Being described as “one of the most exciting talents of this generation” is enough to make anyone squirm. Particularly if they’re a Brit, a population universally known for being averse to compliments. Well, most Brits as the stereotype goes.
Jay Lycurgo takes it humbly. “It just means I’m doing the right thing. It’s reassuring. And it’s really special. I’m so grateful when I hear that stuff because I adore acting.”
Jay is most definitely doing the right thing. Three years after graduating from London’s Arts Educational School (ArtsEd) in 2019 the 24-year-old is about to lead the Netflix supernatural series, The Bastard Son & the Devil Himself. He’s also set to reprise his role as Tim Drake in the fourth season of Titans.
He’s come a long way from the kid that used to enjoy messing around in drama at school. As we sit down to discuss his upcoming projects over Zoom he fondly remembers his starring role as the Scarecrow in a school production of The Wizard of Oz.
“I’d be on stage and just making up lines. It’s not that I didn’t know the lines, but I would mess around with them. I remember when Scarecrow learns that he’s got a brain he just goes ‘Oh my god, I’ve got a brain!’ But I was like, ‘O-M-G, I got a brain!’,” Jay laughs.
“I remember my teacher afterward being like, ‘you changed that line. Next time, tell us.” That was the first moment I thought this could be something.”
And where you might expect the rest of Jay’s school years to be filled up with other leading roles, he actually turned away from acting for a spell. Finding auditions terrifying he turned to dance. At 17 he auditioned for the famed BRIT school but didn’t make it in. Thankfully, a teacher then directed him towards drama school upon which he entered ArtsEd.
Although Jay admits his old cheeky class clown habits nearly got him kicked out. “I was not taking it seriously. At lunchtime, I’d just be playing FIFA and eating peanut butter sandwiches and not really caring.” A familiar sounding first year for many I’m sure.
“And then the second year is when you take it more seriously. I did anyway. A teacher at the end of the first year was like, ‘Jay, I’m surprised you’re still in school’.” Asked what it was that made Jay takes things more seriously, he recalls doing a play called Someone Who’ll Watch over Me.
“I really got into it. After that slowly I started going ‘Okay, this takes a lot of discipline’. That’s what I didn’t have. Once that started kicking in that’s when things started to change,” he says.
After ArtsEd Jay quickly scored roles in the BBC’s Doctors, some London theatre and a smattering of other parts in I May Destroy You, Epix’s War of the Worlds, and The Batman.
Then came Tim Drake and Titans. Jay taped for the show during the Covid lockdown. He admits to thinking it could never work out because of that. “There’s no way they’re gonna bring a British actor all the way to Toronto while no one can go outside. It was level four [lockdown] you couldn’t leave your area. There’s no way.”
But after auditioning in September 2020 he found out he had the part a couple of months later. “It was just insane,” Jay says, seemingly still in disbelief even now. “Because my dad is such a huge Batman fan,” he continues pointing to various Batman figures off-camera. Picking up a decent-sized Batman figure Jay explains he bought it for his dad two weeks before getting cast in Titans. And then he was off to Toronto for six months isolating in a hotel room next to Scotland’s Iain Glen for 14 days. “It was great,” Jay enthuses.
While his dad clearly is a big fan of Batman, as a child Jay was more obsessed with Woody from Toy Story and Aladdin. “I was a bit more sassy. That cowboy hat looked really good on me. I loved the Power Rangers. I was more into that stuff, to be honest.”
Still, he’s loving life as Tim Drake now. In the DC comics, Tim Drake is the third person to take on the mantle of Robin. While we have yet to see what journey Tim takes in Titans, the character proved in season three he’s capable and keen. Poster art for season four sees Jay holding a staff too.
Jay says, “I’m proper excited, no matter what happens. We’ve got the season split in two. So, they’ve [fans] got a long time to wait to see what happens. Pointing to early clips for season four Jay laughs, “Tim just looks really useless. Who knows what’s gonna happen.”
“100 percent,” he tells Attitude. He also points to the trailer, which sees Drake with someone who’s since been confirmed to be Bernard (Fire Island‘s James Scully), Tim’s boyfriend in the comics.
“In the little teaser, he’s talking to Bernard. So, it’s at the start of a nice little journey there. Yeah, it’s really cute”.
Having appeared in The Batman and Titans, Jay is fairly well acquainted with the DC universe. But what about Marvel? If they came calling Jay would absolutely be keen he tells me. “I’d love to do Marvel. Yeah, there are definitely characters I’d love to play in that.”
Pressed on who those characters are Jay has seen people throw his name about when fan-casting the Fantastic Four, specifically Johnny Storm aka The Human Torch. When I mention I’d seen a similar thing Jay gets even more excited.
“I was all for that. [The] Human Torch, I think was my favourite superhero when I was younger. It could have just been Chris Evans looking amazing. But I was just like, ‘Oh my God, he turns into fire and he can fly’.”
