Interview: Tom Weston-Jones
In Jane Austen’s world, it can sometimes be difficult at first to distinguish heroes from villains. So it is with Sanditon‘s Colonel Lennox, the soldier with the swagger who wants to win Charlotte’s heart. In an interview with MASTERPIECE, actor Tom Weston-Jones talks about the redcoat’s true colors, what intrigued him most about the Regency period, the pleasures of playing a duplicitous character, and more!
Contains Episode 5 spoilers.
Even though there’s no specific analog for Lennox among Jane Austen’s characters, he’s a man of Austen’s world. What was is it like being a part of this pantheon of Austen men?
It’s very gratifying and fun. I always like to try and find a touchstone of the real person and real perspectives [in a role], partly because I think a lot of Austen’s characters are incredibly tangible and real. The thing that I love so much about the period is that people wrote diaries and journals, so I tended to dive into actual journals, to look into the way people thought in that time period, and read fiction from the time, to soak in the original material. Obviously [Lennox] is not in the original text of Sanditon, but I read it, just as background, really. So it’s not necessarily a conscious thing. I don’t really like to think about the big picture too much—I like being very specific about a character, the way their mind works and the specific things they want and need. So the large perspective of Jane Austen’s world, I did appreciate, but it was in a more casual way when I was filming.
Were you surprised by anything you came across in reading the diaries and journals?
I read a few books about the Regency period. It’s a period that I didn’t really know much about because I’ve never been in anything set in that time, and there was one book whose full title I can’t remember, but I found it fascinating. The military aspect [of Regency England] had a huge impact on society—it wasn’t war time, but so many of the soldiers had disposable income, which was how they fueled their need for adrenaline and escape at the time, because there was nothing else to do. So I really, really loved that book, and it painted the period in such vivid colors. I think a lot of people [tend to] simplify people back then and reduce their opinions to just being in the past, but that book really brought them to life.
There’s also Red Coat, a really interesting book about the history of the red-coated military man and that symbol throughout the roughly 400 or 500 years that red coats were used. That was fascinating, too. And there was also a diary—I can’t remember the guy’s name off the top of my head—but he kept it during the Peninsular War, and it’s got loads of engravings and sketches of people he came across in various terrains, and fights that he fought in. It’s really grueling, but gives such a great perspective on it. Also, a lot of it is actually false, because the reason he wrote it was in the hopes that if he died, his beloved back home would read it. So a lot of it was plumped up to make it more dramatic and heroic than it actually was. There was a bit of artistic license even back then.
Did you learn anything in particular that you brought to the role of Lennox?
I guess the thing that really interested me was to do with the gambling. When I first read about Lennox and Tom and the gambling debt running up so high, I tingled at it being unrealistic. But then in reading this book about the Regency, and learning just how rife gambling was, I understood. And it was specifically rife in this period because religion didn’t have as much sway in all respects anymore. To use a bit of an overused term, “God was dead,” and people were really embracing a different side of themselves. People ran up eye-watering debts, but there was a gentlemanly understanding, in certain circles, that it didn’t really matter, that they would be able to balance things out. It was the details, essentially, of just how far people went—someone who was on a reasonable wage would owe something like the equivalent to £200,000 in today’s money, which is an unbelievable amount of money, and that was quite normal. And that was not considered to be too outlandish, really! It’s hard to imagine.
Were you as surprised as I was to learn that Lennox was not the gentleman he seemed? What was that revelation like for you?
It’s always fun to know that your character has surprises and secrets. The production team was very open with me about all of his history—there was nothing that I didn’t really know, so nothing was a complete surprise. I suppose the surprise came in reading the way that it all unfolded, the way his character traits came out at various points. I was really pleased to read just the fun that he seems to be having and the duplicity. Yeah, I really reveled in it, actually, when the script came out.
Does he even think he’s being duplicitous?
No, I think he doesn’t. He’s a leader of men, and there are those people who are—I guess the bad term for it is an egomaniac—but someone who is so driven that there’s collateral damage to whatever you are trying to achieve. Relationships, and not to sound too stuck in the past, but specifically in this period, male relationships, could go through more; they were more robust. So for anyone who was on the receiving end of anything to Lennox, it’s just part and parcel of male friendships. You’ll have an ebb and a flow, and have to take the rough with the smooth. But I think he is very good excusing his own behavior and his own tactics, sometimes.
Just as he does in many other arenas, Lennox has all the power in relationship with Tom Parker. Can you talk about their relationship?
I think it’s a familiar one to Lennox, and I think it all depends on what side of the bed he was to wake up on that day. You could see Tom as a bit of a buffoon, in some ways, but I think that’s unfair, because he has a heart of gold, obviously. Lennox is surrounded by these types of people who have seemingly open-ended open checkbooks, who are really blinded by the shining light of the red coat. In that period, Lennox felt like he could do no wrong in a lot of people’s eyes, because they’d just defeated Napoleon. He was considered to be a war hero and I think he knows the weight of that.
So I think of that relationship in terms of Lennox definitely feeling himself as the alpha—I don’t think he’d see him any lower than that, really. Lennox is fantastic at arm wrestling people very easily to being the underdog, and Tom does open himself up to it very quickly. Very, very quickly. Lennox is amazing at recognizing chinks in people’s armor and vulnerable spots, though he wouldn’t see them as vulnerable spots or chinks; he would see them as character traits, and he’d play it off as being quite positive. But that’s really what they are to him, essentially.
Lennox seems genuinely interested in Charlotte and perceives her as a good match, but are his motivations enhanced at all by the fact that Colbourne is involved with her, too?
Colbourne’s presence certainly adds fuels the fire. I think Lennox has a blind spot in terms of actually planning and going through with the proposal, because he has to show his hand. If it wasn’t for Colbourne, I think he’d play cooler and smarter, and lay a bit more groundwork. Because he knows that she’s atypical—she’s not your run of the mill find a man, get married, settle down type of woman, and I don’t think he wants to play that game with her to begin with. But eventually, when it seems that she is doing that with someone else, he makes the mistake in thinking that’s what he needs to present to her. So, I think he certainly feels like he needs to get a move on soon as he sees a spark between them.
If you were making a case for Charlotte to choose Lennox, what would that case be?
Oh gosh—I mean, I would probably say, at the end of the day, run away. Run now. Go, go, get out as fast as you possibly can. Because I do think, although Lennox has good intentions, that underneath it all, he still probably does imagine her staying at home and having a lot of kids and not really pursuing her own interests. I don’t think he’s a man ahead of his time in that sense. He might fool himself into thinking he is, but I don’t think he is. So yeah, I would warn her.