The Version Interview... Jack Rowan on Channel 4's Born to Kill

Born To Kill is a haunting four-part drama exploring the mind of Sam, a teenager on the verge of acting out suppressed psychopathic desires. As this chilling coming of age drama unfolds, decades of deceit are revealed and Sam’s family’s long buried past returns with a vengeance.

Starring Romola Garai (The Hour, Suffragette) and Daniel Mays (Made in Dagenham, Line of Duty, Rogue One: A Star Wars story,) as the single parents of two out-of-control teens, Born to Kill is the first commission for female writing duo Tracey Malone (Rillington Place) and first time TV writer and BIFA-nominated actress Kate Ashfield.

Sam, played by newcomer Jack Rowan, lives with his protective mum Jenny (Romola Garai), a geriatric nurse, and thinks his dad died in a car crash…

While working at the local hospital, Jenny meets the charming Bill (Daniel Mays). New to town with his moody teenage daughter Chrissy, played by rising star Lara Peake, Bill’s trying to reconnect with his elderly mother Margaret (Elizabeth Counsell, Song For Marion). Just as Jenny and Bill start to hit it off, their kids meet at school and also form an instant attraction. Sam feels like he’s finally met someone that he can relate to, but does she really share his desire… to kill?

At the same time, Jenny learns that her ex, Sam’s dad, a violent man named Peter (Richard Coyle, The Fall), is nearing his parole date. Jenny must now face telling her son that not only is his father alive, he’s also a convicted murderer.

As this menacing drama unfolds, Jenny, Sam and Peter’s long buried past comes back to haunt the fractured family. Will Jenny discover, despite her best efforts, that Sam and his dad are more alike than she could have ever imagined?

Jack Rowan tells us more.

You are the lead in Channel 4’s new drama, Born to Kill. Explain what it’s about, and who you play?

Born to Kill follows an emergent teenage psychopath, Sam, who I play. When we first meet him, he’s trying to suppress his desires, and you begin to discover the factors in his life that may have brought him to this point. From the outside, he’s a normal kid – he goes to school, he’s part of the diving team, he’s a good swimmer, the girls like him. But there’s a lot going on in his mind, and it’s essentially about to break. As the story goes on, he becomes increasingly cold and manipulative, while still being quite charming. He’s still capable of being quite normal, even relatable. At some points you might even feel sorry for him, in spite of the things he does in the story. I don’t necessarily just see him as a cold-blooded killer, because of the start he got in life, which you learn more about as the series continues.

I’d ask you what attracted you to a role, but it’s pretty obvious – this is an extraordinary part, isn’t it?

Oh man! When it first came through, I was with my best friend, and I knew I really wanted it. As the auditions went on and on, I wanted it more and more. Playing Sam was incredible – every day was different. One day I’d be playing a cheeky chappie, the next day I’d be vulnerable, then the next day I’d be this cold-blooded killer, then the next day I’d be diving in front of everybody. There were so many layers to that character, and from an actor’s point of view, I get to show what I can do. I’m still a baby in this game, so for me to get a chance to play a role like this, and to be the lead in a series, it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I hope I did the role justice.

What was it like, playing your first lead role? Did you feel a real sense of pressure?

I felt the pressure, of course. But the pressure fuelled me. As opposed to making me scared, it made me quite fearless. You don’t get a part like this by accident. I knew when they gave me the role that I’d done what they wanted. So now it meant I was free to have fun. And the director and the cast around me allowed me to do that as well.

What did you do, in the way of research?

I watched loads of films and documentaries, and read a whole lot of material – all stuff that the production team sent through to me. I also did some work by myself. But the research pack that production sent me was really useful. What I found, from watching these films, was that I wanted to play the character like each one that I saw. And then I realised that Sam was my character to create, and I could play him how I wanted, so I took little bits from all of the psychopaths that I watched, both real and fictional characters, and I put it in a little box, shook it up, and saw what came up with. That was Sam. What I would say about the research is that documentaries were the biggest help. Some of the documentaries blew me away. They really helped me understand the mind of a psychopath.

Was it important for you to find an element of humanity in Sam?

Not humanity, but while playing him, I always thought about the character, and how the audience would perceive him. I always tried to find moments where he was a bit more real, where he dropped the more obvious elements of psychopathy, to make him more relatable. He just can’t empathise or sympathise with how other people feel. He wants to know about emotions, he wants to find out what love is like, but he just can’t feel it. He’s just sitting there, breaking. But I always try to find moments when he’s relatable.


How would you describe his relationship with his mum? Is he going through the motions, or does he love her?

His mum’s been the only person there for him, for his whole life. Growing up without a father has taken a toll on him, and he’s come to glorify him. And then you begin to realise maybe his father wasn’t the great guy he wants him to be. There are moments in the story where he and his mum are normal, but as the story goes on, things happen, and their relationship turns very, very toxic. Their scenes are so intense and complex, and Sam is able to manipulate his mum and control her. They’ve always had a seemingly normal relationship, but I don’t think he’s ever said he loves her and meant it. I don’t think you could say “There’s a son who loves his mother,” but you could certainly ay “There’s a mother who loves her son.”

Did playing such a dark role take an emotional toll on you?

I’d be lying if I said it didn’t, but it never affected me in a huge way. Bear in mind I love acting, and the complex characters are the ones I love playing. But this character does horrible things. He lies all the time. He manipulates. He’s all fakeness, all day. And some of the things he does are quite intense and quite extreme. So at the end of the day, when we wrapped at 8 o’clock, I’d go back to the apartment I was staying in by myself, and then I’d be up at 6am. So some evenings I’d just find myself sitting on the sofa trying to snap myself out of it. And I just felt really down sometimes. But then I looked in the mirror and said “Man, look at what you’re doing!” It was only moments when I felt down, but it’s normal. But the minute I saw friends or family, boom, it was gone, and I was back to normal.

What would you say to the idea that this series takes a dark and upsetting subject, and turns it into entertainment?

Of course the content is dark, but we all love thrillers and horror movies and stuff that makes us feel a certain way. It’d be pretty boring if every film and series that got made was a romantic comedy. I think things like this are great. I love shows that are a bit different, sometimes a bit controversial. They make an impact. They make noise. It’s not taking the subject and making it entertainment in terms of it being enjoyable or glamorous. I think it takes the subject matter seriously, and it treats it honestly. You can make of that what you like.

How long have you been acting?

My first professional job was when I was 17, and I’ve just turned 20. Before that, what I really wanted to do was be a boxer. From the age of ten until I was 16 or 17, the thing I wanted to be most in this world was a world champion. I really, really wanted to be a boxer. But I always enjoyed acting at school, I enjoyed GCSE drama and A level drama. And then I remember the summer of 2014. I had a boxing fight, which I won, on the day that I got my first ever acting job. And that summer, I did that job, and another job came straight along afterwards, and I went back to boxing thinking “Man, I think I’ve found a new love.” So now I want to do this for the rest of my life. So my first professional job was when I was 17, but I’ve always been doing it. I never thought it would be my job one day.

Born To Kill starts on Channel 4 in April.