When you have the opportunity to interview one of your friends, the interaction can go in one of two directions: either you both remain professional and acknowledge the good fortune of being able to do what you love for a living in the same space at the same time, or you freefall into conversational chaos. Tom Brittney and I ended up choosing the latter.
The two of us spoke via Zoom for over an hour, touching upon subjects such as his time on Grantchester and what it’s like to work alongside British icon Robson Green, the importance of being vaccinated, and how his parents live on a houseboat. Technically, we did discuss his acting career—and his recent pivot into directing for the latest series of Grantchester—but we also spent time casually chatting with one another as if we were just hanging out. Which, in a way, we were.
During the course of our conversation, he did not reveal Grantchester secrets as promised, but he did discuss how gratifying it is to act alongside such a wonderful cast of performers, and how lucky he feels to have been given the opportunity to pursue his desire to direct. We also discussed what it was like to work with Tom Hanks on Greyhound and Annette Bening on Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, how much he and Robson enjoyed filming the music video for “Howdon Aldi Death Queue” by Sam Fender, and the complicated world of streaming services.
1883 Magazine spoke with Tom Brittney about many subjects, including Disney World, Grantchester, Apple TV’s Invasion, auditioning for a Marvel movie, and much, much more.
How are you doing?
I’m hanging in there. I’ve got two weeks of filming left and then I’m out free. I mean, I’m editing, but we’ve been filming, it must be like a year straight almost. And you just, you lose all your social life, and then add lockdown to that as well. So, I’m excited to go on holiday and see my friends again.
That’ll be nice to actually have free time!
And I want to try and go over to the States, actually. I’ve got so many friends in New York. And LA—but I think East Coast, I want to dip my toe back in. But, LA, eh. Where are you again?
I’m from Boston but I live in Florida currently. I would like to move out to LA but now I don’t know, because you sounded skeptical. [Laughs].
[Laughs]. I’ve put you off instantly. No, it’s…as an actor, as you can imagine, it’s just a cesspit of desperation. It’s not as depressing, like, when I’ve got a job or something because then you kind of relax. But like, I lived there for like four months, and it was…you’re auditioning like 10 times a week and everyone’s trying to become famous. And I was living in the worst place. I was living like in Hollywood, like two blocks away from Hollywood Boulevard. Terrible.
You have to at least be on the outskirts I’ve heard.
I mean, the first time I ever went to LA, I stayed in an Airbnb with people who are now friends of mine, in Beverly Hills, so I was spoiled. And then I just kind of went downhill from there.
You went in the opposite direction. You should have started at the bottom, and then worked up to that, but now nothing compares to that.
How is Florida? I’ve never been there.
It’s interesting. I grew up in New England and I was tired of it, so I wanted to try something different and I had friends who lived down here. I sort of live near Disney World.
Great! Cool! Do you have one of those member’s cards now? Do you have regular visits?
The people that I live with all work there. So they get, like, passes for friends and family, and I just mooch off them.
[Laughs]. I’ve been to Disneyland in Paris. And like, I don’t like roller coasters. But suddenly, I want to go on a roller coaster. So, I think Disneyland, or Disney World, is a pretty safe place to ease back into that.
Yeah, because they can’t be scaring kids, they have a reputation to uphold. They can’t just be, like, flinging people into the distance.
You go to, like, the fair here and all the rides are rusty and I’m like, Ehhh, I’ve got too much to lose.
I mean Space Mountain is rickety, and it’s inside, so that would probably be something not advisable, but like the kid ones…you know, you can totally do the Snow White roller coaster.
Yeah! And It’s a Small World. I can do those. They count.
Those rides are my speed. I don’t like thrill rides. I didn’t go to an amusement park until I was like, 25, so I didn’t acclimate to it, I guess, the way that you would if you grew up going. I do a lot of carousels.
Hold on, I’m going to put my phone on Do Not Disturb because we are in a business meeting!
Yes, yes we are professionals. [Laughs].
[Laughs]. You didn’t interview me before then, did you?
No I didn’t. I don’t think I was working for the magazine yet. It’s funny, when I pitched the idea of interviewing you to my editor I was like, “So I was talking to Tom Brittney the other day” and he was like, “Tom Brittney the actor?” and then I had to explain how we sort of became friends online through Instagram.
I think it’s lovely. Because again, I’m just working all the time, and it’s nice to meet someone online and you can just chat. It’s great.
