Young Punks: Meet the Cast of Pistols

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From left, on Anson Boon: Jacket ($3,570), tank ($990), and trousers ($1,290) by Alexander McQueen; boots ($250) by Underground; sunglasses ($600) by Jacques Marie Mage. On Sydney Chandler: Jacket ($3,625), top ($1,750), trousers ($1,025), and shorts ($895) by Versace. On Thomas Brodie-Sangster: Jacket ($2,790) and trousers ($1,150) by Valentino; vintage shirt by Helmut Lang, stylist’s own; vintage boots by Calvin Klein, stylist’s own. On Toby Wallace: Jacket ($2,250) and trousers ($840), Celine Homme by Hedi Slimane; vintage shirt by Calvin Klein, stylist’s own; shoes ($190) by Underground. On Jacob Slater: Vintage jacket, cardigan sweater, shirt, and trousers by Versace, stylist’s own; boots ($150) by Dr. Martens.

Roger Deckker

To say that the Sex Pistols were a chaotic band would be an understatement. Formed in 1975 and broken up by 1978, they burned through record label after record label after record label and all the while helped turn punk into a global musical and fashion movement. Pistols, the new Danny Boyle-directed mini-series on FX, tells the tale of the quick rise and fall of one of the most influential bands of the time with a script by by Craig Pearce (Moulin Rouge!, Romeo + Juliet) based on the memoir “Tales of a Lonely Boy” by Steve Jones, the band’s guitarist. But the commitment to the punk ethos of the Sex Pistols comes through in the making of the film itself. Boyle would often let the actors run entire performances and scenes without adhering to a traditional shot list. Even more punk? He cast primarily younger, lesser-known actors and put them through a crash course of music lessons and learning about the 70s. Here’s how five of the cast members got into the skin of their characters.


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Jacket ($3,450) and trousers ($1,090) by Louis Vuitton Men’s; vintage T-shirt by Prada, stylist’s own; boots ($1,295) by Givenchy.

ROGER DECKKER

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When it came to bringing Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten to life, Anson Boon was keen to avoid doing a caricature of the anarchic hellraiser. “There’s an image of the band being these spitting devils,” he says. “But I was also interested in the John Lydon who loved his mum, went to bed with a glass of milk every night and worked at a youth centre for under privileged children. He’s a very sweet man. He’d hate me saying that but it’s the truth.”

Born in Cambridgeshire, England, Boon jokes that he feels like Hannah Montana when he comes into London to dress up for photoshoots, a world far from his quiet life in Peterborough with his family. At 22, he has already worked with an impressive roster of movie heavyweights: first opposite Kate Winslet and Susan Sarandon in Blackbird, then under director Sam Mendes in his war epic 1917. “I get asked this all the time, and I’ve never been able to come up with an answer,” he says when asked why he got into acting. “It was just born into me. I dropped out of college when I was 17, started doing open auditions in London and got lucky.”

For Pistol, Boon was unable to spend time with Rotten to get into his head, as the band’s frontman has publicly distanced himself from the show. Instead he drew on anecdotes which series director Danny Boyle had from spending time with Lydon when he masterminded the London Olympics opening ceremony. There was also a touch of method acting which he took into his process: emulating the distinctive posture and walk of Lydon, who suffered from spinal meningitis from a young age. “His physicality is so different to mine so to undergo that transformation was amazing,” Boon says. “I had to lose so much weight. I got so into it that I realised after we finished filming that I was standing differently and walking differently.”

Boon also replicated the infamous graffiti on the walls of the band’s rehearsal space in Denmark Street in his own dressing room to get him into the rocker’s head. Style, too, was a big part of the transformation, and the actor was deeply involved with the wardrobe department, often obsessing over which of the 14 Johnny Rotten wigs each day called for. “I really want to make it authentic for John,” he says. “If he sees it I want him to see that I really did my research, so everything down to the last thumb ring, was exactly correct. I wanted to pay him the respect he deserves.”


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Jacket ($2,595) and trousers by Dunhill; vintage cardigan by Calvin Klein, stylist’s own; boots ($455) by Russell & Bromley; hat ($98) by Le Tings; necklace by the Great Frog.

ROGER DECKKER

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One moment that Toby Wallace will never forget? “The first guitar lesson I ever had was from Steve Jones,” he says, before adding with a smile, “I was shit, by the way.”

