Acting is an inherited trait for 14-year-old Louis (pronounced “Loo-ee”) Ashbourne Serkis, the star of the modern-day Arthurian-legend adventure The Kid Who Would Be King.
Not only is Louis’ father, Andy Serkis, an award-winning actor (Klaue in Black Panther, Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Snoke in The Last Jedi), but his mother, aunt and older siblings act as well.
“I grew up on film sets, like as a baby on King Kong,” the actor said. “I started to realise when I was 6 or 7 that it would be quite cool to entertain people for a living.”
At that point the young Londoner “just got into it”, booking auditions and early roles, the first a bit part in 2015’s grown-up mystery drama Child 44.
“I did my first small thing when I was 7, but it was tiny,” he recalled. “I played Gary Oldman’s son, but my part got cut out of the film.”
Since then, Louis has racked up nine film and television credits, a mix of live-action, animated and motion-capture work (an art form his father is famous for perfecting). But when it came to securing his leading role in The Kid Who Would Be King, Louis wasn’t even sure what the movie was about initially.
“I was walking home from school, and my mum rang and said, ‘You’ve got to come home now, you have this audition’,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about it, and I did my first audition in my sports (uniform).”
Despite wearing his gym clothes to the first screen test, Louis scored a second audition, a one-on-one with director Joe Cornish, for the big part.
Alex is a 12-year-old schoolboy who can somehow wield the sword in the stone and must rally a group of “knights”, including two school bullies, to fight Morgana, an evil sorceress who wants to reclaim the sword – and all of Britain – for herself.
Louis explained that like most British kids, he grew up familiar with stories about King Arthur, his sword Excalibur and the Knights of the Round Table, but after earning the role, he did even more research.
“I watched Excalibur, which Patrick was in,” Louis said about the 1987 fantasy in which his co-star Patrick Stewart plays King Arthur’s father-in-law, King Leodegrance.
“And I read the Michael Morpurgo book Arthur, High King of Britain, but also at school we’ve always heard the classic tale that whoever pulls the sword out becomes the king.”
Louis also had to do a “load of” physical training to prepare for using a medieval sword, wearing armour and riding horseback.
“There was like two months of solid horse-riding and sword-fighting practice and getting fit,” Louis explained. “That was really tough. The first time I tried the horse-riding lessons, it was quite hard to get used to, but it was worth it.”
Through the preproduction training and the shoot, Louis bonded with his onscreen knights (teen actors Tom Taylor, Rhianna Dorris and Dean Chaumoo), who appear in almost every major scene with him.
“We’ve become such close friends that we’re going to be mates for life,” he said. “I’m really grateful that we had this opportunity together.”
If all goes well, Louis and his co-stars could have another chance to show off their medieval sword-fighting skills. “Hopefully there will be a sequel,” he said.