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The Interview: Tom Hollander

Published on 10 April 2014

[U]ndoubtedly one of our finest homegrown actors, Tom Hollander has been a favourite fixture on our screens since the 90s. With his effortless charm and chamaeleon-like ability to switch characters with what appears to be a deft click of the fingers, his self-confessed laissez-faire approach to life is never visible in his many, and varied, accomplished roles.

Having just completed a dynamic turn as Dylan Thomas in the BBC drama A Poet in New York, and with a new series of the BAFTA-winning Rev. set to air in the spring, the Gosford Park star remains as in demand as he ever was, with 2014 looking much the same in the busy stakes. Recently starring in Ralph Fiennes’s The Invisible Woman, as well as The Voorman Problem (a kooky Oscar-nominated short in which he starred alongside Martin Freeman), Tom continues to undertake a breadth of roles with the ease and candour that truly sets him apart.

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU’VE FACED AS AN ACTOR?

The challenge depends on the job and on the part. Sometimes it’s the amount of lines you have to learn, sometimes it’s the imaginative leap you have to make to find a way to play the character, sometimes it’s dealing with the schedule, sometimes it’s dealing with the director – it’s always different. But the biggest challenge, overall, is to keep your sense of humour in what, every now and then, feels like a bit of crap shoot.

DOES IT EVER GET ANY EASIER? WOULD IT BE FAIR TO SAY THAT, AS A PERFORMER, YOU’RE ALWAYS LEARNING?

I think things definitely get easier. There are some anxieties that disappear, and you definitely feel you’re on a journey, and if you’re lucky enough to keep working, you get to practise the whole time. So I think people do stand a chance of getting better as they get older, just in the same way that someone who makes furniture probably gets better as they get older.

WHAT’S THE MOST VALUABLE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?

I had a very good bit of advice once, which was to not think of a part as one whole thing, one great big overwhelming thing, that you have to do all at the same time. Think of it as a series of moments and then play that moment and then the next moment, and then they will all connect together, like links in a chain.

SO YOU’RE SORT OF DEVELOPING WITH THE CHARACTER.

Exactly, you play the moment at which the person comes in to the room and then you play the moment at which the person gets upset, and then the moment at which the person is amused and so on. Then it becomes pearls in a chain, and with luck you’ve got a necklace at the end of it without ever having to do it all at once.

WORKING IN THE FILM BUSINESS, DO YOU THINK IT’S HARD TO KEEP YOURSELF GROUNDED?

I mean, it’s fun. Most people go into it because it’s fun, and then somehow it all gets very serious, and sometimes they forget that it was supposed to be fun in the first place. If you didn’t want to have fun, if you’ve forgotten about that aspect, then you’ve lost something. That doesn’t mean you don’t care about it. That would also apply to life really.

YOU HAVE SUCH AN INCREDIBLY DIVERSE CATALOGUE OF WORK. IS THERE ANY ONE MEDIUM YOU PREFER?

I really love voice-overs; I love the concentration and the detail of a voice-over because it’s very technical. It’s like if you were a painter and you had to do a line drawing as an exercise. I suppose it’s quite intimate too. And it’s very pure, yeah. It’s just you and a script and you have to bring some sort of humanity to it so that the audience listening can connect with it. I’ve enjoyed that a lot recently.

Read the full article in Hunger Issue 6 – Mighty Blighty, available here.

Like what you hear? The track we used in the video is by Talos. Visit their website here.