Once I started speaking with Thomas Doherty, one of the stars of the incredibly engaging Hulu series High Fidelity, I was immediately interested to see how much would translate to the finished interview piece. We had developed our own short hand, were lightly making fun of earlier discussion points, and I had somehow even invited the Edinburgher (now L.A. based) actor to pay a visit to Toronto (at the time, it made sense).
Doherty plays Liam, a much younger lover to Zoë Kravitz’s Rob in the series that has winks to the original film and book by Nick Hornby, but is very much a fresh and modern take on it. Doherty could not have been kinder (and funnier) in our exclusive phone interview with the rising talent, who you may know from Descendants or Disney Channel’s The Lodge.
The following is a condensed and edited chat with the engaging Thomas Doherty of Hulu’s High Fidelity.
Brief Take: How was the premiere of this series at the Metrograph?
Thomas Doherty: It was so much fun! I hadn’t seen the guys but we’ve always been in contact. Yeah, it was the first time I saw them since we wrapped filming, so, Jesus, must have been like six or seven months. And it was really, really nice to see them, and it was actually the first time that I had seen it as well. You saw it before me. [laughs] It was the first time that I got to see it and see it all come to life. It’s always a bit daunting that the first time you see it is at the premiere, but no, I loved it and I thought it was amazing and I thought it was executed so well. And there was free booze, so…can’t complain! [laughs]
BT: But did you get to see your musical performance?
TD: No, they only showed two. So I was just at the tail end of the second one. I was singing ‘I’ll Make Love to You’ by…who sings that? I can’t remember.
BT: Boyz II Men.
TD: Boyz II Men, that’s the one. I remember getting the song, obviously, and into the studio to record it all, they sent it and [chuckles] I thought that they made a mistake. But they didn’t, and so I was like: Fuck it! Let’s go for it!
BT: You pretended that you were able to play the guitar?
TD: Yeah! [laughs] So yeah, obviously I went to the audition room and I had the chat and all the rest of it, and one of the last questions that they asked me was: “Do you play the guitar?” and obviously in audition, all actors just say “Yes” to whatever. And so I said “Yes” and I didn’t, and so when I came home, I had to learn how to play the guitar. So that is actually me playing the guitar, which is so much fun, and that’s obviously one of the parts that I love about what we do. You’re kind of forced to learn new skills that you might not have initially done, so yeah, now I can play the guitar.
BT: You’ve said that you don’t even consider yourself a singer? I would like to be as good at anything as you are as a singer and not even consider it to be something I do.
TD: [laughs] Oh, you’re too kind! You’re too kind. No, I did musical theatre when I was growing up and I did do singing, but no, when I went to college, I also wanted to do tv and film and I knew that from the start, but I thought that it would be good to be able to learn how to sing and dance and do a load of other things. So no, I have sung, but I would never, never [laughs] regard myself as a singer. But that is very kind of you. Thank you.
BT: What are your Top 5 songs or the ones that made the greatest impact on you?
TD: There’s a load of different genres, like I grew in a house in which there was a lot of Harry Connick Jr., Louis Armstrong. One of favourite artists ever, I can listen to him 10 days straight, his whole album, is Louis Prima. I love that whole sexy upbeat vibe of everything that he does. I do love, I don’t know if you’ve heard of, Paolo Nutini. He’s a Scottish artist, he’s incredible, and there’s Matt Kearney, but also you’ve got Aretha Franklin. Currently I’ve been listening to Billie Eillish and Harry Styles, so it’s a whole thing, and then obviously there’s a rap side that I love, like I love Eminem, I love Childish Gambino, I love Kendrick Lamar. And then obviously I love musical theatre. It’s a whole mess on my iPod of different songs.
BT: I really like all of your songs, especially Gimmie Light / New Tattoo, on the soundtrack.
TD: I loved recording that.
BT: You didn’t recognize Jack Antonoff or work with him on any of the tracks?
TD: I didn’t, no! I mean, obviously, I know who he is, he’s incredible and I did grow up a massive fan of fun. That was one of my favourite bands growing up, [laughs] and so I did know who he was, but I didn’t recognize who he was when I met him…until about halfway though. And when you meet someone halfway through and then you actually realize who they are, it’s a bit embarrassing that you mangled up the fact. So I think that I left it a little bit too late, but then I was like: “I have to do something” and I’m not as cool as him, so when I did say it, I think I came across a bit like a fangirl.
BT: What was it like living in this world so full of atmosphere?
TD: It was really special. Zoë really kind of executed the vibe, I mean, you’d wake up in the morning, be in Brooklyn and Brooklyn’s so cool. It’s got loads of art and loads of creativity surrounding you: bars and coffee shops, it was a whole thing, and then you seamlessly kind of wander onto set and it would be the same feel, it would be the same vibe, same topic of conversation, same passions. Then when you finish work, you go to a dive bar with David (H. Holmes) or Zoë or Kingsley (Ben-Adir) or Jake (Lacy) and then you’d get drunk, [chuckles] and then you’d wake up the next morning with a hangover and you’d kind of do it all again. So it was like a whole thing, and I think that it really translates on the screen because that’s kind of what it was like.
BT: Were any of them previous collaborators of yours?
TD: No, I’d never worked with any of them before. It’s always amazing to work with new people and obviously meet them as individuals. Everyone has their own acting style so it’s fun to maneuver how to work with them and connect with them on screen. But I couldn’t have asked for a more fun, kinder, patient, cooler group of people. Obviously I knew who Zoë was, but David, that was the first I had ever heard of him and I think that he’s an incredible actor, yeah, and an absolute gentleman, and Da’Vine (Joy Randolph) as well, so funny on and off set. I was really, really fortunate to work with those guys.
