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Jack Lowden on BBC thriller The Gold: 'It was sort of ridiculous, but also dangerous'

Jack Lowden stars as Brink's-Mat criminal Kenneth Noye in The Gold. But when it comes to playing real, flawed people, he's not sitting on the fence.

Jack Lowden

Image: Claude Medale/Corbis via Getty Images

On November 26, 1983, six gun-wielding men burst into a security depot near Heathrow airport expecting to steal cash from the vaults. Instead, they found gold bars worth £26 million (equivalent to more than £112m today). The Brink’s-Mat robbery, as it became known, was the biggest heist the world had seen. Its consequences rippled far beyond the South London crime world. The proceeds fuelled the birth of large-scale international money laundering and funded the regeneration of the London Docklands. If you’ve bought gold in Britain since 1984, you probably own some Brink’s-Mat bullion. This wild true crime story is now the subject of new BBC drama The Gold, written by Neil Forsyth (Eric, Ernie & Me) and starring Hugh Bonneville, Dominic Cooper and Jack Lowden – fresh from his star-making turn in Apple TV’s Slow Horses. “It’s really a look into something that was sort of ridiculous… but also dangerous,” says Lowden. “A lot of people were affected – and are still affected – by it.”

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Kenneth Noye, Lowden’s character in the show, was not one of the robbers, but rather a ‘fence’ – the man tasked with taking the gold and selling it on, without alerting the authorities. Lowden plays him as a charming man, but with real anger at his core. He may not start off with a gun in his hand, but Noye has a searing determination to get what he sees as his due. In 1985, the real Noye fatally stabbed an undercover officer to death (but was cleared of murder). In 1996, he murdered a man in a road rage incident and was sentenced to a minimum of 16 years in prison. 

Ahead of The Gold hitting our screens, Jack Lowden joined The Big Issue to talk about how you bring a morally compromised character to life, and whether he feels a sense of rivalry with his girlfriend, Oscar-nominated actor Saoirse Ronan.

The Big Issue: What drew you to this story?

Jack Lowden: I didn’t know about the Brink’s-Mat robbery. The thing that drew me in was the scripts. The idea that Neil [Forsyth] was going to tell this story was kind of funny, this Dundonian telling a story about south London property. And the characters in it were just so delicious.

The Big Issue: Kenneth Noye’s a real man, who’s done some really awful things. How did you get in his skin?

Jack Lowden: I’ve played a lot of real people. This was the first one that had an effect on people’s lives, some in a hugely negative way. I was careful to treat it with care and distance myself from the real guy. I was very, very strict on myself that I was basing everything on the script. The job of making something like this is first and foremost, I believe, entertainment. And then the second one is to make you think. None of these characters are one-note. They’ve all got motivations that ask you, as an audience, to see if you agree with them or not. Is there a Robin Hood element to what they did? Or are they just criminals? 

The people that ended up getting involved were not just blue-collar criminals, it was white-collar crime too. These two worlds really collided. Across the board, they were all slightly out of their depth. The guys that stole the gold didn’t expect there to be three tonnes. The guy I play, who ended up fencing it and smelting it down, didn’t know how to launder money on that scale. And then the guys they got involved with – big lawyers, white-collar people – they didn’t know how to deal with criminals.

Jack Lowden and Frankie Wilson in The Gold
Lowden as Kenneth Noye with Frankie Wilson as Brian Robinson in The Gold. Image: Tannadice Pictures, Sally Mais

You’re now filming for Slow Horses series four, alongside Gary Oldman. Are you still enjoying it?

It’s the best. It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything recurrent. It is a great chance to really work your muscles a bit more. And the people that are involved, they’re all fantastic. 

Noye seems like the kind of character Oldman might have played when he was a bit younger. Did you soak up lessons from him while filming Slow Horses?

Oh yeah. When you’re working with someone like him you slip between: you’re working with a fellow actor and it’s wonderful. And then you suddenly remember one of his performances and you just want to ask him, how did you do that? Or you suddenly remember, he worked with Francis Ford Coppola! It’s lovely to go to work as a fan. It’s a job that I’m eternally grateful for.

Both Noye in The Gold and River Cartwright, your character in Slow Horses, are driven by rage. What makes you angry in real life?

In real life, I wouldn’t say I’m angry but what I suffer from is severe impatience. One of my pet peeves is people who don’t have spatial awareness. I was quite a shy kid, so I grew up very aware of everything I did in the world. I was careful never to be loud, careful to never bump into anyone. Talking loudly on a phone, in a train… that should be policed. That is probably about as angry as I can get. I just don’t know how you can operate where you think you’re the only person in the world.

Your girlfriend of five years is the Oscar-nominated actor Saoirse Ronan. It’s such a cutthroat industry – are you at all competitive with each other?

No! Because I’d lose. There is just zero competition, because there is no competition.

[A fluffy dog starts snuffling around behind Lowden, looking for attention.]

Have we got a visitor encouraging you to wind things up? 

That’s Stella. She’s our dog, she’s about two and a half now. We got her as a pup and she’s great fun. She comes everywhere. She’s been on the Slow Horses set quite a lot. But she gets bored very quickly. She’s very demanding.

The Gold, starring Jack Lowden, will air on BBC One and iPlayer at 9pm on February 12, with all episodes available as a boxset on iPlayer from launch.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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