Catching Up with Grantchester’s Tom Brittney
In an interview with MASTERPIECE, Grantchester star Tom Brittney talks riding that vintage motorcycle; cooking, music, and other off-screen endeavors; and reveals who’s nicer: Tom Hanks or Robson Green?
We owe you our congratulations—I understand that you got your motorcycle license for this season of Grantchester!
It is true. I am very proud of that. Probably one of the proudest moments of my life was getting that—it was the third time—lucky. It still counts!
And you did all your own riding? What was that like?
I did…They got a stuntman, put him in a wig, and dressed him all up like me. They did one scene right at the beginning and then after that, I was like, “Look, I’ve got my license now, I can do my own stunts.” So this poor stuntman had to sit back. I don’t think he was too…He still got paid. But, yeah, the rest of the riding was all me. It was great, because riding a bike is hard enough, and then riding a vintage bike, where everything you’ve learned is back to front, is also hard, and then adding that to doing it on screen and trying to hit your mark… But, hey, I’d like to think I pulled it off.
I think so, with panache! What are some of the other skills that you’ve gotten to learn in various roles you’ve had? What was your favorite one, and what was the strangest?
Well, the last series of Grantchester threw a couple at me. I mean, the motorbike, although I didn’t pass, I still had to learn it and sort of get to know what a bike feels like. That was the first skill that I learned. But then it made me learn sign language, I did sign language in one of the episodes. Boxing, obviously. I just did a job, just before lockdown happened, where I played a modern-day soldier, with a sniper rifle. So it was the first time I got to fire a gun, and that was pretty fun. I’d always kind of wanted to run around in the desert pretending to be a soldier holding a gun, so I got to tick that one off the list. But, no, I haven’t got to do anything too crazy yet. I’m hoping that maybe, now that I’m an actor who is open to learning new skills, I’ll find a job where they’ll be like, “We want you to…Heights! If someone makes me do heights, that’s something that I’d love to conquer, because I am petrified of that. So that’s the next thing on the list. Sign me up, I’ve advertised it now. Someone’s going to call me up tomorrow and go, “We’ve got this great job for you. You’re going to jump off a skyscraper.” Spielberg calling: “I love heights. I love heights, of course I do. Yeah, I’ll have a go!”
Anyone who follows you on Instagram knows that you are a quarantine nutritionist and chef. Do you actually enjoy cooking at all during normal times, and do you watch a lot of cooking videos in general?
You know what? Genuinely—although I made those [Corona Cooking Instagram stories] to try to be a little bit funny, although at the same time, that was actually what I was eating—I’m ashamed to say that I reverted to the diet of a student. But I do love cooking. In normal times, in the old days, I really loved cooking, but I’ve dropped it a little bit. I’m starting, now that we’re getting to normality, to go, “Hey, I might have guests around soon. I better get my culinary skills up to scratch.” But I do watch a lot of Anthony Bourdain. He’s probably one of my favorite chefs and presenters I love to watch, so I’ve been watching a lot of him.
Another hobby that Instagram would have us believe you enjoy is playing guitar. How long have you played? Do you write songs?
I fake it all. I’m not really playing, yeah. [laughs] No, I do. It’s one of those things that, again,this would be the perfect time…I really feel like I failed lockdown, because everyone’s going to come out learning a language, or they’re all going to be ripped and better at guitar, or other skills, and I’m kind of a bit lazy. But I do enjoy playing guitar very much. I’ve played since I was about 15 or 16, taught myself, and I love it. I’ve started trying to pick it back up again. I think it’s one of those things, if I put it on Instagram…Playing guitar or sometimes singing is just way more scary than acting for me. So if I can put it on my Instagram and gently put it out in the world, it might build my confidence a bit.
How about you write a song for Robson and Jerome [the mid-’90s, chart-topping pop duo of Robson Green and actor Jerome Flynn] to perform?
Oh, you don’t know how many times I’ve pitched this idea, and to have it in the show, as well. I said to the producers, “Let’s have an episode where me and Geordie make a band together, and we tour the world. And we forget about crime, and we get into the music industry.” I think it would be brilliant. I think it’s a good idea.
We understand that photography is a real interest of yours. Have you done any photography on the set of Grantchester?
That’s another thing that I haven’t. I love to do photography. There aren’t many free moments on the set when we’re filming. But I think for sure I’m going to bring it next time, and I want to get a nice portrait of Robson. It’d be great. There’s so many sets I’ve been on…Working with Tom Hanks, and I’m going, “Why did I not bring my camera and go, ‘Hey, Tom, would you mind if I get a nice portrait of you?'” That would’ve been…dammit, why didn’t I do that?! But, yeah, next series I think I’ll get some nice candid, behind-the-scenes shots.
We’d like to hold you to that! Does this interest in photography extend to film in any way? Might we eventually see you telling stories from the other side of the camera?