I think it’s nice, too. I think the strangeness was compounded because I had just interviewed your fellow ITV/PBS star Shaun Evans, who invited me to London to see his play and get a drink after, so I’m sure it was just a moment of like, “How are you friends with all these people?” [Laughs].
[Laughs]. Own it! Well, you’ve got a unique way, you’re becoming friends with actors, getting exclusive scoops…
Which is what we’re here for, to get all the secrets.
I’ll give you all the gossip. I’ll spill all the secrets.
And then they’ll fire you. I’m the one person you don’t tell secrets to, I’m a journalist.
What if I say “off the record” for the entire thing? Or “no comment” to everything?
I will stop the recording. And I will make something up and submit it. [Laughs].
[Laughs]. I remember the first interview I ever did for Access Hollywood, I made what I thought was a joke. But sometimes when you’re British, that sense of humor doesn’t translate. And I think I was saying that LA wasn’t my thing because, like, everyone’s really friendly and being like, Hey, how are you doing? Can I help you with anything? And I’d be like, Fuck off. And they put it in this thing in a way that I went, Oh man, it makes me sound like I’m an absolute prick when I read it back. And I’ve never asked to edit an interview, but I was like, can’t you put in brackets that I laughed after that?
I always do that because I don’t want anyone to take anything out of context. I usually end up trying to facilitate a regular conversation because I feel like it’s more enjoyable for everyone that way and it avoids that issue of things being misinterpreted.
That’s just your charm. And then people tell you too much.
What am I gonna do?
TMZ. That’s the route for you next. TMZ.
Everyone always says that, but I don’t think I can be like that. I’m not cutthroat. I hate asking people about their personal lives. I just want to be respectful.
One fun thing that I did, I used to prank call newspapers and try to sell them fake stories about celebrities. Like, ludicrous stories. And like there was one time where, I can’t remember the name of the celebrity I said, but I told them, I’ve seen them go home with this person. And it was like three o’clock in the morning, I was with my friends and we were quite drunk. And then the next day I went out, and this paparazzi was sat outside this house, and this person who could have looked like the celebrity from afar, the paparazzi started taking his photos. So all day, all we did was annoy the paparazzi. Like, we would just go down to the car and just pester him, and then eventually we called the police on him because he was parked in the disabled parking bay. And it was like justice in my head for them wasting their time and money over stupid gossip that clearly could never be true. One of them was like Russell Crowe stuck down a well.
I heard from Lassie, I got a direct quote. [Laughs].
[Laughs]. I want three grand for this scoop. I’ve got pictures…well they’re not pictures, they’re drawings, but they’re very accurate drawings.
They absolutely would look into it, because they’re shameless. I hate that no one cares about fact checking anymore.
It’s so cringey, especially with social media, people will just, like, tweet stuff, and no one ever cares about fact checking. Back in the day, you had to fact check something completely before you printed it or you’d get sued.
That’s got to be the number one thing you’re probably taught in journalism school. You know, me and Robson said that maybe one day we’ll start trying to sell fake stories about each other, and raise money for charity…or maybe just keep it…[laughs].
[Laughs]. You can donate some to charity and keep some for yourselves. Then everybody wins.
[Laughs]. We’ll have a whole thing. We’ll see how bored we get before we start doing that.
You guys have a very interesting dynamic.
We do. Hold on, I’m going to grab a drink.
Do what you’ve gotta do. We’ve got ages, we can do whatever we want. Well, I’ll want to watch the new season of Grantchester soon…
It’s a good series, it’s a good series. I’ve been watching it.
You watch it?
Yeah, we all watch it. We have a little WhatsApp group and we watch it together. Which is helpful when I start doing interviews, like when I’ve got to do Masterpiece’s podcast.
Yeah! I listen to those.
Jace [Lacob] who does those. I mean, that’s the thing about when you talk about your character as an actor. Robson can talk for hours about his character really in depth or he can really talk quite a lot, and then there’s times where like I can, but it’s all in my head. So, saying it out into words, especially when you’ve forgotten what you’ve done…But Jace asks these questions where he sort of answers it in his own question where he asks about the in depth psychology of what I’ve done, and he’ll be like, Do you think it’s because of this? and I’m like, Yes!
Absolutely, that’s why I think that, thank you for noticing.
