Tom Hopper joined us at MCM Midlands Comic Con in Telford earlier this year, as we got MCM’s 2017 off to a rocking start. The Leicestershire-born actor is most recognisable as buccaneering Black Sails cast member Neil Marshall in pirate drama Black Sails and Sir Percival from the BBC series Merlin (although eagle-eyed Whovians may also remember him as Jeff, Amy’s Pond friend with a questionable laptop history). However, he’s since been part of our weekly Game of Thrones fix, have taken over the role of Dickon Tarly in Season 7. Sam Halford spoke to him for MyM magazine.
MyM: How are you enjoying Comic Con?
It’s good, everyone here is really friendly. It’s a good chance to get nice bits of feedback about the shows that you’re on; how people are enjoying certain aspects of them – here you get to actually have a proper chat with the fans. Some people have been watching stuff for the whole of my career. I get people saying ‘I saw you in Doctor Who!’ which was the second or third job I ever did, which is really nice.
What’s Black Sails’ Billy Bones like as a character?
Well, Black Sails is the prequel to Treasure Island, the novel. One of the characters in that book is Billy Bones, and I play the young version of him, so he’s a lot more fresh-faced here. It’s about the journey he goes on with fellow pirates like Captain Flint and Long John Silver, but it also has crossovers into the real world – with real pirates that existed like Charles Vane, Jack Rackham and Bonny. It has subtle crossovers between reality and fantasy.
Is it difficult to maintain the right balance between the fantasy of the book and those historical accuracies?
We’re always very sensitive to that when we’re making it. We’re also very conscious of nautical terminology and sailing techniques, we’re always on the money when it comes to that. Fortunately we’ve been commended on that, because that’s important to us, that it’s realistic and authentic. We also have crossovers in historical events – I believe Charles Vane blew up Charles Town, which we changed to Captain Flint, but that was an event that actually happened. He bombed the hell out of it from the ships. Luckily we can take a bit of artistic licence.
Are you all set for joining Game of…
Unfortunately, I can’t talk about that currently. I’m not at liberty to say.
OK, if you were to join something with that kind of popularity, how would that feel?
If, if I were, it would be marvellous. It’s potentially the biggest show on the planet at the moment. It’s like joining Black Sails, anything with that high of a production value is an absolute honour as an actor to work on.
How do you get into the mindset to play pirates, knights and Viking roles set in a more brutal historical age?
It’s a tricky one, because I have mates that are in the army, or who have been in the army, and I always think of them [my characters] as different versions of soldiers. Any person who was fighting on a regular basis, I imagine they have a very similar mindset – they’re living life on the edge all the time, and they’re fighting for survival. There’s an element of banter to it as well, they joke about things that are quite savage, but that’s how they deal with it. So I think of it in a contemporary way and then put that in the extremes around them.
Those roles can be quite costume heavy. Has there been one particular costume that was a nightmare to act in?
The worst was probably Merlin. The chainmail was a bitch to fight in because it cuts you up, and we had these cloaks and whenever we had to sword fight they always got in the way. Barbarians Rising was also pretty tough. I had this bear coat – almost like a whole bear on top of you! – that I had to fight in. I don’t know if it was real, it felt pretty real. It was shooting in Bulgaria, in like 38-degree weather. But when you have to remember an entire fight sequence, you tend to forget the fact you have a bear on you.
Good workout then?
Oh yeah, you burn some calories doing that kind of thing. Especially the chainmail, which is like fighting in a weighted vest.
Any future projects in the works?
A few different things. I’m going into the production side of things now which is a whole new world for me, dealing with different problems on the other side of the camera. I didn’t realise how difficult producing was until I started doing it. I’m working on a project called Sniper One, which is based on a book by Dan Mills. It’s a true story about a unit in Iraq that gets stranded in a town surrounded by rebel forces. It was the longest siege on British forces since Zulu. It’s a really interesting true story and I’m working alongside Dan himself.