AT the age of just 13, Austin Haynes has an impressive body of work under his belt. The Leeds youngster has worked with the likes of Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Christopher Eccleston and Sheridan Smith - and was recently directed by George Clooney in his forthcoming movie The Boys in the Boat.
Ahead of that, he has a lead role in The Railway Children Return, the highly-anticipated sequel to the beloved 1970 family film, as well as parts in Channel 4 coming-of-age drama The Birth of Daniel F Harris and one of Yorkshire’s favourite series All Creatures Great and Small.
Despite his success, Austin is refreshingly grounded - and there’s a wise head on his shoulders. “Once it’s done, it’s done,” he says, of the audition process that is the arduous reality of an actor’s life. “There’s no point going over it all. If you get a recall, go and smash it. If not, just move on."
While many child actors could have their heads turned by the razzle dazzle of the red carpet, and starry-eyed dreams of fame, Austin is aiming for longevity and credibility in his career. With an eye on the future, his long term ambition is to become a well-established actor, with a desire later in life to combine acting with directing and cinematography.
Asked who he’d like to work with, he says top of the list is Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins. “He worked on 1917, which is my favourite film,” he says. “I love the way it rolls out, like it’s all one long shot.”
For now, Austin has a busy summer promoting The Railway Children Return, released in UK cinemas on July 15. Next month he will be at both the World Premiere taking place in Yorkshire and the London Gala Screening.
Austin plays Thomas Waterbury, the grandson of Jenny Agutter’s character in the family adventure about a group of children evacuated to the Yorkshire countryside in the Second World War. The charming production sees Jenny Agutter return as Bobbie, the role that catapulted her to fame in Lionel Jeffries’ much-loved film, famously shot on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. More than 50 years later, the historic railway was a location for the sequel too, along with Haworth, Oakworth and Saltaire.
“Thomas is a proper Yorkshire lad,” says Austin. “He’s quite similar to me - he stays out of trouble, keeps himself to himself. When the new kids arrive, he shows them the Yorkshire way of life; takes them collecting eggs for breakfast and exploring the countryside. Thomas becomes more independent as it goes on, it’s a big part and it was great to play him and develop his character.”
As well as Jenny Agutter, the cast is headed up by Sheridan Smith and Tom Courtenay. “They’re all legends, so cool to be around,” says Austin. “Tom plays my uncle, I had brilliant nice scenes with him. Jenny told me lots about making the original film and her experiences as a young actor. Sheridan, who plays Thomas’s mum, was fantastic - there are a few scenes where she had to cry and she just did it straight away. I learn a lot from watching actors like that at work.”
Was he familiar with the original film? “We watch it at Christmas every year, so I knew the story. This takes it into the next generation and I’m hoping it will attract a new audience for the original film too,” he says.
It is, he adds, a highlight of his career so far, along with Channel 5 hit All Creatures Great and Small, which is filmed in and around Grassington. “I was only on set for three or four days, but they made me feel part of the family,” he says. “My character does a day’s work experience at the vets’ practice so I spent a lot of time with Samuel West, watching him at work as Siegfried, operating on a dog. I had to handle a rat too so I got to know it a bit before filming started. The animals are really well trained.”
Much of Austin’s work so far has been period drama - from pre-war and wartime Yorkshire to the mean streets of Victorian London in Dodger, the BBC’s family drama spin on the Oliver Twist story, focussing on the antics of the Artful Dodger and Fagin’s gang.
“I like playing characters from another time,” says Austin. “The sets are really fun to be around. There’s so much detail in everything, you see the amount of work that goes into it all. For example, in All Creatures Great and Small they were very specific about the language - things like saying ‘Yes’ not ‘Yeah’, because people didn’t speak like that back then.”
He adds: “I’d quite like to do something with special effects too. The effects in Stranger Things are so cool.”
Austin embraces the process of learning scripts, which he says helps him to understand a character. Stacey Burrows, who runs Yorkshire-based theatre school Articulate, which both represents and trains Austin, says she’s blown away by his ability to learn pages and pages of dialogue. “I split it into sections: I box off one bit and learn it, then the next,” says Austin.
He’s also building up an impressive portfolio of skills, with his hobbies including boxing, football, running and playing piano and electric guitar.
Having built a varied body of work and still barely into his teens, Austin is a rising Yorkshire star. But to his mates he’s just one of the lads. One day he’s sharing a laugh with Jim Broadbent between takes of a major movie, or setting off for London, Wales, Manchester or Belfast for filming, and the next he’s enjoying a kickabout with his pals in the playground.
How does he juggle his acting work with school? “I think Covid helped in a way because I got used to having lessons online,” he says. “I have a tutor when I’m on set and my teachers send me work online.”
Austin says it’s “the scenery and the history of the old buildings and streets” that attracts film-makers to Yorkshire, as well as the striking urban locations. He’s happy to continue filming here - “as well as aiming for big Hollywood roles.”
With that mix of steely ambition, dedication and talent, he’s aiming high. But he remains remarkably down-to-earth. “Austin’s very humble. At school he avoids talking about his acting work. He just wants to be a normal kid,” says his mum, Gemma. “One day he’s on set with a big star, the next he’s at school and he copes with that really well.
“But he takes his work very seriously, and he makes so many sacrifices. When he gets a script he doesn’t put it down; it comes before his social life. He has dedication and commitment in spades.”