It’s a busy time for rising London star Tom Mison: He plays Emily Blunt’s missing-in-action boyfriend in the current film Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and will be seen on TV with Rebecca Hall and Benedict Cumberbatch in Tom Stoppard’s epic BBC/HBO adaptation of the Ford Madox Ford novel Parade’s End. West End playgoers can currently catch Mison in Laura Wade’s raucously funny, politically charged Posh. As the title suggests, the play centers on a group of privileged young movers and shakers, all members of a male-only network called the Riot Club, whose world falls in around them during a drink-fueled night of reckoning. Broadway.com spoke to the charming, articulate 29-year-old about men behaving badly, the appeal of the theater and going Hollywood—or not.
You were in Posh two years ago at the Royal Court Theatre, and now it’s on the West End at the Duke of York's. Does it feel like a different play?
In a lot of ways, it feels like a fresh new thing. A lot has happened since the last production, and we've got six new cast members. Whereas the last one was saying, “Look at these obnoxious shits who could one day be in power and think of what they could be capable of,” the play has become more poignant now that Cameron [the UK's Conservative prime minister David Cameron] and the others are in power and are going about trashing the country!
Did some of the play’s details change to keep up with the times?
Yes. We couldn’t really have the Greek character, Dimitri, waving money around without it being spoken about that his country is in tatters, and my part [James, the Riot Club’s president] has changed substantially, too. Before, it was seen as almost a betrayal to the club that he was applying for a job, whereas that aspect of his life is more open now—more “transparent,” to use the new buzz word.
It’s amazing that a play so driven by testosterone is both written and directed by women [Laura Wade and Lyndsey Turner, respectively]. Did that surprise you?
Not at all! Their brains are so much bigger than ours, so while you have 10 boys running around, here are two very bright women making sure that there’s not too much testosterone! Laura is remarkable at balancing satire containing real sting with this brilliant romp of 10 sharp-witted young men getting drunk together.
It’s crucial to the play that the men at times actually are appealing, at least until events start to go irretrievably wrong.
That has to do with the charm Laura has written in these guys, who are going to achieve whatever they want: They’ve got this deadly combination of effortless charm and never having heard the word “no.” James, for instance, will probably go on to run a big bank or, if he goes into politics, get very high up in public office. There are a lot of similarities between James and [prime minister] David Cameron. Anyone I know who has met Cameron has fallen hopelessly in love with him regardless of their political background. People like him know how to face their audience, and I think that’s the danger.
When Posh was first seen in 2010, one London critic remarked that you look like David Cameron. Do you think you do?
Mercifully, no, I’m very pleased to say; that was the most devastating thing I’d ever read [laughs]. Luckily, everyone’s reaction was, “You don’t look a thing like David Cameron,” because I was mortified. Later, when I did a different play, the same critic said I looked like one of the Bee Gees. I guess he doesn’t like the way I look!
What’s interesting is how good the British theater is at plays that respond directly to the politics of the day, and yet manage to be entertaining as well.
I can’t begin to tell you how cool it is to be playing a part of the Riot Club. The group of actors we’ve got is remarkable, and I think we could do the play for months and months and never get bored with one another. And there is something amazing to me about the fact that the only place that’s doing proper, straight, let’s cut-to-the-core responses of this sort is the theater.
I remember in the previous production how gracious the cast was after the show, as if to say, “We are not those hellraisers you’ve just seen on stage!”
That’s all a show; they’re actually assholes [laughs]! No, I mean, I certainly felt terrible as we were leaving the stage and the crew were coming on to clean up the damage. I kept thinking, “But we are nice”!
Tell us about your background. Are you posh?
[Laughs] I certainly have no experience of either public school [Britain’s term for private school] or university. I grew up in Woking in Surrey in the commuter belt around London and went to a state school and then to Webber Douglas [the London drama school]. But my best friend, [actor] Sebastian Armesto, is an Etonian, as is his younger brother, who went to Oxford, so I got to know his friends. It’s important to remember that not everyone in this world is like those boys on stage. Even in the play, they may call themselves a club, but it’s a club made up of 10 very strong individuals.
Away from the play, your film career is blossoming: You played Jim Sturgess’ best friend in One Day and are Emily Blunt’s boyfriend in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.
And I’ve got Parade’s End coming up, Tom Stoppard’s first TV job in ages. From the bits I’ve seen, it looks as if it could be quite remarkable. I steal Rebecca Hall’s character from Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays a very stuffy old-school Tory, but the entire cast is incredible. It’s as if they turned the West End upside down and shook it up, and anyone who wasn’t holding on to Mark Rylance fell into Parade’s End.
So, do you feel pressure to take advantage of what’s happening and try for a Hollywood career?
I’ve never felt a strong urge to rush into Hollywood, so I bided my time and waited till I had a decent body of work to show people, the icing on the cake being Salmon Fishing and Parade’s End. I went out at the beginning of the year and got myself a lovely agent, and then I said, “Actually, I’m going to be in the theater for six months.” I’m sure they were thrilled!