Actor Tom Brittney
From 18th century Scotland to London’s East End in the late 1950s and even a parallel universe present day London, Tom Brittney has certainly gotten around in recent years. Of course, these journeys as well as several others have been of the fictional variety, but that suits him just fine. The handsome, talented, and versatile actor has been a familiar face on TV screens on both sides of the Atlantic, most recently guest-starring in an episode of the new AMC/Channel 4 Sci-Fi TV drama Humans. Brittney was in the middle of filming the BBC series The Syndicate when he booked his role on Humans.
“I just happened to have a bit of time off from working on The Syndicate when the opportunity to audition for Humans came about,” he says. “I met with the casting director as well as the show’s director and basically auditioned with the scenes that were in the actual episode. I hadn’t been given the full script at that point, so I didn’t know the whole story of Humans, but I had read the show’s premise and it sounded really exciting. One of the things I think we do quite well over here in the UK is take the sort of quintessential Hollywood blockbuster Sci-Fi film and bring it into a gritty, more realistic and sometimes quite depressing kind of situation set in Britain. So I was immediately drawn to Humans, and after doing just the one audition, I was offered the part. Fortunately for me, it coincided with my time off from The Syndicate, and I was able to do it.”
Humans is based on the popular Swedish Sci-Fi series called Real Humans and set in a present-day parallel universe London where the latest tech “craze” is a robot called a Synth. These extremely lifelike mechanical marvels have been created for, among other things, taking the so-called drudgery faced by humans out of their everyday lives. A Synth can perform the simplest to the most complex of tasks, but there is far more to these man-made “servants” than meets the eye. In episode three of Humans, a young man, Greg (Tom Brittney), has a chance encounter with Niska (Emily Berrington), who, unbeknownst to him, is, in fact, a Synth, and the outcome of their meeting is one that neither is expecting.
“Initially, Greg appears to be an average guy and maybe a tiny bit sleazy if you didn’t know him better,” explains Brittney. “He walks up to a girl at this bar, tries to flirt with her, and it works for him. Greg ends up bringing this girl, who says her name is Candy, back to his flat, and he wants to get to know her better, but she’s more forward. It’s through her actions that you learn Greg isn’t that sort of stereotypical sleazy guy. He actually does want to get to know her as opposed to just sleeping with her, which I thought was a nice touch. On top of that, we then discover that he has a little daughter. It was only really when I was on-set and they took pictures of me with the young actress who played my daughter in the framed photographs that you see in Greg’s flat, that I began to feel sorry for my character. He wasn’t simply trying to pick up a girl, but perhaps meet someone that he could one day introduce to his daughter. Again, I thought that was a nice touch. I’ve played a variety of different but sometimes nasty characters, so it made for a pleasant change of pace to play a guy who had good intentions.”
Brittney is extremely complimentary when talking about Daniel Nettheim, who directed his Humans episode and whose other TV credits include Doctor Who, Line of Duty and Whitechapel. “Initially, I didn’t know who Daniel was,” admits the actor, “but then I sat in the back of the car with him when we were being driven to set, and I asked him, ‘What other work have you done?’ Daniel said, ‘Well, I directed a film called The Hunter with Willem Dafoe,’ and I said to him, ‘You’re kidding me. I just watched that film last week and I thought it was amazing.’ I love films set in Australia. They can be quite dark and atmospheric, and this one, in particular, is a brilliant movie.
“So I was already a massive fan of Daniel’s work and it was fantastic to then actually work with him. Not only is he a great director, but also a very nice guy, really funny, down to Earth and someone you can talk to about anything. Daniel is an actor’s director, too. There are some directors who are focused more on the visual and technical aspects of the work and how a shot looks, while others are more focused on defining the characters. Daniel is a bit of both, and he definitely wanted to work with the actors to bring out the best in the scenes as well as the best in the characters. So it was a pleasure to be directed by him.”
Born in Gravesend, Kent, England, the actor trained at the prestigious Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, having made a choice to pursue his childhood dream to one day work in the industry. “I wanted to be an actor ever since I was a child, and I’m not sure if it’s because I didn’t want to do anything else, or if I was sort of rebelling against education and things of that nature,” says Brittney. “I’ve always enjoyed entertaining people, though. My mum was my drama teacher in elementary school and she encouraged me to keep at it. However, it wasn’t until I was around 14 or 15 years old that I realized I could do it for a living. I always figured people like Brad Pitt had a day job because I thought, ‘How can you make a career out of something so fun and interesting to do?’ Again, it was something that my mum supported me on from a young age, and then in my last year of high school, my drama teacher there said to me, ‘Why not go to drama school?’
“So off I went to drama school, I trained there and then after graduating I managed to begin working right away. In fact, I was in my last month of drama school when I booked my first professional job, which was a commercial for Intel,” recalls the actor. “It was this huge budget, Hollywood-esque type advert about a laptop. That was quite an interesting first job to have because it was like being on a massive movie set straightaway. The character I was playing notices this woman’s laptop, and when she opens it up, a steam train comes along and you go back in time. It was a very fantastical advert and a ton of fun to do. My first professional TV acting job was an episode of a TV show in the UK called Doctors on the BBC. I was then quite lucky that other jobs came along rather quickly, a number of which were for the BBC.”
Among Brittney’s other TV credits are Call the Midwife and Outlander, both of which he has very fond memories from working on. “”Call the Midwife is a terrific show and my family and I are big fans,” says the actor. “Once again, I was doing another project at the time and managed to get time off to do this show. While working on Call the Midwife, I fell asleep in my trailer for a couple of hours while waiting to go on-set. When I woke up, I was completely disoriented and when they walked me over to the hospital set, I was suddenly surrounded by these women all dressed in period clothing and pretending to be pregnant. The whole thing felt quite surreal for a moment or two,” notes Brittney with a laugh. “I had a great time and I got to work with some extremely talented and well-known British actors.
“As for Outlander, that’s one of my favorite jobs to date. Once again, I was working with an amazing group of actors, including Graham McTavish, who plays Dwalin in The Hobbit movies. I’m a massive Lord of the Rings fan, so it was fantastic to act opposite someone from one of my favorite film series. This was also my first time in Scotland, and it was incredible to go to work every day and be surrounded by the beautiful Scottish Highlands. We shot the first scene I’m in on the grounds of an historical museum site, so it really did feel like I’d traveled back in time.”
Since finishing work on the aforementioned The Syndicate, the actor is currently three months into a six-month shoot on The Five, a 10-part drama series for Sky One, created and written by American crime writer Harlan Coben, which is slated to air in the UK in 2016. “The Five is a cold case thriller about an old murder case that comes to light again and brings up a number of dark and twisted things from the past,” says Brittney. “I play a young detective constable named Ken Howell, a forensics officer in charge of this new investigation. He’s kind of the comic relief in the series, a little bit anyway, but I’ve been told that Ken also gets into a bit of trouble later on in the show,” teases the actor. “So I’ll be as excited, as I hope the audience will also be, to find out just what that’s all about.
“I’ve only had a short career so far, but I’ve been quite lucky to have already played a number of, I think, versatile roles. I haven’t really had a lot of time out of work, which has been great. I’ve pretty much gone from job to job, each of which has been totally different from the previous one and in different places around the world. So I’ve had the good fortune to experience so many new things, meet new people, make new friends on-set, and work with actors who are incredibly talented and at the top of their game. Touch wood, things have been going OK for me so far, and I hope that continues for a long while yet to come.”
Please note, the above two portrait photos of Tom Brittney are courtesy/copyright of UK photographer Pip, while the behind-the-scenes Outlander photo is copyright of STARZ.