By Emlyn Travis
Louis Partridge remembers exactly where he was when he discovered that he had been cast as the noble Viscount Tewkesbury, Marquess of Basilwether, in Netflix’s newest film Enola Holmes, out today (September 23). He was in the kitchen of his London home with his mom and dad and, upon discovering that he had gotten the role, promptly shot up the stairs in a celebratory victory lap. Then, he recalls, he packed up his things and took an English literature exam at school.
“I was auditioning for Enola Holmes in the run-up to my GSCEs in England, which are these big exams that you take, and I thought: I should be revising for this [exam], but I’ve got this audition in a week, and this is the most important thing I’ve done so far. I want to do this; the exams can wait,” the 17-year-old actor tells MTV News over Zoom from the very same home in London. “And then I went and did my exam, and I remember halfway through putting my pen down and just being spaced out, thinking: Wow, I got the part.”
Prior to the call, it had been a long period of waiting after his audition in Leicester Square. “I just remember waiting to hear so bad,” he says. “You can fall into a trap a bit where you want a part so bad and you don’t get it, so I try not to want [any role] too bad, but I couldn’t with this one.”
Landing the part, however, did come with a caveat: ”It was the worst exam I did of the whole of my GCSEs,” he reveals between laughs. “I did 10, and it was the worst one I got. I’ll take the Enola job over a better grade, that’s for sure.”
Directed by Harry Bradbeer, the coming-of-age film is based on the novels by Nancy Springer and sees its titular character, played by Millie Bobby Brown, embark on an adventure to London to track down her missing mother (Helena Bonham Carter) while dodging her brothers Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft Holmes (Sam Claflin). Along the way, she encounters the posh Tewkesbury, played by Partridge, and the two form an unlikely alliance despite being complete opposites; Enola is unabashedly direct and quick on her feet, while Tewkesbury is more thoughtful and gentle. It’s Tewkesbury’s soft heart that initially drew Partridge to the character.
For the last six years, Partridge has delicately balanced a burgeoning acting career alongside the busy life of a teenager. Everything in his life changed when, at 12-years-old, he was part of a three-day short film shoot that made him fall in love with acting, and he’s been chasing its creative thrill ever since. Although he never officially took acting classes or went to drama school, he cites Leonardo DiCaprio as a major acting influence growing up, especially the films The Aviator and Shutter Island (he’s yet to watch What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, but it’s on his list), and now finds inspiration in Timothée Chalamet’s career, too. Since that fateful film, Partridge’s bright-eyed determination has also led him to roles in Paddington 2 and Medici; he knows the route into Central London for auditions so well that, at this point, he swears he could do it with his eyes closed.
But offscreen, Partridge is still a down-to-earth teen. He likes skateboarding and listening to his favorite bands: The Strokes, The Smiths, The Cure. (“If it’s ’80s, I’ll like it,” he says.) Naturally creative, he’s been teaching himself how to play songs on piano via YouTube tutorials. With the world currently in lockdown, he’s been taking his dog on walks, he’s tried out songwriting, and he’s recently become obsessed with making milkshakes in his Nutribullet — just about anything that gets him away from his laptop screen and online schooling. He’s also a fan of mysteries although, admittedly, prefers Agatha Christie’s stories over Sherlock Holmes.
Still, he could quickly see similarities between himself and Tewkesbury, the quiet teen who prefers plants over politics. “He might not seem it at the start, but [Tewkesbury’s] super soft. He’s quite a gentle character and he’s really just trying to navigate his way through this pretty insane life that’s been set out for him,” he says. “[He’s someone] who’s not afraid to like flowers. This is where me and Tewkesbury meet; I often wear quite a lot of women’s clothes and I get teased a little at school. It’s healthy, obviously, but I like the fact that Tewkesbury represents something that you don’t see all too much, in the same way Enola does.”
It was easy for Partridge to slip into the role of Tewkesbury, in part because he got to work alongside Brown. Aside from being “a little bit” starstruck upon their initial meeting, he and Brown quickly formed a fast friendship not dissimilar to their characters. Despite initially wanting nothing to do with him, Enola is forced to work alongside Tewkesbury after the two narrowly escape death by leaping from a moving train. It’s not until they’re lost in the English countryside together that the duo discovers their unique upbringings make them a good team; Tewkesbury’s knowledge of local foliage and mushrooms secures them dinner, while Enola’s knack for disguises grants Tewkesbury anonymity so he won’t be recognized as the missing Marquess in London. “We’d be talking on set and joking and doing whatever, and we’d sort of fall into our characters, and then it’d be Enola and Tewkesbury,” he says.
Their friendship is partly why Partridge didn’t feel particularly nervous on his first day on the set of a massive production. “I think it’s something to do with acting with Millie that made me sort of forget where I was,” he says. “Because we were mates offscreen, you sort of bring that into your onscreen relationship which really helped and I think it came across in the film.”
Between takes on the 50-day shoot, Brown and Partridge could often be found joking around and creating short videos together using the app Video Star, including a particularly stunt-heavy one he believes lives on Brown’s phone. “There’s a Video Star that we made in between takes of [shooting scenes on the train],” he says. “We stood up the camera in the train while they were filming, so it’s Millie’s phone from the inside just lying on the seat while I’m hanging out of the train, basically.”
Partridge hopes viewers enjoy that onscreen connection between Tewkesbury and Enola and that they leave the film with a better understanding of his character’s own personal struggles. “I hope people understand that behind his bravado and his arrogance at the start, he’s kind of lost underneath,” Partridge says. “He’s really innocent, and Enola sees that and likes that. And I see sort of the opposite in Enola, who seems to know what’s going on when, in actual fact, she needs Tewkesbury, just like Tewkesbury needs her.”
As she speeds away on a bicycle with a cheeky grin in the final scene of the film, Enola says the future is “up to us,” and, if given the chance, Partridge has a few ideas for his character’s future that he’d like to see happen in further installments. “I think Tewkesbury would quite like to meet Sherlock; I think that would be quite interesting,” he says. And naturally, he’d love to work with Brown again in a sequel. “I think they left the relationship between Enola and Tewkesbury so up in the air that I think there’s so far for it to go... but that’s just me!”