Laurence Fox: ‘Twitter is quite sad, actually. There is a lot of nastiness’

Controversial actor Laurence Fox revisits happier times with his Letter To My Younger Self

I was a pretty angsty teenager. I was extremely gangly, very late into puberty. I had absolutely no ambitions at all, except for earning a bit of money. And going to the pub on Friday. I wanted to be really popular but I wasn’t, not as much as I wanted to be. I tried too hard to be cool. I didn’t like being at boarding school very much, I was a bit of a mummy’s boy. I just wanted to be at home. I had lots of homesickness. And I wasn’t very good at obeying rules. I’ve always been a bit confrontational, though obviously not the massive shit magnet that I am today. It comes from being third in the family. Third out of five. The biscuits have run out by the time it’s your turn. So I was always looking for attention.

My relationship with my mum was the same as it is now, though I sit on her lap less often. She was loving and straight talking, an extremely authentic woman. Someone who insists on people being able to express themselves. She was a nurse, so you couldn’t get anything by her, you know, you never got off school unless it was serious. I think I’ve got a lot of her in me but she’s not a huge fan of actors. She thinks they’re all a bit self-involved. I would agree with that.

There are lots of parts of me that are still like my teenage self. I think you remain a child a lot of your life. You just have a lot more to deal with. But I also remind myself so much of my dad when I’m with my kids, the way I behave. He was a loving father but you know that tone that you put on with your children if they’re not doing what you say – I’ve realised I sound exactly like my dad. I don’t mind that though; my parents are awesome so if I turn out like them that would be an excellent life for me. I’m not as good as them. If I was half as good as them, that would be an excellent life for me.

I remember going from only wanting to be around my mates to suddenly falling in love. The frst time I fell in love was when I was seven and it’s probably still one of the big moments in my life. I actually saw her the other day. I don’t fancy her now, not at all, but the love I felt when we were seven was very, very strong. But I was terrible with girls. I had absolute dread and fear. I didn’t want to make the first move, I wasn’t particularly comfortable in my skin. And like every man I was really batting out of my league.

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I think the first impression I gave then was probably very like it is now. I was like ‘yeah, everything’s fine’ but deep down I was insecure and worried like most kids of that age. I’m much calmer than I was. I became a bully once. I had been bullied myself and it’s no fun being bullied so you allow yourself to become a bully. It’s not pleasant. In boarding school when you get to the top you get more power and you decide to exercise it. But you forget that the younger kids are much more sensitive than you are. So there are bits of me, certainly when I was younger, that I’m not particularly proud of. Upsetting younger boys – that makes me feel sad when I look back on it now.

In terms of my career I don’t really care what people think about me and my situation [as a member of the Fox acting dynasty alongside father James, uncle Edward and cousins Emilia and Freddie]. I never have. When it comes to choices I’m like, well that’s what I want to do, and if you don’t like it, jog on. You’ve still got to be good at it. I decided I wanted to act when I spent a year earning £30 a pound a day as a gardener. I got bored of getting £150 a week and spending it all by halfway through Saturday afternoon. I thought, this is no way to live. I went to see my old English teacher at Harrow, who was a really amazing man and a great teacher. And he just literally taught me how to act from scratch. It was just me and him, often quite late at night, when the school day was finished. I would drive up from my mum and dad’s house in Wimbledon and we’d do a couple of hours on how you actually do acting. On making you think about what you’re saying, and why you’re saying it. Simple stuff.

I do have times when I really love acting. It’s quite good fun when it’s good. But I don’t take it very seriously. I hate people who take it seriously. You should just turn up, do the best you can, try and be in the moment, go home. Some people need to feel like they’re doing something akin to brain surgery. But the job of an actor is just to speak the writer’s lines. When I did Lewis it was stable and I had a young family. It was quite good for my profile and it was good for getting paid – when you have kids you become much more aware of the need to make money. The plots I can vaguely remember, the rest I’ve just totally wiped. I liked doing Victoria. That was much more what I’m like as a person. Naughty, and a little bit wrong. Doing my best to prod any elephant in the room.

I’d tell my younger self to listen more to other people. I think I’m only just learning now. There are loads of times I wish I’d done that. Loads and loads. But I’d also tell myself, don’t give yourself such a hard time. I still give myself quite a hard time actually. But fortunately I have a lot of good people around me, people I love, and they remind me I’m not a total arsehole. That’s always a bonus.

I probably should walk away more often

If I was giving myself advice about my marriage [to actor Billie Piper] I’d would say… try and make sure your values align. Unless you do, you’re going to have problems. But when you fall in love it’s not the first thing you think of. It’s almost the last thing. Some good things happened; I always wanted to be a dad – that’s why we’re here, in my mind – and I’m really, really, really happy that I am. But I went through a horrific divorce and it took me a couple of years to get over it. I feel OK now, though not according to Twitter. According to Twitter I’m having a nervous breakdown.

Twitter is quite sad actually. There’s a lot of nastiness on there. [Following an appearance on Question Time, in which he made some questionable comments about white privilege, Fox went further in a number of online exchanges about contemporary culture wars.] You think, oh, are people that nasty? I think the problem is that if you do walk away or allow yourself to kowtow to the trolls, then they kind of win. If you keep as much humour as possible going, and gently remind them that it’s water off a duck’s back then it’s a small victory. But yeah, I probably should walk away more often. I think it does have a little effect on you. Maybe not now but in the long run. I certainly find it more tricky to sleep, but that’s mainly because of the death threats.

If I could go back to any point in my life it would be when I was about 20 and I was in the driver’s seat of my first ever Jag – taking my first ever serious girlfriend down to the south coast in this old but super-comfortable Jag. It was the most beautiful late spring day, and I was totally… it was just bliss. I remember thinking, this is a very special moment. Remember it. This is the happiest you’ll ever be.

Laurence Fox’s new album A Grief Observed is out now. His UK tour starts on February 17. laurencefox.co.uk

Photo: Leonie Morse / Camera Press