The Erudite Actor

Ben Lloyd-Hughes is a Benedict. “My mum still says the biggest mistake I ever made was not being Benedict Lloyd-Hughes. She’s very upset,” the British actor explains. “But the only one who calls me Benedict in real life is my granny.”

A native Londoner, Lloyd-Hughes’ first major role was on the first season of the cult teen drama Skins. He was terrifying. Only 18 at the time, the actor played Josh Stock, a posh high schooler with a nasty streak who, when he was rebuffed by the protagonist’s girlfriend, exacted his revenge with a hypodermic needle. “It was just great that I got to have the journey of stealing his girlfriend and being the nice guy, and then later on turning into a psycho,” he says happily. The role was written with him in mind.

But that was seven years ago. Now 25, Lloyd-Hughes has since received his acting BA from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and acted on London’s West End in the play Jumpy (2011), alongside his older brother Henry in the TV film The Miliband Brothers (2010), and with Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter in Mike Newell’s adaptation of Great Expectations.

Earlier this year he finished filming a highly covetable role in Neil Burger’s new dystopian YA franchise, Divergent, based on the books by Veronica Roth. Set sometime in the future, an isolated city is divided into five “factions,” each of which values a different characteristic above all others: knowledge (Erudite), honesty (Candor), kindness (Amity), bravery (Dauntless), and selflessness (Abnegation). The cast is impressive mix of established and rising actors, including Shailene Woodley, Miles Teller, Kate Winslet, Zoë Kravitz, Ansel Elgort, and Christian Madsen. Lloyd-Hughes plays Will, an earnest new friend of Woodley’s protagonist, Tris.

While Lloyd-Hughes waits for Divergent to come out in March, he is back in London playing the Dauphin in Michael Grandage’s production of Henry V with Jude Law. We spoke with him after his fourth day of rehearsal.

EMMA BROWN: How has Henry V been so far?

BEN LLOYD-HUGHES: It’s been going great. Jude is lovely; he’s brilliant. As is the director—he’s a director that I’ve wanted to work with for a long time. It’s just a great company of mainly male, experienced British actors.

BROWN: Do you do any group activities to get to know one another in professional theater?

LLOYD-HUGHES: [laughs] It does happen a lot in a lot of play rehearsals that I’ve done, especially on the first day or in the first week, you maybe do some exercises or some games to break the ice. But not with Michael, the director. I’d already heard—don’t know whether this is revealing his secrets, but I don’t think it’s a massive secret—the way he works is that you have a chat on day one, a little talk from him and the designers. They showed us a little modelbox of what the stage would look like, and the costumes and the designs, and then we just started. We got there at 10, had a bit of a tea and a chat and by 11:30—we do no read-through—we start the first scene. Whoever’s in the first scene stays, and everyone who’s not in the first scene leaves the room. That’s it. So he goes pretty quickly, but I guess the idea is to break the ice outside the room.

BROWN: Did you already know your lines on the first day?

LLOYD-HUGHES: He asked us to do that, so I did. We were allowed to hold our scripts for the first week, but he did ask us. He sent me the script via post and it had a note saying “Dear Ben, Please learn your lines. Good luck, Michael.” [laughs] But that’s good, because it means you can start to play around with it already and not be too worried about, “Is this the right line?”

BROWN: I only recently learned that your part in Skins was written for you.

LLOYD-HUGHES: That is true, actually. It was an amazing moment when I got the scripts sent to me that had the character of “Ben” written in. They later changed [the character’s name] to Josh, because they thought it would be too weird. I went up for Skins for the main guy, to play Tony. I did a few rounds, and met everyone, and did a workshop for it. Obviously, I didn’t get it. I was down to the last two and it went to Nick Hoult. But they liked me enough—this was back in the day, 2006?—they liked me enough to say that they wanted me in the show somewhere, so they wrote the part for me to come in.

BROWN: Josh was quite an intense character. When you first read it, were you like, “Is this the impression that I give you?”

LLOYD-HUGHES: [laughs] No, I was thrilled! It was so exciting. I remember reading the first script and I just thought it was so exciting to audition for something that didn’t completely patronize young people and actually had a huge amount of energy and focus to it. It wasn’t just young people in the background—the daughters and sons of the main detectives in a series. It was all about them, and it wasn’t done in a kind of cheesy way, it was done in a very electric way. I had literally just left school in the summer and then we were filming. I couldn’t believe my luck. I auditioned for it on the same day as my religious studies A-level. I ran from my A-level, I think I was in my uniform, and changed to some jeans, but I kept my school shirt on and legged it to the meeting. And, for the record, I still got an A.

BROWN: Why did you choose to do religious studies at A-level?

LLOYD-HUGHES: I was really into it. I had a place at university to study theology and philosophy. I got the divinity prize at my school two years in a row. Probably because there were only 10 of us, but still. I got to pick a book. Did you have that at your school prize-giving?

BROWN: No, I got a book voucher.  

LLOYD-HUGHES: We were given a book voucher, but we had a time frame—you needed to buy something so they could ceremoniously give it back to you. A lot of people in my two years respected the system and very piously got books related to the subject that they had been awarded the prize on. I didn’t want, necessarily, a religious studies book, so I sneakily got a Queen’s Park Rangers book my first year. The second year, I’m pretty sure I chose Alan Partridge: All the Scripts. Which subject did you win your illustrious book voucher in?

BROWN: It was for overall academic achievement. I’m pretty syre sold it to my parents and bought a dress.

