Decider caught up with Felton during this summer’s TCA press tour. However, before we talked about Origin and Felton’s favorite YouTube clips, we had to settle something once and for all: Is the Harry Potter star a genre fan…or not?
First thing’s first…Coming in, I think I overheard you say you’re not a sci-fi fan, or are you?
I want to say I’m a fan. It’s just I’m not as engrossed in the genre as some of our cast. (laughs) I’ve had a few sci-fi references thrown at me about characters that I have no idea who they were talking about. But yeah, there have been many a sci-fi film that has been influential on me growing up.
Like what particularly?
Well, the Aliens franchise was the one that really opened that world to me. But other than that, this is a sci-fi thriller show. It’s heavily based, set in that world, but it’s also 10 humans in a terrible position trying to figure stuff out. You definitely don’t see it leaning into the fantasy market as much as it does a character-driven piece.
So what drew you to the project? Was it the scripts? And how many did you get in advance?
Only two! And I’m not really comfortable not knowing how things end before…so largely it was the script. Only the first one I read. I thought the writing was fantastic and then I had the chance to speak to Mika for an hour and a half. And she didn’t spoil it for me. She didn’t tell me everything that was going to happen, but she definitely told me more about my character and the reasons he was taking the trip to Thea. So I want to say it’s 50% the quality of the work, but I’m definitely more motivated by who I want to be working with, than just the work. And I could tell just from the phone that Mika [Watkins] had a strong image of what she wanted to make. And it was ironic, really, because I don’t know what I had in my head, but I didn’t think she was going to be a 28-year-old English girl.
What about your character inspired you most as an actor?
He’s flawed and he seems to be an asshole, really. But he’s not, he’s just never really been shown too much love in his childhood. A lot of this is all speculation as well. Although we do get to learn more about his character when we see his flashback, a lot of it as well is left to my interpretation. So I liked how much of a dick he came across as in the first three episodes and then slowly but surely getting to know why he is that way. Actually, he’s a bit of a softie.
You’ve been acting a long time. People have grown up watching you. Even before Harry Potter, you were in Anna and the King. If you could go back and give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?
I feel quite lucky to say that I wouldn’t. Instinctively, there’s no horrendous regrets or mistakes I’ve made. I was going to say, ‘Have more fun,’ but I pride myself on being a bit of a goofball on set and never taking it all too seriously.
Obviously Origin is a YouTube original. Did you have any qualms about working on a show on a streaming site?
Yeah! Initially, I was like suspicious, or I didn’t quite know what YouTube were planning on doing. First year of YouTube making TV shows, you think, “What? Are they going to be recording it on our phones? How serious are we taking this here?” And then realizing what YouTube was set to do. At first, it was uncertainty, but then after it set in, I realized it was the best possible platform for it. One in the sense that we’re helping launch their new platform, and the other two sides…One, this is a small company. They have resources and they have data and information. They know exactly what people are watching. I’m sure they thought very strategically about which shows to use and which not. And then the other side is that there was a pressure to succeed. That made me feel quite confident knowing they put so much money, time, and investment into the show.
My friends and I all have our own favorite YouTube videos we’ll watch when we want to get in a good mood or get psyched up. Do you have a favorite YouTube video that made you a fan of the service?
Music videos. And I don’t mean music. I mean like live music videos. There’s a lot of acoustic guitarists that I’m big fans of that simply, just by listening to it, you don’t get to see the full scope of what they’re doing. Tommy Emmanuel is my favorite acoustic guitarist and watching him play as well as listening is a huge revelation in my enjoyment of music.
So nowadays, I like hearing things from streaming services and what not, but if I get a chance to go on YouTube and find a live performance…you see all these ones, these Tiny Desk Concerts, all these weird boutique performances you simply would not get anywhere else.
Collider: How did you come to be a part of Origin?
TOM FELTON: It took a little bit of convincing. I read the first couple of scripts, and they were very well written. Obviously, it’s different when you’re going into a film because you know how it ends before you start, which is my preference, really, rather than figuring it out, as you go along. Even when we started shooting, (executive producer) Mika [Watkins] hadn’t finished the episodes, so things were still being developed, as we were going along. But I had a very long chat with Mika, before signing up for it. We talked about the show, in general, and a little bit about my character and about what his relationship is to the other people on board. So, you do a little tape, send it in, and they say, “Sure, if you want it, you can come into space.” That’s pretty much how it happened.
What was it about what Mika Watkins told you that sold you on the TV series?
FELTON: It wasn’t what she said, it was how she said it. I’m far more interested in working with people that I think are gonna be collaborative and that are gonna be fun to work with, and that aren’t gonna be a nightmare, and she seemed very sweet, very knowledgeable, and very keen to collaborate. She was keen for me to not just turn up and read lines, but to be an actual part of the development of the show. And then, you start to really put a bit more of yourself into it than you maybe would have done, previously.
