Rising star Henry Lloyd Hughes dipped his toe in a whole new world to research his role in Laura Wade’s new drama Posh, which portrays the moneyed members of an elite student dining society. Though he may not be a brash, risk-taking Greek shipping heir, he is no shy wallflower either, finds Caroline Bishop.
CV in brief
24; “My birthday’s in August if you want to save up and get me an absolutely massive card.”
2008 Mark Ravenhill’s Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat at the National Theatre
2008-present Mark Donovan in E4’s The Inbetweeners
2009 Bennett in Simon Stephens’s Punk Rock at the Lyric Hammersmith
Kenneth in Patrick Hamilton’s Rope at the Almeida theatre
2010 Dimitri in Laura Wade’s Posh at the Royal Court
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in West London, in Hammersmith.
Being in London did you grow up seeing lots of theatre?
Yeah very much so. I guess you do end up being slightly spoilt because everything’s at your fingertips, it’s not like there’s one show to choose from. I think growing up in London you just have an increased awareness of what’s on offer. But I suppose the best thing to take from it is the fact there’s so many different types of things that you can do.
What got you interested in acting?
It was the only thing I really wanted to do at school. Basically I was given the opportunity to prat around at a pretty young age. I remember a teacher once gave me the part of Henry VIII. I remember singing this song – ‘I’m Henry the Eighth I am I am’ – it’s a really stupid story, I don’t know why I’m telling you! Anyway, there were a handful of moments like that that just galvanised the show-off that is in me naturally. Teachers at the schools that I went to took drama seriously. Because I didn’t go to drama school, I didn’t go anywhere that trained me specifically for acting, so I just got inspired by people that were doing their jobs and said ‘this is something that is fun but also very serious’. It makes me sound very pretentious, aged six, taking performances very seriously, but having fun taking them seriously in a way. I remember doing Romeo And Juliet at school when I was 17, and a teacher directing me, and it was totally blowing my mind, it was really expanding the way I looked at the creative process, and that has just kept going really, as simple as that.
Was it difficult to get your first break?
Yeah it was sh*t. I was a gardener and I worked in a shoe shop and I just had all these jobs because I didn’t have any money. I had an agent; by the time I left school I had written letters to agents saying ‘I’m phenomenally, mind-blowingly good and you have to come and see me!’ None of them did of course, but one of them was foolish enough to let me in her office and then she was like ‘ok well we’ll see what happens’.
What is the most obscure job you have had?
Working in a shoe shop was definitely the worst one because I got banned from working on the floor because I was not good at selling shoes, I was too chatty and I was apparently talking to the customers and not selling enough shoes. So they forced me to work in the stock room, underground, day and night. Basically like the Quasimodo of the office in Queensway.
Then I was like, sod this, I’m going to go round the world, because this isn’t getting me anywhere. I booked the ticket and I was about to leave on the Saturday and I got my first job on the Wednesday and that was it. I played a kind of brick-wielding murderer on a TV show called Murphy’s Law.
The weird thing about my short career is that I had to eventually do something like telly, which was something I’d never done before ever, until people would let me do theatre, which is what I wanted to do in the first place! But now that I’m getting used to being on stage I suppose – I’ve done three plays in a row now without any pause in between – it’s great, it feels totally natural in exactly the way that I thought it would do all those years ago.
What has been your favourite/most memorable stage experience to date?
My stage debut, when I first got on stage at the National a few years ago, is always going to be a really moving period in my life, because it’s like if you dream of being a footballer. Getting your first job at the National Theatre is like being asked to play your first game for Manchester United. That will never be repeated.
Tell me about your character in Posh.
Dimitri Metropolis, or Dims or Dimitri Moneybags, as he’s known. I suppose he’s the most international and jetset of the assembled 10 members of the Riot Club [the name of the elite dining society in Posh] who we join on one evening in September. He considers himself sophisticated, he’s very worldly, there’s not a nightclub that he hasn’t been to and not a fast car that he hasn’t driven. He comes from a very wealthy family, Greek shipping lineage. It’s a fascinating world to dip my toe into. It’s going to be so interesting once we get it up there. I’m sure there will be a few people who will go, ‘well this aspect is not believable, that aspect is not believable’. But having done the research personally, it literally doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of how extreme some of the behaviour is. I’ve met and spent time with what I consider the real Dimitris, and it’s totally accurate. The confidence, the brashness, what we would consider vulgarity, the superiority. There are people like this in London. They have always been there.
