Prepare to be captivated by the incredible talent and storytelling prowess of actor, writer, and producer extraordinaire, Tom Prior. From his training at RADA to starring alongside industry heavyweights like Eddie Redmayne and Colin Firth, Tom has established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment world. His notable performances in films such as ‘The Theory of Everything’ and ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ have showcased his versatility and skill. However, it is his acclaimed Pride Month feature, ‘Firebird’, that has truly solidified his reputation as a masterful storyteller. Set against the backdrop of the Cold War in the Soviet Union, this complex love story delves deep into the human experience. Tom’s ability to transform true-life events into a hard-hitting and action-packed film has garnered international acclaim, with ‘Firebird’ screening at over 50 festivals worldwide. Join Lewis as we catch up with Tom to gain insights into his journey, his artistic vision, and how his career has flourished thus far.
Tom Prior is an actor, writer and producer extraordinaire who is not afraid of telling hard-hitting stories. Following his RADA training, he has starred opposite Eddie Redmayne in ‘The Theory of Everything’ and alongside Colin Firth, Michael Caine and Samuel L. Jackson in ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’. With a varied career so far, he is now well-known for acclaimed Pride Month feature ‘Firebird’ a complex love story centred in the height of the Cold War in the Soviet Union. Tom has developed true-life events into a hard-hitting and action-packed film which has screened at over 50 festivals globally. Lewis catches up with Tom to hear more about who he is, and to understand how his career has developed this far.
Tom, it’s so lovely to be able to catch up with you. But before we talk about your work, we’d like to know: Who is the real Tom?
That’s a very good question. I am pretty creative at heart, and I am not very good at doing things that don’t inspire me because I don’t want to do anything just for the sake of it. I’m always looking for the rich, deep quality of interactions with people and I find it very difficult to do small talk. When I’m talking to people, I always want to ask the bigger and deeper questions. I have passions such as quantum physics and am fascinated by what is beyond what we can see; instead, I like to focus on what it is that we feel and sense.
You trained at RADA and graduated in 2012. Was acting a childhood dream?
Growing up I always loved the environment of a theatre and the anticipation of being in a cinema. There’s something about the moment before anything happens that I always found contagious. I think I had dreams to be in this environment as a child, but it definitely wasn’t the only thing that I was interested in. I found it quite difficult to focus on just the one thing. But this world has so many different facets; I’ve always loved the process of filmmaking or acting as there’s so many aspects involved in putting a production together.
Out of all the characters you have played so far, who has been your favourite and why?
I really enjoyed playing my character Hugo in The Kingsman because throughout the filming process I had so many extraordinary experiences. One of the most memorable parts for me was the scene where we were locked in a room under the water, and we had to get out. Filming that was amazing.
However, the character that I enjoyed the most was Sergey Fetisov in Firebird because he was such a complex and deep person. The content covered in this is relentless, and I got to delve into a spectrum of emotions through him.
From writing your first short film in 2014, you have leapt to your latest project, the acclaimed indie feature Firebird. Tell us more about how you ended up co-writing, producing and starring in it.
Firebird actually found me when I was in LA, having just shot Kingsman. At that time, I’d been having many meetings through my agent, and I met a filmmaker and financer who had recently read Peeter Rebane’s script. She thought that I would be a good fit to play the lead in the film and introduced me to Peeter a few weeks later. Peeter and I had decided to shoot several scenes to prove the concept and to help raise the rest of the financing. It was then that I started making suggestions on how the script could be improved and that’s how I ended up becoming co-writer and producer. We raised the rest of the financing for the film over the next few years and we went to Russia to meet the real Sergey to get to know him. I’m really proud of the finished product. It’s been a very long process; I’ve been involved in the film for 7 years and for the last few years have been very much full-time. This whole experience has changed my life, from the meaningful interactions that I have had, to learning about the aspects of the film-making process.
What inspired you when helping to write this story?
When I first read the earlier drafts, I was so taken by the backdrop of the Air Force base and the intensity of the love. For me my changes began to the dialogue; I’m always seeking the truth and am radically self-honest and do this with the script. I wanted to make shape it so that it emulated the way that people speak. Also, I felt that the film would have greater excitement and develop on the experience, if we brought in the element of working life within the Air Force base. I wanted to bring in a level of action to have a romantic thriller quality to the film. Everything changed when I met the real Sergey as it gave me a level of understanding that I could bring to the way that I played him. How he was in the flesh was extremely different to the pre-conception of him being beaten down, shameful and internal. This is often portrayed in films, as it can be the experience for many in such a journey of identity and risk. But Sergey was such a warm, positive person who massively informed how I played him.
Was it your first time playing a gay character? What steps did you put in place to develop this identity?
I think this was the first time, and there was a lot to develop to add to this experience. In terms of the dialect and accent training, we worked with an amazing coach Catherine Charlton. Initially our accents were really thick Russian but then we started cutting away at it and I think this is one of the most nuanced and tricky things to do; to make it more naturalistic and refined to help the actor to be more emotionally visible. In terms of the physical training, we went to the Estonian defence forces for several days to do military training with them. We lost our freedom to do what we wanted to do in the day, and we would aimlessly have to dig holes to shelter in for hours. It was really good for breaking this perception of freedom; obviously it’s nothing at all like what it would have been in the Soviet army, but we were able to glimpse how the conditions might have been. When we were conducting our research, we found that there were people who just wouldn’t speak about those two years of their lives, because they were so traumatised by their experiences.
From all the characters that you have portrayed so far, which one would you like to meet in real life?
It would have been amazing to spend more time with Sergey and to hear more about his experiences during that time, and to understand about how he became so resilient. He was incredibly truthful to himself in terms of his identity and in the way that he followed love all the way through despite experiencing horrific loss. He continued to be unapologetically himself. It’s its own thriller there and then. The third time that I was in Russia was for his funeral. But I got to speak to his friends and learn more about him that way.
And finally, before we go, we’d like to know when we can expect to see you next?
I can’t talk about one of my projects at all at the moment, but it’s very exciting. I will be writing another personal project which will be centred around the concept of the superhuman human but can’t say much more yet. I really want to continue working in this genre of films; biopics of people who have had to overcome struggles. There’s something really amazing about being able to portray the people who have changed history.