Photography: Simon Lipman
Tom Hughes is looking at me in utter bewilderment. “I genuinely don’t know what you’re talking about,” the 30-year-old actor says. The morning of ShortList’s interview, news breaks that he is (potentially) tipped to replace Daniel Craig as 007. Yet, here we are and… silence. Either this guy deserves an Oscar, or he genuinely has no idea. Hasn’t anyone said anything to him?
“Honestly, I got up this morning, made a cup of tea, ate a boiled egg, jumped in a cab, did a photoshoot and now I’m having another cup of tea while talking to you. That’s been my day.”
The actor doesn’t use social media – no Twitter, “definitely no” Instagram – which might explain his blank face. It also explains why he has no idea his latest show, ITV’s Victoria, is currently embroiled in a bitter Sunday night TV battle with the BBC’s Poldark – and it’s winning (5.2 million to Aiden Turner’s measly 5.1 million viewers). All black leather boots, facial hair and stolen glances with a pithy 18-year-old Victoria (played by Jenna Coleman), Hughes’ young Prince Albert is the perfect amount of posh to fill TV’s gaping Downton Abbey hole.
A Cheshire native, the actor’s first big career break was in Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s Cemetery Junction – when he was a mere seven months out of drama school.
Roles in About Time, Derek and the BBC’s Cold War drama The Game swiftly followed – the latter being the source of the Bond buzz. Next up is Realive, in which Hughes plays the first man to be brought back to life after being cryogenically frozen.
“It was a hell of a job for me,” he says. “I lost two stone in six weeks. I had to shave my entire body. I mean, everything. And when it grows back, the itching is… something else. The image of me in a Barcelona bathroom shaving my head, on my own, at quarter to five in the morning, isn’t pretty.’”
He’s being dramatic, of course. Filming finished last year, his hair has grown back and his daggered cheekbones are glowing once again. Just in time for a certain agile, gun-wielding spy, perhaps? “To be considered for any role is very flattering,” he says. “But still, genuine blankness.”
Victoria is on ITV, Sundays at 9pm
A lack of compromise
For someone who doesn’t follow fashion, Hughes is very specific about what he likes. To prepare for ShortList’s shoot, he sent a list of rules, from “lots of white – think Beatles” to the more specific “no V-necks – I’m not in a boyband”. Diva-like demands that should make you want to punch him in his handsome face, but it instead gave him an air of roguish cool.
Another of his rules simply read “mod mod mod”. “I was probably listening to The Jam when I wrote that,” he laughs. It segues us conveniently into Hughes’ first love: not acting, but music. Until age 11, he would spend eight hours every day simply learning guitar. “Dylan, The Beatles, The Jam – I loved them all,” he says. “Guitar was my world. Well, that and Manchester United.”
“I started at Rada and realised everyone else had seen a million movies. People would bring up The Godfather, and I’d be thinking: ‘What are you talking about?’” There are still sizable gaps in Hughes’ knowledge (“I don’t have a favourite Disney movie”), but he’s working on it: “The good thing is, I’m learning loads. I can look at Brando, De Niro and Dean, and try to take things from them. Find their magic and try to distil it somehow.”
Poise of a prince
Getting into the role of Albert in Victoria wasn’t just a matter of nailing those Ps and Qs for Hughes. “I’m a sloucher,” he explains. “But Albert, because he fenced and rode a horse, would have held himself differently.” To get it right, he started taking yoga classes. “The clothing from that period is unbelievably supportive for your posture, but I [still] had to become more poised.”
Words to live by
Whether it’s the question of what he could bring to the Bond role, or the idea of freezing himself like his character in Realive, Hughes reiterates one piece of advice: “You’ve got to live in the moment.” He explains, a hint of mayhem in his voice: “I’d rather accept what’s thrown at me than be in control. It’s a much better ride.”
Highs and lows
You’d dislike Hughes, if at heart he wasn’t equally so paradoxically un-cool. Take his worst phase, for example. “There was an era when I wore electric blue Adidas trainers with neon stripes,” he begins, before realising he’s currently wearing an almost identical pair. “Maybe my dodgy era is still happening?”
Pounds to pints
Forty minutes in, and it’s time for Hughes to head off. We’ve covered “living in the moment”, banning V-necks and The Jam – is there anything else we should know? One rule he absolutely swears by? “Never pay more than £5 for a pint
of Guinness,” smiles Hughes. “There’s always a pub where you can get it better.”