New Interview by Digital Spy – Tom Felton : ‘I thought my character was an alien’

Today, Digital Spy released a new interview with Tom Felton. Catriona Wightman spoke with him about his TV series “Murder in the First” , his music, his upcoming movies and more:


Murder in the First hits the UK on Friday, and thank goodness, because we’ve been dying for a whodunit to sink our teeth into in this miserable weather! The show stars Harry Potter’s Tom Felton as Erich Blunt, a Silicon Valley wunderkind who gets himself in hot water when detectives link him to two murders. Bit awkward.

But did he or didn’t he? We caught up with Tom to get some clues, including why he thought Erich was an alien and why he’s not as much of a baddie as you might think…

Murder in the First is your first regular TV show – what was it about this show that made you want to sign up?
“It was tough, to be honest with you. I’m so not used to this idea of signing up to a ten-part series, and essentially we were signing up on the basis of a single episode, the pilot. I was desperately prodding the writers to find out, ‘Where is this character going to go? Is he guilty? How does the arc continue?’ They wouldn’t budge, they gave me nothing.

“Even over the entire three months of filming, they refused to give me any information. In fact, they did the opposite – they’d send me red herrings, all these weird thoughts. There was constantly a conspiracy theory morning class in hair and make-up – all the cast would be umming and ahhing about whodunit and who’s guilty and who’s not and who’s going to go down and who’s going to die.

“But mainly my decision was based on [writers] Steven and Eric’s reassurance that they knew exactly what was happening with these characters. I’m a big fan of Thomas Schlamme, who directed the pilot, as well. It just seemed like a really exciting adventure; it was definitely a challenge and something I hadn’t done before. I’ve been excited about TV for a long time; most of my binge watching is television now and these little miniseries of eight or ten episodes are so great because you can get into them so quickly.

“The characters are very rich. Although this is a great ensemble cast, we get a chance to go into each individual character quite deeply. You build a relationship with these characters very quickly and within two or three episodes it feels like something you’ve been watching for years.”

How late was it before you found out the ending to Murder in the First?
“The last episode. In fact, they’re buggers. They released the final episode to us bar the last five pages. By episode eight, nine, you start to think, ‘OK, now I’ve got it, I see which way this is going’. I don’t want to spoil anything, but they throw in lots of twists and turns along the way that had us guessing. I think actually it was a prop guy who came up to me at the lunch break and said, ‘Wow, what about the ending?’ I was like, ‘What?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, it just came out’, and I ran to the production office to print out the last five pages. It shocked me, so no doubt it will shock audiences as well.”

Erich’s the suspect from the start but we don’t know whether he’s guilty or not guilty – and neither did you. Was that really hard, having to play both ways?
“I thought it would be – that’s why I was pushing for more answers from Steven and Eric because I thought it would make it easier to make choices if I knew exactly what was going on. But in hindsight it was actually, I think, stronger not knowing. Erich Blunt, the character that I play, is a master of manipulation. He knows exactly what to say to get what he wants. In a weird way, to believe everything you’re saying is the truth is actually more convincing than knowing your character’s lying and trying to come across as more genuine… So yeah, at the time I was desperate to know. Believe me, every day I was pushing them for, ‘Am I lying here, or am I telling the truth?’ But they never said anything. I think it made it easier in fact, not knowing.”

Tell us about him – he seems like a bit of a baddie.
“Well, he comes across that way but he’s misconstrued. Misunderstood.”

Do you just have to feel that way though?
“[laughs] No! It comes out more as the series goes on, but he’s come from a very, very broken family and had a very hard life growing up, and he’s a self-made billionaire and an entrepreneur and a visionary and I think anyone with that weight on their shoulders can come across as villainous when usually people that see the world differently – they just have a sort of higher plane of thought, almost. Because people don’t see the world the way they do, they often get frustrated, and they have no time for people that don’t understand what they’re trying to achieve. He definitely has some ruthless qualities but ultimately I think he’s slightly damaged goods and he’s a genius. Anyone that has that weight on their mind and brain, it can often come across as not being very good socially. He definitely lacks some people skills, I think, but ultimately – I was about to say he’s a good person. He’s kind of fighting the two sides of his personality, whether to keep his mouth shut or to spit a load of venom out, so it’s a nice happy mixture between the two.”