You might recognise Wallace’s wide eyes and wolfish grin from the indie hit Babyteeth, the film in which he plays the wayward drug dealer who Eliza Scanlen’s protagonist falls in love with, and a role which won him a breakthrough performance award at the 2019 Venice Film Festival. The Australian actor now leads Pistol playing the band’s mouthy guitarist Steve Jones: the founding member of Sex Pistols, way back from when they were called Kutie Jones and his Sex Pistols, and the man whose autobiography “Lonely Boy” is the inspiration behind the series.

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Jacket ($3,145) by Dolce & Gabbana; vintage tank ($199) available at the Society Archive; necklace ($180) by Underground; chain necklace ($235) by the Great Frog.

Roger Deckker

When an audition came through for a Danny Boyle-directed project about the Sex Pistols, Wallace started freaking out. “I got the call telling me that I got the job and I just cursed for ten minutes and flipped out,” the 26 year old recalls, with a level of excitement that makes the incident easy to imagine. When filming rolled around he felt nervous, but some advice from a music legend who happened to be on set soon steadied him. “I remember talking to Rick and Karl from Underworld, who [have] worked with Danny since Trainspotting on the music,” Wallace says. “I remember Rick said that, ‘Danny will get things out of you you’ve never done before. He really understands how to create a space for getting the performance that he needs.’”

Currently living a nomadic lifestyle while filming, with long stretches of time spent in America, Wallace’s pandemic schedule included going for long, socially-distanced strolls around Beverly Hills with the real Jonesy, listening to him talking sex, drugs and rock and roll; downloading his memories of the punk movement. Another pinch-me moment that will stick in his memory forever? When the sixty-something rocker felt nature calling and took a leak right there on the side of the road in Los Angeles’s fanciest district. Feeling he should be faithful to the man he’s playing, naturally he joined him.


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Jacket ($4,000) by Prada; vintage cardigan sweater, sweater, trousers, and boots by Prada, stylist’s own.

ROGER DECKKER

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Perhaps you have seen Thomas Brodie-Sangster recently in Netflix’s checkmate of a series The Queen’s Gambit, or strolling across Westeros with Bran the Broken in Game of Thrones, but you’ve never seen the British actor quite like he is in Pistol, the series in which he is unrecognisably louche as the band’s manager: the musical kingmaker Malcolm McLaren.

“I was playing them constantly so I became a fan,” Brodie-Sangster says of how he kept returning to the band’s one seismic album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. “That energy and sheer audacity of some of the lyrics, you still couldn’t get away with saying a lot of that stuff today. I don’t think it was all just for effect either,” he adds. “I think it was really to say something, even if it was just pointing a finger at the fact we can’t say it.”

For the 31-year-old British actor, who for many will always be most cherubic character in Love Actually, who in one memorable scene ran through Heathrow Airport for the love of his life, the series was a gear change in terms of how it deals with the tough social issues in Seventies England. Still, there was plenty of fun to be had with his part. “I felt a little bit like the emperor puppet master behind the scenes,” he laughs. “Not like Darth Vader out there with the lightsaber doing stuff, no [McLaren] is just quietly in the background manipulating.”

A style enthusiast who recently walked the runway for Prada, Brodie-Sangster especially enjoyed power dressing in the red tartan Vivienne Westwood suit which he got to don for one suave Pistol scene. “I think he really enjoyed giving one to the establishment,” he says of McLaren. “He was a naughty, naughty boy, and I think he wanted to encourage others to be naughty too.”


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Guy Aroch

This article appeared in the APRIL/MAY 2022 issue of Esquire
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Suit ($3,095) and shirt ($675) by Giorgio Armani; tie ($175) by Title of Work; boots ($150) by Dr. Martens.

ROGER DECKKER

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Jacob Slater still remembers watching Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting when he was 15 years old and being blown away by what he had just witnessed. Years later, when Slater was working as a surf instructor in Cornwall, the coastal county on the southernmost tip of England, a friend told him they were holding auditions for a series about the Sex Pistols. The director? The same man who had made Eighties England shine in the dark in another story of a group of men and their excesses and demons. “I gave it a shot and was lucky enough to get the part,” Slater says, the part being band’s drummer – and much needed voice of reason – Paul Cook.

