‘Rev.’ star Tom Hollander loves to ‘just pretend’

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceDecember 6, 2012 

— Tom Hollander may have spent a lifetime as an actor, but he thinks it’s a profession that’s harmful to your health.

The British actor has co-starred in productions like “Pride & Prejudice,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” and “Dead Man’s Chest,” “Absolutely Fabulous,” “In the Loop,” “Cambridge Spies,” and now “Rev.,” which is streaming on Hulu.

Ever since he was 11 years old and held out his chipped crockery begging for more in his school production of “Oliver,” Hollander has been unable to resist.

“It’s just ‘let’s pretend,’ ” he says. “I think everyone likes that. Everyone as a child likes let’s pretend and I suppose I haven’t grown out of it.”

He says his parents were “cautiously supportive” of his mission, but they were always worried. “It’s quite a disruptive sort of life. Show business isn’t particularly healthy for people I don’t think, mentally. I don’t think it’s good for people, which is why people in show business when their children say, ‘I want to be an actor too,’ their parents always wring their hands and always say, ‘I tried to stop them.’ But they never manage it. It’s not a healthy thing to do, but it’s our life.”

It’s been a colorful life for Hollander, 45, a life of touring companies, Shakespearean plays, TV series and voice-overs.

Crossing his legs in his rumpled white linen suit on a hotel verandah, he added, “But there are wonderful, wonderful moments and I tried to describe it the other day, what actors get from people: They get love from strangers.

“When actors die, they get obituaries. Most people don’t get obituaries. They get obituaries because they’re familiar faces and we, the viewers, watch them do things and remember them. So you go into people’s consciousness – your face and the things you do in the fictional world live in people’s hearts. So when actors then die, people feel bereft because they remember that episode of ‘The Rockford Files’ when something happened that they identified with.”

The man who traveled the world with the Cheek by Jowl Theater Company figures he’s been living in an alternate universe.

“You also get to live extraordinary moments, you get to travel and have adventures and there’s the running-away-with-the-circus thing that’s wonderful. And you get to do and say extraordinary things because you’re always playing exaggerated and extraordinary situations which have been constructed and written so that you’re always playing stronger, wiser, bigger, smarter, richer more extreme versions of humanity than most of us live.

“You’re more handsome, more daring, richer, poorer – whatever it is. That’s not healthy for people in a way. But that IS the joy of it. You have to remember you are just playing ‘let’s pretend.’ Then you have to go into your own house where you’re a normal person going, ‘Where is the buzz coming from?’ ”

Of course, it hasn’t all been scepters and sabers. Hollander remembers his struggling days.

“I had a couple of years in the beginning where I worked as a toy demonstrator in shops. I was young and it was all right. In Britain you don’t make huge amounts of money as an actor, the way you do in the States. In the states the stakes are much higher. You’re more likely to be living the ‘peanut butter’ life statistically, but then if you make it, you make real money,” he said.

“In England, you’re more likely to be working because there’s so much theater and also because we’re English speaking we get to work in the American industry which is very fortunate. British actors have a lucky time because they get to work in both countries and there are so many theater jobs. So you can have a working life as an actor without becoming a superstar, which is perfectly fine in England. Here you get a TV show and when that show is canceled, maybe you get another one maybe you don’t. There’s not a whole lot else to do.”

He said making “Rev.” changed him because he not only stars as the comic vicar, he co-created the show with James Woods.

“It’s giving me a feeling of weight because it was having an action that has real consequences. If you’re an actor, none of what you’re doing is real. If you’re collaborating with a writer it turns into a real show, and you make real decisions about casting and story lines. You write bits of it. That’s changed the way I feel about myself.”

Another event changed him, he said.

“I went swimming in a bay when I was 14 and had to be rescued by my sister. And that changed me. I learned how to swim afterwards, so now I can swim. And I swim quite a lot because I didn’t ever want that to happen again.”

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