Daniel Ings

A chat with the actor shortly after his appearance in The Gentlemen

Photography Pip
Styling Gareth Scourfield
Grooming Jody Taylor

At the start of The Gentlemen, the new Netflix series from Guy Ritchie, Daniel Ings’ character, Freddy, is told he will not, in fact, inherit his father’s estate and title – it’ll go to his younger brother, Theo James’ Eddie. Freddy’s frustration, along with the fallout from it, sets the series in motion – the logic hinges on his entirely contemptible, infuriating actions being redeemed by a strange, pathetic charm, and it falls to Ings to render both. On a zoom call from LA, he tells me he feels drawn to that task, and you can see it in a few of his roles – perhaps most iconically as Luke in Lovesick – a serial womaniser made lovable enough to be good company. The Gentlemen seems to be part of an ongoing complication of that reputation, where Ings manages to use that skill to carry a much darker set of actions.


What are you up to in LA?

Daniel Ings: There’s a screening for The Gentlemen on Wednesday. So I’m out here for that and then having a couple of kind of meetings – all of that sort of LA stuff, but yeah, it’s fun and shiny and ridiculous.

How did you end up doing it?

Yeah, I know Dan Hubbard, the casting director well, and he’s someone who’s kind of, I guess, kind of championed me for whatever insane reason. It was one of those things where I read the script and felt like I knew what to do with the character. There was something in the cadence of the way he was written – I think sometimes I’m drawn to those characters who could conceivably be complete, unrelenting assholes andfinding that stuff within them where there’s a boyishness or a sort of playfulness. I was talking to someone about it the other day; for the show to work, you have to like my character enough that it makes sense that Theo’s character would want to protect me.

I do get the sense that you play people who kind of improbably end up quite lovable, even though in theory they wouldn’t be.

Yeah. I definitely enjoy that and I’m kind of aware that there’s a pattern there and I’ve tried to break that up at points… I think part of it is just chance. One of the things I just did before this was a few episodes of The Winter King, which is a big, like, swords-and-sandals King Arthur story. Similarly, the character in that that I play; the conclusion to that character’s storyline, in my head, meant we had to like him. We had to feel warm to him for the payoff of him turning bad.

I guess I do enjoy that challenge, but, you know, there have been some parts where I’ve wanted to shed any sense of likeability. But I suppose there’s always something redeeming there, because even when you’re playing the worst of the worst, very often the worst people out there in the world have bags of charm! There’s a reason why they can function and continue to operate, you know.

Yeah, I feel like Freddie is a slightly darker version of that.

How did you first decide that you wanted to do this? To act and perform – you’ve been doing it for ages.

Yeah, I guess I have. It was something that I was pretty clear on, that I wanted to do from quite an obnoxiously young age, probably nine or 10. I was one of those kids that would watch like three movies a day. Easily, you know, I would do Home Alone one and two back to back, and then go right back to the beginning and do it again.

My dad would take me down to the video shop, Apollo Video, you’d be able to get your top title that was out at the moment, your Gladiator or whatever it was, and then for £1.50 you could get, like, something from the back, you know what I mean? My parents were pretty cool about… they probably won’t want me to say this. Like Age 10, Goodfellas was my favorite movie.

These days with kids and everything, I don’t get to watch as much, but really, that was my happy place. Just disappeared into the world of movies. I suppose school plays became a way of living that out, cosplaying the stuff I liked about the movies I was watching. I’m a movie nerd, ultimately, and got really obsessive about, particularly American films, early Pacino and De Niro and Brando and all that kind of good stuff that teenage boys love, you know, diving in.

So finally arriving in the gangster world is satisfying that in an interesting way.

Yeah, fully, 100 per cent. Except I’ve massively undercut myself by playing the one character in the gangster world who’s completely ill-equipped to deal with any of it. Probably the least gangster character in the show. But you know, there’s fun in that. I guess he’s the Fredo – who doesn’t love a Fredo.

