Not many actors can say their breakthrough role was a zombie. But Luke Newberry has BBC3’s post-apocalypse drama In the Flesh – and his own outstanding performance – to thank for kickstarting a now burgeoning career.
Dominic Mitchell’s axed Bafta winner was a different kind of zombie drama, putting the survivors of PDS (Partially Deceased Syndrome) at the centre of a story that was as much about prejudice and the difficulties of finding your place in the world as it was about the supernatural. Since then, Newberry has (without particularly noticing it himself, he points out) taken on a series of characters who find themselves in situations where they don’t really fit in.
He faces another awkward homecoming in British indie movie Slapper and Me (due out later this year), about a young man returning from a public school scholarship to his working-class home in 1970s Leeds, where an abandoned dog becomes his best friend (Newberry describes it as “boy meets dog, wins girl, hopes to get into university”).
And in BBC crime drama From Darkness, alongside Anne-Marie Duff, he will play a graduate detective who is thrust in amongst a generation of coppers who still do things the old way.
“[My character DS Boyce] is a junior detective. He’s been on a fast track programme from Oxford and he is really very good at his job but sort of out of place in the Manchester Met, in that atmosphere,” says Newberry. “He’s quite confident, but he’s kind of a black sheep. He’s not your typical guy in the police.”
From Darkness is a move into the mainstream for Newberry, and could mark a watershed for his career, but right now – partly due to In the Flesh and the fervent fandom that has come with it (Luke’s fans are called Newberries) and partly due to his own endearing love of certain fantasy franchises – it is hard not to associate him with the section of TV and film you might broadly label “cult”.
Newberry is a self-confessed Harry Potter obsessive and narrowly missed out on an appearance in the final film. He actually shot scenes as Teddy Lupin – Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks’ son – for the epilogue to Deathly Hallows Part 2 but they didn’t make the cut.
“That was the most exciting week of my life and to get the chance to play Teddy Lupin was just amazing,” says Newberry. “[It was] gutting [having my scenes cut]! It was my dream! But I was technically there, on set.”
It’s just possible that those missed few minutes could end up being a trade-off for several hours of screen time in Potterworld – Newberry is among those rumoured to be in line to play Newt Scamander in the movie trilogy based on JK Rowling’s spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
The Newberries want it – they even started a social media campaign, #LukeforNewt – and Newberry himself is keen, telling RadioTimes.com “It would be incredible just to be considered for that role. It’s a world that I’m familiar with and love – I love Harry Potter – so yes I’m very grateful to my fans for thinking of me.” But when pressed on whether any formal approaches have been made he remains predictably tight-lipped.
What other cult characters might he be interested in playing? As a RadioTimes.com employee it is my duty to ask about Doctor Who, but before I can suggest a guest role, or perhaps a turn as a companion, Newberry jumps in “I’d love to play the Doctor!”
He explains that it’s not the first time it’s been suggested, not least because of an apparent resemblance to a former Time Lord. “People always used to think that I looked like David Tennant so when I went out they would always shout ‘It’s the Doctor!’ at me. Which is very bizarre – but flattering!”
He is joking, probably, when he says that he’d also like to be involved in the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, admitting “I just want to meet Dakota Johnson [who plays Anastasia Steele], I think she’s brilliant”. And, as you’d expect at this stage in his career, is “taking it as it comes and trying to make interesting choices and vary it.”
“It’s about pushing my limits and working out how far I can go… I think I’d be a fool to play another zombie just now…”
From Darkness is coming to BBC1 later this year