You might have caught the series airing on the ABC, now Doctor Thorne‘s lead actor Tom Hollander talks about his role as a respected Victorian medic with a bristly family dilemma. The star of The Rev and The Night Manager reveals his joy at working with Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellows again, the skills he had to learn and why he feels the show resonates with today’s audiences.
Did you learn any new skills to play a doctor on the show?
“None at all because there was no medicine then, apart from laudanum I think and leeches – neither of which are featured in the series. Luckily I don’t have to do any medical procedures in it. I assume if people got ill then they died back then. Doctor Thorne has a marvellous bedside manner but no medicine because they hadn’t come up with much. He certainly doesn’t have any painkillers or antiseptic or antibiotics, but he does a lot of hand holding and he sits by a lot of beds.”
What were you most surprised to learn about a doctor’s duties back then?
[Laughs] “I did precisely no research, which maybe I should have done, but if Julian Fellowes hadn’t done it either when he wrote the script then that’s his fault. But as for doctorly duties, in the old days you used to have to have your passport signed by certain professions, didn’t you? It was probably a solicitor or a doctor or something like that. It’s that side of doctoring that Doctor Thorne is about – him as the sort of moral figure. He knows everyone because he goes round to all their houses and also he’s a responsible sort. He’s displayed loyalty and constancy over the years so people trust him. He’s the doctor you trust. It’s about his bedside manner rather than the procedural stuff.”
Did Julian Fellowes remember you from Gosford Park?
“I’m sure he did. We’ve seen each other over the years. And of course I loved Downton Abbey.”
How do you feel the themes of the show will resonate with today’s audience?
“You see human behaviour and human emotion. It’s in a different context but people in the story behave the same way as they do now, it’s just that their circumstances are completely different and their rules of engagement are different because of the period. It’s still full of people’s hopes and fears and loves. A modern audience goes ‘Thank goodness life isn’t like that anymore’ but also ‘Oh, I wish it were a little more like that’ and ‘Isn’t it amazing it’s still affairs of the heart that dominate people’s lives?’”
They say ‘clothes maketh the man’ so how were the period costumes?
“Clothes maketh the walk and the way you stand up and sit down. Actors often say that, don’t they? That when they get the costume they know how to play the part because it affects your movement. Your breeches and the fact you’re wearing a frock coat dictates how you stand up, sit down and move about, plus the boots and all of that. And the fact you’ve only recently gotten off a horse. Also you see yourself in the mirror and you can see yourself as part of some sort of Gainsborough painting. It helps your imagination.”
Have you ever had an on-screen job that you’d quite fancy doing for real?
“I think the short answer is no. I’m glad to have done everything for only three months and pretending at that. I dare say if you got cast as Superman would you want to be him all your life? Well, I suppose you would but I can safely say I haven’t played a part I’d like to exchange my own life for. But it’s great fun to pretend to do all these things temporarily.”
You pay a hyena in the latest Jungle Book movie. How did you get into character?
“In terms of playing a hyena, I had no idea how to research it and I can’t really claim that I did but I could get into the mindset of being Benedict Cumberbatch’s underling. I’d tuck in next to him and play the character like an enthusiastic dog. We all did our scenes at the same time in a hotel suite. I’ve done animation before but not motion capture. We all ran around pretending to be animals, pretty much as children do. But I’m slightly underselling myself because I went to a zoo and looked at some hyenas for about an hour and a half and [laughs] they slept the whole time. I left feeling I’d done my due diligence and turned up on the set having done my homework.”
Was Doctor Thorne easier by comparison?
“Well, the thing about motion capture is that it doesn’t matter what any old rubbish you do because they’re going to computer-generate you anyway. It’s actually very liberating. Anything that’s animated is incredibly fun because you can literally do anything you want and you can’t look stupid. I mean you can look stupid to the people then and there watching but it’s not in their interests to leave you looking stupid. I just played a vulture in American Dad, which was marvellous fun. He was a culture vulture so he sounded very sophisticated, going ‘No, no, it’s perfectly fine. We must leave soon. I’ve got tickets to the opera’.”
Who would you most like to work with?
“I’d love to work with Paul Thomas Anderson because I absolutely love his films. I’d also like to work with Wes Anderson and the Cohen brothers. JJ Abrams is also rather good, isn’t he?”
Is there a skill or talent you wish you possessed?
“I wish I was a polyglot not a monoglot, by which I mean I wish I could speak other languages. I’m a monoglot who only speaks English.”
What do you feel makes Doctor Thorne the perfect gift on DVD?
“It plays perfectly into that demographic because it’s about parents and children and worried mothers hoping their children will be okay, ringing their hands, loving them and sending them off into the world. Also Rebecca Front [as Lady Arabella Gresham] plays the most marvellous mother in it and she’s a credit to all mothers. Doctor Thorne himself is bringing up a child on his own so he’s both a sort of mother and father.”