Tom Rhys Harries on White Lines, Chekhov And His Career

by Adam Tanswell June 11, 2020
Actor Tom Rhys Harries

dave benett/getty images

When COVID-19 shut down entertainment venues across the globe, Welsh actor Tom Rhys Harries was only five performances into a three-month run of a new adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull. Despite the postponement of the West End play, the 27-year-old is still in the spotlight as the star of the Netflix crime drama, White Lines.

Speaking on the phone from his new home in London, Harries opens up about his career, Chekhov, and his hedonistic European thriller, which was written by acclaimed Money Heist creator Álex Pina.

How would you describe your character in White Lines?

I play Axel Collins, who is a superstar DJ from Manchester in the 90s. I absolutely love Axel. He’s a character who totally let's rip. When the audience first meets him, it’s the year 2020 and Axel is dead. He’s been murdered, but we don’t know who did it. Subsequently, we then flashback to the 1990s to find out who, what, where, and how he was killed. Axel is very ambitious. He’s not afraid to go after what he wants. He has a hard-partying, excessive lifestyle that belies this creative, passionate, pre-internet, curious DJ who wants to become better at what he does. Most of the action of the show takes place on the party island of Ibiza, which is Axel’s Carnegie Hall.

What can you tell us about the story of White Lines?

White Lines is effectively a whodunnit on acid. The show is a mixture of so many different genres assembled together under the thin veil of a murder mystery. There’s a thriller element to the story and there are warring families, as well as a burgeoning love story. However, the driving force of the show is the story of Axel’s sister [played by Laura Haddock] who is trying to overcome her grief by finding out what happened to her brother, whose body has just been discovered. I think that’s what anchors the show. At its core, it’s got a real beating heart. The real soul to the show is the story of this sister searching for answers.

Axel is a DJ. What’s your relationship with music?

To be honest, I don’t think I’m a particularly good DJ. You have to have relatively good rhythm to be a good DJ, but my rhythm is syncopated at best. I love music. It’s a very personal thing to me. The first movie I was in was Hunky Dory with Minnie Driver and I sang in that. I haven’t had the opportunity to sing on film or in TV since then, but if I can make those two worlds collide again then that would be dope because I love music. I love writing music. I love performing music. At some point, I’d like to release music, too.

A scene from the Netflix series White Lines

Tom Rhys Harries in a scene from White Lines.

chris harris/netflix

What was it like to work with showrunner Álex Pina?

Before White Lines, I was a massive fan of Money Heist, which was Alex’s earlier show. My little brother saw it first and said to me, “You’ve got to watch this. It’s really moreish.” I’ve watched every season. It’s fantastic. Then this project was flagged to me and it was an opportunity to play a superstar DJ for the duration of the summer. White Lines is written by Álex Pina. It’s produced by Left Bank Pictures and Netflix. It was not hard for me to say yes. I think Alex has an amazing brain and he’s a really creative television writer; not only in the subject matters that he explores but also in the structure of his storytelling, which is very unique. There are definitely similarities between White Lines and Money Heist, including the way he uses flashbacks and themes of lost youth.

Where did you shoot?

We shot the show in Spain in the height of the summer. We shot on the island of Ibiza for a big portion of the shoot, but then we shot scenes on Majorca and in Madrid. We were only in Manchester for a very short period of time to shoot some exterior shots – but the time we spent on Ibiza was my personal highlight because the island is really magical. If anybody gets the opportunity to go to Ibiza, I really recommend it because it’s like nowhere else in the world. It caters to everyone. If you want to go and live off lemon juice for a month at a yoga retreat, you can do that there. If you want to party hard until you can’t remember anything, you can also do that.

What were the challenges of shooting in Spain?

It was interesting to navigate the fact that Álex Pina doesn’t speak English. He only speaks Spanish, so whenever I’d communicate with him about the different aspects of the character and the script, it would be through a translator. Aside from that, I was really stoked to meet these all these actors who are super established in their own countries. White Lines has a very talented and international cast. It was amazing and expanding to get to work in a different country with a completely different culture.

How does it feel to have a show released in the midst of a pandemic?

White Lines is such a tease of a show. There are all these beautiful vistas and people not practicing any form of social distancing. As an actor, if you can bring any kind of reprieve or respite in the form of entertainment to people during a time that’s really challenging then I think that’s a good thing. As a viewer, I’m really itchy to get out of Britain and party with my friends somewhere.

How has the pandemic affected your career?

The industry seems to be trying to get back on its feet. I was doing a play in the West End before lockdown started. We’d done five performances before we had to go dark, but we’re hoping to bring it back when plays can open again. The play was a new adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull with Emilia Clarke playing Nina and I was playing Trigorin. It’s an amazing new adaption by Anya Reiss and we all love it very much. Hopefully, it will come back sooner rather than later – but it’s a case of how you occupy a theater after this pandemic. I don’t think theater is financially viable under any social distancing measures. You can’t half-sell a theater and make your money back. When theater opens up again, I think it will be really special.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve received?

One of my tutors said to me, “What’s meant for you won’t pass you by.” I found that really helpful in my career when I was younger because you get way more rejections than you do acceptances, but if it balances out and you feel like the highs are worth the lows then you know you’ve got to keep on trucking. There’s an amazing quote that Stanley Kubrick said to Steven Spielberg. Steven Spielberg asked Kubrick, “What’s the hardest part of directing?” And Kubrick said, “Just getting out of the car.” I love that. This industry is so chaotic at times and you have no control – but if you just start something and follow that instinct then things will happen.

What actors do you admire?

I love actors like Ben Foster. I adored Philip Seymour Hoffman. I think he was an incredible actor. Jared Harris is brilliant, too. And Mark Rylance. I love actors. I love our industry. I think we’re so fortunate because there’s so much content and accessibility at our fingertips. It’s an amazing time to be an actor right now because there are so many resources to study and explore.