With his cheekbones, lithe frame and artfully shabby approach to getting dressed, Tom Burke is one of the most distinctive new talents out there. Add in classically trained actors for parents (David Burke and Anna Calder-Marshall) and Alan Rickman as a godfather, and it’s little wonder the 32-year-old opted for a career treading the boards. ‘My parents are actors,’ he says. ‘We lived in Stratford-upon-Avon when they were both at the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company). I grew up in that world and I felt like I was one of those people and part of that world, even if I wasn’t actually doing it. Something just clicked.’
You may have recently seen Burke in the Ralph Fiennes-directed Invisible Woman, starring alongside Ryan Gosling in last year’s Only God Forgives (he played Gosling’s wayward younger brother, Billy) and shining in 2012’s highly-acclaimed BBC drama The Hour, but the RADA-trained actor’s light has been kept half hidden – until now.
In addition to playing Athos in the recent BBC adaptation of The Musketeers (he’s about to begin filming a second series alongside Luke Pasqualino), Burke is about to star in the second series of Channel 4’s drama Utopia.
The enigmatic conspiracy thriller centres on a group of ordinary people who come across a manuscript that predicts disastrous events. Says Burke: ‘Utopia is brilliantly complex and subtly written, so there was a lot to get my teeth into.’
Burke plays Philip, the character who wrote the manuscript around which the plot orbits. He’s the latest in a long list of sinister types that Burke has embodied over the past few years. ‘I’ve played a lot of dark characters and I think that, as an actor, you have to think of them more as interesting people rather than villains,’ he says.
Burke is in good company. The long list of British actors who regularly find themselves in bad-guy roles includes Jeremy Irons, Mark Strong, Ralph Fiennes, Anthony Hopkins, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman and, of course, Burke’s godfather Rickman. ‘Alan’s an incredibly deep, complex man,’ he says. ‘A great deal of thought goes into every scene. I remember once when somebody said to him, “You always play villains.” He responded, “No, I just play very interesting people.”’
Burke may play tortured souls on screen, but his lifestyle is contrastingly uncomplicated. He lives in Kennington, south London, ‘kind of near the Ship Pub and the Buddhist centre. Which in many ways is where I’m at in my life,’ he says. It’s this kind of wry thoughtfulness that frames conversation with Burke; there’s a lack of pretence that’s rare among his peers. When asked what he does in his spare time, for instance, the answer is arrestingly unstarry: ‘I read. I walk. I drink a lot of tea.’
When it comes to style, Burke admits with characteristic candour that it took him a long time to trust himself getting dressed in the morning. ‘There was a brief period where I was sort of occasionally dressing up as Axl Rose,’ he laughs. ‘That was just a spasm involving a lot of leather and boots… That’s what it was, a spasm – a series of spasms… Now everything is a lot simpler. That’s what I aspire to, anyway: simplicity.’ Any go-to designers? ‘Wolsey – I love it... I love jeans. I go for darker colours, such as dark reds and dark greens. I’m trying to branch out from black.’
As for style icons, Burke is a fan of the classical. ‘Gary Cooper is a great example of understated, masculine style – it’s still very much relevant today.’
Given Burke’s resumé of melancholic roles, it may come as a surprise that his acting icon is one of the cuddliest-looking stars on the big screen. ‘I’m a massive fan of Mark Ruffalo,’ he says, sounding mildly surprised at his own statement. ‘It would be hard to pin down exactly why. I just believe him. There’s something in his presence. All he has to do is walk down a corridor. He’s so believable; he’s so in his body.’
Burke’s star is definitely rising, but he remains refreshingly unassuming. Recalling his Only God Forgives co-star Gosling, Burke says that he ‘was very inspiring. He has an appetite for originality and the unusual. We had a conversation on a night shoot about the way we’d like to die, in real life. I said lying in a field. He found this hilarious. I didn’t understand why, but I liked that about him.’
‘Gary Cooper is a great example
of understated, masculine style.’
1 | New York or LA?
2 | London or Paris?
3 | Full English or goji berry granola?
4 | Trekking in the Himalayas or on the beach
with a book?
Well, you’re talking about the two sides of me.
Both of those are me, so both of them.’
5 | Single-breasted or double-breasted suits?
6 | A Clockwork Orange or The Remains
of the Day?
After a long pause: ‘That’s really tough. I’ve
been to see The Great Beauty three times. That’s
7 | Ketel One martini or Tetley’s pale ale?
‘Tetley’s pale ale.’
Tom Burke with Felicity Jones at The Invisible Woman film premiere.
Tom Burke stars in Utopia, coming soon to Channel 4.
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