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Q&A: Caught in the Act with… Tom Riley

We’ve been swooning over the Broadway revival of Arcadia around these parts for months now, thanks in large part to dashing British actor Tom Riley and his sexy performance as Septimus Hodge, school friend of Lord Byron and tutor to a young genius in 19th century England.  Last week, Tom took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with us and the topics covered include: Visible Panty Lines, the c-word, and whether or not his cute accent is helping him score chicks on this side of the pond.

Please note, there is a point at which Tom mentions having a thing for redheads and The Mick remains professionally polite. She’s expecting some kind of cosmic reward for her maturity shortly.

Read on below…

M: So, we wanted to bring out the big guns for our first question, so we have something really important to ask you about the show— Does your costume involve period undergarments?

Tom: [Laughs.] In theory it does.  If I wear modern based stuff you get a VPL [Visible Panty Line] through the britches and the first two rows can kind of see it.  But also, the shirts they give to us are so huge that come nearly down to my knees, if I tuck them in you can see the bottom of the hem on the thigh which looks like modern underwear anyway, so either way, it doesn’t really matter.  So I can get away with wearing modern underwear.  But there are period underwear there should I feel like I want to be 1800s and fancy.

M:  Okay, so, now we have an actual serious question— At what moment in the show do you think Septimus realizes that he’s in love with Lady Thomasina?

Tom: I think that something happened in those three years, that interim period where his brief dalliance with Lady Croom has petered out, or has turned sour for whatever reasons, and he’s realized that the person he’s looked for all along is present in the girl who’s been under his nose the entire time.  And I think it’s a very, very gradual thing and its only when in that final scene, he’s extracted what’s she’s discovering.  I think that’s what sends him over the edge.  She’s discovered something that would undermine everything that he’s understood for his entire life and everything he’s based his theories of teaching on, but she’s done it with such a wide-eyed, open and bright and attractive way and suddenly everything that he wanted is right there.

M: Do you have a favorite moment in the show?

Tom: Yeah, a couple really.  One for the just beauteous words—that speech about how all that’s lost at the great library of Alexandria will be rediscovered.  He’s being so caring to Lady Thomasina without being too patronizing, he’s still quite firm with her and calm with her and yet saying something so beautiful and reassuring and dark all at once.  It’s got everything that Septimus is wrapped up in a bow.

Either that or just messing about with Chater in the first scene, he’s at lot of fun.  It’s also the point where the audience understands they’re allowed to laugh. I enjoy that.

M: Arcadia is very dialogue heavy, have you ever seriously mangled your lines and created a disaster?

Tom: I actually don’t think I have, but there have been moments.  There’s the tiniest moment when you slip up, where you forget a line or forget a word, then yeah, the plot goes askew, it’s so tightly wound.  All the things you’re doing are critical in the future, like 200 years later, to Bernard, Hannah and Valentine. So the cold sweat comes and your stomach just goes in somersaults, you think, “Oh my god I’m going to fuck all of Arcadia up right now, in front of people.”  It’s not good, man.

M: So, you’ve done a bunch of theater before in London but this is your first show in New York.  Has the experience of working on Broadway been very different from working on the West End?

Tom:  Yeah, it has actually.  There’s a far stronger community here. Everyone’s so nice and supportive of each other.  There’s no schadenfreude, no one’s hoping that another show fails, and if you hear that a show is coming off there’s no moment of like, “Oh yeah, that’s great, that’s our audience, we’ll get more.”  You feel for the people that have put so much work in because everybody knows everybody else.   And the audiences here are really lively, lovely.  They want to be entertained, you know?

M: Have you found the audiences to be very different?  Do they interact differently with actors or with the piece itself?

Tom:  Yeah.  They’re happier to see you. There’s a thing, in England, where they paid, you know, a hundred quid or whatever to see a show and when the curtain goes up they’re sat there going “Come on, I paid a hundred quid to see this show, this had better be good.”  Whereas on Broadway, there’s a sense of “Come on, I paid $120 dollars to see this show, this had better be good!”  And they want it to be good.

M: Do you have anything lined up for after Arcadia? Would you think about staying in New York and doing more theater here?

Tom: I have a couple things lined up, I can’t talk about them yet because they haven’t been announced but one may be here and the others are in England.  Literally, today that all came about so I can’t really say anything cause I’ll probably get my wrist slapped.

M: Is there anything from home that you really miss?  Any food or places that you used to love to go?

Tom: The one thing New York is really good at is food, so I don’t miss food.  I know I’m going to miss the food here when I leave.  And I’m going to miss The Times, as well. I really like that paper.  But, yeah, I don’t know. There’s nothing I miss from home, apart from the people.  I don’t tend to miss places very much, I don’t know why.

M: So you have an awesome British accent. That must come in handy in the bars around here. Are the ladies just throwing themselves at you?

Tom: No! Actually, I want this sorted out now [laughs], because everyone has told me that would be the case there’s just not been any.

M: Have you picked up any Americanisms while you’ve been here?

Tom: Oh, douchebag. Mainly douchebag.  It applies to so many people and so many things all at once.  It’s quite a magical little word.

