Until now, the most I knew of Joe Alwyn’s work was a memorable, if small, role in The Favourite. He has done other stuff, but I never saw Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk — the only thing we covered from that film was Kristen Stewart at one of the screenings — and missed Mary, Queen of Scots, in which he played Robert Dudley. All of which is to say that to most people, even possibly those who DID watch those movies, the lion’s share of Joe’s name recognition comes from being Taylor Swift’s boyfriend. That must be weird for him — and that may change now that Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends is coming to TV, potentially doing for him what Normal People has begun to do for Paul Mescal. This round of press may well be some folks’ first exposure to Joe, or at least one of the most high-profile moments he’s had to speak of himself and for himself. Unfortunately, WSJ. is paywalled, so I can only see the quotes they distributed, and the whole picture remains elusive. But, unfortunately for Joe, I got a chuckle out of the article’s headline and subhead, neither of which is his doing:

Joe Alwyn is Hollywood’s Most Private Leading Man

With the upcoming release of the TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s ‘Conversations With Friends,’ the British actor and Grammy Award winner (alongside Taylor Swift) is entering a new chapter.

Point the First: I understand the magazine needed a hook, and it’s not factually wrong per se, but there is no way Joe Alwyn is Hollywood’s most private leading man. That is CLEARLY Ryan Gosling. But even it it’s not, a) Joe is not a leading man at the moment, which I don’t say to be cruel; I feel there’s an important distinction between “has had two lead roles, six years apart” and “is a leading man”‘ and b) I feel like we could list a lot of fairly private actors, even if they’re men we’ve seen out and about more than we’ve seen Joe, and even if they’re technically less press-shy than Joe. For example, other than his daughter with Irina Shayk, I have no clue what Bradley Cooper is doing or feeling right now. Chris Pine keeps a lid on it. And Pete Davidson is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Okay, I kid, but you get the gist.

Point the Second: I am not disputing or minimizing his credited work on Taylor Swift’s folklore and evermore. But leading with “actor and Grammy winner,” again, while FACTUAL, feels almost hilariously aggrandizing in a way that I actually suspect would even make Joe snicker. (He was not initially on the nominee list; they added him after she won, which Billboard says “occasionally” happens and which may have been calculated to deflect any unnecessary attention.)

Anyway, none of that is his fault. I’m sure he feels like he’s swimming upstream to increase his profile, work-wise (and also necessarily publicly), because being put forth for more interviews means he’s naturally going to be asked about Taylor, and it’s hard to be as locked-down as they’ve been and then suddenly throw open the floodgates. Elle resisted focusing on that, save for the bit Jessica excerpted where the writer mentions he’s been asked whether this role means anything about his personal life. I can’t see the whole WSJ. piece, but they sent us two semi-relevant quotes:

Alwyn on those engagement rumors: “If I had a pound for every time I think I’ve been told I’ve been engaged, then I’d have a lot of pound coins,” he says. “I mean, the truth is, if the answer was yes, I wouldn’t say, and if the answer was no, I wouldn’t say.”

Alwyn on defending his privacy: “We live in a culture that people expect so much to be given. So that if you’re not posting all the time about what you’re doing, how you’re spending a day or how you made a breakfast, does that make you a recluse?” He shrugs. “I’d also like to feel slightly less guarded sometimes in interviews or in whatever kind of interactions, but it’s just a knee- jerk response to the culture we live in.

That first piece of that first quote is a word Cobb, right there. I have notes. I want to edit it. But I like that it appears he hasn’t sat at home crafting the perfect answer, because maybe it means he really isn’t obsessing over it. As for the second, I understand being tempted to unring the privacy bell, just because it probably takes a lot of energy to remember not to speak openly about people who are important to you. But I’m sure he also wants to be known on his own terms. What would those be? I don’t have much more for you than these other proffered bites:

Alwyn on his most traumatic drama class: He went on to enroll in the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in his hometown, where he was introduced to the art of clowning, a course he says he’s blocked out because of the trauma. “You’re wheeled into a room and your classmates are standing there and you’re told: ‘Make them laugh.’ It just felt like torture. That was not the class for me.”

Series co-star Sasha Lane on Alwyn:“We both have the personality that we don’t need to try so hard. There’d be days on set where we didn’t speak to each other at all for nine hours, and then all of a sudden we’d be having conversations nonstop.” Lane’s father died while they were filming, which revealed a protective and mature side of her co-star. “Joe was gentle and he wasn’t overly pushy, because he knew I’m not good at mushy stuff,” she says. “Boys age differently, they’re f—ing idiots until they get older. But he’s a kind man with good manners.” 

That all seems fine! He’s a handsome non-asshole who — quite rightly, in my estimation — hated that clowning class and is a closed book only out of necessity. He seems like a good egg. I hope he and Taylor attend the Met Gala together and break the Internet, and I look forward to reading something more in-depth someday.


And maybe it can run next to some photos where he doesn’t seem QUITE so stressed-out and headachy.

[Photos: Harry Carr for WSJ. Magazine]