Tom Ellis Discusses His New Role As Robin Hood on Once Upon A Time and How He Reinvented This Iconic Character by Diane J. Reed / @DianeJReed
Pardon me for indulging in more than a few enthusiastic fan-girl moments, but Tom Ellis’ spectacular career in the U.K. so far has made all of us at Once Upon a Fan thrilled that he granted us this exclusive interview. As the breakout star of several hit BBC projects, we’re quite certain that fans of Once Upon a Timeworldwide will be enchanted by this multi-talented actor’s work, and we couldn’t be more delighted to present to you the following interview.
Diane: We’re so delighted to talk with you not only because of your new role on Once Upon A Time as the character of Robin Hood, but also because of your wonderful body of work that has earned you accolades worldwide. You’ve appeared in everything from the iconic science fiction show Dr. Who and the sparkling BBC comedy Miranda to the deeply haunting television drama The Secret of Crickley Hall. In particular, Miranda became a smash hit in the U.K., and you played hunky Gary Preston, the object of affection for the charming but bumbling underdog Miranda. Were you at all surprised by how popular that show became? Audiences loved your awkward relationship with Miranda—what was it like to work with the ensemble cast and the incredibly talented Miranda Hart?
Tom: Miranda Hart is just one of those people who has funny bones—she’s so talented and you just can’t help enjoying every moment you work with her! The show started as a small comedy series on BBC2, and I don’t think any of us thought it would become such a smash hit. The reaction I’ve had from being in the series has been amazing—the viewers love the “will-they/won’t-they-get-together” story line—it’s kept everyone guessing all the way. The cast were amazing to work with, and it was a job I loved going to. It didn’t feel like work—it felt like a family get-together. That’s how close we are.
Diane: What a wonderful experience! Now on the other end of the spectrum entirely, you brilliantly portrayed the grieving father Gabe Caleigh whose son went missing and was murdered in the heartbreaking BBC television drama The Secret of Crickley Hall. That show was so deeply tragic that I have to wonder at times if it was hard for you to “shake” the subject matter when you went home at night. How did you prepare for and sustain yourself in the grueling role of Gabe Caleigh, who had to endure so much? And what was it like to work with the incredible Suranne Jones who played the child’s mother?
Tom: The Secret of Crickley Hall was a great but demanding series to work on. Suranne was amazing to work alongside—I’ve been a big fan of hers for many years. She’s such a great actress! It was very emotional filming some of the scenes, and I had to focus hard to find what I wanted to bring to that role. I really enjoy the diversity of the different characters I’ve played, and I immerse myself within each one. While we were shooting The Secret of Crickley Hall, I tried to make sure I left my character at work, but sometimes it was quite difficult, as the subject matter was so disturbing.
Diane: I can only imagine how emotionally arduous that role must have been. So after performing in such a wide range of roles, do you find that you prefer drama or comedy, or are you really more inspired by a diversity of roles in general? Are there any roles that casting directors might not automatically peg you for, but that you’d love to try your hand at? Or directors you’d love to work with?
Tom: If the role feels right, I don’t have a preference—the diversity is something that appeals to me a lot. I like to test myself, and different genres help you to do that. Someone that I respect greatly as a director is Anand Tucker. I’ve admired his work for a long time, and I just had the pleasure of working with him—not for the last time, I hope!
Diane: Yes, I just heard that you’re playing Victor Frankenstein in ABC’s sexy new TV pilot Gothica directed by Anand Tucker, which features Dracula, Dorian Gray, and Jekyll & Hyde as well. I absolutely can’t wait to see it! So tell us about your journey in winning the role of Robin Hood in Once Upon a Time. Did you or your agent learn about the opportunity and subsequently pursue it, or did the producers or casting director for the show contact you to audition for the role? What was your audition like—were you aware you were auditioning for Robin Hood? (Sometimes OUAT actors aren’t informed of the exact role they’re reading for.)
Tom: Well, I didn’t actually have an audition for Once Upon a Time! I went to an audition for another ABC pilot with casting director Veronica Collins Rooney. She thought I’d make a great Robin Hood, and I was offered the role whilst I was there. Once Upon a Time is such a great show that I jumped at the chance!
Diane: What was it like to step into a show in its second season as the “new guy” on the block? Did you find the process fairly easy or full of its own unique challenges? Did you have any surprising moments during your scenes?
Tom: I found the whole experience of filming Once Upon a Time huge fun. The cast and crew were so supportive and welcoming—they’re a real family, and they made me feel part of it. Playing Robin Hood was a real privilege. However, I couldn’t believe what happened on my FIRST take! I had some rather pointy shoes on, and I had to come from behind a tree trying to look all heroic. And just as the director said “Action,” I tripped over the roots and stumbled into the shot like a baby giraffe!! Luckily things got much better from then on.
Diane: Now we know your episode doesn’t air until April 21st and you can’t reveal any spoilers. But we’re dying to know what type of Robin Hood you’ll portray. Written descriptions of Robin Hood go all the way back to the 15th century, and since that time Robin Hood has been depicted as everything from a hot-headed and dangerously violent rogue to a noble and heroic outlaw who uses his talents to provide for the poor. Can you give us a hint for how you’ll be approaching this iconic character? Were any of the previous Robin Hood incarnations an influence for you, or did you prefer to approach the role with more of a clean slate?
Tom: I grew up watching the Disney animated version and fell in love with the character of Robin Hood. After watching it again recently with my daughter Florence, the Disney version was definitely at the forefront of my mind— with a twist of Kevin Costner and slightly less foxy! Everyone knows the story of Robin Hood, so the character history is there already. As a result, drawing what I needed was easier than creating a character from scratch.
Diane: In your research for the role, did you ever visit the well-known tourist sites in England for Robin Hood, such as Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire (the fabled residence of Robin Hood), or the Major Oak tree (reputed to be his hideout), or the Church of St. Mary in the village of Edwinstowe (where Robin and Maid Marian were thought to have been married)?
Tom: I’ve been to all those historic locations—I was lucky to spend half my childhood in Sheffield which is deep in Robin Hood country. There’s an area called Loxley (Robin was noble man called Robin of Loxley), and Little John is reputed to be buried in a churchyard in the village of Hathersage, which is very close by. We lived in a quaint, picturesque village just on the edge of Sherwood Forest—so I did feel at home playing Robin!
Diane: I also heard that you were born in Cardiff, Wales. Did you come from a family that encouraged drama or the arts? When did you begin to feel that acting might be something you wanted to pursue, and how did your family initially react to your career choice?
Tom: My family was always very supportive of me becoming an actor. My mother was a music teacher, and my dad was a pastor at the local Baptist church. Both jobs had an element of performance, so I think I got the bug from them. As a teenager, I realized it was something I really wanted to do, so I auditioned for drama school and went when I was 18. It’s worked out quite well so far!
Diane: It certainly has! So for our final question, I was wondering if you enjoy reading fairy tales or stories of Robin Hood to your own children? Have they ever seen the show Once Upon a Time? What do they think when they see Daddy in films or in television?
Tom: I love reading my girls fairy tales—they love stories about princesses. My eldest daughter is a massive Once Upon A Time fan and is very excited about me being in the show. When Florence was very young, she used to get confused at how I could be on the telly and in the room with her simultaneously. However, now that they’re older, when they see me in other projects they’re not that impressed! I don't mind that—it keeps me grounded. To them, I’m just “Dad.”
Diane: And that’s just the way it should be, right? Thank you so much, Tom, for taking time out of your busy schedule to give us this fascinating glimpse into your world and your character!
Tom: My pleasure!
You can follow Tom on Twitter at @TomEllis17