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2:00 AM 18th June 2022
arts

The Railway Children Return To New George Clooney Movie – A Young Yorkshire Actor’s Star Is Rising

At the age of just 13, Austin Haynes has a seriously impressive body of work under his belt.

The Leeds youngster has worked with the likes of Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Christopher Eccleston and Sheridan Smith - and was recently directed by George Clooney in his forthcoming movie The Boys in the Boat.

Ahead of that, Austin has a lead role in The Railway Children Return, (released in UK cinemas 15 July), the highly-anticipated sequel to the beloved 1970 family film, Channel 4 coming-of-age drama The Birth of Daniel F Harris and one of Yorkshire’s favourite sitcoms, All Creatures Great and Small.

Since landing his first TV role, aged eight, in popular BBC1 drama The A Word, Austin has worked consistently in film and television. His TV work includes Gentleman Jack, Dodger, children's comedies Ted's Top Ten and Andy and the Band and crime film The Pure and the Damned. His films include comedy heist The Duke, with Jim Broadbent and Dame Helen Mirren, and the critically acclaimed Ali & Ava.

Despite his remarkable success, Austin is refreshingly grounded. There's a wise head on these 13-year-old shoulders. "Once it's done, it's done. There's no point going over it all. If you get a recall, go and smash it. If not, just move on," he says, of the audition process that is the arduous reality of an actor's life.

While many child actors could have their heads turned by the razzle dazzle of the red carpet, and starry-eyed dreams of fame, Austin is aiming for longevity and credibility in his career. With an eye on the future, his long term ambition is to become a well-established actor, with a desire later in life to combine acting with directing and cinematography. Asked who he'd like to work with, he says top of the list is Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins: "He worked on 1917, which is my favourite film. I love the way it rolls out, like it's all one long shot."

As well as Jenny Agutter, the cast is headed up by Sheridan Smith and Tom Courtenay. "They're all legends, so cool to be around.
For now, Austin has a busy summer promoting The Railway Children Return. Next month he will be at both the World Premiere taking place in Yorkshire and the London Gala Screening.

Austin plays Thomas Waterbury, the grandson of Jenny Agutter's character, in the family adventure about a group of children evacuated to the Yorkshire countryside in the Second World War. The charming production sees Jenny Agutter return as Bobbie, the role that catapulted her to fame in Lionel Jeffries' much-loved film, famously shot on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. More than 50 years later, the historic railway was a location for the sequel too, along with Haworth, Oakworth and Saltaire.

"Thomas is a proper Yorkshire lad," says Austin. "He's quite similar to me - he stays out of trouble, keeps himself to himself. When the new kids arrive, he shows them the Yorkshire way of life; takes them collecting eggs for breakfast and exploring the countryside. Thomas becomes more independent as it goes on, it's a big part and it was great to play him and develop his character."

As well as Jenny Agutter, the cast is headed up by Sheridan Smith and Tom Courtenay. "They're all legends, so cool to be around," says Austin. "Tom plays my uncle, I had brilliant nice scenes with him. Jenny told me lots about making the original film and her experiences as a young actor. Sheridan, who plays Thomas's mum, was fantastic - there are a few scenes where she had to cry and she just did it straight away. I learn a lot from watching actors like that at work."

Was he familiar with the original film? "We watch it at Christmas every year, so I knew the story. This takes it into the next generation and I’m hoping it will attract a new audience for the original film too," he says.

It is, he adds, a highlight of his career so far, along with Channel 5 hit All Creatures Great and Small, which is filmed in and around Grassington. "I was only on set for three or four days, but they made me feel part of the family," he says. "My character does a day's work experience at the vets' practice so I spent a lot of time with Samuel West, watching him at work as Siegfried, operating on a dog. I had to handle a rat too so I got to know it a bit before filming started. The animals are really well trained."

Much of Austin's work so far has been period drama - from pre-war and wartime Yorkshire to the mean streets of Victorian London in Dodger, the BBC's family drama spin on the Oliver Twist story, focussing on the antics of the Artful Dodger and Fagin's gang. "I like playing characters from another time," says Austin. "The sets are really fun to be around. There's so much detail in everything, you see the amount of work that goes into it all. For example, in All Creatures Great and Small they were very specific about the language - things like saying 'Yes' not 'Yeah', because people didn't speak like that back then.

He added: "I'd quite like to do something with special effects too. The effects in Stranger Things are so cool."

Adding to his list of talents, Austin is also keen to nail a range of accents: "I have accent coaching. So far I've done a Newcastle accent, cockney and American. I think RP (received pronunciation) is the hardest, because my own accent is very northern! When I was working on The Duke I sat with Jim Broadbent between takes and he was trying to perfect his Newcastle accent. He was so focussed on it. That really inspired me to work hard on accents."

Another actor who has inspired Austin from an early age, in terms of the depth and range of his roles, is Leonardo Dicaprio. "He was my age when he started out. Ever since I watched him in What's Eating Gilbert Grape I wanted to play a really demanding role like that," says Austin. "Leonardo brought something really sensitive to that film. I like how he challenges himself with his roles.