He does a great job. I grew up watching Masterpiece PBS, it’s always been something that I really like and it makes me feel 1000 years old, but it’s fine [laughs] I like it.
You do watch Grantchester, right?
I do! I’ve watched it since the first season premiered.
You’re in the age range for our audience.
No, no you’re not. Wait, you’re 60 years old, right?
I am. I just look really good for my age.
I actually got recognized the other day by someone who was in their twenties! And I was like, You watch it with your mum, right? and she was like, No, no I just love it. [Laughs]. And it’s great because we get good viewing figures, and I think the audience we have is great. I didn’t even realize how many countries that we’re in, and then you get messages from fans in like, the Netherlands or something, like…wow you watch Grantchester there?
That’s really cool! So you’re like an international superstar.
Robson got recognized I think in Antarctica once or maybe it was Alaska…it was somewhere very cold in the middle of the snow, and someone came up and was like, Hey, you play Geordie on that show!
It was a penguin. [Laughs]
[Laughs]. It was a penguin! Who was a fan of ours!
Robson hallucinated the whole thing.
I wouldn’t be surprised. Or he just lied. He’s very creative. I love it.
He seems like an interesting character, like, as a human being.
He does get recognized all over the world for, you know, the shows that he’s done, a lot of the fishing boat shows that he does. There will be an 80-year- old woman coming up to him who loves him from something he did in the 80s or 90s, and then you’ll get a 15-year-old kid who comes up to him who watches his fishing shows. So, I mean when you’re with him, he is constantly recognized. Over here he’s a big deal. I mean, his name is synonymous with television.
And his music! He’s a triple threat. Music, acting, fishing, he does it all.
I can’t believe I forgot about the music. But yeah, he was a pop star! He was signed to Simon Cowell’s record label.
Which is just insane. He has lived so many lives.
Yeah, I mean…and to think that he’s one of my best friends.
I think it’s really nice that you guys are genuinely close. That must make it easier to work together, because you don’t feel like you’re acting, you’re just hanging out with your buddy.
It’s exactly that. And you know, with filming, it’s a complete first world problem, but when you’re filming all day, every single day, it gets tiring. I absolutely love my job, I wouldn’t change it for the world, but like you do get tired, and especially during COVID, it was really tough. Again, I was so lucky to be working, I have nothing to complain about. But we were filming in a studio where you never saw sunlight and you weren’t allowed to see people’s faces. And that’s the big part of Grantchester, or any set, for me, is the social aspect. And it was me and Robson being best mates together. We both went through our own little periods of darkness. It was winter and, you know, COVID was weird, for everyone.
It really was. I feel like the whole world was very dark and depressing and cynical and like you couldn’t get away from it.
Exactly. It was my 30th birthday when we were filming the last series, and someone had brought a cake for me. And, I remember they got us all gathered around, and the line producer was like, I just want to do a little speech. And I was like, Oh this is so nice, I’m gonna get a birthday speech! And then suddenly the COVID supervisor comes in and goes, I just want to remind you, some of you were seen together the other day. I want to remind you that you need to be at a distance. And I was like…this is the worst, worst birthday speech ever. [Laughs]
[Laughs] Like, this isn’t joyful at all.
And then the cake that I had I was like, I want to share it with everyone. And then one of the other COVID supervisors came and went, No you can’t, you can’t because of COVID, and I kind of hissed at her and went, If you mention that word on my birthday again. [Laughs].
[Laughs]. You have the cake knife and you’re like, Listen here.
Please don’t make me do this.
I don’t want to do this, it’s my birthday, any other day, it’d be fine, but on my birthday!
[Both laugh]. It’s a day full of joy! Put them into the tiny little boxes they put the other food in…
And everybody will have cake!
It was just a reminder of, like you said, that you could never escape it. I was so lucky that we knew we were filming, even if it was pushed back. But yeah, it was definitely tougher, but the good thing that they’ve done in the series is that I don’t think you can tell that it was ever filmed during COVID. But with other shows, like Call The Midwife, they actually had someone with a ruler going Okay, you’re two meters apart. Which is kind of hard for a show about people giving birth…
You’re like, I’m gonna catch the baby from across the room. I’d be like, Well, I would like to not ever have this baby, but especially not right now, so this is just not gonna work.
We’ll wait another six months till this all blows over.
