When David Dawson signed on to star in My Policeman, he didn't know that his co-stars would be Harry Styles, the pop superstar, and Emma Corrin, who was at the time on the cusp of breaking out with their role as Princess Diana on The Crown. Nor did he know that Rupert Everett would play the older version of his character. "I didn't know any of that at the time, actually," he tells A.frame.
Instead, it was the opportunity to work with London theater director-turned-filmmaker Michael Grandage, who'd directed the actor in a play nearly 15 years ago and, more recently, produced a 2015 production of The Dazzle, starring Dawson and Andrew Scott. "Initially, it was because of Michael."
Dawson had likewise transitioned from the stage to the screen with plum parts on Peaky Blinders and The Lost Kingdom. In My Policeman, based on the popular 2012 novel by Bethan Roberts, Dawson plays the posh museum curator, Patrick Hazlewood. The film follows a love triangle between Tom (Styles), a police officer forced to hide his sexuality, his schoolteacher wife Marion (Corrin), and his lover, Patrick.
The story is told across two time periods, with Styles, Corrin and Dawson starring in the 1950s portion. Linus Roache, Gina McKee, and Everett play Tom, Marion and Patrick, respectively, in the late 1990s. "Michael suggested that we all go away and have a private conversation with our older selves," Dawson says. Ahead of filming, he and Everett spent hours on the phone together, more so just to get to know one another as people than to necessarily analyze Patrick together. "As a big fan of Rupert's from before, that was wonderful to have that time with him."
Dawson met his other co-stars for the first time on Zoom, due to the film being made amid the pandemic. For their first in-person rehearsal, Grandage asked that Styles, Corrin and Dawson meet in the recording studio. "There's a song we all sing together in the film when we're getting drunk in a bar, so they brought us in round a piano to sing together," he explains.
"I thought it was a really kind of clever icebreaker. Any nerves you had about meeting new people were gone straightaway," Dawson says. Having to sing with Harry Styles when you'd just met him for the first time wasn't debilitatingly nerve-wracking? "Harry's very good at putting everybody at ease, so it wasn't nerve-wracking at all."
The sense of camaraderie the three built over the three-week rehearsal process ("a luxury," Dawson says) continued into the shoot itself. He recalls one day in particular, when they were shooting the singing scene at London's art deco bar, Brasserie Zédel. "I remember it was boiling hot," he chuckles. "We had to sing. And it kind of worked out because we were meant to be a bit drunk. And we had to sing for about three hours."
"The three of us got to create the joy of their friendship, because everything that comes out of that stems from that chemistry that the three of them have that's broken over time. That is a memory that sticks in my head."
Dawson leans forward, as if suddenly remembering. "We were staying in a really cool hotel and I never knew this, but underground, there was this secret entrance that went straight through to this restaurant we were filming in," he shares. "All the famous Hollywood stars back in the day used it so they didn't have to be in public." As a gay man filming a queer period romance, Dawson found himself literally walking in the footsteps of gay icons. "The man told us that it was used by Liz Taylor and Judy Garland!"