Star of Apple TV+’s Suspicion Opens Up About What It’s Really Like Working With The Tech Giants
When you first meet Tom Rhys Harries, the charismatic star of Apple TV+’s latest 8-episode high octane thriller Suspicion, the first thing that springs to mind is “Holy shit, this boy’s going places, and he doesn’t even know it.”
The 29-year-old Welsh actor is on the cusp of leaving a significant cultural footprint. But overnight success entails a decade of hard work that people lose sight of. Harries took on his first role while studying at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in 2011, Hunky Dory, followed by an array of roles across theatre, TV and film – from Jez Butterworth’s MOJO to Guy Ritchie’s The Gentleman and Sky Atlantic series Britannia.
After starring in Netflix’s White Lines, produced by Álex Pina of Money Heist fame, Harries changed gears and went in a polar opposite direction with Eddie Walker’s character in Suspicion. Later this year, he’s going back to the West End in Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull opposite Emilia Clarke.
Fast-forward to interview time, a rather chilly studio in Greenwich mid-January and three hours into a shoot, Harries is in high spirits. After spending much of the afternoon cherry-picking his styling options, it’s evident to the naked eye that he’s a man that’s hyper-aware of his identity – both internally and the identity that he chooses to show to the general public. It’s not often that you stumble upon actors with such a strong sense of self in an industry that is constantly trying to dictate their demeanour. “I love this coat, it’s like a painter’s coat, and I can swing around with it too,” he points out playfully as he goes into our second styling option for the day. With a keen eye for visuals, a strong sense of self and an exceptionally grounded way of conducting himself, it’s difficult to even predict where his career is heading towards. However, what stands out is the respect that he continually shows towards the people around him. It’s undoubtedly the main reason he’s (unawarely and too humble to admit) the star of the show and the glue that keeps it together.
“You like to keep your interview subjects on edge, don’t you?” he asks me as we make our way into the freezing cold lounge area. “Not my preferred choice of thermostat temperature, but I don’t think we’ve got a choice,” I reply as we settle down on a corner couch overlooking the river Thames for his interview.
The plot is pretty straightforward. Suspicion kicks off with the son of prolific businesswoman Katherine Newman (Thurman) being abducted from a hotel in New York City. His assailants wear rubber masks resembling members of the Royal Family, with the National Crime Agency believing their true identities to be four British nationals who had been staying there that night. An urgent investigation is launched in cooperation with the FBI, which aims to resolve the incident before it becomes a media frenzy.
The odds are stacked against them as CCTV footage of the young man’s kidnapping goes viral on the internet, spawning an array of painfully dated “memes” that are inexplicably deemed hilarious by the masses.
Yet that’s only surface-level. The show explores more than a fast-paced narrative where we nearly skip the exposition. It’s about mass manipulation, the concept of truth, climate change and how the media has power over the general public seemingly without scruples (which isn’t particularly fiction).
Harries’ character comes into play around episode three. And it’s also the character that brings fresh air into a narrative that could’ve quickly plummeted into mediocrity. What got him interested in the project in the first place, though? “Having seen Chris Long and really liking his work, I already had an idea of what [the show] would look like. I read two episodes of Suspicion and had an idea of where my character’s arc was going. But from an actor’s perspective, it was exciting to go and work with Apple because they have the means to do things on a bigger scale. I also knew we’d be working in between London and New York, and I find the cultural differences fascinating,” explains the 29-year-old actor.
The US and the UK have always had a complicated, intertwined relationship, yet it’s interesting to explore the ground that it was built upon. And what Suspicion does best is make you question power plays and societal shifts. “I like the idea of seeing how power is divided in America – the structure and governance of power in the US by comparison with the UK,” says Harries. “In the UK, we’re subjected to a lot of American culture; we feel twined with America in a way that Americans might not feel about us. For example, in America, you buy power very capitalistically. In the UK, power has been bought, but it was bought by someone’s great-great-grandfather, and we have a really archaic class system,” the actor continues.
There’s no doubt that divisions of power and class systems have become archaic on both sides of the Atlantic, but what the show manages to capture beautifully are accountability and truth. “It’s about keeping people in power accountable. And ‘truth’ is really signposted as a theme. But then again, what is the truth?” the actor ponders.
And a good point he makes. What is truth? Is there such a thing as a universal truth? Who’s to say that one individual’s version of the truth is more valid than another’s? And if we all have different definitions of it, how does mass manipulation still happen? And where do we draw the line between ethical and unethical when the end result is supposed to be for the benefit of society? I feel out of breath just asking these questions, knowing very well that they never have an answer. “I’m not an expert, but what we do have now to control the masses is technology,” Harries points out. And rightfully so. “What I really like about this show is that it doesn’t shy away from showing how ingrained technology is in how we operate now. Technology allows for group thinking and communication in a way that we haven’t had in the past. But power – people in power manipulating and spinning ‘truths’ in quotation marks – that’s been happening since time immemorial. However, now, we have the means as people to question, communicate and hold people to account in a way that we haven’t had before.”
