A Princely Persona
The Crown, currently Netflix’s highest-rated show, is back and more spellbinding than ever with a new season of inner circle tumult, extramarital escapades, and coveted breakout roles for several up and coming actors.
Among the fledgling television talent is Tom Byrne, a stage actor initially known for his theatre roles in A Christmas Carol and Twelfth Night at the Royal Shakespeare Company. In this loosely biographical series, Byrne portrays a younger version of the recently scandalized Prince Andrew in the years leading to his courtship of Sarah Ferguson, and a subsequent time into their marriage.
His portrayal intermingles a kind of twinkle in the eye mischief and charismatic cool that had yet to be associated with the Royal demeanour prior to this time. One might even say that his take on the role adds a touch of swag to the impenetrable facade of monarchy life. And how did the 26-year-old actor gain such insight into rendering this interpretation? Byrne watched documentaries on the Prince of York, and, coupled with the direction of series writer/creator Peter Morgan, he allowed his own sensibilities to intuitively guide his rendition.
Byrne’s off-screen persona, however, is disarmingly down to earth and contradicts the bulky bravado of his on-screen portrayal. When cheered on about the prospective upswing that this role could have on his trajectory, his stance remains sober as he humbly expresses appreciation for the influx of acclaim.
Presently back in London town, and living under lockdown, Byrne is basking in the post-production bliss of the soon to be released indie film that he’s just completed in Scotland. Amid this elation, Tom engaged with 1883 for a chat on his preparation for princeship, the trepidation of co-starring in one of the most hotly anticipated shows, and the coolness of being part of this colossal experience.
You were not yet a house-hold name when you were cast for the role in the number 1 rated Netflix show in the U.S and the U.K. Now you’re seen in more households than any other show on Netflix. Have you yet to feel the impact of this celebrity?
It’s not really changed much. This last week has been great, and really fun because obviously, there’s such a thing when you’re in a show, and your on the screen, your potential is so much bigger than when you’re on a stage show-the diversity of people who watch screen, versus theatre, just means that the net that you’re casting [and people] you can reach is so massive. It’s such a new thing for me, I’ve never had the kind of exposure that this thing [The Crown] has given me…It’s funny, you don’t really think about it in those terms when you’re doing a job. It’s the same as the job you’ve always done, it just happens to be The Crown. You know what I mean?
Yes, I do. Given the magnitude of the show, have you felt the impact of the show, as far as new roles that are being offered to you from this breakthrough role? Has this role on The Crown opened new doors for you?
I think that being connected to a show that’s as good as The Crown is always going to be a positive thing. I haven’t really felt a real impact in terms of being offered anything straight off the bat, yet. Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t. I think there’s definitely an awareness that because it’s such a good and big show, hopefully it will translate into some kind of way, but any actor will tell you that it’s so chaotic that it’s best not to even pay attention to that. Don’t assume anything, just take things as they come and just enjoy the moment for what it is…And it is a massive privilege. But also, at the same time, I’ve had over a year to digest the fact that I’m doing this job. So now it’s quite normal…It’s a brilliant feeling, knowing that the whole season has been well received, and knowing that you’re a part of something that the people are really enjoying.
It’s pretty interesting knowing that people are enjoying it and that at any given time of day, people could be watching your portrayal in their homes, on their television screens. What’s that like for you being on the number one show in the Western world?
As you’d expect, you’re aware of the size and scale of it, and to be apart of it is just…simply cool. It’s not something I’m used to, so I’m enjoying that. I’m enjoying my mates popping up and texting me, and saying, “Well done!”. And that’s the nice stuff…And also supportive messages from people that I don’t know. The whole thing has been great.
Well, now is an interesting time to take on the role of Prince Andrew—within the past year, his public persona has notoriously been entangled with Jeffrey Epstein, and he’s stepped down from royal duties. Has your approach to this role evolved, with the evolution of Prince Andrew’s reputation?
Not at all, actually. I made a conscious effort, and was encouraged not to engage with it [the publicity of the scandal] as well…The main thing is, I’m playing him 40 years in the past, and before any of what is alleged to have happened, would have happened. And people are going to carry the perceptions of the characters with them anyway…so I didn’t need to let that influence the way that I read it. My process was to genuinely read the script…and have a look at the man, and how he sounded in 1980-1982, and get the essence of the character. The script does enough work on its own–and I just trusted that–and played the scenes as truthfully as I could.
How old are you?
Me personally, I’m 26.
So you’re portraying someone from a time period in which you weren’t born, and whose public perception is the only perception that we have of him, yet you’re portraying him in his private life. Where did you get the inspiration and information to guide you as you portray the more private aspect of his life, of which little is known…and it was before your time?
