LBF Book Club: 5 Minute Interview with Sebastian de Souza

LBF Book Club: 5 Minute Interview with Sebastian de Souza
Author Photo Credit: Finn Constantine

Sebastian de Souza is an actor, producer, screenwriter and musician. Sebastian can currently be seen on Channel 4, playing the leading role of Leo in the Hulu Original series The Great, opposite Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult, written by Oscar-nominated and BAFTA award-winning writer Tony MacNamara (The Favourite). Previous roles include Gareth in the BBC/Hulu adaptation of Sally Rooney’s best-selling novel Normal People directed by Oscar-nominated Lenny Abrahamson (Room); in Netflix’s Medici, playing the iconic painter Sandro Botticelli; Alfonso d’Aragona in Showtime’s Emmy award-winning The Borgias, opposite Jeremy Irons and Holliday Grainger; and in the multiple BAFTA award-winning Skins, as lead Matty Levan. Sebastian has also played the lead role of Rafa in Paramount Pictures’ Brit-Crime thriller Plastic, opposite Will Poulter and Alfie Allen, and can currently be seen on Netflix playing Edmund in Ophelia opposite Naomi Watts, Daisy Ridley and Clive Owen.

We’ve just finished reading Kid: A History of the Future. What inspired you to write this novel? Where do you go, or what do you do to find inspiration for your writing? 

There are probably two answers to this question. In the very first place, as a predominantly out of work actor, I probably began thinking about writing a dystopian fantasy trilogy so that someone might be kind enough to turn it into a film one day and then I could play the main part. But now, five years on, I’m far too old and, to be honest, I would never have been cool enough to play Kid. Second (and much more importantly), five or six years ago, I was walking through Soho on a busy summer’s day, and people kept bumping into me. At first, I thought it was because they couldn’t see me, being the very small man that I am, but then I realised that it was actually because we were all walking down the street and, instead of looking up and out at this beautiful city, we were all on our phones, living in our palms. Then I began to think about the devastating effect that climate change was (already) having on our ability to go out and be outside in the real world. And, after combining the two thought processes, I came to the conclusion that we were all going to be forced to end up living in a virtual reality, safe from the (self-inflicted) horrors and hardships of the real world we will have, by then, destroyed.

Who or what inspired your lead characters, Kid and Izzy? Did a real person inspire any of the other characters? 

As I say above, I always sort of based the character of Kid on myself, but over the years of writing the book and working with my brilliant editor and collaborator, John Garth, Josh ‘Kid’ Jones has very much become his own person, with his own soul and his own journey and his own likes and dislikes, all of which are quite unique to him. As for Izzy, I’m afraid the answer is I don’t know anyone like Izzy. Not just because she’s a lot younger than I am, but also because she has a courage and a wisdom that I think is pretty original and unusual, alien almost. Izzy is also my girlfriend’s name, which is the most heavenly coincidence, but I would be lying if I said that we were together when the character in the book was born.

Having created a whole new world, where do you plan on taking us next? How many books do you have planned to continue the Offliner story? 

Well, that would be telling. There will be at least three ‘Kid’ books. Beyond that, right from the very beginning, I have always wanted the Offliner Universe to go far beyond the original narrative of Kid, Pascale, Eliza and the rest of the Piccadilly Offliners. Indeed, my greatest hope is that readers of the original stories will begin telling their own stories based on characters either pre-existing in the universe or ones that are new and of their own invention. This is activist storytelling, and it should belong to everyone.

This book has a naturally captivating pace; could you tell us a little about your writing process? How did you plot your time-travelling storyline? 

That’s enormously kind of you, thank you! Well, first of all, I find writing so tricky and painful and torturous that I try and write as quickly as possible and with as much rhythm as possible, sort of like the beatnik writers used to do: perhaps that comes out a bit when you read it. As for the plot, it would be wrong to take all the credit for that. After throwing a billion different story ideas, twists, turns and threads at the page whilst writing the first draft, John Garth takes my bowl of literary scrambled eggs and turns it into a three-course meal.

In addition to being an author, you’re also an actor, producer, screenwriter and musician. Are you currently writing anything else, another different novel, or something for the screen? 

D’you know, and it feels completely and mad and not just a little bit ridiculous to say this, but for the first time in my life, I am working on something that I am not allowed to talk about! Sorry, I think that’s probably just about the lamest thing I’ve ever said.

Given that this is your first novel, how did you find publishing a book during a lockdown? 

Inevitably, publishing a book during a global pandemic that has caused all the world’s bookshops to close wasn’t easy. Still, Hugo Alexander and the entire team at Offliner Press are so innovative and brilliant and hard-working that it has actually been a joy. And, where before we might have done things one way (probably the old fashioned way), we’ve been forced to invent new ways of connecting with readers, like serialising the book as a weekly podcast or creating an online platform with lots and lots of ancillary and supporting illustrations, stories and lots more!

Are you reading any books at the moment, and what authors do you like to read? 

At the moment, I’m re-reading all the adventure stories that were read to me as a child! Currently, I’m reading Treasure Island. It’s so much fun! But I love reading anything and everything I can!

And just for fun, what would be the title of your autobiography? 

How does Decline and Fall, tales of a Hollywood hack sound?  

Has a book ever changed your life? 

I know this sounds so stupid and self-centred, but whilst lots of books have influenced me and changed my life over the decades, the one that stands out is this one. Not because I read it and think, “wow, this is amazing” (in fact, when reading through it now, all I notice are its billions of inadequacies), yet it has also been the most fulfilling experience of my life to meet Kid and discover the Offliners; to connect the past and the future with the help of wonderful, wise Isabel Parry; and to assemble the Scav Squad as they begin the fight against Gnosys. It has challenged and stimulated me in a way that nothing else ever has before. I have learnt a little bit about how stories are told and how books are written, and about the process of publishing them. And I have developed a prodigious desire to learn even more.

Thinking about the Offliners and the universe they belong to has led me to new and previously undiscovered places in my own world and in my own head. Threading the tale together has introduced me to hundreds of new people, both on the page and off. Many of them have become my friends, and I hope some of them will want to remain in my life – and have me in theirs – forever.

Without these people and all the people who were there before I began, there would be no book.

And finally, what was your favourite book when you were a child?  

Alice in Wonderland.

Thank you, Sebastian de Souza, for taking part in our LBF Book Club. We’ve loved interviewing you and getting to know more about you and your new book. Kid: A History of the Future is out now. 

Want a head start? Check out this exclusive extract from Kid: A History of the Future by Sebastian de Souza. 

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