BT: What’s something that you kind of miss about Scotland?
TD: The sense of humour. I really miss the Scottish sense of humour, like it’s such an old, old country, and America feels new and feels sort of like French, whereas Scotland has a weight to it. I think that the comedy that derives from that is just unbeatable, I’m a really, really big fan of the kind of sense of humour back home. And a general kind of pride – Scottish people are very proud of what you come from and the country and I was definitely like that. It’s obviously diminished greatly as you travel across the world, but I do always think that there’s a place in your heart for where you’re from. I do miss that. And obviously my family, God! I better say them. [laughs]
BT: Who is somebody with whom you haven’t worked that you would like to do so?
TD: [immediately] Cillian Murphy. Or Steve Carell. It’s so hard to say, but I love everything with Cillian Murphy.
BT: Who are some of the people you have previous worked with that have inspired you?
TD: I think that working with Kenny Ortega was really really special. I mean I was always really inspired by his creative way of looking at the world, like everything was crazy, even if you were off set, even if you were in a restaurant, his mind was always in that zone. The thing that in Descendants 2 which I was so taken aback by, was he would come on set and his vision was so amazing, so definitely Kenny. And working with Jake and David in High Fidelity as well, they’re unbelievable actors, so so so so good. And obviously Helen Mirren, and that whole cast actually. I was really fortunate to work with all of them and you learn so much, just watching people and to interact with them on set.
BT: Would you say that these are the two projects which you’re most proud of?
TD: Oh yeah, definitely! I mean I did love doing Descendants, but I think in terms of writing and acting, it’s just a lot more highbrow. Obviously working with Helen Mirren and that whole cast was really incredible and we filmed it in Russia, it was totally different worlds, but I think the caliber of acting and writing and obviously on HBO and Hulu, the networks, are well-respected. A main factor of this one is Zoë, though.
BT: You can definitely draw parallels to the projects in that you play the young love of realized female characters.
TD: Definitely! I think that we’re so used to strong male leads that are always questioning their relationships and questioning all of that stuff and women fit into a labelled category. There’s a whole patriarchal thing that women fit into this box of what they should be and who they should be within society, and definitely people like Catherine the Great who Helen Mirren portrays, and even Rob, who Zoë was, kind of breaking down those stereotypes and showing that women are equally curious and equally as unsure as men are. I don’t think that is really ever shown, and when it is shown, it is still quite twee and I don’t think it’s honest. Rob’s character is honest about that, it’s not always flattering, but the truth isn’t necessarily always that, so yeah, I think it’s cool.
BT: The series is modern and fresh and yet calls back to the movie in ways. Did you find it funny that you were playing a sort of version of Lisa Bonet, the mother of Zoë?
TD: All the time. I always brought it up. It was funny at the outset but maybe I took it a bit too far by bringing it up in the sex scene and she was not up for it. But no, there is no actual link, but there still is a curious taste in the mouth [laughs] when you do bring that up.
BT: You’ve said previously that one of your favourite shows is See. Did you watch that in order to see the work of Jason Momoa?
TD: No, not at all! It was literally coincidental. I finished a series and I was ready for another one and yeah, I started watching that and I think he’s amazing in it. I think that he’s one of the best parts in it. But I’ve heard that he’s a really, really, really lovely guy. He seems like a big gentle giant and he’s got a Guinness tap in his house, I don’t think that you can get any cooler than that.
BT: What would you like an audience to take away from this show?
TD: Obviously enjoyment. I mean what you do is for people to enjoy and to question anything that they previously concluded. But as well, I think that it is really interesting, I know I keep hammering on about this, but just the fact that there are these societal labels that are kind of sexist and artificial and I think it’s really a lot of fun that Rob’s character, that they gender-swapped it, and that Rob’s character is played by a female and that it’s time to acknowledge that those labels are kind of medieval and that women’s relationships with themselves and with other men isn’t the kind of clichéd patriarchal way of looking at it and how it has been. We’re definitely at an evolutionary point in time in which so many wonderful movements, the feminist movement, the #MeToo movement, all of this is shedding a light on old ideas that are just old-fashioned. I think that the series does bring this out without being too alienating and on the nose with it and it definitely normalizes it.
BT: What’s something that you’re excited about in terms of the future?
TD: I think that whatever kind of comes, I mean, I’d be open to any possibility. There’s a reason now that there’s so many streaming sites, so there’s so much content coming out, and also, obviously they’re in competition with each other, so the standard of content is really high these days. Not just for film, but for tv as well. And you do tv that is almost like mini-films. So yeah! Being open to that and the wonderful team behind me and now living in Los Angeles, amazing girlfriend (actress-singer Dove Cameron), amazing family, so yeah! Keep exploring and keep seeing what comes.
BT: What’s the best way to watch High Fidelity and how can people get their hands on the amazing soundtrack?
TD: The soundtrack is on Spotify, but they’ve also got vinyl and I’m on four songs on the vinyl, which is my claim to fame thus far. But watch it wherever you feel. It’s a cool vibe, it’s very chill, you can watch it in a group, you can watch it on your own, it’s accessible for all ages and all genders…yeah, it checks all the boxes.
High Fidelity is now available to watch on Hulu and STARZ