For sure. I mean, my love of filmmaking started with acting, but every aspect of film, really. I’ve actually just started a film company with a friend because we’re developing a TV show, an adaptation of one of my mom’s books. That was always something that I wanted to get into because, as an actor, hopefully you’re on a set where it’s kind of collaborative, and you get to put your mark on a character and maybe the script. But I’d love to be able to make my own stories and build together a good team of filmmakers and writers. And I’d love to direct, as well, one day. I really would love to do those things. I’ll do it all. I’ll operate the boom! I’ll do every aspect.
That’s great news! Is it one of your mom’s [author Lynn Brittney] mysteries?
It is, yeah. I’m a big fan of the murder mysteries, as you can imagine. Yeah, my mom wrote this period book set in 1915 in London during the war. It’s about a clandestine team of detectives involving women at a time where they weren’t really allowed to be. So I thought it was quite an interesting story that I thought would really work on TV.
My last question on the subject of hobbies is, do you think that Robson Green—your Grantchester co-star but also the star of Extreme Fishing with Robson Green—will ever take you along on a fishing expedition?
He has offered. He has offered many times, and I would love to. He’s actually over in Iceland right now doing a fishing show, and I’m very jealous just because he got to leave the country. But he has. I feel bad—I feel like he needs to go with James [Norton] first because I don’t think they ever got to go. Maybe we could go together, two vicars and Robson going on a fishing trip. But I’d love to. I’ve had to gently start to pretend that I like fishing as much as him. He does like talking about fishing a lot.
Back to your mom, Lynn Brittney, a novelist and a playwright: she was also your first drama teacher. Did she influence or inspire your acting in any way?
She did. I mean, she was a tough drama teacher. She didn’t make it easy for me, which was good. But I grew up watching her do amateur dramatics in our village hall, and she always encouraged me to do it. A lot of people aren’t as lucky, to be able to have parents, both her and my dad, who wanted me to become an actor. Actually, I didn’t realize it was a proper career. I just kind of liked messing about, trying to make people laugh and performing. And they were like, “Well, you could make this a job.” I was really fortunate to have them be like that because many other people would have parents who’d go like, “No, come on. You need to get a normal job.” So, yeah, I do have a lot to thank them for.
Has your mom given you any crime-solving insights that you’ve been able to bring to Grantchester or to your portrayal of Will?
I think we’ve both helped each other a little bit. I think me, being on a crime show, I can kind of go, “Well, these are some of the things I’ve learned about how crimes work.” [Laughs] We’re both very interested in the crime world. We met up socially distanced the other day and both watched a Jack the Ripper documentary. Yeah, we both love crime, and it’s quite a nice little collaboration.
What are you most looking forward to when Grantchester can finally begin filming a new season?
Oh, just getting back to work and being with my Grantchester family. I miss them every time that we don’t get to film. We’ll not film for a week after we’ve wrapped, and you already missed… especially after this, it’s just going to be so good. Hopefully we can hug. Hopefully the social distance rules are lax enough that I can give Robson and Tess and Al and everyone a massive hug. That set’s just our happy place. I’ve never been on a better set than that. So I’m really excited to get back on it.
Congratulations on some really big releases following soon after Grantchester airing in the U.S. You’re starring in a new show called Make Me Famous on the BBC, and you’re in this highly anticipated Tom Hanks feature film, Greyhound, which was moved from its theatrical release to Apple TV+ because of COVID, which must’ve been so hard. What can people expect in Greyhound?
I mean, first is what you said—obviously I’m glad it’s going to be out there and people can watch it, but I do wish it was cinemas. If I couldn’t be more angry at Coronavirus and what it has done to the world, on a personal level, I’m furious. But hopefully it will be in the cinema one day. It’s going to be an amazing film. We filmed in this set and studio with green screen. So everything that I saw on the trailer, everything that people have seen, is the first time that I’ve seen any of it, and I got goosebumps looking at it. I mean, I get goosebumps at the fact that I’m standing next to Tom Hanks. It’s insane, but also it looks like just such a huge blockbuster and something that I’d never in my wildest dreams think that I would be in. I think people are going to love it. It’s Tom Hanks doing what he’s best at.
What will fans of Grantchester like about Greyhound and vice versa? Is there anything to recommend them to each other?
Well, I’m in it. So maybe that’ll be enough. [Laughs] Yeah. I mean, it’s a period film, so it’s got the historical thing that people love and the attention to detail and the accuracy both in the dialogue, in the costumes, the set, everything. And Tom Hanks is such a buff with World War II. So you know it’s going to be very accurate. But, yeah, I don’t know, I think it’s very different from Grantchester. There aren’t that many naval battles in Grantchester and big explosions. I’ve asked for more, but they won’t put it in. Yeah. But I think people will like it. I think the people who watch Grantchester, probably they’re all big Tom Hanks fans. I mean, who isn’t?
And Is he really, truly the nicest guy in Hollywood?
I wish I could say yes, but he’s terrible. [laughs] No, he’s lovely. He’s exactly the same, exactly the same. What you’ve seen in interviews is how he is on set. He’s just the most lovely, professional, just all-around good guy who’s just an inspiration. It’s so scary when you meet those people, and you’re worried that they’re not going to be who you think. But he really was. He’s not better than Robson, though. Robson wins.