Great Expectations with Harry Lloyd
On location for his newest project, London-born actor Harry Lloyd is struck by the vastness of the Santa Fe desert in New Mexico. “It’s a strange place,” he says with a laugh. In the city he will call home for the next several years, “there are no billboards.” Lloyd is filming the new television series Manhattan, a show set in 1940s New Mexico where scientists worked secretly on the Manhattan Project, the WWII-era research program that successfully developed America’s first atomic bombs. It’s a new page in his career and a substantial commitment.
Even stranger than the isolation, peace, and relative quiet offered by the actor’s current locale is the path that took him there. “It’s really weird for me—and fascinating—to be a regular on a series like [Manhattan]. When you sign up for seven years of your life based on a pilot episode you think, Yeah, I’ll live in New Mexico for five months, a year, potentially for the next seven years. I mean, I’m 30; I know what I’m doing with my life,” he smiles, with a measure of self- deprecation.
Coming to us from the creators of the newly acclaimed Masters of Sex on Showtime, Lloyd’s character in Manhattan, Paul Crosley, is described by the actor as a “very complicated, mysterious man.”
“He starts off a disdainful Brit, wishing he were higher up the food chain, keen to make a mark on this important project and gain his recognition.” he explains, “but as we learn why he’s there, and as he learns more about his own wants, he becomes a really interesting and challenging character.”
Most people associate Lloyd with his role as Viserys Targaryen, the would-be king whose Game of Thrones death was notable for its romantic severity. However, Lloyd’s vast array of roles in upcoming productions is sure to prevent his typecasting as the short-lived villain. During what he calls his “month of productivity” last November, he was cast in Wolf Hall, a six-part BBC adaptation of the Booker Prize-winning books by Hilary Mantel. The series follows Thomas Cromwell as he “weaves his way upward through Henry VIII’s court and his numerous wives.” Lloyd plays “a small, but lovely part” as Harry Percy, a man who was secretly married to Anne Boleyn, the king’s mistress, and later queen and mother to Elizabeth I.
Just before Wolf Hall came along, Lloyd had wrapped The Theory of Everything, a biopic on Stephen Hawking. Prior to the biopic, he shot and served as executive producer on Big Significant Things, an “indie road-trip movie” in which he also stars. All this work adds up to a rich cast of characters that Lloyd has helped bring to life.
“[Acting] was never this thing that I defined that I had to do, but nothing else ended up getting in the way,” Lloyd says. But it wasn’t a career that he was born into either; his parents worked in publishing, and his maternal lineage can be followed back to the great Charles Dickens. The familial capacity for language is evident. Lloyd has a perceptive insight into human nature that would benfit an actor or writer interchangeably. Given his roots, it seems like an obvious move to choose a literary career, but for Lloyd it is just part of the process of finding a character.
“I never considered ‘a career,’” Lloyd says, before quickly changing his mind. “Well, no—I do, actually. I think about all sorts of other lives I could be living. But [with acting] that’s kind of my job. I do like to write. But I am fascinated by the relationship between writing something on a page and then creating a scene.”
Lloyd explored this interaction through his theatrical adaptation of Notes from the Underground, a one-man show directed by Gerald Girutti based on the novella by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. While Lloyd identifies with some philosophical viewpoints of the classic Russian existentialist, he was careful to take the role with a grain of salt. Lloyd laughs, “I don’t think you could [completely take on Dostoyevsky’s perspective] and remain a functional human being!”
While Lloyd explores the variety of roles available to him, the structure of a TV series may be more appealing than that of the potentially unsteady lifestyle offered by film and theater. But at this, Lloyd shrugs. “In my mind, right now, the best thing you could be doing is working on American TV. I’m signing up for this world and this project and the people in it.”
Most appealing to the actor is the opportunity to really craft his character over time. “It’s not like a film,” Lloyd says. “Where you know the story that you’re involved in and can be a character in its own right. As part of that story, you already know what the scenes require…With TV, I can’t do that. I don’t know what my story is. I get the story each week and have to try and sell it.”
Creating a strong body of work and heading into an undoubtedly bright future, Harry Lloyd is building a story all his own. From BBC to blockbusters, and HBO to one-man shows, Lloyd still considers all the lives he could be living, including his WILD Wish of one day traveling to Uganda to live with the chimpanzees. But for now, he’s left living out this new life contently in the isolated deserts of New Mexico.
Get your copy of ANIMAL Issue here!