“That’s not to say that society comes up with the right conclusion or the wrong conclusion; it’s just a ripe ground for movement to happen on a global scale,” the actor concludes. But the epiphanies don’t stop there.
“Do you know what’s funny? That we did this kind of show for Apple, and they’re tech giants. We’re highlighting the use of technology as a way to start a social revolution – with Apple.” Mic. Drop. If that’s not food for thought, I can’t think of a better example.
From the outside, Suspicion looks like a show that is not only timely but also needed in an almost paradoxical way considering the current state of our society. But in hindsight, for Harries, the show holds a more intense meaning from a personal standpoint. “It’s funny watching it back. It almost feels like a snapshot of time where I felt very different because we had to shoot for very long hours and work 6-day weeks while I was recovering from long Covid,” the actor confessed.
Filming the show was both physically and mentally demanding for Harries. It was a push-through situation that he handled with the grace of a much more seasoned performer – which goes back to the thought that his trajectory and range will surprise the public at large in the years to come. And also highlights the immense impact that the pandemic has had on the art sector, artists, and society. “It’s also a question for us about how long we can engage in a certain topic [about the pandemic]. Because for me, it’s like – okay, let’s get through this. Subconsciously, your body and your mind take care of you. It’s like – you can’t face all of that right now so you can get through it. And, in hindsight, you realise that it was a lot to deal with.”
The impact that the pandemic has had on the entertainment sector is unmeasurable. Everything ground to a halt. Venues got shut down, shows got cancelled, people were suddenly out of work. “We did five previews of The Seagull [Anton Checkov’s play] before everything shut down. Actually, 4 previews and on preview number 5, we turned up to the theatre that day, and our stage manager came to us and said ‘SOLT [Society of London Theatre] cancelled the show tonight’, and we all went home. And then we didn’t work for six months. After that, I went straight to shooting Suspicion six months into a global pandemic,” the actor recalls. “And now, we’re doing The Seagull again in June after almost two and a half years. It feels like nothing’s changed, but everything’s changed. It’s like an alternate reality.”
There’s no doubt that things have changed radically, especially in film and theatre productions and how people consume entertainment. “It’s interesting when you think about Covid and the things that people are shooting. There are no masks in shows, and I think it will be a long time before we see a show that’s got masks in it. You already see it all over the place; you don’t want to go home and see more Covid on TV, do you?” the actor points out. And it’s true – for the foreseeable, it’s safe to say that people will steer clear of any triggers from the past couple of years.
The pandemic has put humanity at the forefront of our internal dialogue if we look at the bigger picture. “In hindsight, we as people are very adaptable. If you think about it, remember how quickly everything shut down? And the population as a whole listened to all the guidelines.” What a beautiful thing – hindsight. And this one, in particular, has made us all realise that the only constant in life is change. Harries says it better, though. “I don’t know what the value is in trying to second-guess what’s going to happen.” I don’t think there is any.
Throughout the pandemic, with the rise in the use of technology, people have had time to think about our relationship with our own humanity and the value of the physical world. “The physical world is a more direct source of storytelling,” the actor begins. “I will go back to the theatre as often as I can. And yes, you work in film and TV, but you don’t have as much autonomy as an artist as you do in theatre. Or the opportunity to connect with the audience. And theatre is still under financial jeopardy because of Covid, it can’t pivot, so we have to do whatever we can to keep it from going under. “
It’s the same situation with live shows, museums and any kind of physical entertainment that bonds us together as people. They’re all in jeopardy, and it is our personal responsibility to protect what makes us stand out from other species – sentiments and melodies, all that is art and poetry, our true natures. Or, more simply said – we need to protect our creative force and the people at the forefront of it. “We’re very privileged to even engage in creative careers,” Harries points out. “This is a very privileged standpoint. During the pandemic, a lot of people would have assessed and reassessed, looked inwards and then outwards. Creativity is such a human quality and what differentiates us from other animals. And it should be supported. And encouraged. Because what is living without it? We’re all chasing the carrot, but what if there is no carrot? So enjoy the stick. I think the most important thing for all of us in this day and age is to try to look after one another.”
I couldn’t agree more. And since we’ve all become hyper-aware of our internal ticking clocks, what’s the one thing that Tom Harries doesn’t want to die wondering about? “I don’t want to die wondering about my music career – I definitely want to give that a go and see where it takes me. I don’t want to have any question marks about it. Oh, and skydiving. I really want to learn how to skydive.”
Suspicion premiered globally on February 4th on Apple TV+ with new episodes released each Friday until March 18th.
Photography: Joseph Sinclair
Styling: Olga Timofejeva
Styling Assistant: Rebecca Evans-White
Supporting Model: Stewie Sinclair