“I’d always listened to the pistols and punk music when I was younger,” says the 24 year old, who used to front band Dead Pretties, and now performs as Wunderhorse. A first-time actor, the initial switch from making music to performing in front of a camera – with the crowd of eyes on set watching him from the shadows – took a little adjustment, so he was thankful everyone was so accommodating to someone who “didn’t quite know the ropes.” Fortunately he was able to enlist the help of the real Paul Cook, who was a “true gent” in helping him get to grips with the drums. “It’s weird when you’re playing something and the guy who actually wrote it [is] looking over your shoulder,” Slater says. “But he was super lovely.” The esteemed drummer even imparted one especially useful bit of advice when he came down to watch Slater on set. “He said, ‘Stop fiddling with your drums in between songs because I never did that,’ and I thought fair enough.”

As for working with Danny Boyle, it certainly didn’t disappoint. “He’s like a kid in a sweet shop,” Slater says. “It’s refreshing to work with someone who has done a lot in their career and still has that childlike enthusiasm about what they’re doing.” If only his fifteen year old self could see him now.


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Jacket ($995) by the Cast NYC; dress ($1,195) by Et Ochs; boots ($1,150), Celine by Hedi Slimane.

ROGER DECKKER

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For Sydney Chandler, the real audition to play Chrissie Hynde came at the London home of the Pretenders singer herself, when Hynde invited her over to see what she was made of. What initially felt too daunting to contemplate soon became a memory that the young actress will cherish forever, listening to the iconic singer share memories of hanging out with the Sex Pistols, and being there right at the moment the punk scene started to bloom in the late Seventies. “I thought, if I could play her songs in front of her then I thought I’d be OK on set,” Chandler says. “She was so open with past and her memories and that was really helpful. She didn’t have to open herself up the way she did which I’m really thankful for.”

The daughter of actor Kyle Chandler, the 26-year-old had just finished shooting her first project, Don’t Worry Darling, the new psychological thriller from Olivia Wilde, starring Harry Styles and Florence Pugh, when she got the call up to play Hynde in Pistol. “My mom sings ‘My City Was Gone’ all the time, so my parents were jumping up and down a bit when they found out,” she recalls. “It’s a big leap of faith, but when Danny Boyle tells you that you can do something, you believe it. Yes sir!”

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Vintage tank ($199) available at the Society Archive; Belcher chain necklace ($545) and edge chain necklace ($305) by the Great Frog. On Anson: Vintage T-shirt ($190) available at the Society Archive; necklace by Vivienne Westwood.

Roger Deckker

Chandler grew up in Los Angeles, California and Austin, Texas and got into acting through a circuitous route, as it was while taking a character study acting class for a piece of creative writing that she caught the bug. She neither sung nor played guitar before Pistol, and yet, like her fellow cast members, she was thrust into months of band camp where they all had to learn to be musicians. Whatever sound they managed to hone would be exactly what ended up in the series. “I thought they’d dub it, but they said, ‘We’re not doing any post,’ which was extremely intimidating but also really exciting because it bonded all of us,” she recalls. “It felt like it made us earn our characters because that’s what they did. They were given their instruments and went for it.”

Chandler wanted to play Chrissie Hynde as she had found her in those long conversations they shared, and there was one thing the singer had said which stayed with her in particular. “She told me that doesn’t overthink things: if you can’t control it, don’t think about it,” Chandler says. “You can sense it and it’s really admirable, because it’s one thing to say it and another to do it. I like to think I was able to keep a bit of that with me.”


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From left, on Sydney: Vintage tank available at the Society Archive; trousers by Gucci; necklaces by the Great Frog; bracelet by the Cast NYC. On Thomas: T-shirt ($105), Tagfree by Kervin Marc; vintage trousers by Richard James; necklace by Underground. On Anson: Vintage T-shirt available at the Society Archive; trousers by Givenchy; necklace by Vivienne Westwood. On Jacob: Vintage sweater ($1,590) by Dior Homme, available at the Society Archive; vintage shirt by Prada, stylist’s own; trousers ($811) by Bianca Saunders; ring ($235, worn as necktie) by the Great Frog. On Toby: T-shirt ($235) available at the Vintage Showroom; trousers by Dolce & Gabbana; necklace by Underground.

Roger Deckker