Right now, Cumpston should be shooting the second season of the show in Richmond, Virginia. Instead, he’s home in Sydney. Boy, interrupted.
But with the first season set to drop on Amazon on Monday, Cumpston is in no mood to complain. In fact, he’s still not sure how he got here. “I need to get my origin story down pat because I don’t know the exact details,” he jokes.
It goes something like this: straight out of high school, he wrote the screenplay for a teen comedy called Bilched. His father, Jeremy, a Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts graduate and sometime actor (and full-time doctor), thought it was good enough not only to back but also to direct. In late 2018, they shot the low-budget feature in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, and the following year Cumpston worked on post-production. “Seven days a week,” he notes. “I poured my entire life and soul into this film.”
As he was deep into an all-nighter in the edit suite in mid-2019, Cumpston received an email purporting to be from an American talent management company saying they were interested in him. “And I just went, ‘Oh yeah, this is f—ing bullshit’.” Still, the following morning he checked them out. “And I went, ‘Holy shit, this is real’.”
Within a week, he had his first audition. Within a month, he had the part.
“It’s insane,” he concedes of his fast-track experience. “At school, I just felt so bored and so ready to leave, for so long. My life has completely exploded since I left.”
Matthew Negrete, the creator of World Beyond, says it was obvious the moment they saw Cumpston’s audition tape, shot in hand-held indie-picture style, that he had something special.
“There’s this raw, naturalistic quality to him. He doesn’t come across as someone who has taken every acting class in the book, he’s not someone you can tell has been acting since he was four years old. He goes a lot on instinct, and there’s a truth to that that really comes across on screen.”
His character, Silas, was described in the script as a kid who is way too big for his age, Negrete adds. “He had to have this physical stature, but also this gentleness about him.”
For Cumpston, who stands around 183 centimetres, being thought of as a lumbering giant was a novelty.
“When you go to an all-boys school, it’s hard to think of yourself as tall when you’re that height,” he says. “I didn’t even realise I was tall until I went on set, and all the other actors are super small.”
Cumpston’s ambitions are far from tiny. He’s hoping to sell his film to a streamer, and is looking forward to getting back to the US to try to drum up interest in his screenplays, and to extend his acting credits.
“I’m so incredibly lucky and thrilled that it’s happened this way, and that I’m getting to do this job as opposed to being a labourer like my mates,” he says.
And for the record, those mates are not at all jealous. “No one else from my friend group wants to be an actor,” he says. “I think they just find it funny and cool.”
Karl Quinn is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.