Just keep it gestating. [Laughs]
[Laughs]. But yeah, we were testing and are still tested three times a week. I wasn’t going out. I mean, I got COVID…well, I’ve had it twice, because I was filming in Morocco for this Apple TV show, just before, you know, just as COVID came out…
COVID made its debut.
The premiere of COVID just happened, and all the Brits were not taking it seriously. Over here we were like, Come on give me a hug, cough on my face. Then, you know, very, very quickly I got very sick.
That’s horrible, I’m sorry that happened.
And I just moved into my new flat and I hadn’t furnished it yet, so I was sleeping with COVID on the floor, on a blanket on the hard floor, like curled up on the floor in the corner.
That’s a horrible way to go about this.
It was, it was hell. And then six months later, I got it again. Although, I’ve gotten AstraZeneca. I got it early and I’d had a feeling it would make me sick, which it did. And AstraZeneca, especially, made me so unwell.
That’s not a great endorsement.
They ended up banning the AstraZeneca one here! I don’t want to promote that one, but I do want to promote the other vaccines available.
Tom Brittney says: Get vaccinated.
I love Pfizer.
I got Pfizer.
I’m still glad I got it though! I was like…when I go into this block of filming, and directing, and having a high stress load, and I haven’t got a particularly good immune system anyway. So, just to completely make sure…because you can’t take a sick day, when you’re an actor.
That’s fair. Because you’d have to show up anyway.
I got a cold this series! I got a cold for the first time in like a year and a half! But it totally proves that distancing and wearing masks works, because now people are getting colds and things again where they weren’t last year.
You’re right. I’m like you, I’ve always had a terrible immune system. I would get sick every year religiously and then last year, I didn’t get sick at all, thankfully.
I’ve finally met another person with an equally bad immune system as me. The first six months of lockdown were like chaos and debauchery in the sense that it was government mandated unemployment and time off. You couldn’t go to the gym. And my sister was living with me.
Yeah, it was lovely. I had just moved into a house of my own for the first time, and my little sister was traveling in Thailand…and my parents live on a boat in East London so I said to her, Look, I don’t want you to get literal cabin fever, come and stay with me, it’ll only be six weeks. And, cut to six months later. I was not expecting that but it was good bonding time, for sure.
That’s really nice. I didn’t realize your parents lived on a boat?
They do. They live on a houseboat in East London, which is great. They love it.
As long as they’re happy.
They’re very happy. I do wish they were back on land because living on a boat isn’t as relaxing as it sounds. But yeah, it [the boat] doesn’t move. They’re in a nice little marina, my mum gets to do her writing and my dad gets to sit around and play solitaire.
Living the dream. Your mom used to follow me on Twitter.
Oh yeah! She doesn’t have Twitter anymore, she got rid of it.
I noticed! I was there for a little while. I got the mom stamp of approval.
Do I follow you on Twitter? I don’t use Twitter that much, I usually just do the odd Grantchester tweet, but I used to use it all the time.
I did too. And I think it was during COVID that I was so tired of being on my phone all the time…
What’s your name on Twitter?
Uhhh, I think it’s the same as Instagram…so it’ll be [at] samcohenwriting.
[Holds up phone to Zoom screen] Which one are you?
Where am I? We can figure this out! We’re young!
Oh, there you are! Followed you back. I quite like now that I’ve hit my thirties I can pretend that I don’t really know how to use technology.
I genuinely don’t know. I should know, because I just turned 29 in June, but I don’t actually know what I’m doing when it comes to technology.
You’re 29 now?
It’s my 31st at the end of this month, but I’m going to pretend it’s my 30th.
Especially because you didn’t get to celebrate how you wanted to celebrate last year. You had that weird birthday cake incident…
In my head, I had planned to be on a beach in Thailand with a couple of buddies. And you know what, in the same way, even though I was in an abandoned building that we were shooting in, filming Grantchester, I was surrounded by friends and I was like, Life is good.
Will you be done filming before your birthday this year?
Yeah, I think like 10 days before.
You’ll have to celebrate with everyone before you part ways.
Oh yeah, big wrap party. That I’ll make all about me.
[Laughs]. Listen, I directed, I acted, and also it’s my birthday in a little while…
[Laughs] Get the cake knife out again. I’ve always got it on me.
Just in case. Robson’s like, Okay…put down the knife.
I don’t know if he’s coming to the wrap party actually because he’s going on holiday!
