Weeks after breaking her silence on the Tennessee senate election, Taylor Swift kept the ball rolling last Friday by weighing in on the fall Oscar race, urging her Instagram followers in New York and Los Angeles to see Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite on its opening weekend. The reason does not seem to be a longtime fandom for the Greek auteur, or a sudden interest in 18th-century courtly politics, but something much simpler — the movie features Swift’s boyfriend, English actor Joe Alwyn, in a supporting role.
As a Swift song subject, Alwyn has always been a bit of a cipher. The portrait of him sketched on Reputation lacks the emotional rawness of the Jake Gyllenhaal figure in Red, or the dream-boy heroics of the Harry Styles character on 1989. All we can gather from the tracks devoted to him is that Alwyn is a good-looking chap who likes to hang out in dive bars on the Eastside of L.A., and will help you clean up after a party. The couple rarely makes public appearances together, and outside of 2016’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Alwyn hasn’t had any prominent roles of his own. For an ostensibly famous man, his star image is a completely blank slate.
That changes this fall, as Alwyn has come down with a serious case of Jessica Chastain’s Disease: After not appearing in much of anything for a few years, suddenly he’s got three movies all out at the same time, plus a fourth that hit theaters in late summer. Suddenly, there’s a lot of Joe Alwyns out there, and if you’re among the Alwyn-curious, you may be wondering which Alwyn is the one for you. Consider this your handy guide.
Operation Finale — Nazi Joe Alwyn
Alwyn’s character gets a hell of an opening in Chris Weitz’s August spy caper: As the son of escaped Nazi Adolf Eichmann, he’s introduced giggling through a scene of racist abuse in Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life. Romancing poor Haley Lu Richardson, he’s hardly met her father before he unleashes an anti-Semitic rant about “the Jews clawing power back and taking our jobs”; his idea for a great second date is taking her to a Nazi rally. Oh, and to make it worse, she’s Jewish. Never trust an Aryan goy from Argentina, girls!
Luckily, there’s a silver lining: Since Alwyn couldn’t be more of a Nazi if he was goose-stepping around with a tiny mustache, Richardson’s dad tips off Mossad that he’s probably Eichmann’s son, which gets the whole plot of the movie in motion. And later, when Ben Kingsley’s Eichmann is posing as his uncle, Alwyn slips up and calls him “father,” tipping off the Israelis that they do indeed have their man. He may be a Nazi, but at least he’s a stupid one.
Boy Erased — Rapist Joe Alwyn
If Weitz looked at Alwyn’s blond hair and blue eyes and immediately envisioned a Hitler-loving youth, Boy Erased director Joel Edgerton saw a different sort of darkness. Alwyn plays Henry, a college buddy of Lucas Hedges’s character, initially presented as a perfect specimen of modern manhood. He’s everything Hedges wishes he could be, a God-fearing bro with rippling muscles and a perfect smile. But the spell breaks: Alwyn catches Hedges checking him out after one of their late-night jogs, and in a harrowing long take, repays the compliment by pinning him down in his dorm-room bunk bed and raping him. If that wasn’t enough, he follows up the assault by confessing he’s done it before, praying and asking for Hedges’s forgiveness. Hedges drops out of school to recover, but Alwyn isn’t done yet: Worried that he’ll be found out, he calls Hedges’s parents pretending to be a school administrator, and outs him.
Henry’s an audacious emotional manipulator, but both actor and director underplay it. There’s a blankness to Alwyn in this role that’s chilling — you can’t quite tell if it’s premeditated, or if he’s just instinctually cruel. Either way, in terms of pure loathsomeness per scene, you may not find as horrible a character this year. Honestly, if this is your favorite Joe Alwyn, I’m a bit worried for you.
The Favourite — Ineffectual Joe Alwyn
If you’re a young British thespian and you haven’t been cast in a period piece, are you really a good actor? Luckily, The Favourite is not a regular period piece; it’s a cool period piece, a biting comedy about political maneuvering in the court of Queen Anne, and a lesbian love triangle to boot. As Samuel Masham, one of the guys orbiting the trio of leading ladies, Alwyn is harmlessly vestigial to the action. He’s a skilled dance partner for Rachel Weisz and a convenient husband for Emma Stone, but nobody really pays him any mind. (He nags Stone to give him some conjugal affection; she keeps plotting while giving him a half-hearted hand job.)
Mostly, he’s a clotheshorse, as Lanthimos has a lot of fun piling ridiculous 18th-century fashions on top of Alwyn’s Ken-doll good looks. (He does it to Nicholas Hoult, too, but Hoult’s character thinks he looks good. Alwyn knows he looks ridiculous.) Early in their courtship, Alwyn surprises Stone in her room. “Are you here to seduce me or rape me?” she asks. He’s aghast: “I am a gentleman.” “So, rape then,” she jokes. Even queer satires need a straight man.
Mary, Queen of Scots — Lover Boy Joe Alwyn
While he hasn’t quite found his star-making project, we’ve at least learned one thing about Alwyn this fall: He’s clearly not afraid of taking on an unpleasant role. After portraying an anti-Semite, a sex criminal, and a doofus, I suspect Alwyn’s part in Mary, Queen of Scots may have come as a relief. Finally, he’s playing a relatively normal male-ingenue role: Robert Dudley, favorite of Elizabeth I (who you may remember as the guy Joseph Fiennes played in Elizabeth). Historical interpretations of Dudley have been mixed, but Mary, Queen of Scots paints him in a positive light. He’s Elizabeth’s boyfriend, but for political reasons, they can’t get married, so the queen floats the idea of him marrying Mary to tie England and Scotland together in diplomatic accord. He sulks at the idea: He doesn’t want to give up the woman he loves, even if it means becoming the king of Scotland. He sticks by Elizabeth even when she’s got the pox!
There are a lot of terrible men in Mary, Queen of Scots — Mary’s half-brother is constantly rebelling against her, her second husband is a useless drunk, and her third is a rapist — so Alwyn comes out looking pretty good, almost by default. Which, come to think of it, is kind of the role he plays in Swift’s discography, too. Art imitates life, even in 16th-century London.