Behind the Mic

Never heard of Josh Whitehouse?

You have now.

You may well have seen Josh Whitehouse as a model in a glossy fashion campaign or as an actor on the big and small screens, or heard him performing in one of a variety of music projects. If you haven’t yet you shall do soon, as this British musician, model and actor’s star is rapidly rising.

I met Whitehouse at the Tokyo premiere screening of Modern Life is Rubbish, a film in which he plays the lead role of a struggling musician going through a breakup with his girlfriend.

It is a very British film with London locations, a Britpop soundtrack and cheeky sense of humour. Whitehouse says, “Essentially there is a huge theme of it being a love story to England as well as a love story in itself”.

The premiere screening was Whitehouse’s first public appearance in Japan, and there was no shortage of fans screaming out for his autograph. On stage, the audience saw not only a handsome face—which has obviously been a big help on his career trajectory—but also a surprise performance of two songs from the film.

Organic path

Music is a driving factor in Whitehouse’s life and Modern Life is Rubbish, and ’90s Britpop fans will notice the film’s title is taken from a Blur album.

You’ll hear a lot of British indie music in the film plus original music written and performed by Whitehouse as the character Liam with the fictional band Head Cleaner.

“This film was very important to me. I had a bit of an unusual introduction to acting—I was playing a gig with my band and I got scouted at the end of the gig to cast for a modelling job, and I got the job. The director of that shoot was Elaine Constantine, who approached me afterwards and said she was working on a film she’d been writing for 15 years and asked did I know about Northern Soul music?

“She invited me to learn to dance and said if I were to get good at the dancing, perhaps I could be an extra; perhaps I could have a line in the film. I went along to these dance classes and ended up doing it for two years.

“She started sending me to acting coaches and I didn’t fully realise the magnitude of what she was doing, but she was moulding and shap­ing me to see if I was able to be this character in this film. It was only in the last couple of weeks in that two-year period that she offered me a role”.

The film is Northern Soul, written and directed by Constantine with Whitehouse in his first on-screen acting role as a soul music-loving DJ.

He recalls: “We kind of had to battle for it in a way because, as an inexperienced actor, there wasn’t the greatest faith from some people on board that maybe I’d be able to pull it off. But she had faith in me and so I thank her for everything in that sense”.

Guy Perryman met Josh Whitehouse while he was in Tokyo promoting Modern Life is Rubbish.

Whitehouse continued to perform in his band and then landed the perfect role. “When Modern Life is Rubbish came along, it was a very big step to prove to myself that I could play a lead role without having two years of prep with a director.

“Fortunately I was playing a struggling musician, which is what I was, so I felt like I’d done a lifetime’s worth of backstory prep in many ways”.

Whitehouse’s career has taken an organic path with one project leading to another. Another big step was being cast in a high profile short film for British fashion house Burberry.

It was directed by Steve McQueen CBE, winner of a BAFTA, an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for his 2013 film 12 Years a Slave. Talk­ing about the experience, Whitehouse says “That was quite an explosive job to get as my second role, and I was very honoured and excited to have been a part of that. And certainly with Burberry’s reputation for helping artists and musicians and creatives who are relatively unknown break out, it was something I was very happy to be involved in”.

Whitehouse is under no illusion about the lucky breaks he has had. “It’s such a tough game being an actor, so many people are out there working and being really brilliant at it, and I had a very lucky opportunity to start a career as an actor, so I have been trying to honour that by giving it as much hard work and attention as I possibly can”.

Greater passion

The hard work is paying off for Whitehouse and landing a role in British TV series Poldark was a momentous stamp of approval.

“When that came through and I got the job it was actually then I was like “This is the BBC, I’ve just got hired by the BBC, that means I’m an actor!” he remembered, laughing.

“Not to say anything against indie films, but I’d only done indie films up to that point, and as far as I was concerned I was just lucky and I was rolling with it, but there’s something about being hired for a television show that will be aired on BBC”.

But it is music Whitehouse keeps coming back to. “I feel like everything else is more of a career path, but regardless of what happens I’m still going to want to make music. Always”.

Whitehouse has various music projects on the go: his band, More Like Trees; solo work; and collaborations, including a 14-piece hip hop band.

I wonder if he feels most creatively free with music, considering that, as an actor or model, you are presenting characters created by someone else and reading other writer’s words. He confirms my suspicion.

“That’s exactly what it is, yeah, and why I’ve always explained that music would be my greater passion. It’s entirely your expression, your ideas, I’m the director, I’m the writer, the creator.

“It’s often a way to unload something that bugs me, or maybe a personal issue. I’ve had anxiety at times in my life and sometimes it’s a way of overcoming that”.

We ended the conversation with a music anecdote when I asked if Whitehouse has a particular song that instantly transports him back to a time and place.

“Yes. There’s a song called Cecilia by Paul Simon and, when I was about three or four years old, I used to really love that song and I would play it really loud. One day, I phoned the police because it was the only phone number I knew. I called 999 and I blasted that song down the phone to them, and I thought nothing of it.

“But later on, I had my mum coming up to me going, ‘Joshua did you call the police and play them Cecilia?’!” Laughing, he adds “So every time I hear that song, I remember when I called the police and made them listen to that.”

I remarked that there’s an officer somewhere who must remember that, too. “Yeah, I hope so”, Whitehouse agreed. Perhaps, too, the police officer might discover that a certain anonymous caller is now this rising British star.

Whitehouse plays a musician in Modern Life is Rubbish. PHOTO: Modern Life is Rubbish

Josh Whitehouse

  • Born 27 February, 1990 in London, England.
  • Singer songwriter in band More Like Trees.
  • Actor in films Northern Soul and Modern Life is Rubbish, and BBC television series Poldark.
  • Model in Mr Burberry short film directed by Steve McQueen.