Anthony Boyle Is Moving Forward by Looking Backward


Anthony Boyle was out of luck. He had been expelled from his Catholic boys school for “behavioral problems.” He had also been fired from his job at a nightclub after getting caught drinking while working.

And so Boyle, then 16, figured it was as good a time as any to chase the dream that had begun to take shape in his head. He typed a string of words into Google search: “Belfast male acting auditions.”

He eventually landed some unorthodox roles, including a part in a production of “Romeo and Juliet” that was staged on a massive chessboard and a stint in a ghost tour, in which he wore a black bag over his head and scared people by pretending to be the wrathful spirit of an 18th-century Irish revolutionary.

Though Boyle would later return to school, he didn’t stop acting.

“I never felt like there was another option,” he said in a recent video interview. “I never felt like there was like a backup plan that I could go and study medicine or go and do something else. It was always just acting.”

More than a decade later, Boyle has arrived at another turning point in his performing career. Despite finding success on the stage in London and New York, he had landed only minor roles onscreen before this year.

Now, the man who hated school suddenly seems to be the go-to actor for televised historical dramas. Boyle plays Major Harry Crosby, an airborne navigator battling seasickness and self-doubt, in the Apple TV+ series “Masters of the Air,” about the travails faced by America’s 100th Bomb Group in World War II and executive produced by Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman.

He also has a leading role in “Manhunt,” which premieres on Apple TV+ on Friday, as the actor John Wilkes Booth, who assassinates Abraham Lincoln and tries to evade capture.

For Boyle, 29, this momentum hasn’t come a moment too soon. He still looks young, with an impish grin, thick brown hair and a boyish face, but he has also grown more conscious of time slipping by. During a recent interview, someone had asked him how he felt about turning 30, which will happen in June.

“I was having a mild existential crisis in the middle of the interview,” he said, laughing.

Boyle comes from a working-class family in the Catholic, west side of Belfast. His mother was a receptionist, and his father worked in security. None of his relatives or anyone else he knew had ever gone into acting. Boyle grew up watching films like “Quadrophenia” and “This Is England” and imagining himself onscreen.

Traditional schooling never suited him, and he received a string of suspensions for impersonating his teachers. After getting expelled at 16, he was transferred with a group of other unruly boys to a large Catholic girls school that had just decided to accept boys.

During this time, he performed in small local theaters, including a role in a Simon Stephens play called “Herons.” A teacher from the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama saw him in that production and convinced him to enroll as a student.

Leaving Belfast to attend the posh college in Wales — a school where people ate foods he had never tried and performed in Shakespearean dramas — felt like entering a new culture, Boyle said.

“I remember calling my family and saying, ‘They’re offering me hummus,’ and my family screamed on the phone, ‘Don’t eat it! Don’t eat it!’” he said.

Attending the school allowed him to reach new heights in his acting. After two years there, he left to take the role of Scorpius Malfoy in the West End and Broadway productions of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” a performance that earned him an Olivier Award and a Tony nomination.

“My longest run before that was five days in a community center in East Belfast, and then it was the West End, so it was a real shift,” he said. “It was a baptism of fire.”

He later had minor roles in “Tolkien,” a 2019 film about the early life of the author J.R.R. Tolkien, and “Tetris,” a 2023 thriller from Apple TV+, before being cast in “Masters of the Air.”

Boyle gravitated to Crosby because of the airman’s diffidence and humanity. He was a conflicted character who vomited on his fellow crew members and accidentally led his plane astray into enemy-occupied France.

In 2021, to prepare for this role, Boyle and the rest of the cast, including Austin Butler, Barry Keoghan and Callum Turner, headed to boot camp.

“Most rehearsal processes, you’re sitting there with a director and cast and you’re leafing through a script and you’re drinking lattes and talking about childhood trauma,” he said. “This was like you got there, and there was a guy yelling at you and calling you by your character name and saying, ‘Drop and give me 20, maggot.’”

For three weeks, Boyle did push-up routines and other fitness exercises and learned how to study maps for navigation. Filming took place in replica B-17s that were suspended 50 feet in the air and surrounded by 360-degree screens.

After filming on “Masters of the Air” wrapped up, Boyle had about three months to grow a bushy mustache for his next role as a historical figure, the infamous John Wilkes Booth. Monica Beletsky, one of the producers of “Manhunt,” said Boyle was the right choice to play Booth because of his charisma and cheekiness, as well as his background.

“He has a classic training,” she said. “And I think that lends itself to being convincing in other time periods.”

To ready himself for the role, Boyle spend weeks with a group of cowboys, drinking whiskey, chewing tobacco and learning how to ride a horse. In “Manhunt,” he trades his Irish accent for an American one and renders Booth as a charismatic, narcissistic figure, steeped in rage and racism.

His string of historical dramas will continue with “Say Nothing,” a show FX is developing about the sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles; Boyle was cast as an Irish Republican Army officer. He also plays an investigator in the Disney+ series “Shardlake,” a whodunit about a murder in 16th-century England that will premiere later this year.

Boyle still doesn’t seem to know exactly why he keeps getting cast in historical roles. But he has a theory.

“I got a face that looks like it can’t comprehend the internet,” he said.

Leave a Comment