From Bridgerton to WWII, actor Thomas Flynn steals screens with his chameleonic skills and an open heart.
It takes a lot of courage to make it or break it in the film industry. Thomas Flynn knows something about it. Once a small-town kid acting in a local theatre who went through the strict college education and independent route, he kept showing up for his dream until it became a reality. It took him to the middle of the sea, World War II air zones and Regency-era London. Though every set is different, each required him to go to the wildest of places, the inner world. It’s a hideaway of the secret ingredients necessary for a shaking performance: vulnerability and abundance of faith in yourself. Luckily, the actor found them both.
After polishing his skills in an Oxford School of Drama, Thomas moved to London to breathe in the big smoke’s creative fuels. Supported by life-long friends and newfound community, easing in into the fast-paced rhythm went smoothly. We met Thomas on a rare sunny day. He’s retracing his steps, leading us all the way from his first childhood plays to today’s big-budget productions. Growing up believing in collective power, as his dad was a football player, he always underlines the need for mutual support and a caring attitude towards anyone in your industry. With a message of love as an opening scene, we invite you to an exclusive experience: the Thomas Flynn’s guide through the world of acting, rock-solid friendships and film-fuelled time travel.
Can you tell me how your journey with acting began?
I grew up in Oldham, which is a really working class Northern town but there was an amazing youth theatre program called Oldham Theatre Workshop. I started going there at six years old and stayed all the way through till 18. It was more than an after-school workshop. It taught you discipline and dedication.
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Do you remember your first play?
We did a retelling of Hansel and Gretel called ‘The Wish’. I was eight years old at the time. I still remember it so vividly. It’s one of my favourite memories. I loved it.
What’s so particular about this one? When you think about it, what do you feel?
I made my best friends there. We’re still best friends. There are four of us: we call ourselves the Four Musketeers. All four of us are now professional actors working which is great. I live with two of them… I think about the friendships I made, they completely moulded me, more than just learning to act, moulded me as a person.
That’s lovely. You manifest what you attract.
I love being around creative people. It inspires me to carry on and be better and be bigger. Luckily, I don’t really get jealous or bitter toward people. When my friends get amazing jobs, I don’t really find that disheartening. Whereas my job and what’s going on for me next, I’m just delighted. If my friends are all doing it, it makes it feel much more achievable.
That is the best approach to have, especially as jealousy can be so common in creative groups of friends.
Oh, yeah. It’s the worst thing. It’s – what do they say? – be better, not bitter. Otherwise, you’d be miserable every day of your life.
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When attending drama school and following it’s rules, were you ever conflicted in terms of expressing your identity?
It’s funny. I think that I didn’t really struggle with it. I did so much swotting up about drama school, that I knew exactly what to expect. I quite liked the anonymity that you’ve had for three years. You were there to focus on your craft and your training. I didn’t really mind. Now, I love flairs of personality. I can wear eyeliner. I love wearing jewellery. I find that mostly you get cast as a version of yourself so it’s quite important to have a self-identity and know who you are. Obviously, some actors are brilliant and really versatile and will play characters that are the complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Usually, that’s really famous people who can do whatever they want. Whereas most people tend to play a version of themselves. It’s important to know who you are, what you’re good at and what you can bring to it to the play.
Tell us about some of your recent projects.
Shark Bait was one I did right out at the end of the pandemic. I was in Malta for three months which was lovely filming that, pretending it was Mexico. We’re all Americans on spring break, because of the pandemic, they couldn’t film out there so they cast Brits. It was really fun. I was an American. Then I finished that and then went straight into another American job, which is called Masters of the Air’ It’s Apple’s new big follow-up to Band of Brothers which is really exciting, really cool. I don’t really have anything I’m focusing on. You take the work when it comes and hope that it is interesting. I’ve been quite lucky that I always play different characters. I played this American spring breaker, and then I played a guy in his early 20s in the army, who was a fighter pilot. Then I played an American guy in a band in a Sky series called The Lazarus Project. Just got to film in a private jet. It was a big coke-fuelled party. It was very different to the things I’ve done. Then I finished that and I went straight into Bridgerton which is sort of Regency London. I was playing an art student which was really fun to play an art student in the 1800s.
The atmosphere is so important wherever you’re working.
I think it shows in the work. It produces better work when everyone’s happy and feels comfortable. Hence why I think Bridgerton was such a massive success, or partly one of the reasons, is that everyone had loads of fun making it. It’s quite vulnerable being an actor, especially if you’re not there all the time. I was only doing a few days here and there. You’re stepping in and everyone’s got their relationships established already. everyone else is going on. You feel like a fish out of water a little bit. You already feel quite scared. Being scared isn’t very conducive to making good work so if you feel really comfortable and at ease, allowed to take risks then it shows in the work.
