By Paul Flynn
Photography by Samuel Bradley
Styling by Kyran Low
James Floyd first read the screenplay for My Brother the Devil in the summer of 2010. “Every actor says this, so you’re just going to have to trust that I’m being honest,” he prefaces, sitting in a café located among a parade of decrepit shops under a housing project around the corner from his London flat. “It was the best script I’ve ever read. You could see the film on the page—the voices were there. It’d actually be quite impressive to fuck them up.”
As Devil’s lead character, Rashid, Floyd does anything but. He plays the son of hard-working Egyptian immigrants, a lost soul embroiled in the fractious estate violence of East London, dealing drugs while exploring his sexuality. At the heart of the film is Rashid’s relationship with his younger brother, Mo, whom he tries to steer away from the seductive gangland rites of passage. Devil contains echoes of My Beautiful Laundrette, the 1985 masterwork centering around a British-Asian subculture. As that movie featured a star-making turn from Daniel Day-Lewis, Floyd’s staggering portrayal was easily one of the highlights of the performances from young actors at Sundance last year. It also won him the Most Promising Newcomer award at the 2012 British Independent Film Awards, landed him a U.S. agent, and pivoted him into contention for parts later snagged by Robert Pattinson, Daniel Radcliffe, and Jake Gyllenhaal. “I’m losing roles to ridiculous names,” Floyd says. Still, his own fame now feels like a given.
Floyd was born in the outer reaches of suburban North London to an Indian mother and British father. His neighborhood, he fondly recalls, went by the poetic name Fortune Green. He left a place at the prestigious London School of Economics, where he was studying philosophy, logic, and scientific method, after his first year, lured by the stage when he scored a lead at the British National Youth Theatre. He found an agent at 20 -- the same one he has now, seven years later -- but getting jobs was an uphill battle. “I struggled for years,” Floyd says. “I had no money and worked in the Strand Theatre for a long time, ushering and cleaning toilets. I taught math to kids until recently.” He considers his first major lead role a gift, adding that every actor of every ethnicity his age wanted it. “It’s very difficult to get your hands on a character like Rashid,” he says. “There aren’t that many being written.”