I mean, he’s got his priorities right.
He just doesn’t want to hangout with you anymore.
He does that kind of elusive thing where he’s like, I’m off, and we all miss him.
He knows exactly what he’s doing. I saw that you guys filmed a music video together, that was cool! So, you’re actually attached at the hip?
We text each other every day. Like, when it’s the weekend and we don’t see each other, we text everyday saying I love you, I miss you. I will always see him out of this. It’s not going to be like a showmance. We’re going to see each other a lot after this. I went over to his house for a sleepover before we did the music video for Sam Fender. And I’m a huge fan of his [Sam] and he’s from Newcastle, the same as Robson. And I’ve followed him for years and me and Sam followed each other on Instagram and I’d go to his gigs, and he’s a big fan of Robson’s. So, we went fishing on the day because Sam had always wanted to do that and then I got to meet a musical hero of mine, and Sam got to meet his musical hero, and then he asked us to be in his music video. Have you seen it?
I have! It’s very chaotic, but a good chaos. [Laughs]
[Laughs] It was like, four in the morning, we’re off our tits on energy drinks and we had to film the next day! And they were like [at Grantchester] Why are you so tired today? And we were like, Yeah, we were filming a music video.
You must film for like, what, 10 or 12 hours a day for Grantchester?
Yeah! I’ve got a late pickup tomorrow, so it’ll be 6:00 a.m. and I’ll get home at about 9:00 in the evening.
Is it longer because you’re directing?
The directing at the same time as acting isn’t actually too bad. Most of the days, with the episode I’m directing, I’m in it but for like, seven scenes as opposed to every scene. So I’m directing myself but only for a few scenes. And then most of the days where I’m directing, I’m just doing that, so I’ll come in at the same time as the other director and then I’ll just go home. But then there’s some days…because we’re shooting in blocks. You know what that is, right?
For Grantchester, normally, like with the last season because we were doing eight episodes, we do two, four-episode blocks. So you’re filming four episodes at the same time. If you’re filming at the police station, you can be doing five scenes that day, all from different episodes.
It can become a mess in your head. But then with this series, we’re doing six episodes again, and there was a director who was doing the first two episodes and I’m doing episode three. And so he would direct in the morning and I’d direct in the afternoon.
That must be so weird when you’re acting to keep the storylines straight in your head. Especially since, I feel like Grantchester is so emotional, it must be hard to remember like, Am I angry right now? Am I sad right now?
You’d have to go to the director or the script supervisor and be like, What have I done before this? What am I doing next? And you just click into it. But Robson was going mad. He was trying to learn the lines like a play. So, he’d be trying to learn four episodes, which is like…a script is about 50 to 60 pages. So, he’d learn…what’s four times 60?
Errr, I’m not good at math.
I’m not good at maths either. But yeah, he was trying to learn it all off book. Whereas I’ll learn the week on the weekend, or the couple of days before you’ll start learning lines to get everything in your head. But it does mess with you, not knowing.
I don’t know that I would have the capacity to remember all of that. I would panic. [Laughs].
[Laughs]. The amazing thing is, there’s so many actors who can totally get away with doing that. If you’re good at your job, doing preparation and all that stuff is a key part of it. But also, when you know your character so well…this is what made me comfortable with directing, is that I had done the character at that point for three series. And I knew Will so inside out, someone can just tell you, Okay this is happening and on the spot, you can recalibrate and do it. I would never have been able to direct if I was just starting out. I don’t know…Danny DeVito acts and directs in a lot of the same things. And I want to be able to do that, but it depends on the edits and what the audience thinks. I think, luckily, I pulled it off because you kind of know whether you’re doing a good job. As an actor, it feels right. So, you go to the director of photography and you say, Does it look all right? Is it all in focus? And then you go to the script supervisor and you say, Did I get all of my lines right? And you go, okay, move on, I don’t need to watch it back.
You can let it go at that point and not dwell on it. It’s your first time directing, right? But now that you’ve done it, I’m sure you’ll know, like, This is how I’ll know I got the shot so you don’t have to even think about it or stress.
I’m definitely going to continue directing. It has always been a dream of mine. Like, acting foremost, but we have this thing…our college is not like university in America, you go from the age of 16 to 18 and then I went to drama school. So 16 to 18 is where you do your A-Levels. I don’t know what the equivalent is in America, but you pick four or five subjects, and to get into drama school I had to get a certain amount of A’s or B’s to then move on. It’s what you do to enter university. So, I chose Theatre Studies, Film Studies, Making Films, and then Photography.
