Best known as one of the leading faces of the 2008 film Angus Thongs and Perfect Snogging, 26-year-old Tommy Bastow is now onto bigger things. I catch up with Tommy to talk about all things The Crossing, tea, Nandos and life.
Have you ever heard of a London Fog Tea? Neither had I until Tommy insisted that it was the best drink we could possibly opt for on one of the hottest days of the year. I hate to admit it, but he might have been right.
British actor Tommy Bastow is a headstrong kind of guy. Except for his questionable hot day beverage choice, his head is firmly screwed on. This determination and hard work are what landed him his new role as Marshall in the unfolding ABC series, The Crossing.
Before we delved into a serious conversation about work, I thought it was best if we got to know each other a little better. “A fun fact and a party trick,” I insisted. Apparently, Tommy “speaks pretty decent Japanese” (although I can’t say there was any proof to back this one up). “It’s the thing that makes me a bit different. I started learning six years ago when I was in a band. We did a Tour in Asia and everyone had to learn a language,” he informed me. As for the party trick? “When I get drunk I’m convinced I do a good Christopher Walken accent.” Again, I was offered no proof for this alluring skill – turns out one cannot get drunk off a London Fog.
The Crossing is a new American science fiction thriller – a series exploring the mysterious appearance of 47 war-torn refugees washing up on the beach of a small fishing town, Port Canaan, on the Oregon coast, America. “I say it’s a take on the immigration crisis in America. The show is about a war that occurs 150 years in the future; all these refugees come back to seek refuge,” Tommy told me. “My character’s name is Marshall… he lives in a trailer. He’s not got a lot going for him until he meets a girl and suddenly his life becomes meaningful in a really interesting way. Yeah, of course, it’s entertainment and sci-fi, but the show is still grounded in reality.”
Tommy’s character Marshall has an antipathy to rules; it’s his curious nature that sets him on his path to decipher the occult. I indicated how I was going to ask Tommy whether he felt he had a lot in common with the Marshall before he disclosed that his character is somewhat rogue. Smiling, he admitted, “I got into trouble a couple of times when I was a teenager. A lot of people have troubles in their childhood that they have to face and overcome, so I can resonate with Marshall in that sense.”
Best-known for his lovable role of Dave The Laugh in the phenomenon fiction series-turned-film adaptation, Angus Thongs and Perfect Snogging (don’t worry, we’ll come back to this), Tommy’s acting career has progressed significantly, now finding himself acting alongside some established names including Steve Zahn and Natalie Martinez. Speaking of how he came to play this role, Tommy confesses, “I actually went up for a different character. This character had the same name but he was a 17 or 18-year-old pipsqueak, noisy kid. I had a beard when I turned up on set; they cut that character and wrote a completely different one for me. You don’t often see many 17-year-old kids with a beard…” Having bagged his tailored role for The Crossing, it was all guns blazing as Tommy jetted off for Vancouver, Canada where the series was being filmed.
Having previously attended Drama Centre London (part of University Arts London), and the BRIT School prior to that, Tommy is well accustomed to performing in front of large crowds and familiar faces. His Angus Thongs and Perfect Snogging role triggered parts in The Boys Are Back, the Spanish horror Exorcismus and even Eastenders. Nonetheless, I suspected that filming a series for the ABC would be a few (hundred) steps further than anything he’d done so far. “When I showed up on set, I realised that a lot of it you have to simply learn on the job. There isn’t much that can prepare you for that; you can attend as many classes as you want but once you’re working alongside all the cast and crew, it’s a whole new experience,” Tommy told me. He continued, “American actors are amazingly talented and captivating. They often come with bags of experience and exposure as it’s in their culture. I guess English actors are traditionally more renowned for stage, although that is definitely changing.”
“You can’t put people on a pedestal otherwise it’s going to affect your work.”
The ABC is by no means a small-scale organisation. Tommy explained how “they had a lot more money”, going on to say how it was “nice to be able to have the freedom. They treated me so well and I was able to make interesting choices for the role. I couldn’t deviate too much from the script as I felt like a new kid on set, but I saw some of the more experienced actors really changing and improving what they were given. I was just happy to be there.” As mentioned, Tommy gained some pretty interesting colleagues whilst filming The Crossing. “I think you’re always going to get very nervous the first time you meet everyone, especially when you’re introducing yourself. After the first week, everyone just seems on the same level, though. I think you have to behave like that – you can’t put people on a pedestal otherwise it’s going to affect your work.” I would never have dreamt of asking Tommy if he had any favourites, so, naturally, I asked him if he had any favourites. Impossible, obviously, however, he did meet some standout personalities that were worth mentioning. “Well, I grew up watching Steve [Zahn] – he’s such an amazing guy. He became a bit of a producer in the way he was looking after people and made sure the show stayed true to its promise. He cared for everyone and he cared for the product deeply, which was really inspiring.” He went on: “Rick Gomez – who plays Nestor – used to drive me to set sometimes. We talked about what methods he has found useful throughout his acting career, which I found so helpful as a young actor. I now find I look back at myself on screen and I’m able to pick up on the things that I could have changed and improved on.”
