What was it that attracted you to the project?
It was like nothing I’d read before, it’s always great to read something that is fresh and it leapt off the page, in fact it felt like it didn’t just leap off the page, it slapped you across the face. I thought the writing was very idiosyncratic, just fantastic. I think Lucy above all has been able to create really fully-fleshed out, vibrant, contradictory characters that you sometimes are rooting for, and sometimes you’re not; they feel really human and they inhabit a world that’s so present in our lives now, but for most of us we have a very basic understanding of how that world works.
Can you tell us about Tom Pain?
Tom Pain is a very successful, American porn actor who produces his own material, so he sees himself as a kind of mogul. He’s a narcissist, probably a sociopath, he doesn’t seem to
have much feeling for anyone but himself, it’s all about getting as much exposure and ‘likes’ as possible. He revels in his infamy, there’s nothing sacred to him, he doesn’t like women, he’s a misogynist, I mean, [jokes] he’s all the good things! He resides in the more extreme end of the world of pornography, he’s really quite dark and I think that rather than try and play him purely as the two-dimensional villain, Lucy, Dawn (Shadforth- director) and I tried to create something that perhaps asks why he is the way he is without spelling it out too much.
He’s a reprehensible character and a real departure to play from some of your most recent roles both on-screen and in theatre, what was that like?
It was great, as an actor you want to be as far away from your own self as possible and it’s quite difficult to get those roles, you normally have to be very lucky or extremely talented or famous to get the opportunity to do something so far removed. It’s lovely to be playing different notes, the example I give is that as a concert pianist you don’t want to be playing the same concerto every night, or as an artist painting the same picture. As an actor you want variety and I’ve always tried to search for that in my work and I love pushing myself into different areas, and certainly this is about as far away from myself and my frame of reference that I’ve ever been. It was stimulating to try and understand a character that was so extreme and unlikeable, I felt like I had to physically have a shower after every day at work, you had to sort of wash him away, he was that horrible.
Porn is something that infiltrates people’s world and everyday lives, whether they know it or not, yet it’s something that many people still shy away from talking about. Did you have any concerns before working on the project?
Well my wife was totally thrilled! Also, my dad’s a vicar, so god knows what he will think if he watches it! I didn’t have any concerns whatsoever, I thought the quality was unquestionable and that really sealed it for me, I think it’s very far from what people might think it is, if you were to describe it in one sentence, it’s not a softcore piece of titillation. I think it raises some very important issues about our world today, our attitude towards sex, how children learn about sex through what they view online, how women are abused in industry, which has rightly been a relevant topic over the past few years. Lucy started writing this 8/9 years ago and she seems to have been ahead of the world by writing it. It also raises questions about how we view ourselves online and why we find it necessary to be pursuing physical attractiveness – you see people walking down the street, stopping and taking pictures of themselves and I think a lot of that comes from pornography and it’s ever reaching influence.
Did you do any research into the porn industry, or speak to anyone within the industry for the part?
I did a fair amount of reading, though it’s not based on anyone there were a couple of references in terms of the character that Lucy wanted me to draw on, which was quite difficult because some of those were despicable people and deeply upsetting. I suppose having worked on the piece it does slightly change my attitude to the whole thing, not that I have anything against it, or that I was ambivalent, but it’s certainly opened by eyes to the world and what it entails and how the business side of it functions. There’s a great podcast by John Ronson, called The Butterfly Effect which is an expose on the porn industry and how
performers are treated and how they make any money. My character is in the sort of hardcore area, some of which is just unwatchable, so I had to be judicious.
What was it like working with Yarit, the intimacy co-ordinator?
It was great, it was my first experience of working with an intimacy coordinator, I found it really refreshing and really useful. I’ve done quite a lot of sex scenes on screen and on stage before and I now wonder how we got anything done before the job was invented! When you have to do a stunt, or dance or anything where you feel vulnerable or where you need guidance or expert tuition someone will be employed to help you, but with sex you sort of muddled your way through and you might be lucky that you had a sensitive director or actor/actress you’re working with where they’re able to talk about it. But, I’ve had some experiences where it was just awkward and you don’t really know where the boundaries are, how to do certain things regarding camera angles, or how to get what the director wants without almost having to literally have sex! What I came away from the experience with it helped you provide a framework for the scenes, you felt comfortable, it was practical, like choreography really, like doing a dance, when you learned the moves and practicality you could just forget about it and concentrate on the scene and really let yourself go in the scene, without thinking oh my god am I doing something to upset the other person, which takes you out of your character. I thought it’s a great, positive move for the industry.
Did working on the show change or reinforce any thoughts you had regarding the porn industry at all?
It opened my eyes really, it made me sympathise with the performers and what they lose in their fight for survival in what is a business. The sex becomes so mechanical and unemotional and I think that can only affect you as a human being when you’re in your ‘real relationships’. It made me realise how prevalent porn is within our society and how it affects so much of how we show ourselves online – the way we date, flirt, communicate, particularly for young generations and I guess particularly men. There was an interesting Guardian feature on masculinity, I think it was a series of interviews as to what it means to be a man in the 21st century. I think for young guys, in particular, porn is a dangerous area and I’m glad I didn’t grow up with it, I’m 44 now and I’m glad I didn’t have that at 16,17,18 as it’s so addictive and not real.
It was a very female heavy crew on this, including the writer, director, producer and DOP, do you think that had an impact at all?
I’ve never been on a crew where there were more women than men, especially in the technical side of things, it’s often burly guys! Also, I suppose with some of the themes being heavily sexualised, even with the most sensitive guys in the room, there can often be a slightly heavy atmosphere of them trying not to look at what’s going on, but with the women I think it helped the actresses certainly, which was great and why shouldn’t there be females grips, boom operators? It was just really refreshing, and the atmosphere was really congenial and sensitive, interestingly there wasn’t any shouting! Dawn was very collaborative and concise with her direction, she listened and with some male directors there can be a lot of ego and listening is the first thing that gets lost, It was a very positive experience.
You had some pretty interesting costumes on this production, rather different to some of your more recent looks in both Bridgerton and The Crown, did you have a particular favourite?!
Yes, I got to wear a fake snakeskin suit to the SHAFTAS! Which was definitely my favourite, it was my porn cowboy look. I sort of wanted to buy that at the end of the shoot! It was quite difficult to get into, it was quite tight! I remember getting out the car where we were filming in Clapham and I remember being dropped at the night club where we were filming, Infernos, and people ogling like what the hell is going on inside that club with the outfits that were going in and the people that were arriving!
Anything else you’d like to mention?
It’s quite rare to feel you’re doing something that has real currency in our lives today, it felt a very modern and important piece, I felt privileged to be involved in something that felt so edgy, but for all the right reasons.