PASADENA, Calif. - Actor Douglas Booth says he's a terrible liar. That may seem a bit odd, because actors spend their lives fibbing on cue.
"I can't lie for anything," he shrugs. "And lots of people think, 'You are an actor, you must be able to lie.' I can't lie for anything. Acting is a very different thing. People can tell if I'm lying instantly. It might sound a little sickening and wanky or whatever, but I think that acting is telling the truth. Lying is a very different thing. So in acting you have to go and tell the truth and be honest and direct, or indirect, depending on what it is. It's a completely different kettle of fish."
It's a kettle of fish Booth has loved since he first portrayed Agamemnon in a school play at 11. He began studying at the Guild Hall in his native London when he was just 13, snagging his first professional job at 16. Now 19, he's starring as Pip in "Masterpiece Classic's" "Great Expectations," premiering 9 tonight on WHYY-TV 12.
Booth first encountered the Dickens novel when he was about 12. "I remember the book being sort of visceral, and you could smell it. You could hear it. You could feel it. I think that's what stuck with me," says Booth.
While his parents were supportive of his early-onset passion for acting, he was hampered by the fact he's dyslexic. "It takes me a long time to read a script," he acknowledges. "Most actors can get through a script in an hour and a half, sometimes it takes me three, four, five hours to read a script."
He was given extra help at school and did well - making 'A's and 'B's in spite of his handicap.
Booth has never had a "regular" job. In fact, his very first film, "From Time to Time," was written by Julian Fellowes and co-starred Maggie Smith, Dominic West and Timothy Spall, when Douglas was 16. "You really get put up against these brilliant actors and you really are put in the deep end," he says, rolling his eyes.
"It's either sink or swim. And I swam, but it was a bit splashy."
Although he had studied at the well-known Saturday class at Guild Hall since he was 13, his career really got under way when his mom dispatched an email to a talent agency.
"Not with a photo, just a few lines - saying, 'My son is an actor, acting is his passion. Do you have any advice? He struggles with his acting. I think it might harm his (school) work to take him out of school to get work. Do you have any advice?'
"And within a half hour two agents emailed back - which is unheard of since they have thousands of emails a day. One of them, being my current agent now, and the other who still kind of looks after me. And they went, 'We'd love to meet him.' There was no photo, no work (resume). I went in and we had a chat. And I said, 'How do you go about getting represented?' And they said, 'Like this.' I was 15. They said it was very humble ... it was very honest."
His mother is a painter who also tends to his business affairs. "She looks after the house and dog, she is the director of my company," he says. "I give her my receipts and she sorts it and gives it to my accountant. Without her I'd have to employ a few more staff. My mom is a huge influence with me and a huge part of my life, and I wouldn't be able to do what I do without her."
The actor has an older sister who is also a painter. His father works for Deutsche Bank in London.
Booth is already discovering what it's like to be a known commodity. "In some ways I'm glad I started young. I don't have to worry about _ I'm not in a rush _ I don't have to prove anything to anyone. I'm not in a rush to pay a mortgage. I'm not in a rush to do anything. I'm not in a position where I have to take a job to make money, I'm not in a position where I have to take a job because _ whatever reason ... I take a job because it's something I've never done before," he says.
"So far I think every character I have played is different, completely varied, and I want it to carry on that way."
He also has a social life, which includes a girlfriend. "I'm very much in love, but I'd rather keep that, living in the public eye, that's one thing I can keep to myself."