So, all very in the same genre.
When I went to pick the subjects, the person who was there was like, Do you not want to do something a bit more academic? Because you’re doing all very similar subjects. And I went, Nope!
One of them in some capacity will work.
In hindsight, everything worked out, but it was nothing to do with my A-Levels. My Media Studies A-Level has never come in useful. Except! The other day I did use the term “diegetic” and “nondiegetic” sound, which is all thanks to my Media Studies!
Glowing endorsement: Media Studies!
When I was doing this film Greyhound with Tom Hanks a few years ago, when I was filming that, I auditioned for Grantchester, and I got it. I got the tape, and then carried on doing meetings, but I was doing little short films behind the scenes of Greyhound with some of the other guys, we actually became really good friends. Stephen Graham, he was in it, and Tom Hanks, he appeared in it, he was like, I heard you were making these films, can I be in your film?
Technically, I’ve directed Tom Hanks!
You’ve gotta put that on your resume.
That’s what I sent to ITV! I sent those short movies, which by the way, I’m really proud of them, because I was making them on my phone and we had a screening and they’re all about a half hour long, and I made a film noir thing, like I made a horror film. And as I was screening them I was pitching myself as director to Masterpiece, and to ITV here, and to Kudos, I sent them to Emma Kingsman-Lloyd, who’s the executive producer, I sent her the short film with Tom Hanks and I said, This is the only thing I’ve directed that you can see.
If I can direct Tom Hanks, I can direct anybody!
It’s good, it’s weird, I’m not going to send this to the network, but you’ve got the job.
You can’t ask for a better experience than to just hangout with Tom Hanks. But I mean, I know you’re really into photography too, so do you feel like that helps in terms of your directing?
Yeah, I’ve always loved film. I remember in drama school, here in Britain, it’s all very theatrical, they theatrically train you, but theatre isn’t something that I’m interested in. I’ve always been visual. And yeah, photography, the art of filming something…I’ve learned so much in this job, all these terms, you’ll know instinctively if you watch film…I’ve done Master Classes on directing. Like, the Master Class?
Yeah, like the Master Class website? [Laughs].
[Laughs]. Yeah, I’ve done the Master Classes with Ron Howard.
He taught me one-on-one.
In my room, it was just me and Ron Howard, no one else did it. [Both laugh]. But I read them and you can get totally bogged down in theory, and again, my episode might turn out like shit [laughs] but the executives are really happy! But there’s that way of…you know if you love film how to tell a story. You know in your head, all of us who can see images in our head or who can daydream, a lot of the time actually the way I come up with how to shoot scenes would literally be from dreaming it. I would always write down in my notebook before I went to sleep like, ideas. And I’d fall asleep thinking about how to shoot scenes, and it would all sometimes come together in my sleep. And we’ve got this director of photography called James Swift, and he’s brilliant, and that’s why directors always use the same director of photography. Because once you’re in sync, it’s so much easier.
I’m sure it’s hard to get that level of camaraderie with someone else.
Yeah, and like with James, at first, he’d want to shoot a scene differently to me, and I wouldn’t ever…for me, directing is never about a dictatorship, it’s about collaboration. It’s the same as being an actor, but it’s different when you’re in charge in that way. You can lean on each other. You can lean on the actors. When I’m trying to block a scene, I know roughly how I want to block something, but then Robson could be like, I actually think I should sit down when I deliver this line. I’ve worked with directors before who are so stuck in their idea of how they want to shoot something, you can’t move as an actor. So, suddenly, Robson will do something and I’ll be like, Actually, let’s move the camera around that way and we’ll shoot it like that, that’ll be great. And you can only do that if you’re talking the same language as the person behind the camera.
That must be restrictive, as an actor, if you’re working with a director who isn’t open to your suggestions.
You become a puppet otherwise. I mean, doing this series for so many years, and I was a producer on the last series as well, and we would always sit down with the execs and talk stories over dinner. A lot of the time when a director is going, Do this, you do think, I don’t think Will would do that. And you can tell that directors on other shows are trying to just steer you toward that one specific shot, as opposed to being a good enough director, hopefully, that you’ll be able to shoot whatever the actor does.