M: Do you have a favorite British dirty word?

Tom: Well, in Britain there’s one dirty word that we say a lot more than Americans, like a lot more.  And we’ve now discovered that doesn’t go down quite as easily over here as it does in England.

M: Let me guess, it’s the “c-word.”

T: Yeah. [Laugh.]

M: American women really don’t like that word.  I mean, I think it’s hilarious, but…

Tom: Good on you! I would really regret saying that on Regis & Kelly.

M: Do you prefer Tom or Thomas?

Tom: Tom, unless you’re disappointed in me.  In which case it’s Thomas.  I haven’t been called Thomas in years and years and years, but I think that was the name on my birth certificate.  Tom is what I’ve been since I was three.

M: Did you have a favorite stuffed animal when you were a child?

Tom: Yes I did.  He was a rabbit, his name was Mr. McCarrots and he had a carrot in his top pocket. And he had no pants.  I mean, I’m sure he had pants once, but the pants disappeared.  And he had this nice natty little green shirt and a bowtie. Because Mr. McCarrots liked to dress up nice.

M: What is your dream role?

Tom: My dream role? I would love to play Hamlet for David Leveaux. I’ve decided to start telling people that it’s happening so that maybe it will just happen. [Laughs.]

M: We can help you out.  We’ll put it on the internet.

Tom: Yeah. If we just put it out there on the internet, then maybe everyone will feel like it’s something that is happening and then before I know it I’ll be rehearsing.  I’ve loved working with David, I think he’s one of the greatest directors in the world and it would be a dream to do that with him. …He mentioned it once in passing and I’ve never let him forget it.

M: What are some words that you use too often?

Tom: Cheers.  I say cheers, for thank you; obviously, in England I say it all the time.  Out here you say ‘cheers’ and people think you’re forcing an unexpected celebration on them.

M: What are some words that you don’t use often enough?

Tom: Probably anything from like, my dissertation. Really verbose long ones.  Verbose!  There you go!  I don’t use verbose enough.

M: Alright, what is the last book that you read?

Tom: I’m in two right now. I’m reading No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July—I’m a kind of crazy fan of hers—and the New York Trilogy by Paul Auster.

M: Do you have a favorite mid-to-late 90s pop song?

Tom: Aw, that’s a great question! Do you know Blur? The album Parklife by Blur was like, 1994 maybe? It made me love music; it made me think music was something more than I could ever imagine that it could have been. Maybe just Parklife. Or “Girls and Boys.”

M: It’s funny that you say Blur, because next up is the “Lightening Round”—it’s a couple of quick either/or questions, for you we paired together a series of British things—and the first question was Blur or Oasis?

Tom: It’s not even a question! It’s Blur. Because Oasis made the same album eight times in ten years and Blur have gone on and made about six completely different albums and Damon Albarn went to make different bands and travel the world, whereas the Gallaghers got stuck in a rut.  Oasis may have won the battle, but, Blur won the war.

M: The Beatles or The Stones?

Tom: Beatles.

M: Ginger Spice or Posh Spice?

Tom: Jesus Christ or Posh Spice?

M: No, Ginger Spice or Posh Spice?

Tom: Oh, I wish you’d said Jesus Christ or Posh Spice. That would have been the most random either/or!  I’m going to go for Ginger.  I have a massive weakness for gingers.

M: Dickens or Shakespeare?

Tom: Shakespeare.

M: Helen Mirren or Emma Thompson?

Tom: Emma Thompson, I think.

M: Prince Harry or Prince William?

Tom: Harry.  I like Harry.  Harry feels like he really doesn’t want to be a prince.  But someone’s let him, and he’s just having fun.

M: Last question in the “Lightening Round” is: Chelsea or Manchester United?

T: Chelsea.  I used to live right by Chelsea, so it would have to be them, but I don’t support for them or anything. They’re the nearest ones to me.

M: So I think we’re up to the last question for the day.  Who would win in a duel, Septimus Hodge or George Wickham?

Tom: I think they’d both talk each other out of it.  They’d really never get to the duel, they’re too wily.  They’d probably both end up just saying, “D’you know what? We really get on. Let’s go out on the town, get a pint of mead and meet some wenches.”

Tom Riley has one leg in a clawfoot bathtub. Enjoy.

Tom Riley may be lost in Sleep No More. Quick, go find him!

Photos: JC Dhien

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Linda May 31, 2011, 4:53 pm

    Every interview I read with this man makes me love him more. I just can’t handle it. Nice job and I’m very impressed with your professionalism.

  • Sue T May 31, 2011, 5:08 pm

    Fantastic interview! Love the questions – very refreshing and of course, the answers rocked. Thanks!

  • Amanda May 31, 2011, 6:02 pm

    I assume this was a phone interview because, had it been in person, I am certain The Mick would realize that Tom Riley was hitting on her when he said he had a “massive weakness for gingers” and they would still be doing it right now.


  • Kim May 31, 2011, 11:31 pm

    great interview!! he is absolutely adorable. i love that he said “chelsea” even if it was just because of location. haha. and i am sure if you gathered your readers/followers to meet him, he would have PLENTY of woman throwing themselves at him. : )

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