"So I couldn't wait to film The Birth of Daniel F Harris. Playing a boy who has been locked away by his father and doesn't know what the world is like was a challenge I really enjoyed." From the makers of cult hit young adult drama The End of the F**cking World, the new Channel 4 show, set to air later this year, is about Danny, who has been locked up in an isolated house ever since his mother died in a car accident when he was a baby. His father keeps him hidden so the 'monsters' outside can't snatch him away, and the show explores what happens when Danny finally leaves the house and encounters the outside world. Austin plays the role of Daniel F Harris as a teenager.

"He has no idea what the world is like - his whole world is this lonely house. I had to try and imagine what that would be like," says Austin. "I really like the roles that push my acting abilities. To me, that's what being an actor is all about. What I love about acting is getting into a new character and learning their background, and why they're the way they are. I like the process of sitting with the director and the cast, going through the scripts and asking questions."

He adds: "Leonardo Dicaprio takes the time to learn all about each character he plays. With The Wolf of Wall Street he played a real person and studied every detail about him so he could perfect the way he moved and talked."

Does he get chance to put his own stamp on characters he plays? "With The Railway Children Return, Morgan (director Morgan Matthews) created the space and the freedom for us to feel comfortable improvising around the lines, so it sounded more natural," says Austin.

There's a rather lovely improvised scene in Ali & Ava, Clio Barnard's contemporary love story set and shot in Bradford, when Austin and a gang of youngsters are larking about and rapping on Holme Wood estate, with the film's stars Adeel Akhtar and Claire Rushbrook. "Clio just said go for it - it was a lot of fun," smiles Austin.

"
the scenery and the history of the old buildings and streets" that attracts film-makers to Yorkshire, as well as the striking urban locations.
Improv aside, Austin embraces the process of learning scripts, which he says helps him to understand a character. Stacey Burrows, who runs Yorkshire-based theatre school Articulate, which both represents and trains Austin, says she's blown away by his ability to learn pages and pages of dialogue. "I split it into sections: I box off one bit and learn it, then the next," says Austin.

He's also building up an impressive portfolio of skills, with his hobbies including boxing, football, running and playing piano and electric guitar. He played guitar in a touching TV festive advert for Co-op in late 2020, in which he was a young busker singing Oasis anthem Round Are Way to shoppers, accompanied by his real life younger brother, Rocco. In a year hit hard by the pandemic, it was a particularly heart-warming little film. “We went to a recording studio to do the track. I felt like a rock star,” says Austin.

Having built a varied body of work and still barely into his teens, Austin is a rising Yorkshire star. But to his mates he's just one of the lads. One day he's sharing a laugh with Jim Broadbent between takes of a major movie, or setting off for London, Wales, Manchester or Belfast for filming, and the next he's enjoying a kickabout with his pals in the playground.

How does he juggle his acting work with school? "I think Covid helped in a way because I got used to having lessons online," he says. "I have a tutor when I'm on set and my teachers send me work online."

Austin Haynes fact box:
Age: 13
Lives: Leeds
Family: Brother (8), mum Gemma, dad Shaun
Worked with: Jim Broadbent, Sheridan Smith, Christopher Eccleston, George Clooney
TV work includes:Gentleman Jack, The A Word, Dodger, all Creatures Great And Small
Covid changed the audition process too. "It's mostly self tapes now, which I prefer because I feel more relaxed and I can take time to perfect my audition," says Austin. "I still get nervous at the start, but I just take deep breaths and get on with it."

Much of Austin’s work is in Yorkshire, and he's proud of that. With the region attracting so much high end production - Gentleman Jack, Peaky Blinders, The Queen and The Duke are among the TV dramas and films shot in the region in recent years - and support from Bradford's UNESCO City of Film team with locations and the logistics of filming, it's a golden time for a young actor growing up here.

Austin says it's "the scenery and the history of the old buildings and streets" that attracts film-makers to Yorkshire, as well as the striking urban locations. He's happy to continue filming here - "as well as aiming for big Hollywood roles."

With that mix of steely ambition, dedication and talent, he's aiming high. But he remains remarkably down-to-earth.

"Austin's very humble. At school he avoids talking about his acting work. He just wants to be a normal kid," says his mum, Gemma. "One day he's on set with a big star, the next he's at school and he copes with that really well.

"But he takes his work very seriously, and he makes so many sacrifices. When he gets a script he doesn't put it down; it comes before his social life. He has dedication and commitment in spades."

Being the parent of a rising star requires a great deal of commitment too, as Gemma knows only too well. "You have to be prepared to drop everything and take on a lot of travelling. We've been to Cardiff and back in a day, and for his role in Dodger we had an eight hour round trip to Aversham for him to have a fitting for some fake fangs. We were only in there 10 minutes!" she smiles.

"I'm so proud of him, but I think what I'm most proud of is how grounded he is. He doesn't let it all get to him - and he enjoys it. If he didn't, that would come through. He takes it seriously, but he loves it too."