We moved around a lot – my parents both separately moved around quite a bit – and felt like performing, albeit in like school plays, was a kind of catharsis. And to tie it back to The Gentlemen, there are certain characters, like this one, where I definitely find catharsis in just losing it in a role. There’s scenes in this where we were able to just improvise like spiralling, madness.

I was going to ask if some were improvised, because sometimes things suddenly go quite chaotic.

I think Guy kind of does create – his sets aren’t chaotic, in the sense that like he shoots quick. He knows what he’s doing and there are points where he hands almost complete control over to you. You’ve obviously you’ve got your script, but you can kind of go anywhere with it and he’ll just start working with that. There are other points where he’s much more specific, particularly where it’s dialogue-led. Those passages where somebody has a speech or is speaking in that kind of very rhythmical Guy Ritchie pattern. He can be quite dead on about the way that you deliver it.

The chicken suit sequence, I guess, was a silly moment where my character was shamed – and he rightly flagged that it had to be darker than that to justify what happens next, and kicks off the main problem for Theo’s character, Eddie.

Peter Serafinowicz has quite a big speech in it – he got that five minutes before we shot it.

Oh wow. It was really unsettling, to find him scary.

Oh man. Yeah, I thought he was terrifying in it, and so good. I kind of like fangirled out on him a little bit.

If you weren’t acting, what would you be doing?

I mean, I have no transferable skills whatsoever. I write a little bit, which I enjoy, but I feel like if you write, but no one’s ever like made or seen or read a thing, then you’re not really a writer. It’s just like a thing that I enjoy doing.

I did think I was going to be a drummer for a minute there. I was a pretty good drummer when I was about 18. They’re quite different things – the, the actor type and the musician type. And I was really wrestling with it. Like, which one shall I be?

Really in a very shallow way, coming at it from like, which identity I wanted to impose on myself.

At 18, you can’t really pick anything else. You’re just like, what do I think would be cool to be?

Yeah. Who are the kinds of people I want people to think that I’m like. Massively overthink the whole thing. I circled back to acting as I was probably never really gonna do anything else.

If I was banned from acting, which I probably should be at some point, then if I could still work within, uh, with, within telly and filmmaking, I would quite like to direct and write and produce.

So which bit of your interests would you write for? You’ve set out the the gritty gangster underworld stuff. Then there’s the comedy stuff.

I have kind of written as both, I suppose. I feel like I laugh a lot during the day, you know what I mean? I rely on trying to make people laugh, and wanting to be made to laugh and I don’t know anyone where that’s not the case. So almost everything I write ends up having some stupid humour in it. I have written stuff, which is purely stupid humour, which I love, and no one will ever make, but I enjoy doing it.

I definitely used to write much more like, Hey, maybe I’ll write something that will make me a star when I was a lot younger. When I got rid of that, that sort of ego and that sense of it being to do anything to do with my acting, I just started to enjoy it much more.

I guess the thing with acting is that you are so heavily reliant on someone 10 years ago having an idea, and then eventually writing a script and then showing someone. The number of events that have to line up before you even get sent the script… The thing I like about writing, I think, is that, is that sort of plug and play sense. You can just pick a world and then disappear into it and just hang out with these characters that you’ve made up. Whether or not it ever gets made, I’m not too worried about.

Acting wise, are there people you wish you were working with or you want to work with, or a direction you want to go in that you haven’t before?

I’ve been lucky in the last couple of years to start playing different types of roles, as I’m getting older and, greyer and, you know, more haggard.

Like, I had a role in The Gold, which felt quite different to me, The Winter King… to a degree, you know, the character in, in The Gentlemen is, is a bit more of a fuck up and a wild card. I’m enjoying, sort of, getting weird with it and I just want to continue getting weird.

I feel like there’s a resurgence in weird indie cinema, you know what I mean? Fun and weird and everyone just throws everything at it. A thing that sprung to mind there – did you see that movie Good Time?

