrayal of Badger? – Working with Molly was an honour. She’s a super talented writer, director and cinematographer. She generously allowed me to have input on my character and she was always very open to discussion. She really made me feel confident on set which helped my performance hugely.
Beyond the dominant theme of sexual consent, the movie also explores the struggles of identity and the societal pressures faced by young adults. Can you share a personal perspective or experience that resonated with these themes? – It’s very hard for young people, including myself, to navigate a path through life that’s organic and not influenced by social media. I never felt like I fitted in growing up and this led me to behave in a way that I thought would help me get by. Now I’m older, I try to follow my own instincts which I would suggest everyone should do.
Your career has spanned a variety of roles and projects. What do you look for when selecting scripts, and how do you navigate the balance between commercial cinema and indie projects? – I just love being a part of great stories and getting the opportunity to bring characters to life. When choosing a project, I focus on the meaning of the story and what narrative my character plays. I don’t really focus on the whether it’s commercial cinema or an indie project; if the stories great I wanted to be involved!
“How to Have Sex” not only addresses individual relationships but also provides a broader commentary on British youth culture, especially the wild party scenes in tourist destinations. How did you relate to this depiction of young Brits abroad? – Luckily I’ve never been on or had to experience one of those holidays. I have heard a lot about the experiences though – where I live a lot of young people go on these holidays and even some adults are still going on them. I based Badger’s party side on a local lad who is a bit full on when he’s had too many drinks but is genuinely harmless.
It’s very hard for young people, including myself, to navigate a path through life that’s organic and not influenced by social media.
The film subtly touches upon the weight of expectations, both self-imposed and from peers. In your acting career, how have you managed the weight of expectations, especially following your earlier successes? – Aspiring to be an actor is something I never thought about. Growing up, I wanted to be a horse farrier. So, I never really carried any weight of expectation at the beginning of my career. But as I’ve grown, my love for acting and storytelling has too, as has my gratitude for the opportunities I’ve been given. Now as a 26-year-old, I feel like my own expectations have risen and I hope that I am able to show the people who have given me a chance that investing in me was the right choice.
As an actor, you’ve had the opportunity to work on numerous projects. Looking back, how does “How to Have Sex” stand out in your portfolio, and what’s next for Shaun Thomas? – HOW TO HAVE SEX stands out massively in my portfolio. The importance, brilliance and beauty of the film and everyone involved makes this one stand-out. It’s a been a huge chapter in my career and my life, I loved playing Badger. Ooh ahh Maliaa.
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