No doubting this Tom – Glass meets British actor Tom Brittney

A lucky combination of classic good looks and on screen versatility means Tom Brittney is fast emerging as a star on the horizon, and has every chance of being here to stay. In the middle of filming original drama The Five for Sky, Glass chats to him about his career so far, the brilliance of Tom Hanks, discovering the Sopranos and the perils and pleasures of navigating around LA.


You’re currently working on The Five a new 10-part drama for Sky TV. Tell me about it?
It’s about a group of five friends twenty years in the past from the present day. The little brother of one of the friends, Mark, played by Tom Cullen, [Downton Abbey] goes missing and is allegedly murdered. Twenty years later one of the friends Danny, played by O-T Fagbenle, who is now a cop, links together the blood of the missing boy to a present day murder scene. It sets a cold case in motion and brings all the friends back together.

What character do you play?
I play detective Constable Ken Howell who is the lead forensic exhibits officer on the case. He is a bit of a lad, a bit of comic relief. Another character, Carl played by Martin McCreadie, is also the lad of the police office but we get into a bit of trouble towards the end of the series.

You’re filming in Liverpool. Is the series based there?
It’s based in a fictional town called Westbridge.

Tom Brittney Photograph: Justin van Vliet

The Five is created by Harlan Coben, the phenomenally successful American author, It must be exciting to be involved in a project by such a master of the crime genre?
He originally wanted to write a book but thought he would turn it into a series instead. He created the story and characters. Though each block of two episodes has a different writer. I remember my dad calling my auntie to say, “Tom’s got this thing with Harlan Coben” to which she replied, “Oh I’m just reading one of his books right now.”

Outlander has been hugely popular. Your character Lieutenant Jeremy Foster went down very well on social media.  Was that your first role in a costume drama on TV?
Yes and I loved it.  For an actor the costume is one of the things that bring the character to life, especially if you and the costume maker have the same idea. Having a full military costume and the wig and the sets in Scotland, and being surrounded by the Highlands – we filmed at a historical museum – was just like stepping back in the past. You can’t help but be transformed into this 18th century character.

Were the costumes authentically heavy?
Yes, how the hell the soldiers wore that kind of stuff whilst fighting. It was raining as well and so it could get quite wet, and I was riding a horse and trying to get on and off the horse with heavy boots and a sword – there was a real art to it.

Tom Brittney Photograph: Justin van Vliet

Do you horse ride?
That was the first time. I had some training before. I had to spend a week learning to ride. Horses are so powerful and the one I rode was Russell Crowe’s in the film of Robin Hood, an experienced acting horse, so I was in safe hands.

You were in The Syndicate which is about a group of ordinary people who win the Lottery, written by the Bafta award winning writer and director Kay Mellor. How was that?
Great. She is a wonderful person, so nice and friendly and the set always felt like you were part of the family. My filming schedule was quite sporadic but if you watch the last episode there is a nice twist.

You play an American. How did you find the accent? It is definitely one of the harder ones to get right.
Luckily the feedback has been quite good so far. Everyone on twitter referred to me as an American and a few people thought I was American, which is good. My ex-girlfriend was American and I’ve spent time there so I’ve had a bit of a practice with it. But it was nice to try the accent here in Britain first rather than going headlong into a show over there and being surrounded by American actors.

Tom Brittney Photograph: Justin van Vliet

Do you enjoy accents? Some actors love them and some not quite so much.
I have a selection that I’m quite comfortable with. I’ve got friends who can just pick up on accents instantly. I can do a good Yorkshire one. We did a play in drama school that was northern Irish and I think when we got that right we were like “Oh my God”.

Where are you based?
London. I went to America after Outlander came out because it was shown on Stars. Then I got an agent and a job on a show called Unreal shown on Lifetime. Unreal was fantastic. We were filming in Vancouver, which is a beautiful city in Canada – a beautiful country. We were filming in a mansion with some incredible looking girls. It’s been very well received and it’s a great show, it’s coming to Britain as well.

I saw a stills shot of your character jumping out of the hot tub – it looked fun and uniquely American.
I played a party animal and it goes a bit wrong –he takes advantage of his situation.

So would you consider moving to LA?
Definitely, I went out there for pilot season and I’d just passed my driving test, it was the first time I’d ever been in car without an instructor – driving on the right hand side of the road–and I loved it. It was so exciting, the freedom that I felt. I was living a very nice life in Beverley Hills getting a good LA experience. When I’m over here I get quite scared of going to LA as it’s much more of a rat race and a big difference from the market that I’ve got used to over here in terms of acting, but when I’m there I really love it.

Are the people friendly?
It can be quite daunting. In London, it’s head-phones on, people not looking at each other, but over there you go into a store and it’s “Hi how are you?” and it’s actually really none of their business (Tom laughs). Typical Brit wary of friendly open American but it’s great–you go into a bar you make friends with the bar man!

You grew up in Kent. Are your parents still there?
I grew up in Kent and then when I was 12 we moved to Devon to secondary school. I then headed to Drama school and my sister went to a ballet school. My mum missed London, the theatre, and museums and so she moved back.

How did you find acting?
Film was the reason why I wanted to be an actor. I remember watching Hook with Robin Williams, and thinking I want to do that–a massive set and a completely different world. The older I got I became a real lover of cinema and would think  “that’s where I want to go”.

Who were your acting inspirations when you were little?
Robin Williams. Mrs Doubtfire. Hook. Seeing him play and how he was on screen. I loved being a class clown and making people laugh. But also some of his other roles where he is completely contained. After the movie Saving Private Ryan I became a lifelong lover of Tom Hanks and every single movie that he has done.

Have you ever seen The Money Pit – a really early Tom Hanks movie?
No, but I loved Big, and then seeing him in The Road To Perdition, such a versatile actor and such a nice genuine guy.

What do you look for in a script?
I’ve been lucky in that in my short career so far I’ve done a quite a variety of characters. Which is good, as you don’t ever want to be type cast. I want to do as many things as I can. I like the idea of exploring dark characters but I like the comedy stuff as well. I do think I’m quite funny in real life but it’s very hard to do on screen.

You are also a photographer. Have you found any time to pursue that?
I always bring my camera with me wherever I go. I like to do documentary photography – protests – there was one I went to recently – a neo-Nazi rally, there were anti-fascists on the other side, loads of police, and I was just trying to capture peoples faces, the unique characters and the emotions that people have. Especially when people really care about what they are protesting about. The anger or the passion, it’s lovely to capture that. It goes back to my love of film. The visual–stories on camera.

What camera do you use?
I use a Canon EOS 5D Mark 1.

What do you do to wind down and relax?
I’ve just started The Sopranos. I didn’t appreciate James Gandolfini when he was alive, but now I’m watching I can see what a great actor we lost, such a new take on the gangster genre. It must have been revolutionary back in the ‘90s. There are a lot of flawed heroes now, such as in Breaking Bad, characters that mess with your moral compass, but that must have been one of the first.

by Gabriella Crewe-Read

Photographs by Justin van Vliet

Tom’s episode of UnReal will be on Lifetime tonight at 10 pm. The Five (Sky One) is  due to be screened next year.

Outlander can be viewed on Prime Instant Video
The Syndicate is available on Video or digital download from ITunes and BBC shop

About The Author

Glass Online theatre reviewer

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