That’s a good point because, like you said, the public perception of him only exists…or was created when he knew the camera was rolling. There was a really good YouTube documentary that I watched—it was only about 15 minutes long– about Prince Andrew growing up, and what he was like according to Royal insiders…And that was really useful because it gave me an inside into the way the family works. Also, we worked with a fantastic etiquette coach, Major David, and he was useful to have around because he had some personal relationship—or at least knew Prince Andrew to a point. Just listening to him was useful because he had some personal contact with the man, and I kind of got an idea of who he might have been as well…And Peter [Morgan, the show’s writer and director] directed me within the script saying how he wanted it played…And also just thinking about it, walking around as the character, and imagining how I’d behave in a world that was laid out for me in a way that it was for Andrew. So I was literally walking around the park, talking to myself, like a crazy person.
Come to New York, everybody does that here. [Laughter]. Wow, so much of your preparation for the role was intuitive?
I would say that’s probably true. Initially, I was watching him on any archival footage I could find, just so I could get a taste of what he wanted to project. But like you say, a lot of it was intuitive and following the script, just doing the work that I do…I try not to treat him as though he’s a real person; I feel it’s more useful if I treat him like he’s a character in a play…which, ultimately he is. It’s not totally biographical [the series]…I treat it like I’m playing a prince, this guy who is like this, kind of how I would in any other context, and I just apply it to that same logic.
Is there any difference in the way that you approached, or prepared for this role—a television role–compared with your theatre work—? You were in A Christmas Carol, so let’s say how you would prepare for that role, versus work within a television series?
I’m not sure that there is. I think there are subtle things that you change in the way that you act when you’re not having to do it for a 1,000 seater audience, but in terms of getting to the emotional truth of a character within a scene, I don’t treat them any differently…I guess there’s a projectional difference within the screen—you don’t have to project as big on screen as you do in a theater to tell the same story…There isn’t really a difference there…Good question.
Was there any trepidation in portraying a member of what is arguably, the highest-ranking Royal family in the world? You see, in America, we don’t have royals, we have reality stars. [Laughter] And given the general veneration that the British people have for the Queen, was there any intimidation in taking on such a role?
It’s interesting, I wasn’t really intimidated by the fact that I was playing a Royal; I was intimidated by the fact that I was playing someone in a big show that millions of people watch and care about a lot…That was the anxiety. To be honest, I didn’t really think twice about the Royal family…Before being on the show, my relationship with the idea of monarchy within England was effectively null…I wasn’t engaged with that relationship, at all. And since doing it, I’ve felt more compassion for them…I didn’t really fear that side of it [portraying the Royal family]; it was more the knowledge that 100 million people would be watching it, and would have strong opinions of what is right, and what is wrong, and how things should be handled. So that was the main anxiety, I guess.
How much of yourself—meaning your own person—would you say that you put into this role?
In terms of playing him as a younger man, there were elements of myself that I was able to bring into it…My relationship with my mum, for example, I was able to draw on—I’m quite close with my mum…I didn’t have a particularly royal upbringing, so I wasn’t able to bring that sense of…having no material anxiety, or no question about your right’s to be in any room. That’s not something that I could bring. But I did find that the experience of actually working made me feel more royal. You are in these incredible environments like cathedrals and houses, and you’re walking around in your really nice suit, and no one is telling you that you can’t go anywhere. Everyone’s like, “Can I help you?”…It did help in getting into the mindset that “I’m a Royal”…Being on the job was the best kind of training.
Well celebrity is kind of like that in many ways, people are at your beck and call.
I read that you initially auditioned for the role of the young Prince Charles. Is this true?
Yes, I auditioned for it the year before, and it didn’t really go anywhere. I went in and met Kate [casting director] and I did the scene, and she said, “It’s a really long process, but you’ve done a really good job.” And I thought “Okay, great.” And I didn’t really expect anything, at all. When the Prince Andrew audition came over as well, I was thinking, “That last audition went well. And they’ve got me in for both siblings, now.” And that kind of made me feel like it [auditioning] might go somewhere. So in that sense, it was a longer audition for the role of Prince Andrew. For the project, I guess I auditioned for a year before the second one [role of Prince Andrew] came through.
Where are you now? Are you presently in the UK?
I am. I was on a job until yesterday. I was really fortunate. We got to shoot an indie film in Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis, called The Road Dance, directed by Richie Adams. They’re coming to the end of the shoot now, so I was out there for about 5 weeks, and I just got back yesterday…I have kind of mixed feelings. I’m a bit bluesy because it was great fun, but it’s also really nice to be home, although everything’s on lockdown here…Out in Scotland, everything was open—we were able to go to the pubs. It was great fun.
And everything still is open in Scotland, right now, right?
Yeah. They might be going into another lockdown in like a week or so…But while I was there, it was great. And I met some really great people on that job.
The Crown is now available to stream on Netflix
Interview Constance Victory
Photography Matt Holyoak
All clothing Tom’s own