Jay is also picked out by some as the ideal casting for Miles Morales, the first Black Spider-Man in Marvel Comics, “which, you know, [would] just be amazing,” Jay exclaims. Morales was the central character in 2018’s animated Spider–Man: Into the Spider–Verse and played an important role in Marvel’s Spider-Man video game the same year before taking on the lead role in the spin-off, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Given the popularity of the character following these outings, and in the comics, seeing Miles join the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not so unrealistic.
From the unrealistic to the supernatural. In Netflix’s The Bastard Son & the Devil himself Jay plays Nathan, the illegitimate son of the world’s most dangerous witch. Some have already likened it to an “X-rated Harry Potter“.
But what sets this show apart from other fantasy shows, Jay explains, is the human nature beneath the magic. It’s what connected him to the project and made him sign up for it straight away.
“You realise more and more that these characters are actually more relatable.” Jay has been enjoying watching people react to the trailer online. “They see the blood splatter on the characters. And then they’re like, ‘What is going on?’ And then slowly, you start to see all the grounded character work that’s been done.”
If you’re not a fan of a bit of blood and gore, this may not be the show for you. There’s a fair amount of it in the first four of eight episodes. Having seen those ahead of my chat with Jay, I can safely say that it is certainly not Harry Potter.
“I actually started bingeing Harry Potter again,” Jay says anecdotally. “It’s a world that you can get lost in. I think that’s what’s so amazing about fantasy, it’s just so thrilling. But I think we [The Bastard Son] also have that extra element of how human it is when you are thrown in those situations. The lovely thing about Nathan is that he is, in a way, the audience’s eye as well, because he’s like, ‘why is everyone blaming me for being this evil witch’s son when all I like to do is draw and play a bit of football.”
That relatability is something Jay is always on the lookout for when it comes to his work. Take away the magic powers, the superhero costumes, and whatnot, if the character isn’t real it’s not for Jay. And he’s happy to commit to making it as accessible and realistic as possible for an audience. He recounts one experience on set with director Debs Paterson who had Jay doing one scene on repeat.
“She’d say, ‘I don’t believe you. Do it again. I don’t believe you’. At some points that could be pretty blunt. But I’m all for that. I want to reach the top of the mountain when it comes to a scene, I want to see everything that I can get out of it, I want to squeeze it, and I want to wrench it and I want to get everything out of it.” The commitment and discipline shine through. He seems a long way from the ArtsEd pupil sitting at home playing FIFA and eating peanut butter sandwiches at lunch.
And Jay’s performance is remarkable. I was struck by the nuance in Jay’s performance from the subtle hints of sadness and belonging to the occasional injections of comedy and levity.
The show, which bounces between being darkly humorous and thrilling and incredibly grounded is based on the young-adult novel Half Bad by Sally Green. Some changes have been made such as the names of the two types of witches going from the White witches and the Black witches to Fairborn and Blood in the series. “I think it needed that,” states Jay. But what isn’t changing is the character’s bisexuality.
It’s handled brilliantly in the show in that, certainly in the first half of the series, it’s not made a point of. Jay agrees this is the best way to do it. “It doesn’t have to be like an ‘other’. Sexuality wasn’t a huge conversation, because it just shouldn’t be. It’s a part of the story. I think it’s really beautiful, how it naturally happens. And it’s not even happening. He’s in the present and finding these energies from different people that he needs. It’s really beautiful.
“I focused more on who Nathan was and how beautiful he is, and how he discovers himself through this journey. I found that more interesting. I thought that was really amazing as well.”
Jay is happy to be providing representation and reflecting normal human experiences. As a biracial actor, he’s also providing representation there. He feels empowered in his roles. “Some people just need to give you that foot in the door. And it could be right place, right time. But also, it is a really good time for diverse actors. With Titans Greg Walker (the producer) allowed me to become Tim Drake who is conventionally white, which is incredible.
“I get messages all the time about people that go to Comic Cons, and they’re mixed race and they dress as Robin and they used to get laughed at. But as soon as I got that role, it was the first time that someone went, ‘Now I won’t get laughed at, and now I can wear it with pride’.
“That was just a really beautiful understanding of where I’m at. And where the industry is that. And for me, as an actor, I know I can play these lead roles. If you’re right for the role, you’re right for the role. And you’re seeing that a lot more now. So that’s good.”
For a young actor at the start of a hopefully long career, Jay is acutely aware of his position and what his success means for others. Looking ahead to the future, Jay is keen to get back to the theatre. He also wants the chance to do some Indie films as well as big features.
As we come to the end of our conversation I ask how it feels to be doing as well as he seems to so early on. His answer is similarly humble to his reaction about being an exciting talent.
“You have to stay present because they keep you so busy that you can’t think about what next week is. To be honest, Titans and The Bastard’s Son, they’re so different. And that’s what I’m really grateful for. I get to be in that superhero universe, but then The Bastard Son is this really human, raw show. That’s what I’m incredibly proud of.
So, what is next? “I am fully open to anything, the goal is always to get characters that feel really real.”
The Bastard Son & the Devil Himself debuts on Netflix on 28 October. Titans season four is due to premiere on HBO Max on 3 November.