I would think for your personal performance, especially in something like Grantchester, you’ve lived in the character for such a long time you feel like you innately understand him. You mentioned you filmed something else recently too, so I’d imagine it must be different when you’re just stepping into a role for a short period, or for the first time?
I did a television show called Invasion with Sam Neill that’s coming out on Apple TV. I’m a very small character in it, but I had some free time before going to shoot the next series of Grantchester and it was filming in Morocco, so I thought, why not? But, it was very different to Grantchester in terms of, you can see that there’s a lot of people running around with a shit ton of money that they’re worried about. Same with like, Greyhound, being like $70 to $80 million? And they made the right choice sending it to Apple because they made their money back, but you can definitely see the money. But yeah, I think it’s going to be a big, big show.
I saw the trailer when I was watching something and I was like, I know someone that’s in this show!
I got to have a mohawk in it! Even if it’s just one episode or a few scenes, whatever makes the cut, it was very different. But it was fun. You like to change how you look, sometimes.
Does that help you inhabit the character more when you make physical changes like that?
I loved it! I got so attached to having that mohawk. You do feel kind of badass. But no, even a fake tattoo or a scar, something that makes you look…I mean, with Will they dye my hair darker and I’ve obviously got the sideburns and they do my hair in like a 50s hairstyle, but it’s probably the closest to me. Will is different to me, but it’s the biggest role I’ve done and it’s the most I’ve put into a character. Whereas, I’m really looking forward to doing something completely different as a character that’s totally different to me.
Do you want to keep acting in different genres?
I don’t really have one specific thing. I’d love to do more movies, I’ve only done two movies. Every show that I’ve done, I’ve been pretty proud of. And like, the two movies that I’ve done, in the first one I played Annette Bening’s son, and Barbara Broccoli was producing and I was with Julie Waters and Stephen Graham and Jamie Bell, and you turn up on set and you’re like, Fuck, Annette Bening is playing my mum! And then the next film I do, I’m with Tom Hanks!
You just don’t get any better than that.
I’ve peaked! [Both laugh].
You’re gonna have to solely direct now. Tom Hanks is like…I grew up watching all of his movies and I’ve always been a big fan of his.
This is the script folder I take to work every day [holds up folder] This is what Tom Hanks gave me and it says Greyhound on it. When I first saw him…you do, you pinch yourself every day because I couldn’t quite believe…I can’t, even to this day, I can’t believe that. And like, when I flew over to America, I was testing for a Marvel film.
I didn’t get it, but it was something I had never pictured before. It was something that I was like, Okay, I’m in the running for a lead role in a Marvel film, that’s kind of cool. And I’m there in Atlanta getting dressed in the costume for, like, a very Hollywood…I know we were in Atlanta, but it was a Hollywood movie lot. And this was always what I wanted to do! And not for the fame or anything like that, but in the sense that I grew up watching, like, with Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan was one of my biggest inspirational films as a kid. And to then be in a war movie with that guy…
Any opportunity would be great, but to be in a war movie with Tom Hanks must have been amazing.
Captain Dale Dye, who taught us how to be sailors in the film, he’s the same guy who did all the military training on Saving Private Ryan, and it was just mental! Every actor in their head is like, I want to go and do that, but when it starts to happen and you’re there next to Tom Hanks and he starts to do an impression of Woody, you’re like, It’s actually happening. It was like an out-of-body experience. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
It must be really gratifying to know that you’re taking the right steps in your career. And no theatre on the horizon for you, you said you aren’t interested in doing theatre, right?
I did theatre before I went to drama school and drama school really put me off it. Because if you wanted to do film and television, it was like you were the whore of the acting world. [Both laugh]. They’re like, No you have to go and do Shakespeare for 20 years! You have to go and be a tree in the background at the Globe and be happy about it! I like Shakepseare, of course, Shakespeare is cool, you know? I find it hard going to the theatre and watching actors act, I find it quite hard sometimes. As an actor, it gives me a lot of anxiety watching because the idea of doing eight shows a week, for six weeks, just seems like madness to me. Even if I do a scene where I may do like, 10 takes, or you film a one minute scene in an hour to two hours, I love the idea of moving on from a job and going on to the next.
I went to see Betrayal when it was on Broadway, because I love Tom Hiddleston, but they did that for like…a year or more. And I can’t imagine repetitively saying the same lines multiple times a week, every week, for over a year.
