From creator Craig Pearce and director Danny Boyleand based on the memoir of legendary Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jonesthe FX limited series Pistol (available to stream on Hulu) tells the story of a working-class young man with what many would consider a bleak future, who formed a band so epic and chaotic it changed music and pop culture forever. While the band was far from ready for the spotlight, the world wasn’t prepared for the furious rage of the punk rockers who weren’t just looking to shake up the Establishment, but to set it on fire and burn it to the ground.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, co-stars Louis Partridge and Emma Appletonwho play Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, talked about how much band camp helped them find cast chemistry, exploring the individual behind the persona, performing the gigs live on set, and exploring the dynamics their characters each had with Chrissie HyndeSydney Chandler), and what it was like to leave these characters behind.
Collider: How did you prepare for these roles?
LOUIS PARTRIDGE: We had the absolute luxury of having a two-month band camp, where we basically picked up everything we could, absorb information, and learned to learn our lines, our accents, and our movement. You’re never afforded that, but for Danny, that was something that he always wanted to do because he wanted that authenticity throughout. It all happened then. And Emma came in with a banging accent and immediately set the tone. We all went away and did our homework.
EMMA APPLETON: Those months of rehearsal were so key to all the chemistry on set, and the visceral quality and the energy that you get. No one was second-guessing themselves. Normally, you turn up, and it’s your first day on set, and you’re meeting people for the first time, and everyone’s trying to find their feet. But we’d found our feet by then, in terms of settling into our characters, because we’d been in that skin for a while.
PARTRIDGE: And we were all really friends. We all got on, and we had time to get on. And it was during the pandemic, so the bond was real.
Emma, what was it like for you to find this character? How did you figure out the way you wanted to embody her?
APPLETON: It was a fascinating process. Obviously, I was aware of Nancy, but it turns out I really knew nothing at all. I had my own source material. I read the book that her mother wrote because I really wanted to understand her beginnings and how she ends up where we see her walking through the doors at Screen on the Green. All of that was really important, as was the voice and the physicality. I’m aware that I look nothing like Nancy. I’m taller than Nancy was. It was wanting to not imitate, but be able to form the character of Nancy that I was gonna replicate on screen. The rehearsal period and getting our chemistry, and our versions of Sid and Nancy and what they were gonna look like, helped me to feel ready for five, where she comes in and sets sparklers off.
One of the interesting things about someone like Sid Vicious is that, even if you’ve never heard a Sex Pistols song, and you’re not sure who they are, you still probably know the name, Sid vicious. Louis, what was that like to embody someone like that, and what made you most nervous about trying to figure out who he was?
PARTRIDGE: It’s fascinating how that happens. It blows my mind how that can be the case, that you’ve never heard one of their songs, but yet know something about him somehow. It’s wild, the way that he’s been preserved. It felt like a massive challenge. Once I found out I got the job, I was aware that I needed to do some grafting. But with the two-month rehearsal period, it broke it down into all these different components. By that time, I was referring to a script and reading the lines. You get past the fact that it’s Sid Vicious and you get into the heart of him. You cannot play someone like Sid Vicious without getting to the heart because otherwise it’s just a recreation of the stereotype, which isn’t really that interesting.
APPLETON: Exactly. The key was having the script. Essentially, when you’re looking at the script, it’s just a human being. You’re saying these words, and then everything else is created around that. If you’re being truthful to that, then the rest [falls into line].
Did you guys each have a moment on set where it felt less like, “Okay, I’m an actor playing this role,” and more like, “Oh my God, this is the Sex Pistols,” or “This is Sid and Nancy”?
APPLETON: Very much so. It’s the most immersive acting experience I’ve had, to the point where we’d accidentally go into the voice. Even if we were just at lunch, I’d ask [Louis] to pass me something and the voice would accidentally happen. When we were on set, we were spending more time in the character than out of it. It was so much fun, and everyone just really believed it. And the gigs were great. Watching them play live and watching an actual gig, you’d get completely lost in it. You never quite knew where the cameras were. They were flying around all over the place.
PARTRIDGE: You were in it because you couldn’t not be. The cameras would be somewhere in the crowd, so you just had to do your thing for two minutes, or however long the scene took. When you were up there on stage, you weren’t really thinking about character. You were just in it. It was amazing.
APPLETON: You weren’t thinking, you were just doing. And there were long takes that you’d just get lost in. It was a magic moment.
Louis, did it feel like you had to go through a process to figure out who he would be on stage and how he would carry himself off-stage?
PARTRIDGE: I found that really interesting. There’s a massive duality, in terms of his persona and his personality. I loved showing both. It was really fun to play the persona. I got to do all the cool things that Sid did. But I don’t think you can really have one without the other, and it be a true recreation of Sid, so I was happy to be able to play the other side and really feel like I was doing him such justice.