Is that Safdie Brothers? I haven’t seen it, but I’ve seen Uncut Gems.

They are that same feeling of slightly wanting to be sick with panic, but you can’t look away. I found Uncut Gems was a slightly tougher watch.Good Time is stressful, but took a fun playfulness to it as well. In terms of an acting exercise, Rob Pattinson is just amazing in it. One of those performances, I’m like, I don’t think I could do that. I don’t know where he pulled all of those strands from. Being such a big name actor, taking such a big swing – it’s amazing what he does in that.

I think films are interesting because you go, you spend six weeks or three months on something and you put it out. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. It’s a kind of democracy or meritocracy story.

I suppose it’s more rewarding to do well if you’ve done something less predictable, or by the book.

Yeah, I think so. I’m always trying to chuck ideas in, and I suppose the longer I’ve been in the business, I’ve earned more trust with, with directors or producers or actors, to be able to throw ideas in and be part of the creative discussion more broadly. I think when I started doing the writing, I realised how much as an actor, sometimes you have to just understand what your function is within a project. You can’t always come in and be like: “Hey, I’ve got these amazing ideas. I was thinking I’d come in on horseback and then I’d kick that guy and then we kick off the scene.”

In terms of experiences on set, I’ve been really lucky. Just the last few years, some work with some great directors, Otto Bathurst and my buddy, Aniel Karia on The Gold, really creative people working in TV.

I suppose the role that was closest to me being able to do whatever I wanted was Lovesick, really. We got to the point where I could see that they were writing stuff for us that they knew we would enjoy doing and knew we would enjoy delivering.

Is there anyone you look at and you think, I wouldn’t mind if the arc of my career was that person’s?

For me, it’s the character actors, I think. The names that sort of spring to mind are your kind of Bill Nighy and Toby Joneses. Those guys have such a breadth of what they can do. I’m sure Bill Nighy’s been on stage in the last 10 years at some point, and I’m sure Toby Jones has as well. But they can dip into big movie roles; I don’t feel like they’re confined by heading up a huge franchise, which comes with lots of benefits, but obviously then you’re a sort of ambassador for those projects and even those companies.

I think the, the freedom of being able to do huge films, tiny films, huge, huge roles, tiny roles – Bill Nighy, I feel like if you racked up the last 10 roles that he’s done, you might see crossover, but it’s not like he’s doing a thing. Those kinds of actors, I think, are probably the ones that I look up to.

You mentioned the stage – would you want to go back and do more stage stuff? You used to do quite a bit, didn’t you?

I did when I first started. I feel like stage is kind of what I do, like that’s the thing that I do best. I came right out of drama school, I did a few huge plays with huge directors and I was a small part of it. It was quite a weird experience in that way. I never quite had that foundation of doing, you know, plays above a pub or in a black box theater. I think that’s much more where I imagined I would start out and earn my stripes.

I would love to, but there’s such like craft to it. It’s probably 10 years now since I’ve done a play – I would love to do it, but I wouldn’t want to be so bold as to say I’d be able to just stride in after 10 years, and wouldn’t be rusty.

I would like to find out. A sort of knotty, two or three hander would be fun, I think.

I guess I’m just enjoying where I’m at at this point in my career, that feels like I’ve built some confidence with discipline, of working on a set, and the long days and the multiple takes, and figuring out camera technique and all of that stuff where you can kind of be hamstrung early doors, particularly if you’re like me, I only knew how to do stage acting.

I’m enjoying being at a point where I do find it fun. Trying not to overthink things too much and just follow the characters and the stories that I feel like I can bring something to. Again, that thing of trying to become an amateur writer, sometimes I’ll get sent a script and think if I was making this, I wouldn’t cast me in it. I’m enjoying casting myself in roles and thinking they should hire me for this, and then looking at others and going they should get a much better actor for this.