'There Is Something About Letting Your Imagination Run': Actor Rupert Friend Is Advocating for a Return to Longhand Writing

Rupert Friend wears a sweater by Hawes & Curtis and watch by Montblanc. Shot at the Montblanc Haus in Hamburg.

Rupert Friend—star of screens large and small, from Homeland to Asteroid City—can’t stop talking about writing: His. Mine. Other people’s. The books he can see behind me on my shelf during our Zoom. What’s in his notebooks. What people read in the loo.

Last year, the 42-year-old British actor starred in Wes Anderson’s short film reimaginings of Roald Dahl’s stories The Swan and The Rat Catcher on Netflix. When I pull my own copy of Dahl’s Collected Stories off the shelf, his face lights up with a smile no amount of pixels can adequately capture.

“I’m kind of a dilettante in my reading,” he tells me from his home in New York, where he lives with his wife, actor and athlete Aimee Mullins. “I will have four to seven books on the go at any one time, and I don’t have a problem with bookmarked books scattered around the house.” Perhaps because Friend is English, or perhaps because he’s made New York and not Hollywood his home, he seems utterly unaware that, in the world of movie stars, this makes him less dabbler than professor. His tastes are allover the place: He talks about John McPhee and Marshall McLuhan, Anton Chekhov and Matthew López’s The Inheritance.

Rupert wears a blazer and pants by Sandro, T-shirt by Sunspel, pocket square by Anderson & Sheppard, watch by Montblanc, socks by Pantherella, and shoes by John Lobb.

But Friend is more than just an admirer of the craft of writing. He is also adapting his own words for the screen and stage. In 2010, Friend penned Steve, a vignette about a young couple who receive increasingly bizarre and frequent visits from their neighbor (the eponymous Steve). After adapting the story into a short film starring his friend Colin Firth that same year, Friend is turning the starkly funny and touching story into a full-length stage play and feature-length film. He is also collaborating with an as-yet-unnamed New York Times-bestselling writer of spy thrillers to adapt one of his books to the screen. (Friend plans to play the lead.)

For the actor, writing is romance—even the physical act of it, and especially when done with his trusted Montblanc fountainpen. (He is an ambassador for the luxury accessories brand.) “When you move the side of your hand across a tactile surface, it's a notably different experience than typing,” he says. “There is something about letting your imagination run a bit out ahead of your pen.” He drafted three short stories with the Montblanc pen and had the pages bound and illustrated by his oldest friend, artist Ed Atkins. “The joke was that they took the same amount of time to read as men spend in the toilet, wanting something to do,” Friend says of the story-writing process.

The actor’s life has always been, to some extent, about words. He grew up in Oxfordshire with an academic father and “a complete grammar-stickler of a mother, who would walk around among the greengrocers in England, crossing out possessive apostrophes on ‘Carrot’s.’ She carried a pen with her.” His first screen roles even had a literary tinge. While training at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art (the august alumni of which include Angela Lansbury, Julia Ormond, and Julian Fellowes), he performed opposite Johnny Depp’s salacious poet in The Libertine. Then, he was cast in Joe Wright’s 2005 take on Pride and Prejudice.

Things became a little less bookish during his assassin era, which began with Hitman: Agent 47, and continued with the TV series Homeland (his sangfroid as CIA operative Peter Quinn earned him an Emmy nom in 2013). More recently, Friend made his way into the Wes Anderson cinematic universe—first in 2021’s The French Dispatch, and later with meatier roles in the director’s latest feature, Asteroid City, and his Roald Dahl shorts in 2023.

“Working with Wes, it’s like another language that you become fluent in,” Friend says. He recalls the director phoning to inform him he’d be “playing a cowboy who can play a lap steel guitar and sing.” When Friend responded that, in fact, he couldn’t do any of these things, Anderson said he was sure he’d figure it out. “There is an enormous confidence boost,” Friend says. “He makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Rupert wears a suit by Paul Smith, shirt by Mr P. Polo, and watch by Montblanc.

Lightsabers, spies, laughs; writing, directing, acting—Friend has the kind of range that’s as rare as it is enviable. For him, it’s all about curiosity. “I can’t imagine living on this planet for the time that we have and not exploring as much as possible,” he muses. So where will curiosity take him next? In addition to his literary pursuits, he’ll star opposite Kate Beckinsale in the thriller Canary Black. Meanwhile, Dreams, a 2024 film he shot alongside Jessica Chastain, will tour festivals. He’ll round out the year with Companion, a sci-fi flick with hot young things Sophie Thatcher and Lukas Gage.

When I note the latitude and quantity of projects he has on the go, Friend replies with a shrug. “I’m not the guy who will say, ‘It needs to be my personal story.’ My job is learning your story,” Friend says. “Except for right now. All I’ve done is talk about myself.”

We forgive him. Pens down.