Actor Tom Hughes: 'My character is very messed up'
Roles should come easily for talented Tom Hughes. But meaty and complex parts, he tells Susan Griffin, aren't always easy to find
Tom Hughes is a handsome fellow, and his latest incarnation is really putting those good looks to use.
"He's a 'honeytrapper', which means he sleeps with women for information," explains the 29-year-old of his character, Joe Lambe, in BBC Two's new thriller The Game, a six-part series exploring the lives of a team of MI5 officers caught up in the middle of the Cold War.
Written by Toby Whithouse, who created Being Human starring Poldark's Aidan Turner and also pens episodes of Doctor Who, the drama's set in 1972 and follows a group that's been formed as a special committee by the paranoid head of MI5, known simply as Daddy (played by Brian Cox).
With the Soviets reactivating sleeper agents across the UK, they're tasked with investigating the existence of a Soviet plot that goes to the heart of the British establishment.
Hughes' character is a man who has "an uncanny ability to know when people are telling the truth and to know what they really mean by the things that they say", reveals the actor, who was hailed 'a younger Benedict Cumberbatch' by US critics when the series aired on BBC America.
"But from a young age, he's never been comfortable in his own skin and has a lot of dark within him, so he's learnt to manage his own emotions," Chester-born Hughes adds.
When we meet him, it's a year after he fell "madly in love" with a girl called Yulia, who was an informer for him at the Russian Embassy. "In terms of his emotional stability, that has nothing to do with the war, it's about the loss of love and the lack of love in his life," adds Hughes.
"At the start of the first episode, we see what looks like Joe offering himself up to the KGB to betray his country and to act as informer. One year on, Joe is back at MI5 and a broken man."
He doesn't believe his character feels allegiance to anything in his life, even to himself.
"To a degree, he's emotionless - he's in his own world, his own bubble. I don't think he finds the job exciting, I just think it's what he's good at doing. For a lot of the other characters, this feels like it's a career, it's their life. It's not for Joe."
Hughes knew from a young age that he wanted to be an actor. and joined the Cheshire Youth Theatre and the Liverpool Everyman Youth Theatre before enrolling at the prestigious Rada. He graduated in 2008, and two years later, following roles in TV series Casualty 1909 and Trinity, he appeared in Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's film Cemetery Junction.
Despite his chosen career path, Hughes confesses that he isn't really a "big watcher of TV and films". That said, he has caught some episodes of Mad Men over people's shoulders before, "and that has such an attention to period detail, you're immediately transported to that time. It helps suspend your disbelief straight away", he remarks.
"It's the same as an actor when you walk on to a well-dressed set, and the attention to detail on The Game is amazingly good. I just have to put my suit on, my sideburns; I smoke a cigarette and walk on to the set," Hughes adds.
While there is much talk of the continued lack of roles for older women, Hughes believes the same could be said for men of his age.
"For a while now, I've been lamenting the lack of parts that have the same dexterity of conflict in the leading man compared to what we had in the 1970s," notes the actor, who also starred in legal drama Silk and 2013 mini-series Dancing On The Edge.
"During that time, there seemed to be an array of characters that dealt with all the sides of what it meant to be a man, from the pressure of being perceived to be strong to also dealing with the sensitivities of emotion. I found that Joe had every single facet in one character."
So if he could take away with him any one thing from his The Game alter-ego, what would it be?
"He's got amazing Chelsea boots," says Hughes, who - unsurprisingly, when you look at that bone structure - has modelled for Burberry.
"Seriously though, that's really hard, as Joe is quite a messed up character. It would appear on the surface that there is a freedom to him, but all that comes from a dark place and at a cost," he adds. "I don't think you could take one facet of Joe without taking all the crap that comes with it."
- The Game begins on BBC Two on Thursday, April 30