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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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Worried About The Boy – Douglas Booth plays Boy George

Douglas Booth as Boy George

When Douglas Booth found out he'd got the part of Boy George in BBC Two drama Worried About The Boy, his first emotion was "elation", even though the prospect of playing such a cultural icon was "scary".

Soon after being cast he got a message on Facebook from none other than George himself.

"The title was 'Well!', and then he just said: 'I hear you're going to be playing me, I'm certainly not complaining! Just want to wish you all the best, I can't wait to see it – just don't be camp... I'm not camp!'

"That was followed by more excitement on my part – then I realised I was in every scene so I'd got quite a few lines to learn and I was starting shooting two weeks later! So it was about cracking on and researching the part, and just getting on with it – I didn't really have too much time to think."

Being born after the Eighties, Douglas had little knowledge of George yet has always been intrigued by him. He explains: "I knew who Boy George was, obviously, because he's extremely famous, but I never really knew anything about him. I knew he was this very colourful character and I'd seen him on TV, on interviews, and I think I'd always had quite a bit of fascination with him – I don't know why, I just always thought he was very interesting."

With so much written about Boy George and so much of his life played out in public it was important for Douglas to have a focal point for his research, but he was wary of impersonating him.

"One of the first things I did was read the first section of a wonderful biography 'Take It Like A Man' and it brought me all the way up until where the script starts. I wanted to find out who George is as a person, what's made him the person he is up to the point when I start playing him.

"I looked at a lot of interviews of George – obviously they started a little later when he was already famous – but I just took on as much information as I could, I kind of processed it all, but then I put it to the back of my mind.

"I didn't want to obsess over trying to imitate George – I just wanted to get a very strong flavour of George and then let this person become real, bring my interpretation to him."

Worried About The Boy focuses on George's journey to becoming one of the most iconic and famous pop stars of the Eighties. In Tony Basgallop's 90-minute drama George is a sharp, witty young man with outrageous style, who is determined to be noticed, to be loved, and to become famous. Capturing all aspects of his character was something of a dream role for Douglas.

"I'm lucky because I get to play pretty much every aspect of George's character. It starts with him when he's at school, through to the forming of Culture Club, then early Culture Club – then it flashes forward to 1986 when he's 26, where he's suffering with a really bad heroin addiction, and his world is collapsing around him. I play his rise to fame as it were."

Central to George's life in the drama are his relationships. The key relationship explored is with Culture Club bandmate Jon Moss, which Douglas describes in the drama as "very passionate – it was beating each other up and then kissing and making up afterwards."

Another 'character' central to the drama is The Blitz Club, the London club run by Steve Strange (played by Marc Warren) which is widely considered to have spawned the New Romantic movement. Young people wearing outlandish home-made clothes and brightly-coloured make-up would queue expectantly to enter the club, and this was where George's road to stardom began. Douglas describes George in this era as "a sort of street celebrity before he became a pop star."

"There were about 260 kids who all started this movement, then all these magazines started up – i-D was created to document them – so George was in the papers and in magazines before he even had a pop career. Then Steve Strange got a hit with Visage and that spurred George on I think to have more ambition himself."

Boy George is renowned for his distinctive style and unique look, so Douglas spent a lot of time in wardrobe and in the make-up chair on set to get it right. His styling was lent authenticity with the hair and make-up designers – who had worked with George for years.

"We had an amazing make-up team and they got it down to a tee. My hair and make-up designer Donald [McInnes] has been friends with George for years, and Christine [Bateman], who was looking after most of my make-up, is George's make-up designer.

"Some days we'd have four or five major make-up changes, so I spent hours and hours a day in the chair. I'd never really worn make up before in my life, and then suddenly I'm having so much put on it just killed my skin, it dried it out. My skin's still recovering. It just got a battering!"

As well as authentic hair and make-up, Douglas also got to wear some vintage pieces of clothing – and he reveals that George was involved in creating some brand-new pieces for the drama, too.

"I got to wear so many of George's original clothes, which was fantastic, to actually be wearing what he was wearing.

"One of my favourites was a leather jacket that George used to wear when he was younger and you see it in loads of photos of the Blitz club. It's amazing, it's so heavy, you can hardly lift it – it's got loads of metal studs in, with loads of really cool designs. George made the whole thing himself – it's priceless. They had to lock it away pretty much in a safe when we weren't shooting with it.

"And then the things that weren't in existence any more or we couldn't get hold of, we had them specially made. George had the original prints for lots of them and actually did some of the printing that he used to do on them himself. So we were having George making clothes – he was really getting into it, and loving it!"

The drama begins and ends on the band's first Top Of The Pops performance in 1982. Whilst performing on stage in front of screaming fans has its appeal, Douglas describes the TOTP scenes as amongst the most stressful of the shoot.

"It was amazing – you look at rock bands and obviously as an actor you never really get that. So that was really exciting because I felt like I was on Top Of The Pops – it was incredible.

"But I think that was one of my most stressful days, not once I was doing it, but the lead up, the night before. In the script originally it only said the first four lines of the song were gonna be in there, but then the day before Matthew the producer said: 'Oh, you know I think we might just run the whole song tomorrow'. I was like: 'Cheers, Matt, for that'! Obviously, I wanted to get it right and George has got such a specific way of moving. I had to learn, consolidate, make sure I knew all the words for the song.

"But I think it turned out well, because Jon Moss was there that day, watching us do Top Of The Pops, which made it more nerve-wracking. I asked: 'Jon, is there anything you think we've done differently?', and he said: 'No, perfect,' which gave me a big boost."

Douglas fully immersed himself in the period during shooting to get into character, and found that the culture of the Eighties was rubbing off on him. As he explains: "On set we were all getting really into the Eighties music, we were all downloading it to our iPods.

"Donald, on make-up, which was where I spent most of my time, is into his Eighties music – that was his era – so that was playing constantly to get us into the mood. They'd ask me: 'What do you want to listen to while you're getting ready?' and I'd say: 'I'll listen to what George was listening to when he was getting ready to go out'.

"Since I've finished, actually, I've had to force myself not to listen to it – I have to wean myself off it!"

Towards the end of filming George visited the set, and Douglas, in his costume and make-up, got to meet the man he was playing, an experience he describes as "fantastic, although I was a little nervous."

Douglas continues: "He was absolutely charming, lovely. He said they'd got the looks so right, which was amazing to hear, because I'm sure if George didn't think it was right he would say!

"He was great because he said our story is an interpretation, as there are so many different accounts of what went on. He wasn't being all 'I didn't sit down when I said that,' or 'I didn't do that when I said that', he was really saying: 'That's your interpretation'. And so it felt really authentic, but also I didn't feel tied into chains – I felt I could bring my own life to it as well. I feel I captured George, but I'm sure there's a tiny bit of me in there as well."

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