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Alexander Lincoln
Photograph: Harry Livingstone

Alexander Lincoln: ‘It’s refreshing to be part of a queer film where sexuality isn’t the conflict’

The BFI Flare star on swapping ‘Emmerdale’ for the scrum

Jess Phillips
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Jess Phillips
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You’d be forgiven for thinking the scariest thing about shooting a film with rugby at its core would be the threat of an 18-stone bruiser landing on your ribcage. But for Alexander Lincoln, who plays one of the leading men in London-set rugby drama In From the Side, it was donning skis that inspired real terror.

Chatting over Zoom from his mother’s Surrey living room the actor recalls shooting the film, which premieres at BFI Flare next week, in the French Alps. ‘I swear to God, we nearly died. I was sure we were going to fall off the side of this cliff in a blizzard.’ He offers a grin familiar to any Emmerdale fan (he joined the long-running soap in 2019) – and a caveat: ‘I'm sure everyone else would say we were metres away from the edge, but it felt like we were going to plunge to our deaths. I’ve got really bad vertigo.’

Luckily, the majority of the film – which follows an affair between two men who play for a club based loosely on the Kings Cross Steelers – was shot on grass and mud. This is a place that the Lambeth-born Lincoln feels at home, having played rugby up to the age of 18 and gone to university in Wales, where rugby is as much national language as sport.

But due to mounting injuries, his time at uni was spent spectating rather than shoving his head in a ruck. ‘I was terrified of it,’ he says. ‘I broke my nose so many times, so by that point, I thought my body couldn’t take playing again.’ He tells us about confronting that fear head-on in In From the Side.

In From the Side
Photograph: Adam Silver

How would you describe In From the Side?
It’s about raw lust, throwing caution to the wind, not really thinking about other people’s feelings and having it all blow up in your face. I think everyone can relate to that, whether you’ve had an affair or not.’

It’s rare in being a queer film that’s set in a macho world.
I think marrying those two very different concepts together is extremely interesting. Matt Carter, the writer and director, used to play for a rugby team called the Kings Cross Steelers, which led to some really nice discussions about sexuality, sport and the inclusivity of it. I’m hoping that’s becoming more the case with huge figures like (ex-Welsh rugby star) Gareth Thomas and (referee) Nigel Owens coming out. We mainly used Steelers players as extras in the film too.’

I cracked a couple of ribs shooting one scene, but anything for the art

The film’s main conflict isn’t really about sexuality, is it?
‘Yeah, the film isn’t about the hardships of coming out or feeling like an outsider. The LGBTQI+ aspect of it is there, but it isn’t: “Oh wow, they’re gay and they play rugby.” The film is mostly about camaraderie, teamwork and the relationships that develop in sports teams. It just so happens that one of these relationships is between two gay men.’

In From the Side
Photograph: Adam Silver

What’s been your experience of sexuality and masculinity?
I remember in school the word “gay” being used as a derogatory term. I'd like to think that people now appreciate the history of the word. But there’s definitely still an aspect of sexuality being used as a slur. Growing up, I was the more effeminate one [in my friendship group]. I didn’t get bullied per se for that, but I was aware of it. As an actor it’s allowed me to play with tropes that I may not have otherwise played with.’

How did it impact your experiences on a rugby team?
Rugby teams take the piss out of everyone. There’s a lot of ribbing and it’s non-discriminating. Providing that you know each other well and no one crosses the line, it’s inclusive and back-and-forth and you’re all part of it. You all tease the person who walked into a lampost the night before.’

My mum would tell you that I'm extremely scared of commitment

What did you enjoy most about playing rugby when you were growing up?
Looking back, it was the camaraderie. My friends were from different cliques at school or they didn’t go to my school at all. It was about working together as a team to overcome obstacles and I really loved that.’

Did you pick up any rugby injuries during filming?
There’s one scene where I get the ball and score a try and these two particularly big blokes had to land on me. That probably took about 12 takes. I think I cracked a couple of ribs, but it was good fun. Anything for the art.’

In From the Side
Photograph: Adam Silver

In From the Side is a film about love in its different guises. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about love?
My mum would tell you that I’m scared of commitment. Until recently, I would have told you that was bullshit, but I think it’s actually true. I cut things off to save heartache down the line. But I’ve learned it’s not about thinking: is this person forever? but more: Am I enjoying spending time with this person right now? Ultimately, that’s the only question you need to ask yourself.’

In From the Side screens at BFI Flare at 8pm, Sun Mar 27. For the full Flare programme, head to the official site.

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