So do we find out a lot about his background and difficulties?
“Yeah, we do. I’ve been carefully wording my answers here, but he has a great team around him. Richard Schiff, who plays his right hand man, and James Cromwell, who plays his criminal attorney. Fantastic actors and really strong characters and people who are trying to defend him. As the story goes on we get to see more about his family and the people that are close to him. Ivana West, who’s his right-hand woman within the company, she also plays a part as the story goes on. There’s lots of people that end up slowly but surely making their way into the firing line. As the series goes on we get to unfurl a bit more and go into his history, which is nice. Like I said, with ten episodes sometimes it can be hard to really have a richness with each individual character but every one of Erich and his team end up being quite central to the plot. It makes it more exciting. That’s why on episode six or seven we had about five or six different people who we thought could be guilty and end up being prosecuted for it.”

Did you have any bets going on?
“We did, yeah. I’m trying to think who won. I mean, things got crazy. Things got really wild. I remember coming in for episode six or seven and being utterly convinced it was one of the cops who had done it or it was a 7-year-old girl, that she was guilty. I remember one of the writers wound me up – he sent me an email at about midnight on one of the days before shooting, revealing that actually Erich was an alien – and being deadly serious – and I was like, ‘Oh, of course, he’s an alien!’ I had to believe it. He sent me many a red herring to confuse me, which worked brilliantly. It only made it more exciting turning up and seeing what we were going to be doing the next day, I guess.”

Erich is this tech wunderkind – did you know a lot about that industry?

“I thought I did. I thought being clocked on with an iPhone and iPad was enough but apparently not. There was lots of terminology that I had to get my head around – I can’t even remember some of the things I came out with. I did spend some time with a techie – I thought there’s no point just learning how to pronounce these words, it’s important to be able to get the meaning behind them, but even with half an hour of someone trying to dumb it down in the most plain English possible, I just got more confused as it went on. It was nice, though. We were shooting in San Francisco, which was really cool, so we got to go into some of the Googleplexes and to see how these companies really operate. It is bizarre in a way – they are definitely not like the offices of my dad’s era. Huge bloody massage chairs and ping pong tables everywhere, it really did seem like a university student lounge or something like that. It was definitely free thinking.”

Why do you think it’s a good idea to explore one case over ten episodes?
“I think it gives you a chance to really build up the anticipation of who it is. As the story goes on it gets a little deeper than just having one murder on the line – lots of necks get put on the line very quickly in the series. But it’s nice because it gives you a chance in each episode for other characters to come into the firing line and to come into being suspects. As more information comes on each episode is a revelation – you think you know more and more as it goes on, when actually it confuses you more as it goes on.

“I think it’s quite exciting as well – I think people love a good whodunit. I used to love it back in the day, even over an hour and a half episode of Jonathan Creek or my mum used to love Midsomer Murders. It’s exciting to guess what happened and that’s over one hour, so to do it over ten is a really exciting prospect. I think it’s one of those things that builds up in excitement as well. The first two, three episodes are really setting the tone and exploring some of the characters but then as the hours go on we get a chance to really intensify the search and really question the things that you learnt in the first few episodes, so it will keep you guessing, definitely.”

Are you still working on your music? And what else have you got going on?
“I’m still fiddling around with it, yeah. I still muck around with a guitar from time to time. I haven’t recorded anything for quite a while. But it’s mostly film work. Since Murder in the First I did an American war story that’s coming out next January called Against the Sun about three pilots who crash landed in the Pacific Ocean in World War II. It’s a true story about three soldiers who spent 42 days at sea in a raft about the size of a table. That was definitely very different from the tech world of playing Erich. It was definitely very exciting.

“And we just finished a Roman telling of the crucifixion – Kevin Reynolds is directing a new film with Joseph Fiennes playing a Roman Legionnaire. It’s all about the crucifixion and the resurrection told through the eyes of a set of agnostic Romans. That was very different as well. Now I look back at it, those three projects are about as far opposite each other as they can possibly be!”

I thought after Harry Potter you must worry about getting typecast but it doesn’t seem like that’s happening…
“No, it’s definitely not a problem! I love playing people who have a villainous side to them, especially a vulnerable villainous quality. I think as the episodes go on you’ll see with Erich that it’s very easy to see a villain and go, ‘He’s out and out bad, he’s evil from the roots’ when actually there’s usually a lot of insecurities and something underlying there – the reasons why they are who they are – and it’s fun to be able to explore that. But yeah, the other two projects are very unvillainous so it’s definitely good to mix it up!”

Murder in the First begins on Friday (January 16) at 10pm on FOX.

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