LLOYD-HUGHES: You just took the cash? I’m glad I’m not interviewing you. I’d have to put that in print. I was merely the prince of nerds. A duke of nerds.

BROWN: Your character in Divergent is a bit of a nerd. Were you happy to play someone nice?

LLOYD-HUGHES: I was, actually. It was such an amazing experience to come to America and play such a nice guy who really, throughout the story, has purely good intentions.

BROWN: Did you originally audition for Will?

LLOYD-HUGHES: I put Four on tape a long time ago, when the script was in its early days, and I read it and I really liked the script. Then I came to L.A., and when I was in L.A. went up for Will—and Eric, actually. Luckily Neil, the director, saw me in Great Expectations. I played a dastardly character called Bentley Drummle. He saw that, amazingly, so I think that’s why he was interested in me maybe playing Eric, who is a bit of a bad guy, as well as Will. He had a Skype reading audition. And amazingly thought I was right for Will.

BROWN: Were there lots of fans stalking the Divergent set every day?

LLOYD-HUGHES: Not every day—our interior set was a bit secluded. But, when we were filming on location, sometimes there were people taking photos. My favorite day of filming was when we were running through the streets—me, Miles, and Shai—with a huge bunch of extras. On a Saturday morning, they took over five streets of Chicago and we just legged it. That was a moment when I really felt like I was in a big film. I was in a suit, a lovely blue suit for my faction—my Erudite suit—feeling like I was in an action film.

BROWN: What about when you went out at night—did people get excited about the film?

LLOYD-HUGHES: Sometimes, but it’s a younger readership. When we went to an event like a baseball match, there were a lot of people who were excited about Divergent. We went to this cool bar, and I went to take a piss—I don’t know why I’m telling this story—and this guy next to me was like, “Hey man. You’re with Zoë Kravitz, right? The whole bar’s talking about how Zoë Kravitz is here.” So there was the odd moment.

BROWN: What was your first-ever professional role?

LLOYD-HUGHES: My first ever-ever professional role was in a television show in England called Love Soup. It starred Tamsin Greig. I just played a small role—I think officially my role was “teenage boy”—in was one episode. Then I did a play on the West End with Tamsin called Jumpy, and it was a nice moment for my career to actually meet her. I was such a small part that I don’t think I met her.

BROWN: So you didn’t say: “Do you remember me, the teenage boy?”

LLOYD-HUGHES: I did, I did. She very kindly pretended that she did remember me. [laughs] All the biggest actors I’ve worked with have all been fantastically generous, and she was an amazing company leader. Helena Bonham Carter in Great Expectations and Robbie Coltrane were really kind and welcoming. When we were rehearsing the film, I was about to do a one-man show, which I was learning the lines for in the green room, and Helena Bonham Carter talked to me all about it and was really interested. Then, months and months later at the premiere, she remembered and she asked me all about it. She said she’d been thinking about how it went and I was really touched. And Kate Winslet in Divergent is just the hardest working, most professional person, with a great sense of humor. It was kind of inspiring to know that the people on the very top in terms of the actors are often the nicest and most generous.

BROWN: How did your one-man show go?

LLOYD-HUGHES: It went really well! It’s one of the things I’m proud of the most. I developed it while I was at drama school. It tells a man’s story, the story of his life, from childhood to old age, and I played the character throughout the whole story. I wrote it myself. I hope to bring it back when someone will let me. Hopefully.

BROWN: You were still in high school when you started acting. Were your classmates supportive or did they make fun of you?  

LLOYD-HUGHES: I did have a little bit of banter. I was known as “the actor,” and when all the prefects were announced, my nickname was “Hollywood.” Which was a little jibe. I was in the rugby team in my final year, somehow, and there was a lot of banter about having “an actor on the right wing.” So I did get my fair ribbing—but so they should.

BROWN: Are there any other actors in your family?

LLOYD-HUGHES: I have an older brother who’s an actor, and a grandfather who was an actor. Back in the day, he was in films like Gang Busters and 49th Parallel (1941) with Laurence Olivier. He’s 93 now.

BROWN: Is he excited that you and your brother are following in your footsteps?

LLOYD-HUGHES:  He’s not excited about it being in his footsteps necessarily, but he’s excited about just hearing what we’re up to. He lives in Austria, so he doesn’t get to see anything we’re in until it comes out on Austrian DVD. I did a series on BBC, which I sent him. In it, I wore a hat, and he sent me an email saying “I loved your performance, but I thought you looked dashing in that hat. Maybe this could become your signature calling card. And you’ll be known as Ben Lloyd-Hughes, the man in the hat.” [laughs]

BROWN: Do you wear a hat in Divergent?

LLOYD-HUGHES: No, I’m without. I’m hatless. So my grandfather will be shocked and very disappointed. But he’s a very honest judge of my work. Henry and I and all my cousins got together as children and decided to make a film. My cousin Fred and I wrote the script. And my brother Henry and my other cousin directed it. We showed it to our grandpa, Grandpa Basil, and his response to us as children, ranging from five to 13, was, “That was one of the worst films I have ever seen.” He completely destroyed it. And with it, our hopes and dreams.

BROWN: Did you cry?

LLOYD-HUGHES: No, I didn’t cry. He’s so passionate about film that he couldn’t lie to us. I think he thought that we would respect him more if he was honest, and we would trust his opinion more in the future. He couldn’t risk integrity as a man of critique and a man of taste, if he didn’t tear us apart.


For more of our 14 Faces of 2014, click here.