Tom Jones Interviews: Solly McLeod

Tom Jones

Tom Jones Interviews: Solly McLeod

Henry Fielding’s classic novel Tom Jones has been adapted into a four-part series by MASTERPIECE, ITV, and Mammoth Screen (Endeavour, The Serpent, Poldark). Tom Jones, which follows the protagonist on his tumultuous quest for true love, has been thrilling and scandalising readers ever since its 1749 publication.

Solly McLeod plays Tom.

Who is Tom?
He’s a young man who is adopted by a kind, rich Squire [Squire Allworthy, James Fleet]. He was brought up without a mother and not who his father was. And he falls in love with Sophia [Western, Sophie Wilde], who he knew as a child. The story is his journey of him growing up, finding maturity, learning about consequence and self-discovery. He’s trying to be a better person and a better man in 18th century England.

How did you come to be cast?
I was working on a job up in Manchester. The audition came through for ‘Tom Jones’ and I thought, ‘I don’t look a thing like Tom Jones. I can’t even do a Welsh accent…’ Then I read it and it wasn’t that Tom Jones. So I went out and bought the novel [Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling], a nice hardback, got about three chapters in… and I didn’t have a clue what was going on! So I just used Gwyneth’s Hughes’s brilliant script as reference to give me what I needed to get in to character.

Essentially Tom is a decent man. Was that harder to play than being a baddie?
It was. It was a lot of work and I’d be tired and then you’d get people shouting at me across the set saying, ‘Just smile a bit more please!’ ‘Open your eyes!’ I’m a cheery person I hope — if I’ve had enough sleep. The thing is it has been rare to get that in the last year. But in the end, it’s been very enjoyable.

Today you’re in a full sleeved shirt, breeches and suede riding boots. How authentic to period is this Tom Jones?
This is my primary outfit that I wear most of the time. The costumes all look fantastic, the landscapes we were shooting in, the houses, all really helped make you feel like you were there in the 18th century. In fact with costume, I got away quite lightly… Sophie [Wilde] Not so much in those corsets. I enjoyed my boots, wore them the whole time. They’re really quite fetching.

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What was it like shooting in Northern Ireland?
It was amazing. We were on these massive estates in these big manor houses and mansions. Each one we went to helped to build that world that we were trying to create. We even managed to find a few that Game of Thrones hadn’t used! Ones that I think haven’t been seen before. They all fit in to the world really nicely.

Tell us a little bit about your background…
I was born in Scotland in the borders and then we moved up to the Orkney Islands when my younger brother was born. My early childhood was up there with my grandparents and my mum and dad. We moved down to London when I was ten years old. Acting has been something I’ve wanted to pursue from when I was about eight or nine. Mum went to drama school and was an actor so I was lucky to have the support from her, my dad and my stepdad. Throughout school it was the only thing that I was interested in — I didn’t pay as much attention at school in London to anything else. Then I left college, spent a year doing various bar jobs and then thought I should do something to better my skills. I started this course at The Unseen Acting School. I just ended up progressing really quickly. Then I got signed to a new agent and almost within a month I started getting work. It’s just been a crazy year. I’m still trying to process it all.

And has that fed into Tom at all?
Even though it’s not contemporary and a very different experience to my own I’ve looked at the parts of his life that I can relate to. Him being a young man, trying to figure out what’s right, what’s wrong, and then thinking about stories that I’ve heard from friends about growing up without parents.

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How did you find the self-confidence to be number one on the call sheet on such a big production, in one of your first jobs?
I like to think that I have confidence but then it’s never the same when you get on set. You’re always bricking it but you have to get over it. It all ended up working out in the end.

What was it like working with actors like James Fleet, Alun Armstrong…
I don’t tend to get starstruck. It’s more excitement than nervousness to be able to work with these people that I’ve grown up watching and admiring.

Were you a fan of period drama before this?
I can’t say I was. But this Tom Jones – is quite a different kind of period drama. There’s a realness to it, and there’s humanity, I think. A lot of period dramas are quite serious: this one has comedy and emotion and peril added in to make it feel really different.

There’s a lot of movement, duels, fights, how did you find it?
Tom tries to not get into fights. I say tries… But his impulsiveness does lead him in to… situations. There are a fair few intense fight scenes which were great fun to film.

And love scenes?
A few! There were three or four encounters. Again, it’s been done differently in that they’ve come from the point of view of female desire in our show. In all of the encounters that Tom has he’s the one who is seduced. Which is interesting, fun, and important I think to show that side of things.

How did you work up a relationship with Sophie?
I did four or five rounds of auditions and I didn’t meet Sophie once throughout! We met the first evening when I landed in Belfast, went out for a couple of pints and just had a chat. I knew then it was going to be fine – we got on well.

Tom Jones is available for streaming now on ITVX.

Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.