Mr Tom Hughes
“A what?” The actor Mr Tom Hughes is temporarily – and uncharacteristically – lost for words. He’s just been asked if, given the fact that he’s been called upon to model MR PORTER’s new Prada collection, and has previously appeared in Burberry campaigns, among others, he considers himself something of a style colossus.
“Do you want to put that on a card and send it to me?” he laughs, when he recovers. “I’d love for it to be my official job title.”
What did he think of the collection itself?
“Well, I’m a black-jeans-white-T-shirt-boots man,” he says. “But I found that it pushed me to a place I don’t normally go. Well-made clothes drag you up to their standards.” He grins. “You can’t be a Northern slouch.”
No one could deny the first part of Mr Hughes’ description of himself; he’s a native of Cheshire, to which his broad vowels attest. But the latter half of the charge sheet is seriously wide of the mark. The 30-year-old has spent the past few years steadily building a reputation as one of Britain’s hottest young actors, thanks to a string of strikingly nuanced performances in the likes of the BBC’s Dancing On The Edge, where he played a conflicted aristocrat, and The Game, a Cold War thriller, in which he portrayed an MI5 agent with a dark past.
Right now, you can see him as Prince Albert in Victoria, a mini-series on the young queen’s life and loves, which ITV has pitched as a post-Downton blockbuster – to much critical acclaim – and Realive, a movie in which he stars as a cryogenically frozen man who is reanimated in a very chilly future (not least because Mr Hughes lost two stone and shaved off all his body hair for the role).
Mr Hughes’ peers are generous in their praise of his talents. “He’s a rock star and a film star,” raved Mr Ricky Gervais, who cast the then-unknown Mr Hughes in his 2010 film Cemetery Junction. “He embodies the spirit of Liam Gallagher, Richard Ashcroft and James Dean.” Mr Hughes naturally demurs at such encomiums. “I focus on pushing myself, finding directors and writers to challenge me and characters that take me out of my comfort zone,” he says. “I like playing guys with contradictions, who lie to themselves or suppress those parts of their character they don’t want the world to see. Prince Albert, for instance, is an utterly fascinating and really complex character, while the guy in Realive is experiencing a full-on existential crisis.” He pauses. “Whatever I do, I want to be able to walk into my local pub and face my mates – who’ll ridicule me whatever, by the way – and know I did it for the right reasons.”
It seems, however, that Mr Gervais wasn’t far off with his Britpop comparisons. As well as the slight whiff of danger and the killer cheekbones, Mr Hughes has the rock star’s musical chops. He learnt to play the guitar at the age of five, was in an indie band called the Quaintways and remains a music obsessive.
“Weirdly though, I never thought of it as a career,” he says. “As soon as I started youth theatre aged 11, acting became my total focus, even though I didn’t know anyone in that world. I made it to Rada, but I still feel like I’m playing catch-up in some ways; every so often I’ll think, shit, I’ve never seen Apocalypse Now.” He chuckles. “But on the whole, I like the balance of my work and life. I immerse myself in my job, then run away to escape from it.”
Mr Hughes illustrates his point by saying that he’s taking his guitar on a forthcoming trip to the US, where he’s promoting Victoria. But having just entered his thirties, does he think it’s now too late for him to become a rock god?
“Two words,” he fires back. “Iggy. Pop. He’s what? Sixty, right? [He’s 69.] And he’s not doing too badly.” Besides, says Mr Hughes, he might yet marry his dual interests by portraying a rock star. “I’ve played John Lennon on the radio, but I’d like to have a real go at him,” he says. “No one knows what’s around the corner, do they? Claudio Ranieri [Leicester FC manager] had a cracking quote: ‘You’ve got to have an open heart, a full battery and run free.’ And that’s how Leicester won the Premier League title. So that’s a good enough life lesson for me.”