Did the people you met know you were doing research on them?
Yeah. It’s funny… The trick is, you always say to them ‘I just want to get it right’. A politician’s slant, which is ‘I don’t want to misrepresent x, y and z, so help me make it accurate’ and then they go ‘ok’. And they have an amazing way of projecting it onto someone else. If I was going to meet someone who is very close to the character, they’d always go ‘oh the person you’re talking about reminds me so much of my friend’ and then tell me loads about his friend, despite the fact that I was pretty much bang on with him anyway. It’s fun; it’s detective work really.
Do you understand the environment of the Riot Club now?
Yeah, yeah definitely, 100 percent. That’s not to say I approve of it but I understand the world and I understand, in the case of Dimitri, how being born into a world where money is not a worry and it will never be a worry, it can push you to be extreme because you need to get your kicks from somewhere. How do you get your kicks when money is not an object?
Are there any aspects of their life you would like?
I’m an optimist enough to think that my own little existence is good enough. With them, it’s a different world and I’m not elitist at all so it’s not something that I can personally transfer to my own life, in terms of that hierarchy. I definitely don’t feel jealous. There are certain aspects of Dimitri’s life where I’m like, yeah, it would be nice to have a few weeks off and get on a private jet I suppose, but if it took me to be Dimitri to do that then I wouldn’t want to do it anymore. I would want to do it as myself. So the real answer is no.
You must get some time off yourself though?
Well no that’s the weird thing. One would expect so. I’ve cancelled three holidays in the last six months. I’m not going to complain. I’d be the first actor in the universe to complain about having too much work, but I’m going back to back at the moment, which is… It is what it is. They are good jobs and I’m shooting them because they are good jobs.
You are still doing TV’s The Inbetweeners….
I’m about to start in the next week I think, about to go and film some more. I tell you what, there’s going to be some very interesting days where I’m playing a mega-rich Old Etonian Greek shipping heir by night and a shaven-headed Essex boy by day. But you know, this is the job and I’m proving my credentials by doing that I suppose.
How has TV compared to being on stage?
I can’t pretend that I have a natural affinity with it [TV]. I guess I kind of know how to do it, but it’s an approximation with elements of guess work. I just go totally on instinct. I feel a lot more comfortable on stage than I do in front of a camera, but I never ever want to get to a stage where I feel I’ve learnt it. I’m not insecure but I don’t ever want to feel like there’s things that I can’t learn.
What is the best thing about being on stage?
The freedom, the unanswered questions, the ability to rework stuff, the interaction with an audience. Getting to see an audience’s reaction is amazing. That’s something you can’t buy. There were moments in Punk Rock where certain things that happened in the show would be totally different every night. That kind of atmosphere is really sensational and addictive. I’m a show-off, I don’t mind being on stage in front of people, it’s where I feel most comfortable rather than where I feel least comfortable.
Often actors say they get into acting because they are shy. That doesn’t seem to be the case with you…
Yeah it’s really weird. It’s way more common to have people who are very shy, and it hasn’t always been to my benefit because most people are like that. I promise you I’ve lost as many jobs as I’ve gained because people go, ‘who the f**k is this bombastic guy, coming in talking like he knows what he wants?’ They are way more used to wallflowers. It’s bizarre. I just think that everyone’s going to be like me and then they’re not and I’m a bit confused.
What is the best advice anyone has ever given you?
A QPR goalkeeper, when I wrote him a letter – his name was Tony Roberts – I said I was a massive fan. He sent me a signed photo and said ‘just remember Henry, be lucky’. I think that’s pretty good advice. You can inject it into anything.
What is been the highlight of your day today?
I got to walk onstage with my goggles. I’ve got WW2 flying goggles and a flying helmet, and I got to try it on and walk on stage with it for the first time, and seeing the look on everyone’s face was pretty good.