by Joanna Orland
Tom Bennett is a hardworking British actor known for projects including E4 television series PhoneShop, Christopher Guest projects Family Tree and Mascots, Ricky Gervais’ Life on the Road and notably his breakout role in 2016’s Love & Friendship. He can currently be seen in Park Theatre’s production of Raising Martha, a play about many things, including amphibians.
In his most prominent roles, Tom tends to be typecast as the lovable idiot – and if the acclaim from Love & Friendship is anything to go by (and it is), he has quite a talent for it. “I do, I like playing idiots. I find them a lot of fun – they usually have the best ride in a piece,” he claims. “You know, not that I couldn’t play the romantic lead, but I don’t know if I want to,” he states. “I don’t think I’d enjoy it, because they don’t have any jokes, and I like doing jokes.”
With such a run of lovable idiots under his belt, I wondered what the secret was behind the art of playing this character so convincingly. “No idea, ’cause I’m not lovable or an idiot in real life,” he says. “There’s something in me than can access it very very quickly and very very easily. And you know, luckily, I’ve got quite a good smile and usually people warm to that. So you look vacant, but with a nice smile, and you can kinda get away with saying anything really,” he explains. “That’s my secret and I’m sticking to it.”
Harnessing the vacant look and cheeky smile is only part of Tom’s on screen and on stage charm. Physicality plays a huge role in each of his performances. “I’ve always enjoyed physical humour,” he admits. “I think it’s a bit of a dying art, but I think when done well, it’s a beautiful thing to see.” The son of British actor Colin Bennett, Tom’s love and talent for physical comedy runs in the family. “You know, one of my favourite classes in drama school was stage combat, and the other one was clown. They’re both very physical classes, and yeah, I happen to be quite good at tripping over. But then my dad earnt a living tripping over, so I’m the kind of second generation tripper-overer, so it’s easy.”
After the success of his role in Love & Friendship, it’s impossible to not discuss the impact the film has had on his career. “It’s felt like a bit of a game changer for me,” he says. “We all knew it was good, but we didn’t know it was going to be as loved as it was, and I… you know, I was still thinking I might get cut from it. ‘I’m doing too much here, Whit’ll cut my role to nothing’. When actually, what he did – he wrote four or five extra scenes for me… He’d write them the night before and then give me them in the makeup chair. ‘Yeah, no pressure, but here’s a 3 page monologue that I want you to do’, ‘oh, when do you want me to do it’, ‘oh as soon as you’re out of the makeup chair’. So that was the 12 commandments scene he wrote the night before.”
In addition to Love & Friendship, Tom has most recently been seen on screen in Christopher Guest’s Netflix film Mascots. “You get two pages of who your character is, but that’s it,” he says of the Christopher Guest film-making process. “You know the skeleton of the movie and you know what has to happen in each scene,” he elaborates. “I’m just a vaguely comedic actor who isn’t scared of making shit up. I don’t have the worry gene. It doesn’t matter if it’s shit, cause that’s not the point of improv – it’s just to keep it going,” he explains. “If I’m known for anything, it’s kind of semi-improvisational comedy, but I’ve never taken a lesson. I wouldn’t consider myself that that’s what I am, but a lot of my work has been that.”
When asked to describe himself in one word, the actor says, “grateful.” Already having worked with the likes of Ricky Gervais, Whit Stillman and Christopher Guest, Tom just wants to continue working with as many diverse people as possible. “My bucket list is as many brilliant people as I can do. That’s what I’d like to achieve – is work with all of them. Then I can die a happy man.”
Tom Bennett can currently be seen on stage in Raising Martha until February 11th, 2017.