If you’ve seen the trailer for director Autumn de Wilde’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel Emma, then you’ve definitely seen Johnny Flynn. The 36-year-old rising star plays George Knightley in the film—you know, Emma’s (Anya Taylor-Joy) longtime confidante and our favorite feminist male character to come out of Georgian-era England. He’s tall, he’s blonde and he’s incredibly entertaining to watch in the new film. PureWow sat down with Flynn to learn more about his career, his experience shooting Emma and what’s next for him.
1. Yes, He’s Actually British
Just like his character Knightley, Flynn is British—but he was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. He moved to the United Kingdom at the age of 2.
2. He Comes from a Long Line of Actors
Flynn’s father is British actor and singer Eric Flynn (Doctor Who). His two elder brothers, Jerome (Game of Thrones) and Daniel Flynn (War and Peace), and younger sister, Lillie (Dark Souls III), are also actors, so the thesbian gene obviously runs in the family.
“My brothers are 20 years older than me, so when I was growing up there were a lot of role models [acting],” Flynn explained. “I spent a lot of time backstage in theaters and being carried on people’s backs during dress rehearsals…That was where I subconsciously felt more at home.”
3. His First Role Was a Surprising One
Flynn started out in the theater world, where he played some rather unexpected roles. Laughing, Flynn told us that he was often cast as females and played a lot of women early on (which is quite a common occurrence in Shakespearean productions). “It was a rare opportunity to do that,” he noted, adding that some of his first professional roles included Viola in a production of The Twelfth Night and Lady Anne in Richard III.
Since then, he’s starred in Lovesick (aka Scrotal Recall), played a young Albert Einstein in Genius and starred as William Dobbin in Amazon’s Vanity Fair adaptation.
4. He’s Also a Musician
Flynn attended an all-boys school to study music from a young age. “There was always music around,” he said. “[The music and the acting], in the performative and story-telling senses, were just very interlocked from an early age. My dad played music and my mum is a great musician, as well. She played in a folk band in the ’70s and played guitar…Growing up with that affected me, but it wasn’t until I started studying literature at school that I knew I wanted to be an actor.”
5. He Has a Deep Connection to ‘Emma’
“The book meant something to me before the film came along because of an English teacher that I had, who became a real mentor and was the person who introduced me to Shakespeare,” Flynn recalled. “He taught us Emma…His passion for the book and the character, Emma, in particular was really infectious.”
He went on to explain his affinity for Knightley: “I always loved [him] because he’s an ideal man as drawn by a woman 200 years ago and in that way is potentially a lesson to men about how to behave and how to engage with women without robbing them of their autonomy.”
Flynn called upon a particular scene in which Knightley tells Emma that he’ll come live with her and her father if she prefers that. “It’s so simple, but so profound and uncommon at that time,” he shared. “I think that is a subtle political statement on Jane Austen’s behalf about women not sacrificing themselves to their husbands.”
6. He Got Completely Nude on Camera for the Film
The first time we see Flynn in the film, he strips down to change his clothes with the help of his valet. He opened up about the experience, saying, “I felt very safe and respected by everybody and I was kind of the only guy on set…Autumn [de Wilde, director] had talked to me about this moment as indulging the female gaze, albeit in a very gentle way, and balancing a sense of equality in terms of how bodies have been objectified on screen in the past.”
He added that it’s “always just a bit weird,” but “I’ve gotten naked on stage a bunch of times so I’m not squeamish in that way. I felt a lot of support in that moment so I was happy to play along.”
7. He Has the Nicest Things to Say About His Co-Star, Anya Taylor-Joy
Flynn’s appreciation for the movie definitely extends to his co-star, Anya Taylor-Joy. “Our friendship grew from the moment we met…Immediately, I could feel her flair and dynamism,” he told PureWow.
Flynn went on to sing her praises: “There are few people I’ve worked with who I admire more in terms of their technical ability. She’s just so smart and so good and so young, so I’m excited to see what she’s going to do. She’s obviously hugely experienced already, but she’s a lovely, lovely person. An open soul and generous and kind and just such a f***ing good actor.” Amen.
8. He Has Some Exciting Projects in the Works
Following Emma, Flynn will star as David Bowie in the upcoming Stardust biopic. He also is set to play Dickie Greenleaf in the exciting new TV adaptation of Ripley.
Suffice it to say, this isn’t the last we’ll be seeing of him.