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Alex Lawther and Linus Fenton chat creativity and friendship

Actor Alex Lawther and musician Linus Fenton have been best friends since they were 11. Recently, they teamed up for an exciting new project, so we caught up with them to hear more. Joining a video call, we almost feel like a third wheel – they’re doing those knowing looks that only the best of friends understand.

You probably recognise Alex from shows like The End of the F***king World, Black Mirror and The Imitation Game, but Alex has been interested in trying his hand at directing for some time. While Linus, a session musician who trained at jazz school, has always felt like stepping into the spotlight to pursue a solo career.

Despite both working in The Arts, they’ve never worked together and the pair were keen to create something of their own having always starred in other people’s productions. So when Linus approached his good friend Alex to ask if he’d direct the music video for his new song, Fountainhead, it was a no-brainer that they’d collaborate.

What’s more, they’ve signposted to CALM’s services at the end of the video, in the hope that people will relate to the song’s message and reach out if they’re struggling.

Alex and Linus’ close bond is palpable from the moment we start talking, so it seems fitting that Fountainhead is a song about friendship. Alt rock meets folk in this ethereal and moving song – written for a friend following a breakup, the track’s chorus is an invitation to a friend to talk about what’s on their mind. Linus explains:

“I knew my friend was going through a difficult time but I felt like he wasn't fully letting me in. Both of us had gone through breakups and I was in a place where I felt like I hadn't been talking to people properly during that relationship. Suddenly, I was enjoying opening up and talking to people and I wanted him to do that with me.”

Alex worked on a video concept that would echo the song’s sentiment, without being too literal. Filmed with a grainy lens, the video depicts two school friends on stage, perhaps mirroring Alex and Linus’ own companionship.

Their performance seems to roll through a range of emotions, eventually descending into a chaotic and cathartic crescendo where the boys kick over chairs and pull down the stage curtains, maybe mirroring the relief of talking about what’s on your mind. Alex says:

“Linus knew that I was interested in directing and being on the other side of the camera and it was cool because it had been a secret desire of mine for a long time. When I first heard the song it felt very personal and I felt I could respond to it in a very personal way. I thought I would make something way more abstract and obtuse, but actually there’s quite a clear narrative in the video and it’s quite accessible I hope.

“We wanted to share it with a charity that shared the same concerns, so I reached out to CALM and crossed my fingers you’d agree, because it felt right to link the two things together.”

Interested to know what a great friendship looks like to Alex and Linus, we asked them how they show up for their mates in the little ways. Both agreeing that it’s about checking in and connecting with someone even when they might be somewhere else in the world, Linus says:

“Check in with them regularly, but also ask more than once, because sometimes it takes a few times to break down that barrier. Be the friend that persists in finding out how that person is really feeling and just be there to listen and hear what they have to say.

“It can be your first instinct to give advice and try to help them fix the situation, but I think it’s important to give them the space to say what they’re feeling and recognise that what they’re going through is hard. It lets them know their feelings are valid.”

When we ask Alex to pitch in, there’s a big pause. A little panicked that we’ve lost internet connection, we soon realise that Alex is moved by Linus’ reply:

“I'm actually welling up a bit. That's so true, Linus. Hence, why you're such a good friend. Man, I don't think I've ever appreciated my friends, and I say that with regret, but as much as I have since the first lockdown, when suddenly I couldn't see people. The joy when we could see each other again showed me just how important that relationship is. A friendship means so much.”

It’s touching to hear the two of them talk so fondly about each other and their mutual mates, laughing about inside jokes and showing so much interest in what one another has to say – the kind of easy company that comes with over 15 years of knowing someone. So what keeps them connected when they’re on tour and far from friends? Alex says:

“I found that during lockdown, having that daily drip feed of friends sending photos of their days stuck inside really helped. That’s one blessing with technology, is that people can be present in your day to day life, even if you’re in different places. It’s about being available in that way, to share nonsense and the mundaneness of every day.”

Most of us would agree that it’s nice when a friend gets in touch and it’s always flattering to know that someone’s thinking about you, but reaching out doesn’t have to mean sending a lengthy message. Linus says:

“It doesn’t have to be serious. It could be some music you’ve come across that you think that friend will enjoy, or just a meme or GIF that makes you laugh. My girlfriend and I always send cute pictures of dogs.”

Friends are invaluable when we’re going through something tough, they can offer new perspectives and help us look at things in a different way. They may not always mean to, but our mates often pass on small nuggets of wisdom, so we asked if any wise words had stuck with Alex or Linus over the years. Alex says:

“I remember visiting a friend at university who was studying English literature. She had an old English poem taped to her window which said something like, ‘That passed, so too will this’. I found it reassuring to think that things change and however things might seem now, nothing is permanent.”

Echoing CALM’s own message that there’s always hope, it seemed like a poignant note to end our chat on. Whether you choose to chat to a friend, or chat to us, with the right support – things can get better.

Fountainhead is out today. Listen to it, share it with your friends and let them know you’re thinking of them.

Need support? Worried about someone? CALM’s helpline and webchat are open daily 5pm-midnight. Get access here.

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