What’s the longest duration of time you’ve tried to pull off an accent and successfully flown with it for a good while? I have nothing but admiration for anyone who can do any accent at all, let alone hold one like it’s their own. This may be down to the sad truth that I’m no actress, or it could be down to the fact that I couldn’t do one, no matter how hard I tried, without either sounding demonic or without laughing (or both, simultaneously). Regardless, Tommy sure has this in check. “I think we watch so much American TV that it comes as second nature to us.” “Speak for yourself,” I interrupted. “As an actor, I feel like it’s one of the easier accents to do.” Burn. “Newcastle and Welsh are probably the hardest ones for me.”
“I think sometimes you have to see each failure as an opportunity.”
It seems impossible, even for the talented Tommy, to be able to maintain his A-class American accent for the whole time whilst he was filming in Vancouver. I’m pleased to say that, unlike his Christopher Walken impression, I was offered first-hand proof that he could say anything, on the spot, in the accent. Reasonably impressed (and a little jealous), I asked him if he ever slipped up, even just once. “I would only get caught out when I say words like dressing gown when they call it bathrobe” he laughed. “I used to go to Nandos a lot in Vancouver (like I do in London); there’s only one Nandos there and all the people who worked there were Irish. It was as if some of them recognised me from something by the way they were behaving, but I still had to do the accent and it was kind of awkward every time.” For those of you wondering, Tommy’s Nando’s order is half a plain chicken with corn, creamy mash or halloumi cheese. He likes to add his own spice, apparently. You’re welcome.
Being an actor (or actress) in this day and age is bound to come with its fair share of challenges and setbacks. We’ve all experienced these obstacles in our own way. For Tommy, his obstacles came at a younger age. “I have a really intelligent older brother who is so book smart, but I wasn’t that type of kid. I went to a very competitive academic school but I wasn’t very ‘smart’ – for want of a better word. However, that’s how I got into acting. It was something I could do the ‘smarter’ kids couldn’t.” He adds, still sipping on that London Fog, “I think sometimes you have to see each failure as an opportunity.”
Asking Tommy what he would tell his younger self – knowing what he knows now – proved to be a tricky question for him to answer, but listen up – this is good. “It’s not easy trying to be creative but what’s important is that you constantly push yourself and do things that scare you. If something starts to feel uncomfortable, that’s probably right about where you want to be before something really exciting happens. You’ve got to be outside of your comfort zone. Make sure you put yourself out there – you have to get it wrong because only when you do, you figure out how you get it right.” Amen to that, Tommy. Amen.
“DO YOU WANT TO GO TO A PARTY,” he shouts down (in public) to an imaginary ant on the floor. I jumped. And laughed.”
Remember I said we’d come back to Angus Thongs and Perfect Snogging? Well, here we are. It’s safe to say that Tommy’s role as Dave The Laugh was a pivotal moment in his career, but I wanted to hear about it first hand (and, let’s face it, which girl wouldn’t?). “I was 16 when I played that part. I’m so happy to have done the project – it brought so many people joy and laughter and I’m proud of that. It’s just a shame how Dave becomes the guy… if only they had made more!” If you’ve seen Angus Thongs and Perfect Snogging (if you haven’t – watch it), you’ll know how Dave the Laugh is the token ‘joker’, certified by the opening scene of him farting into a lighter in the school grounds. With the film being as iconic as is it, I wondered whether this comical stigma stuck around with Tommy for the years following the release of the film in 2008. “Stigma is always there as an actor. Sometimes, when people meet me who don’t know me, I don’t get a chance to make a first impression because they already have an expectation of who I am which can be a bit tough.” Tommy went on to explain the coinciding effects of social media on his career. “I feel like it’s important to not show who you are to the public too much. That way, it’s easier to convince them that you’re someone else [for roles]. I’m a bit of a recluse. I like my own company. I feel it’s important to have part of you that’s just yours… a part that you don’t need to share.”
Despite this, and to lighten the mood ever so slightly, I asked Tommy for his best, people pleasing joke. “PG?” he asked. “How do you invite an ant to a party?” “DO YOU WANT TO GO TO A PARTY,” he shouts down (in public) to an imaginary ant on the floor. I jumped. And laughed.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how bright Tommy’s future and career is. Hard work and persistence has carried him this far, and the type of dedication that Tommy has for what he does speaks for itself. Asking what is in the pipeline for his career, he told me, “I’m still really passionate about my music – I’d love to be able to tour one day.” Tommy has been writing music for around five years now, playing his alternative rock sound with a friend of his. He continued, “I love acting – it’s my life – but one day I’d love to share my music, too. In regards to acting, I’d love to carry on doing amazing projects for TV, films and plays.” If acting and music weren’t in the picture, I wondered what career path he would have gone down. “Maybe baseball? Not that I can play baseball, mind. It’s just they seem to get injured a lot less and don’t necessarily have to lead a healthy lifestyle.”
“Any lasting words?” I asked. “Stay in school kids,” he laughed.
Oh, and as for the London Fog Tea? Equal parts Earl Grey and steamed milk with a splash of vanilla syrup. Thank him later.