This seems like one of those characters that could easily get stuck in the stereotypes that we’re used to seeing in this kind of a show, but everything along the way seems like it’s a bit different than what you expect. Was there anything you wanted to avoid doing with this character?
FELTON: Yeah. I definitely think it’s a unique show. I don’t think there’s been anything really like this before. I wasn’t cautious, really. I felt like I was in good hands with Mika and the people who were directing each episode. I thought they knew exactly where they wanted the shape of it to come from, and I was very lucky to be afforded many takes to just do whatever I wanted or to improvise. Whenever it didn’t work, I was told to shut up and go back to the script. So, it was a nice mixture of freedom and also trusting the work that you’ve got in front of you is top quality.
How often did they actually tell you to stop doing what you were doing?
FELTON: More and more, as the show went on. No. Actually, not that many times, to be fair. I occasionally had to be reminded to swear a little less because Logan has a foul mouth. It got a bit out of hand, at one point. The F word was coming out, in every other sentence. But, I wasn’t reprimanded too often.
What did you enjoy about getting to do something like this?
FELTON: It’s set in space, which is cool. And then, there’s the ensemble nature of the show. I’ve never really done anything like that before, where there are nine or ten leads, and everyone has their own role to play. I wouldn’t say that sci-fi is something that I’ve been heavily invested in or involved, in my life, but there’s something very cool about this setting, and every character is really defined. I think every character will be someone’s favorite.
When it comes to sci-fi, it seems like every time you think you’ve seen everything that can be done, someone finds a way to do it differently.
FELTON: Definitely. The fact that there’s so many different cultures, languages and countries coming together is a very unique thing. The flashback element is done in a way that hasn’t really been seen before, in this context. And there’s the fact that there are ten strangers. There’s something really rewarding about the fact that none of these people know who each other are, or who they were before, in their previous lives. They’re all there, starting a new life. No one really knows who’s telling the truth and who has more of a history to protect. What’s unique is that the audience gets to figure it out, as well. They see the flashback episodes, so by the time they get to Episodes 6, 7 and 8, they know the passengers a lot better than the passengers know each other.
Since you didn’t really have that backstory information when you started this, how different did the character become for you, once you did have that information?
FELTON: Quite a bit. I didn’t change the way I played him, but it made a lot more sense. I understood it. At first, it’s easy to think he’s just being a bit difficult and a bit of an asshole, but there’s always a reason why people are not very nice people, or they’re aggressive, or they’re easily pissed off. Upon reading the episodes and seeing it, it made a lot more sense, and it made me love him a lot more.
There has to be a reason that he ended up in this situation, thinking that it was a good idea.
FELTON: Exactly! And from his personality traits, you expect that it would be something slightly more violent, aggressive, or tumultuous. There’s actually a very soft and sweet reason why he’s taken this trip. They’re all running away from something. Granted, it wasn’t supposed to end like this. We weren’t supposed to wake up and everyone would be gone.
Have they not seen any sci-fi movies? When you all get on a ship, it never ends well!
FELTON: And this definitely follows that suit, for sure.
How did you find all of the physicality that was required for this role, and working with things that are not actually there? Was all of that quite intense?
FELTON: There was a lot of tension, and jumping around corners and scaring the bejeezus out of people. Bear in mind, most of the day, you’re laughing and playing, but then suddenly, when they roll cameras, you have to get into character. It’s tense when it needs to be, but in between, there was a lot of joking around and laughing. Most rehearsals, we would just piss around, as much as we possibly could, and we’d save the tense bits for the actual shoot.
At what point along the way did you find out you’d actually be working with another Harry Potter alum, with Natalia Tena as one of your co-stars on this?
FELTON: When I landed in Cape Town. What’s funny is that we’d never worked with each other before, ever. We had never even seen each other on set, ever. We only know each other as Nat and Tom. It’s nice to see a familiar face, but this is our first chance at working together.
What’s it like to work in Cape Town, South Africa?
FELTON: It’s very cool. It’s beautiful. It’s an incredible place. It’s definitely been a good home to us, and the people and locations are all stunning. I hope to be going back.
BTW, Philipp Christopher (he plays Baum Arndt in Origin) said in an interview with The Nerd Daily something about Tom :
Straight away Origin shows its diversity with its international cast—what was it like working with such a diverse range of actors?
Just splendid. I did pick up a few great British words such as “bonkers” and I was able to teach Tom a few German words. He’s pretty bad at it, to be honest. But seriously…it’s one of the things that makes the show so unique. The international episodes were shot in their original language and viewers will watch them with subtitles. That’s pretty ballsy, if you ask me.
Were there any highlights for you while filming?
I think working with Tom because it was just pure pleasure. The man is such a giving and professional actor and our storyline was just a blast to work on. Hindsight we joke about how we were very cautious about each other in the beginning but pretty soon it was nothing but love.