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Henry Lloyd-Hughes goes from thug to toff on TV

Indian Summers returns this month for a second series and Inbetweeners actor Henry Lloyd-Hughes is taking this role very seriously indeed

By Gemma Dunn

When Henry Lloyd-Hughes popped up in the role of Ralph Whelan, an ambitious private secretary to the Viceroy of India in Channel 4 hit Indian Summers last year, it was a head-scratching case of 'where do I know him from?'

A Google search later and all became clear: fist-wielding, shaven-headed school bully Mark Donovan of E4 comedy The Inbetweeners had transformed into a handsome, linen-wearing posho with a side parting - and it rather suited him.

Far more akin to Whelan's flair, privately educated Lloyd-Hughes is more hipster than tormentor, more upper-class than class fool. But, he confesses, that doesn't stop the furore that surrounds his thuggish precursor.

"For every 10 times someone recognises me as Donovan, one person recognises me as Ralph Whelan. It's a ratio of 10:1!" laughs the 30-year-old actor.

"Maybe they recognise me as Ralph, but they don't like the character, or maybe they're more intimidated by Donovan?"

Whatever the reason, the polite London-born star isn't fazed by the attention.

"I'm not a shy and retiring person, so I'm not embarrassed every time I leave the house and someone says something about my work. I try to always be respectful, as I know the feeling; if I see someone whose work I've enjoyed, I often feel like I want to say something, like, 'thank you very much for doing that thing I liked', so I've always got time for it."

Right now, he is set to reprise his role as Whelan in the second series of Paul Rutman's Indian Summers, the drama that details the events of summers spent in the foothills of the Himalayas by British socialites at the time of the British Raj.

Discussing the show's popularity, the actor muses: "It's a completely new world and, on top of that, we've got the cross section of a really integral piece of world history, the history of this country, and characters who are on every single side of that historical, racial divide.

"It's an irresistible cocktail of those different elements that cooks up something quite unique."

But the passionate performer - whose credits also include Miliband Of Brothers, Anna Karenina, Weekender and countless stage productions, most notably Laura Wade's Posh - is primarily sold on its originality.

"I take it incredibly seriously, it's very important to me," he explains, suddenly stern in expression.

"When I do a play, one of the major motivating factors for me is: 'Is this original? Or is it the 19th time someone has performed this?' It's a big draw."

When we last saw Whelan, he was coming to terms with a son (Adam) he knew nothing about, while keeping alive his political ambitions to rise to the top of the British administration. Now, fast forward three years to the summer of 1935, and he's seeing out the current Viceroy, Lord Willingdon's (Patrick Malahide) last summer in India, and vying to replace him. But with all the characters at boiling point, is Whelan's empire about to come crashing down?

Lloyd-Hughes admits he's further into this character than he's been with any other role.

"It's amazing; I feel like I'm in uncharted territory. I feel like I'm pushing boundaries within myself.

"It's satisfying, but it's also emotionally draining, because without wanting to ruin anything, Ralph goes through a lot this series."

Someone who is set to play a big part in Whelan's storyline is proprietor of the British Club in Shimla, Cynthia Coffin (Julie Walters).

Of his glittering co-star, Lloyd-Hughes says: "You couldn't imagine a greater compatriot or adversary because, by gum, she brings so much! It's phenomenal what she does. You really get a kick out of doing those things with her, because you know she is bringing absolutely everything. I just hope I've kept my end of the bargain."

Filming on the Malaysian island of Penang, one element that's definitely kept its 'word' is the stifling weather.

"The one thing you're trying not to show is profuse sweat. When people watch it, characters glide into scenes and get a drink placed in their hand. In actual fact, I'm an absolute mess! I'm disgusting, but we make it look a bit cool - cool in both ways."

It sounds like the wildlife got the better of him, too.

"You may notice one of the character choices I made this series was to lose a stone; it was just one of the things that me and a parasite I picked up decided we were going to do. And you know what? It's the kind of thing that gets you nods."

Lloyd-Hughes' sarcasm and dry wit is infectious. He's a true entertainer and perhaps, therefore, I should have foreseen the comedy in his musician past.

Giggling, he confesses: "Saying I'm a rapper is something I do to entertain journalists. I'm a huge rap music fan, though. I made music in loads of different genres, but if you look for rap music attached to my name, I'm afraid you won't find it.

"Music, for me, is a youthful dream. I'd love the chance to make music again. I'd be incredibly rusty, but that won't necessarily stop me trying. That's what it's all about, isn't it? I was never afraid to try things, even though I might be no good. I think that's part of the creative process."

Indian Summers, Channel 4, tomorrow, 9pm

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