You’re in Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, can you tell us a little bit about it?
It’s about a ploy for Middle-Eastern-Anglo relations to improve, so a spin-doctor comes up with this genius plan for breeding salmon in the Yemen, because the Yemeni Sheikh is a big fan of salmon fishing, so they send Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor out to complete this impossible task, and they inevitably begin to fall for each other. I play Emily’s boyfriend who you momentarily think is lost in Afghanistan….but he’s not. It’s not a typical romantic comedy, it’s really smart, it’s a really clever political satire as well as being very romantic. Kristin Scott Thomas is phenomenal as the spin-doctor.
Did you read the book before filming?
Strangely, I read the book before knowing that it was a film. My mum was a big fan of the book.
Do you get nervous about the fact that there’s already an audience that loves the book?
It’s strange when it’s a popular book. I was in One Day, which was a massively popular book, and last year I played Prince Hal in Henry IV and the audiences already have their own ideas about the character before you even step on stage. It’s very easy to get nervous about that and live up to what they like, you just have to remember that you have to make it your own without trying to please everybody. Film is a completely different medium to books, you can never fully capture everything.
You have Parade’s End coming up for the BBC…
That’s another book adaptation! It’s a collection of books by Ford Madox Ford, Tom Stoppard has adapted it for the screen and it’s the first time he’s written something for telly. It’s a huge, epic World War I love story, and it has just the most amazing cast, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall…
You seem to always act alongside an impressive cast…
I’ve been very lucky. If you’re working with really amazing writers, actors and directors it inspires you to be better, lot’s of people assume that you must be very nervous if you’re working alongside these people but you just try not to think about it, they make you up your game, which is good. You learn with every good job.
You wrote a short film with Rupert Friend…
Yes we did a very short film called The Continuing and Lamentable Saga of the Suicide Brothers
Yes, a very long title! Is that the sort of thing you’d like to explore more?
Yeah, I think so…not yet, I’m trying to forge a career in acting at the moment. Writing is the sort of thing I do on my own in a corner and not show anyone. I think it’s much more nerve-racking to show someone something that you’ve written rather than something that you’re in, because it’s entirely from you.
Do you enjoy collaborating with people?
Yes, with Rupert, because we’ve been friends for such a long time we’re not afraid to A: compliment each other and B: tell each other if an idea is rubbish. I think that’s really healthy. We like to test each other, we like trip each other up and we like to explore things.
Do you worry about what people think?
No, I never really mind reading reviews, I think lots of people say they don’t but I think most people actually do. I was told once - and it’s actually pretty sensible – it’s bad to read reviews because even good reviews can have a bad effect. If they say, “Tom Mison is hilarious in…” especially in a play, then the next time you come to the scene you’re just thinking, “Oh god. Must be funny!” So whatever happens it’s taking you away from what you’re meant to be thinking about, which is just as terrible as someone saying that I’m awful. So I don’t mind too much about it.
You read something good about yourself and it evens out…
(Laughs) Whether you like it or not, it’s already out there, you just have to knuckle down and trust that you’re doing the best you can!
When did you initially decide that this was the career for you?
When I was just mucking about at school in amateur dramatics, and someone said when I was about 15 or 16, “You know you can get paid for this?” And I didn’t believe them, I just thought it was too much fun to actually be a job, and then I realised that probably should give it a shot.
What kind of roles are you looking for?
I’ve been quite lucky because I’ve been able to have a mixture of funny roles and serious roles and even luckier that some of them have been both of those. The part in Parade’s End is little bit like that. I remember seeing a play called The Pillow Man, with David Tennant and Jim Broadbent – it was one of the best things I’ve ever seen, and I remember looking around at the audience who were laughing but also weren’t sure if they should be laughing, it was quite disturbing and that’s the sort of thing that I want to do. You cause people to have two conflicting emotions and not knowing which one they should be feeling. The same thing happened in Jerusalem, with Mark Rylance who plays someone awful but you can’t help but love him.
You’ve been in quite a few plays yourself, how different is it from film?
I think it’s pretty similar. It’s just different techniques; you still need the same amount of imagination, and roles aren’t necessarily better in either of them, it’s just the way that you approach it.
Do you not feel more on edge when it’s live on stage and there is an audience right there?
You can gauge how well you’re doing by their reaction, whereas with a film you have to wait a long time before you can see whether you’re any good or not. On stage it’s all up to you, if you mess it up, you have the next night to get it right, On film there are a lot of people that have an input and it’s out of your hands, which is just as exciting if you’re with people that are brilliant. Luckily I’ve worked with lots of them.
Do you notice the audience when you’re on stage?
I’d like to pretend that I don’t, like a serious actor who’s so immersed and ‘in it’ but yeah, it’s difficult not to. You can tell if they’re with you or not, but it’s also exciting if they’re not and try to drag them back.
How do you prepare for your characters?
I try to find their weaknesses, it’s very easy to think, ‘this person’s cool, let’s go out looking really cool’ but I find it much more interesting to find out what frightens them, it opens up the character to more possibilities, that’s why a lot of the character I play are vaguely pathetic (Laughs).
Do you like playing characters that are closer to you?
No, not really, it’s so much fun to be able to use your imagination and play around, the best thing about this job is that you’re being paid to play around with your imagination, and very few jobs allow you to do that. We get to play. Constructive pissing around.
Who is your IDOL?
In acting, the three people who made me want to be actor were Dustin Hoffman, Alec Guinness and Gene Wilder, they were just all clever and imaginative.
SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN IS RELEASED 20TH APRIL
PARADE'S END IS COMING TO THE BBC LATER THIS YEAR
Interview: Emma Hurwitz
Images: Elliott Morgan