Emma, how did you ultimately view Nancy, as a person? She is someone who we remember the tragedy of, but what are the things about her that you would like people to know, outside that?
APPLETON: The really important thing, for me, was that we’ve seen interpretations of her before and there are so many things we’ve heard and there are so many stories you hear. I just wanted to create and show a different side to Nancy, and one that perhaps people can empathize with or understand a bit more, rather than the stereotypical Nancy that we’ve seen. I can’t claim to know what she was actually like. I know that there’s a lot more people than we necessarily think. We claim to know people, but we don’t know them. I feel like it’s the same with Sid. There was the persona on stage, and then there’s who you are when you’re alone with someone, or who you are when you’re vulnerable, or who you are when you’re sad, lonely or scared. Emma was also all of those things. I wanted to bring all of that together.
When we get the moment between her and Chrissie Hynde, we see another side of Nancy that we haven’t really seen, up until that moment. What did you enjoy about that dynamic?
APPLETON: That was one of my favorite scenes to film because Sydney [Chandler], who plays Chrissie, was just so fantastic, as well. It was really important to me to see these two extremes. We see her when she first comes in, and she’s operating on quite a high level, and she’s got a lot of energy. And then, Chrissie leaves, and when she comes back in, she’s completely crashed. For me, being in Nancy’s head, that’s what it was like most of the time. It was a constant rollercoaster, and it was exhausting and hard to keep up with. She’s vulnerable. She wants to be taken care of, she wants to feel safe, she wants to have friends, and she wants to be understood. I hope all of that was portrayed in that scene.
Louis, that moment with Chrissie visiting Sid in the hospital is really sweet. What was it like to find that dynamic and really find the vulnerability behind the persona of Sid Vicious?
PARTRIDGE: That felt like the most honest part to me, doing that. From everything I gathered, he was quite a sensitive soul, or quite a fragile soul. It was very much a persona. So, I did feel like I was telling the truth, which was a really good feeling. I really loved those scenes, especially that one with Chrissie in the hospital. So much is implied there, about their relationship, without even having the need for scenes beforehand. It was Sydney’s call to lie on the bed next to me. She was always meant to just sit in the chair, but it was such a sweet moment. Chrissie Hynde came in and spoke to us. She has a lot of stories from back in the day and she gave us advice, which was amazing. She speaks so fondly of Sid, so that felt really honest. That was the most fulfilling, playing those moments of honesty.
We know how the Sex Pistols feel about Malcolm McLaren, but how did you feel about him and what he did with the Sex Pistols?
APPLETON: It’s a fascinating character, and what Thomas [Brodie-Sangster] does with it is amazing. He’s an artful dodger, but he’s creative and he wants to ruffle some feathers, like a provocateur.
PARTRIDGE: He’s so many things at once.
APPLETON: And contradictory things, as well. You can’t quite put your finger on it with him.
PARTRIDGE: Yeah, that’s a character to take on. Hats off to Thomas.
He seems like the guy you want on your side, until you want to actually kill him.
APPLETON: The thing with all these characters is that they’re such big personalities, and they’re many things, all at once, which is what makes them so fascinating, as people.
After the rehearsal, the band camp, and all the time you spent living with these characters, how did you just let them go, at the end? Was it more difficult than usual? How did you shed them?
APPLETON: For me, it was different because I spent less time in my character than [Louis] did, but I also went straight onto another job. That meant that she had to leave. I think there’ll always be a little bit of the character there. The voice still slips out. I think there will always be a bit of Nancy. I do hold the character very dear to my heart. But it was easy for me to transition.
PARTRIDGE: Honestly, I found it difficult, in a weird way. I didn’t have anything immediately pressing, so I did have a weird phase. I’ve never spent this much time as a character and I’ve never gotten so deep into a character, and it helps that he was a real person, as well. I do feel a lot for Sid. It’s the most rewarding thing when people who knew him say that we did a good job playing them. That’s the highest form of praise, really. So, I also think there will always be a little bit of Sid there.
Did you feel a bit like the guardian of the character and the individual because people do have such a perception of him?
PARTRIDGE: Yeah, and quite a lot of people that I meet. I was in a taxi cab once and I told the guy I was working on the show. He was like, “I used to teach Sid Vicious bass.” I was like, “You did what?” I think it was bollocks, but so many people have things to say about him. There’s always a story, and I feel like I really know him. I bet Emma also feels quite protective of Nancy because people have a lot to say about her.
APPLETON: There is a part of me that’s protective. I would say that I feel like a guardian over her, as a person, because I can’t claim that I know her. I’ve had to distance myself, in that respect. But I do feel like I’m a guardian for the character and the interpretation, and handling that responsibility. It’s an interesting dynamic when you’re playing a real person.
Pistol is available to stream at Hulu.