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Do you find it difficult to switch from one to another character?
Sometimes. A lot of our auditioning is just subtypes now. Some of them come through and you just know, in a million years, you could never really play that character. You give your version of that character. I had one recently to play like an ex-military henchman. There’s no way in a million years that anyone’s gonna look at me and think that I’m an ex-military henchman. You gotta use your imagination a bit sometimes and just throw yourself at it. If you hold back, then it’s gonna look even worse. I always try to find something in the script that resonates with me and a part of my personality that I can add to it, whether it’s a look that they might do, one line or memory, they talk about.
Do you ever feel sad about leaving a character behind?
There are certain characters you play that you fall in love with. They might have aspects of their personality that you really wish that you had, like if you play a really confident person who takes no shit, who’s balls. I’m a little bit shy and chat a lot. I don’t really like standing up for myself too much. It’s good to take inspiration from those characters and be like, ‘I’m going to be a little bit more like that in my life’.
It’s kind of taking inspiration from yourself as well because if you are that character, you inspire yourself.
Exactly. Yeah, it is good. It’s fun. It’s a fun job. You learn a lot about yourself by pretending to be other people.
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Acting is a great way to find out new things about yourself through expression, what has been the most shocking/interesting thing that you have found out?
During the shark film, I lied my way through the audition. I was like, ‘I’m a brilliant swimmer. I can hold my breath in the water’. I think I said I could hold my breath underwater for two minutes which I definitely couldn’t. In my head that didn’t seem like a long time. Then when I got the film, I went to the swimming baths near me every day to practise swimming. I went with my housemate, and I asked her to time me how long I could hold my breath underwater. I did 11 seconds. Just rubbish. I think most people have a fear of open water. Where we were filming, we were so far away from the shoreline, so that it wouldn’t be in the shot. We were basically in the ocean. Then someday, it would be drone footage, the mothership would have to drive back 500/600 feet away. You were literally in the middle of the Mediterranean Ocean, like ‘Okay, this is okay, this is fine. This is fine. I’m alone. I’m alone’. I learned to love water off the back of that and swimming.
In Masters of Air you played a real-life character with such a different mindset than young adults in our 21st-century British reality. Once on the set, you’re suddenly 22 years old and have to fight in a war.
And you’re based in a country you’ve never been to. Travel was much less common then. You’re basically going to the country, you’ve really never been to. England in the 1940s and America in the 1940s were very different. They were much more liberal by this point. We were still stuffy stuck in our ways. Before we started filming, we were all sent on a two-week boot camp which was run by an ex-military guy. He was exactly what you’d imagine an old military to be. Every day we would be marching. We had lectures. We found out about ATACR, personality types. We shot machine guns. That was every day for two weeks. We did it in full costume. In the end, we graduated and got our wings which is what would have happened when they had their training. It felt like we were actually in the military.
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What’s the best takeaway you’ve learned from this job?
The thing I learned the most from that job was to not be intimidated by huge, big American sets. It’s weird. We’re really lucky at the minute because so many things are filmed in the UK, loads of streaming services have opened huge studios just in or around London. 10/15/20 years ago, TV was so much different in the UK, it was made much more cheaply. Films were a big thing. Whereas now TV has just as much money if not more money than films do. It was a lesson in confidence really and not being intimidated by huge, big sets, by American huge stars and directors who’ve been working for years and at the top of their game. Knowing that you’re good enough and you’ve got the job for a reason. You don’t have to be second-guessing yourself the whole time.
The second-guessing, is it like an imposter syndrome?
Exactly yeah. Imposter syndrome. When I left drama school, I just did short films and bits of fringe theatre for three or four years. It took me a while to get off the starting mark and start doing bigger projects. The imposter syndrome was real because you were like I don’t do this stuff. I’m not good enough to do this stuff. Luckily, you are. You got the job. You’re there. They liked your tapes.
As a queer person, would you say that queer representation in British film changed over the couple last of years?
Definitely. You see a lot when auditions and self-tapes come in that there’s always a footnote which is to encourage people from all walks of life to apply for this part. It’s not like this part is a 25, white, blond hair blue eyes anymore. They’ll see a huge spectrum of people, whether it’d be a disability, whether they’re a queer person, whether they’re non-binary. They’ll see huge swathes of people for one part, which means that usually, the best person for the part will get the job in the end. It’s not so regimented anymore, which I find in self-tapes. Me and my friends who were really wildly different in casting will go through the same parts which I think is brilliant. It just means that the best person for the job gets the part.
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