They’re very different breeds of actors, I think, who do stage and screen and some can translate between the two and some can’t, and there may be one day where I do a play. But I’d love to do like, four weeks of rehearsal for one night.
One night only: Tom Brittney in…something!
A one night show! For me, it’s like my own mental strength. I beat myself up all the time as an actor. And I’m never completely happy with what I’ve done, and I think a lot of actors are like that, where you can’t do a perfect scene. Sometimes you do feel it, but sometimes you don’t feel it, and those can be the best scenes sometimes, but when you’re on television or film you’re acting in a vacuum, you don’t get the instant reaction from fans. Sometimes you have to wait six months, or even in the case of Greyhound, you have to wait two years before something is released or you even get the chance to see it yourself. But it’s instant when you do a play. You get a reaction from the audience every night. When I did stage, I would always leave the theatre being angry with what I’d done. Which, actually, you would do until the last night.
Then you can be like, Even if that was my worst performance, I never have to do that again!
Or like, if you’re in something that’s maybe getting bad reviews, I don’t know how actors deal with it because if you do read reviews, or you are aware of it that you’re in a play that isn’t doing well, or even taking reviews out of it, you’re not happy with it, you’re kind of stuck.
And if you drop out, you kind of look terrible for doing that, even if there’s an understudy or there’s someone who can replace you, if you’re one of the big names in the show, people are going out of their way to see you specifically.
Yeah! Like with Hiddleston doing Betrayal, Tom Hiddleston couldn’t have taken a day off.
No! There were literally three people in the play.
Did he have an understudy?
I actually don’t know. I would imagine? I don’t know anything about anything, but I assume that’s how that works.
You pay $200 to see Tom Hiddleston, and you end up having to see his understudy, who I’m sure could do a perfectly great job, but it’s not the same. I’m here for Loki!
I’m here for Tom Hiddleston specifically. I wanted to breathe the same air as him.
Oooooh, so you’re a big Hiddleston fan! I get it. He’s charming.
He’s probably one of my favorite actors, I would say.
He’s a good actor. I haven’t watched a lot of the Marvel stuff, actually.
It’s very big here, like, culturally with all the movies and the shows and everything.
A lot of my friends here are really into it, and I used to sort of inherently disagree with them. Like, I used to love comic book films when I was a kid. I loved Spiderman and even Batman with the DC stuff. But I kind of agreed with the idea that there were so many of them that it made it hard for cinemas to take risks. I remember, even on Greyhound, it was one of the things the producers were worried about, although COVID changed it anyway, but I think it would have done great in the cinemas because it was Tom Hanks. And it did great on Apple TV, but things are always risky for cinemas now because you know if you have a Marvel film coming out…
They’re going to be at the top of the box office, no matter what. You can’t necessarily compete with that.
Yeah. And like, I do worry about film. As an actor, it’s kind of tough because when you get self-tapes through, or auditions, or offers for jobs for one streaming platform, you never quite know…you want people to watch it, but there’s so much material out there on streaming platforms so it’s not always easy to know what’s going to be good. I don’t want film or cinema or artistic cinema or experimental cinema, or even an old-fashioned, like…I love watching like, a 90s film like American Beauty, a Sam Mendes film, I don’t want everyone to go to streamers.
I totally understand where you’re coming from. I love going to the movies. I’m really looking forward to seeing Dune in IMAX because I loved the book, and I know it’s going to be a cinematic experience that you’ll need to see in theatres to enjoy properly.
So like, Greyhound is an example of that. Because it’s a good movie either way…but like. So, I tried to prepare for this in advance last year because I bought a surround sound system. It was always on my bucket list because I don’t buy myself very much, but I wanted to get myself a surround sound system and a nice TV so I could make like, a little movie theatre in my home. But like, with Greyhound, I do think it would have been better to watch in a cinema in terms of like, big scale war movies where there’s guns going off and big CGI sea battles. And like, I went to go see the new James Bond movie, and I loved it, it was great. But like everyone was excited to see it in the cinemas! The cinema was full, there were people waiting in line outside. But if that had premiered on Netflix, it wouldn’t have been the same.
Grantchester airs Sundays on PBS at 9:00 p.m. EST and Fridays on ITV at 9:00 p.m. BST
Words by Sam Cohen
Photography Joseph Sinclair