What makes a compelling film narrative for teens in 2017? That of a young boy with superpowers thanks to the smartphone lodged in his skull may seem an unlikely contender, but take this unrealistic plot device, and anchor it to vital topics like cyberbullying, gang crime and sexual violence, and you're onto something. Netflix original film iBoy does exactly that, wasting no time explaining the impossible mechanics of the lead character's supernatural abilities, and in place of the usual superhero story's absence of narrative — traditionally filled with bangs and explosions — the film offers a much needed look at modern life for today's teens. With the film now on Netflix, we speak to its lead actors, X-Men star Bill Milner and Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams, about what iBoy means to them and why sci-fi is the answer when the world outside seems unbearable.
What drew you to being a part of iBoy?
Bill: I loved the reality element of a superhero film. Particularly one set in London - we don't really have any superheroes. And then they've suddenly taken it to a world that feels very real, as opposed to the glitz and glamour of some superhero films. He's not a well-off kid, he's had shit happen in his life, and the things that have happened in his life - particularly Lucy with the rape scene - are dark but real.
Maisie: It's a fun, fantasy sci-fi story mixed with very realistic, dark and gritty undertones.
Yes, despite the sci-fi element the characters are realistic depictions of young adults. Did you see any of yourself in Tom and Lucy?
Maisie: Yeah. It was nice to work on something that felt a bit more familiar for myself, especially coming from Game of Thrones and a medieval world, where there's not a lot of freedom in dialogue. It was nice to be able to bring something to the table and be like 'what about this?' and feel confident in that. I wouldn't have the confidence to make huge suggestions about the way Game of Thrones should be. But I know what it's like being a 19-year-old girl at school, and there were scenes and moments where I was like, this has happened in my own life.
Read i-Q with Maisie and Bill: We asked the pair a few quick fire questions we want to ask everyone!
The film has a pretty foreboding message about technology, and I know Maisie that you've spoken out about cyber-bullying dangers, which is something iBoy explores.
Maisie: It's showing technology the way it should be shown, and it's not something to be taken lightly as it's here to stay. It's showing people the dangers. There are awful elements that can go on online and it's just about the way we deal with that.
Do you ever feel like you do have an iPhone smashed into your head because you're constantly thinking about what you're going to post or send next?
Bill: I do feel like the way I visualise information now is like a screen in front of me.
Maisie: Yes, and it's not something I consciously think about it's just another limb now. That's the way it is for my generation.
iBoy, Stranger Things, The OA, Twin Peaks returning - there's quite a resurgence of sci-fi. Do you feel like as real the world faces difficult times, people are looking for escapism in fantasy?
Bill: Yes, and things like Netflix that allow you watch so many episodes in a row let you escape for a moment and enjoy a different world.
Maisie: The beauty of working on fantasy and now science fiction is that you can take themes that you want to address straight on and call it a sci-fi or fantasy, and people will feel like they're lost in this world, when actually they're sat there 100% reflecting on what's going on around them. And you can let people escape, but at the same time very much use topics that are relevant.
Bill: People might watch iBoy thinking it's just sci-fi and not realising they're going to be getting into these topics of gang culture and sexual assault and violence.
Maisie: These are all topics that we should be talking about and be shining a light on. But sometimes it's difficult to do without some kind of distraction.
As young actors, what other stories are important to tell on screen?
Maisie: The rape scene in iBoy was particularly important. It was something taken in and out, redrafted, and it really meant something to me. Without the two females in this film, it's just boys running around with guns, and it's something that brings it back to reality. I really hope people see it as something not just being used as a plot point, and showing something many girls have been through. I hope it helps make rape a less taboo thing to talk about.
Up against all the different Netflix shows, why should someone watch iBoy?
Maisie: For Netflix's first UK original film, it's so raw and British. I'm so proud of this film.
Bill: And there's some banging performances in it.
Text Ryan White