Nicholas Galitzine

Coat and pants by Ermenegildo Zegna. Shoes by GCDS.

Nicholas Galitzine Is Redefining Masculinity on the Screen

There are only so many ways to pass the time during a pandemic lockdown. Puzzles, knitting, banana bread—these were the shared solutions to our collective ennui last year as we stayed home to protect ourselves and those around us. Our televisions were another source of comfort, as the actor Nicholas Galitzine discovered. "I spent the first two months by myself and it got to a point where I was basically in the English countryside alone and I became a bit of a shell of a person," he recalls. "I'd gone within myself because I wasn't interacting with anyone. My sister came over and my saving grace was watching all of the Disney animated films. I was just trying to watch things that did not make me think existentially at all."

Still, his deep dive into the Disney archives also helped him maintain a connection to the movie he had been filming before Covid-19 forced the industry to shut down: the revisionist musical Cinderella, directed by Pitch Perfect's Kay Cannon and starring Camila Cabello in the title role. Galitzine, who plays her partner in love and song, Prince Robert, had only been on set for one week before production was halted. "The biggest dance numbers of the film with three hundred extras all in costume had been done, and we think if that hadn’t been filmed, they might have canned it, not knowing what they would be able to film," he explains. "The producer called me and was like, 'Okay, so we're going to take a couple weeks off and then we're going to come back,' and I was like, LOL."

This latest version of Cinderella, released by Amazon Prime in September, rejects the traditional happy ending by positioning its heroine as a career-minded entrepreneur who places her budding fashion business, Dresses by Ella, over pressures to marry and the constraints of life as a royal, like Meghan Markle in a petticoat. Galitzine's Prince is an evolution from the bland and vacuous love interests of most tellings as well, imbued with his own conflicts as he rejects the system he has been born into. "We live in a very modern world and these expectations, both for males and females, are ever-changing," the 27-year-old actor says. "We don’t need to fit into these clichés and these expectations that have been set for us by our parents and other generations. I think that was a huge focus of the movie, to just shake up these stereotypes. Having a role model who chooses herself is massively important."

Galitzine says that he was drawn to Cinderella by the opportunity to retell an age-old story for a new era, and more personally for the chance to stretch himself creatively. After garnering early attention for films like Handsome Devil, in which he played a closeted rugby star at an all-boys school, and the Sundance hit Share, about a filmed sexual assault that goes viral, he says a light-hearted fantasy that required him to belt out Queen's "Somebody to Love" while stomping around in period costume was exactly what he was looking for. "I felt like I've always had a funny bone and not really been able to explore that in a lot of ways," he laughs. "I was able to explore parts of my capabilities as a performer that I’d never done before."

Galitzine's nearly six hundred thousand followers on Instagram will be familiar with his guitar skills and singing voice, but performing alongside award-winning vocalists like Idina Menzel and Billy Porter onscreen was, he admits, the biggest challenge of the role. "The first thing I did was go into the studio to do the pre-records before we even started filming, so my first experience on the job was something I wasn't really familiar with," he recalls. "We went into Abbey Road Studios, which is this iconic venue, and I'm standing in this great hall with this ginormous window of producers and directors and music engineers, and I'd sing a line and then it would go all quiet and you could hear whispering and you're like, 'For fuck’s sake, I'm about to get fired. This is not ideal.'"

The final result, however, gave Galitzine the confidence to begin recording and producing his own songs, which he says he is "terrified-slash-very excited for people to hear." Wary of becoming yet another actor with an unsuccessful career in music, he is approaching this next step in his artistic development with caution and consideration, much as he does his acting choices. "I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself, because I think there's a level of perfectionism that is within me, possibly stemming from my sporting career," says the former rugby player, "regarding everything as either a win or a loss, which I think is unhelpful in this job."

Galitzine won't be abandoning the screen for the studio anytime soon though. Earlier this fall, he spent several weeks in Los Angeles filming the upcoming Netflix film Purple Hearts, in which he plays a conservative Marine who enters into a contract marriage with a liberal aspiring singer to increase his pay and benefits. "I was very drawn to the project given how topical it feels and given there is this polarization between political beliefs in the US right now," he explains. "It's about this love story that ensues, the fact that they're extremely opposite in many ways and share these very different worldviews, but learn to respect each other and also battle their demons at the same time."

After playing sports for many years at an all-boys school and considering (briefly) joining the Army Reserve after graduation, Galitzine says he recognized the overwhelmingly masculine surroundings of his character Luke, but had to undertake an overwhelming amount of research to understand the specific political context of the United States. "Playing someone who is right-wing, considering I am a left-leaning person, was really fascinating," he adds, "because you can never view yourself as the villain in your story. You have to really understand what it is that makes them tick." Luke and Cassie, played by Sofia Carson, are eventually able to reconcile their political differences, something Galitzine hopes the film will encourage when it is released next year. "You feel and get to observe the connective tissue between both sides and you hope that there is a solution, that there's bread that can be broken between both sides, because it is quite scary, especially what’s transpired in the last couple of years," he says. "You really do hope that there can be peace, or at least to find a common ground and commonality. The film doesn't claim to solve it by any means—and we hope it doesn't come off as idealistic—but I think at the very least we hope that it can be illuminating for both sides."

Coming off his roles as a fairytale prince and a staunch Marine, Galitzine says he has found new focus in his work, drawn to projects that break down and reconsider what he calls the "ever-changing landscape of masculinity." One of the most rewarding responses to Cinderella for him has been the videos parents have sent him of their sons dancing along, "enjoying it and not seeing that as intrinsically feminine or masculine." As a young man who long felt out of place before he found his way to acting, he has a unique understanding of the struggle of coming to terms with and adapting to a world that is rapidly moving forward. "A lot of men have not been given the tools throughout their life to be able to deal with it in a rational way, and it often comes out in aggression and anger," he explains. "Just exploring that was really interesting, because I've gone through this journey throughout my life and my career, whereby I started in those communities and I've always been a very sensitive man, and becoming more in touch with my sensitivity and my vulnerability has been a huge gift to me."

Looking ahead, Galitzine hopes to continue to build a body of work that inspires and illuminates as much as it entertains. "I think we try and derive different purposes out of this job," he says. "I did a lot of soul-searching over the pandemic, and something that I really settled on was positive resonance." With several projects tentatively in the works, he has also begun to look into developing his own films to satisfy his artistic curiosity. "I think it's the most excited I've ever been as a creative, which feels weird to say, given we're still in a pandemic," he adds. "We always get these imposter syndromes as actors and the amount of phone calls I have with my managers and agents who go, 'You made two fucking movies in a pandemic!' We are in a really unprecedented time creatively and I count myself extremely lucky that I’m able to do this job at such a great level given the circumstances."

Cinderella is now streaming on Amazon Prime. Click through the gallery below to see the full story. Read this story and many more in print by preordering our third issue here.

Coat and suit by Ermenegildo Zegna. T-shirt by Fear of God. Shoes by GCDS.

Coat and suit by Ermenegildo Zegna. T-shirt by Fear of God. Shoes by GCDS.

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