Stage debuts don’t come much more striking than that of 19-year-old Scotsman Martin Quinn, who plays the put-upon Oskar in Let the Right One In. Helmed by Tony winner John Tiffany, the vampire thriller adapted by Jack Thorne has transferred to the Apollo Theatre after an earlier London run at the Royal Court. Based on the Swedish novel and film of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let the Right One In pairs Quinn with Rebecca Benson as Eli, an, um, peculiar girl who becomes Oskar’s refuge against the cruel world around him. Broadway.com chatted with the endearing Quinn about his decision to act, the pull of vampires on stage and screen, and feeling just that little bit homesick.
Congratulations on making your London stage debut, and in such an extraordinary role.
Thank you! I took a year out before applying to university, which because of this play has now turned into two years. I’d been working for the Scottish Youth Theatre back home and I was six months into that when I got the audition for this, which led to a run in Scotland and then the Royal Court, and now here we are on the West End.
With you playing a character notably younger than you are—and yet it entirely works.
I’m glad you think so. In the books, Oskar is 11 or 12, and during the read-through on the first day of rehearsals, it was pretty obvious that my voice had broken so that age wasn’t going to work [laughs]. So we’ve put him at 14 or 15 in the play to make it more realistic, and it feels that it wasn’t so long ago that I was his age.
It wasn’t hard to think yourself into the role?
I went into playing him imagining how my little brother Andrew might be if he got bullied. I remember when he first went to school being very worried about him in that sibling, looking-out-for-each-other type way, and I had these terrible visions of Andrew getting picked on and not being able to handle himself, as happens to Oskar.
Were you right to worry?
Andrew got on fine, actually! He’s 16 now and was captain of his football team and played in a band and got on much better than maybe even myself. The thing with Oskar is that his bullying occurs in a more horrible way than most.
I hope Andrew’s been down to see the play!
He’s seen it about four times—he was just down again last week. I’ve got two brothers, Andrew and Peter, and I’m in the middle. My father used to call the three of us PMA, which he said stands for Positive Mental Attitude!
Did you know much about the material when the play first came your way?
It was totally new to me, to be honest. I watched the Swedish film before the first audition, and before the recall I watched the American remake. When I got the part, I started reading the book until I got to a certain point and stopped. To this day, I’ve got the book in front of me with sticky notes in all the pages that are relevant to Jack’s play and I got halfway through the book before I thought, “What are you doing? This is a slightly different Oskar and is going to be an entirely different play, so you need to let go of it!”
The play is quite ruthless when it comes to the trials of being a teenager.
It is, but I suppose that you struggle to see things properly when you’re a teenager and feel sort of trapped, I think, and it sometimes feels like you will never grow out of this. People say “enjoy it while you’re young” but when you are young, you feel like you are young forever and you want to grow up and leave school straight away.
Did that happen to you?
When I was about Oskar’s age, I stopped believing in God, which was a big deal for me because I come from an Irish-Catholic family and had been quite obsessed with religion. So for me to decide that there might possibly not be a God hit me like a ton of bricks. I kept thinking, “What is the point in life?” And being 14 or 15 didn’t really help me!
The play belongs to an ever-growing genre of vampire-themed culture. Why is that terrain so perennially appealing?
Things like the Twilight films and The Vampire Diaries are popular because they have absolute babes in them [laughs]. But apart from all the gorgeous actors, I think the idea of immortality—of never growing up—has enormous power, too. Our play is like a Peter Pan thing in reverse, with Eli as Peter Pan and Oskar as Wendy and the degree of temptation that goes with that.
Except that Eli turns out to be Oskar’s savior.
Yes, Oskar’s got his bullies but when he’s with Eli, it doesn’t matter.
You’re working with Tony-winning director John Tiffany (Once), who might be nominated again for The Glass Menagerie.
That’s totally cool! I remember in the audition I didn’t really know who he was at all, which was quite embarrassing, and one of the others said, “You don’t know who he is? This is the guy who did Black Watch!” And I thought, “Oh my God, I feel such an idiot." But then when you get working with him, he’s just a normal guy who’s up for a laugh and you kind of forget just how successful he is.
He certainly gave you the chance of a lifetime.
John took a total chance when he took me on; I’d done nothing before. I wouldn’t have given me a job, if you know what I mean!
How does it feel to walk up Shaftesbury Avenue and see the marquee with yourself co-starring in a London show?
This is the longest time I’ve been away from home without an official end date, so sometimes I do get a wee bit homesick but then I think where I’ve got to with this play and it all just seems so awesome.
And the fact that it could lead anywhere.
That’s the thing: by the end of this, I could be back to my old self and out of work, or maybe not. I’m just trying to keep my feet on the ground!