Nice guys are meant to finish last, but it doesn’t seem to be impeding Tom Mison, who is about as charming as they come. Onscreen, and in photographs, his cheekbones and high forehead give him a kind of aristocratic hauteur, so it is disappointing to report no evidence of this in person. I arrive early for our interview, just as he is finishing the photoshoot at the back of Moncks of Dover Street in Mayfair, a smart new brasserie on the site of the much-loved Automat. Everyone is grinning happily: the photographer, stylists, assistants, waiters. We shake hands and Tom immediately starts stripping to his pants. I try to offer him some privacy, but he insists I stay. Changed into the actor’s standard mufti of black trousers, black T-shirt and jaunty trainers, and safely installed in a booth, he checks the sun is over the yardarm before suggesting a glass of wine.
Others have had more meteoric rises to the first rank of British acting, but few ascents have been as steady. After being booted out of drama school, Mison (which rhymes with bison) was plucked by Sir Trevor Nunn to play Fortinbras alongside Ben Whishaw’s Hamlet at the Old Vic, a production that dragged the Dane moping and skulking into the 21st century. After that, Mison enjoyed a starring turn in Posh, Laura Wade’s play inspired by the Bullingdon Club, which raised the temperature of the Royal Court theatre around the time of the 2010 general election in Britain. Soon the call from America came, and Mison was cast as Ichabod Crane, the lead in Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, which ran for four series. He is about to return to the small screen in HBO’s Watchmen, a hugely anticipated adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel, about which he is able to say almost nothing.
Were there any theatrics in the family?
I grew up in Woking, in the ’burbs. Most people stay put. The main advantage of the place is that it’s ‘near London’. I could never understand why you wouldn’t just be in the cool place itself, rather than only going up to see slaggy West End plays and coming back again. My great-great aunt was a singer, part of Fred Karno’s troupe. There’s a picture of her with the company on the boat to New York in 1910. On one side of her is Charlie Chaplin, on the other Stan Laurel. And my parents met in amateur dramatics, in a production of Spring and Port Wine. When I was kicking my heels as a teenager, someone suggested I go and do that. When someone told me you could get paid for it, my childhood dreams of working in the zoo were shattered.